Denis Baldwin Talks...

Building Super Sami's

Though a lot of emphasis is put on Jeeps and older land cruisers as being the only short-wheel based off-road warriors to be built, I have come to see the light…in the form of the rising sun. One of the mightiest mini-mills to ever make it's way off-road is Suzuki's 1.3 liter. With many add ons for it, it makes a versatile mill that can take a beating. High RPMs, cheap to run, easy to maintain and good for many miles, there's no doubt that the Suzuki Samurai is a VERY capable little runner. Along with the mods that can be done to the engine, there are mods for the body, the suspension and of course, the interior to make it look and perform even better. Now onto the fun stuff; making your off the lot mini an off-road rebel. Let's go through these a piece at a time:

SUSPENSION AND STEERING: There are a few kits for these "little toys" that can drastically improve them off-road. One such kit is made by Calmini. They offer a complete 5" shackle reversal system (2" lift with 3" spring system) that will clear 31's easily. Other kits are available with less lift but from all the tests run by various magazines, this one appears to be the most popular. This kit comes with shocks and all the necessary parts. To handle the new load on steering, Trail Master drop Pitman arms are used to correct the steering Geometry.

POWER: Power from a Sami? Yes kids, it is possible. Sure, it's no power stroke diesel, but it gets up and gets with it with just a few mods. If you are dead set against keeping the stock mill, the best engine swap for these is an 8-valve 1.6 liter EFI Sidekick/Tracker motor. A company known as Victory Engineering sells an engine swap kit for this motor. If you are intent on keeping the 1.3 liter, here as some common and somewhat do-it-yourself ways to make it perform better.

  • AIR - any engine needs to breathe and the 1.3 is no exception. A high performance air filter is easy and essential. Both K&N and Calmini carry these.
  • EXHAUST - Can't let those leftovers build up. If you do, the already low power level will drop. The best way to expel the exhaust is through the means of a good set of headers and good exhaust. Calmini also offers this as a kit.
  • IGNITION - performance ignitions are nothing new to stock car builders or the off-roader elite. Both Jacobs and MSD make system to fit the Samurai. MSD is generally favored in this.
  • CARBS (non-EFI) - Weber makes an impressive dual carb system for the 1.3 that has taken many V-6s by surprise. Though they aren't legal in all states, dual carbs really turn a sluggish Sami into a peppy pavement pounder… or off-pavement pounder.
  • CAMSHAFT - Isky. The one word in Camshafts for Sami's.
  • SUPERCHARGING - got the cash to fork out? Try a supercharger from Calmini. This Camden Supercharger kit gives your Sami enough "uuummph" to leave you stunned.

Another alternative to the 1.6 or 1.3 is a V6 or V8. Though this is not advised due to weight, fit and mismatching with the axles and the such, some people do it and do it nicely. You have been warned.

GEARING:- No doubt gearing is essential in any off-road machine. Various ratios including 4.62:1, 5.12:1, 5.38:1, and 5.62:1 are available for direct swaps. Several people go the extra mile and even go with an ultra low transfer case gear set. Victory Engineering makes the "Rock Lobster" transfer case that is set to 4.1:1 gears.

WHEELS AND TIRES: - this one is a no brainer. 5 on 5 ½ lug wheels are very common and come in all different sizes. A set of 15x8" rims (any style) with 31x10.5" tires will make a Sami and very capable off-roader.

LOCKERS:- Also a no brainer. For true off-roaders, a locker is a sure thing. Detroit and Lock-Right both make applications for the Samurai. They are fully locking units and can be purchased from your favorite locker dealer.

WINCHES: - since the Sami is so small and light, a big winch is not necessary. The Warn 5000 is more than enough pulling power to yank you from the muck. It is lighter than the bigger brothers and looks good on a Sami. (Editor's Note: Keep in mind, however, that if you need to pull someone else out, like a heavier Jeep or even a larger Cherokee, FJ-60 or pickup, you'll need more pulling power {and leverage}. You'd still be best off with your standard 8,000 pound winch).

GRILL GUARDS, NERF BARS AND BUMPERS :- Lots of after-market here. Along with a grill guard and front tube bumpers to mount your winch, you can also get 3" nerfs to fit your Sami and body plating as well.

SAFETY: - Along with the normal multi point harnesses and specialty seats and such, roll cages are an easy build. Since a Sami is so light, a thick roll cage with lots of points isn't necessary. Most cages can be made out of 2" tubing and do very well, even on a bad low speed rollover.

WHY BUY A SAMI AS MY 4x4?: Easy -- $$$$. Since they are so low cost to buy, maintain and drive, if you are low on cash, they are a great off-roader. I've seen them crawl out of places that I would be afraid to take my Wrangler. To say the least, they are more than capable.

Calmini can be reached at (800) 345-3305


Check out my other columns throughout my own e-zine, Custom World or e-mail me.

We're always looking for contributors. Have a camera? Have a pen? How about writing some trail reports or columns for ROCKCRAWLER. Get info Here!

©1997-2010 ROCKCRAWLER 4x4 and Off-Road Magazine. All Rights Reserved.