1994 Suzuki Cappuccino

A little bit of a departure from the sort of thing I tend to end up with!  Not a car which I knew anything whatsoever about until around October last year, when I had the chance to take ownership of one of these cars through a bit of good fortune, and a very generous offer from a friend.

Suzuki aren't really known for producing exciting cars - okay, the Swift GTi from the 90s was a laugh, I'll give them that...and their motorbikes have performance figures to scare you.  Their cars however, have generally been fairly run of the mill.  With the Cappuccino however...it's almost as if they were given a very simple instruction: "Go and make something fun!"   ...So they did.

It's a pretty good formula: Two seats, four wheels, rear wheel drive, an open top, and a good power to weight ratio.  Throw in some good suspension too to ensure that it handles well, and you've got a winner.

Having originally been planned for only the Japanese market, only a small number of these cars were ever officially imported into the UK by Suzuki - the UK getting 1000 of them...and given that was a good number of years ago now, there can't I imagine be all that many left now.

While in the photograph above, it probably appears very similar to a slightly smaller Mazda MX-5, the Cappuccino is quite incredibly tiny!  The next couple of photos try to give some idea of just how small it is.  The Lada isn't a huge car, very much average family saloon sized...I'll try to get a photo soon of this thing side on in front of it so you can actually see properly...as these aren't the best angles, they do give a good idea though - this thing is SMALL.

Being a tiny car, with a kerb weight around the 700kg mark, it can be powered by a similarly tiny engine.  In the case of the Cappuccino, this is in the form of a miniscule 3-cylinder unit with a displacement of only 657cc.  Yes, that's 0.66 litres (40.01 cubic inches for those of you in the states).  It assists this tiny power plant in propelling the car with a turbocharger, to produce 65bhp - at least in Japan it does - there seems to be some debate as to whether the UK spec cars have a higher power output from the factory or not.  The reason for this, and the cars diminutive dimensions, are that the Cappuccino was designed to conform to the "Kei-Car" specs in Japan.  This has strict regulations on vehicle dimensions, maximum speed (85mph) and power output.  Hence, the engine is actually probably capable of producing more, but was detuned for the home market.  How true this is or not, I honestly don't know.  Getting 80bhp or so out of the car however doesn't seem to be all that difficult, and that's what we reckon this one is producing.

While that might not sound like a huge amount of power (in fact, it's about the same as the car sitting next to it in the photos above developed when it left the factory!), put in a car that small and the result is quite impressively potent.  0-60mph disappears an awfully lot faster than most people expect it to when they're told what's under the bonnet.  The spec sheets show around 11 seconds...and while I've not timed it properly, it feels an awful lot less to be honest!  Though being totally honest...you feel like you're about to take off even at very modest speeds because you're sitting so low to the ground.  The noise that it makes also adds to the experience, the engine in the Cappuccino revs like a complete and total maniac, and howls like some bizarre cross between a forumula 1 car and a motorbike.  Even when you're trying to be completely sensible...the howling exhaust note and whistle of the turbo, with the occasional whoosh of the dump valve all just egg you on.  This is NOT an easy car to drive gently!  Given the capacity, character and power output of the engine, I do half wonder whether this is related in any way to the engines originally intended for use in motorcycles, given the amount of bikes that they produce...doesn't seem *that* far fetched.

You'll have to forgive the slightly grubby engine bay in the above photo...it's only had a very tertiary clean so far...A more thorough one will follow at some point in the future.

Inside the car, a very short gear lever with a lovely direct action, and an instrument panel dominated by a huge revcounter add to the rather sporty feel.  Quite why Suzuki felt the need to include a warning light to tell you the turbo's producing boost I don't know...Your ears and the rapid burst of acceleration can tell you that.  Still...is a kinda fun feature, and the only car I've ever had with one.

It is not easy car to get into, being so small and low.  First time I tried to climb into it, I gave myself a fantastic crack to the side of the head off the roof.  Entry and egress it has to be said is rather easier with the roof removed!  Once you've managed to slot yourself into place however, it's actually surprisingly comfortable.  I do find however that it's a lot easier to fasten your seatbelt *before* closing the door however due to the limited space in the horizontal direction!

The limited space does lead to some interesting little space saving quirks...the bonnet release for example is hidden inside the glove compartment (though not unknown to Suzuki...it's in there in the Vitara too...and the X-90 if memory serves).  The fuel filler release took me a good ten minutes to find, being hidden inside the cubby hole in the top of the centre console (which also opens the wrong direction for the driver to get into).  The eagle-eyed among you may indeed note that there's a bit of trim missing down in the drivers footwell in the above photo.  That's currently sitting in the boot of the Lada, removed previously when I was trying to track down a water leak - which was eventually traced to panel sealent underneath the windscreen washer bottle having disintegrated.

Needless to say, when the roof is in place, the cabin feels quite snug...despite that though, it somehow manages to avoid feeling outright claustrophobic...which is a bit odd given that it's all black leather and black or dark grey plastic.

Don't expect to take any real amount of luggage with you however!  As you can probably see from the picture below, the boot really isn't very big!

Especially bearing in mind that the boot is very shallow, with a good deal of the under-floor space being taken up by the diff, exhaust silencer and spare tyre.  Also...chances are if you take the car out on a sunny day (even if it's bitterly cold!), you'll want to take the roof off.  Once the panels are stowed in the boot, there's about enough space left for a packet of biscuits...so long as you don't mind squashing them a bit and having to hoover the crumbs up if you burst the packaging...

Still...C'mon...Look at it.  This isn't a car you buy for the sake of practicality...It's a car you buy for the sake of fun.  Based on that sort of logic, you really can't fault it!

Update: May 2011.

When I picked this up, it needed a couple of very small welding patches to the front of the nearside rear wheel arch, a brake light bulb and the handbrake adjusted to get it through the MOT.  I also took the opportunity to clean all the brakes up while I was there, as they were dry, rattling and squeaky.  Once through the MOT, a replacement water pump was soon arranged to replace the leaky one on it when I got the car - especially given that it's driven by the timing belt.  Last thing I wanted was the pump seizing up and taking that out.

It was quite clear once it was out that it had been leaking for quite some time.

If you ever replace this on your own car, the timing belt should really be replaced at the same time.  The belt in the case of this car however had been done recently, and as such the decision was made to re-use it.  Especially as the belt & tensioner kits aren't cheap.  Do I say, not as I did!  Overall replacing the pump wasn't a bad job, took a couple of hours start-finish, most of that was dismantling the engine bay to get at it!

The new pump is in place here - you can just about make it out centre-frame below (it's about the only clean looking silver thing in the engine bay!).  Yes, the bottom half of the timing belt cover is missing...no idea what the story behind that is! 

Aside from two services, an air con recharge and a couple of new drive belts for that and the alternator, very little happened after that happened mechanically over the last year.  While the battery went flat on a couple of occasions when the car was left sitting for more than a week or so (it was known to be dodgy when I got it), otherwise it has been a very reliable little car.

In 2011, it also attended a classic car show in Fyvie and received a lot of interest through the day - glad I printed out all the details and stuck a note in the window!  Otherwise I would have been explaining what it was all day I reckon...Was great to see people's reactions though.  Have taken a few cars there over the years, but this one has definitely captured the imagination of more people than most I think.

Cosmetically I did keep picking away at some of the issues, a few loose bits of trim were replaced and the paint was touched up wherever possible.  The main change however was the addition of a set of racing stripes one Saturday afternoon when I got bored!  Silly, pointless and over-the-top, but I didn't care!  The wheels were also sanded down and repainted - the nearside ones have been done in the photograph below, unfortunately I hadn't got as far as the offside when the photos were taken!

Cleaning the wheels up really did freshen up the look of the car no end!

I knew that with this years MOT coming up that there was going to be some work needed.  This was reckoned initially to be an overhaul of the rear brakes as it looked from the discs as though they were getting a little lazy, and a couple of patches being needed on the nearside floorpan - tidying up old repairs.  Unfortunately, the winter has been rather more unkind to the little Suzuki than first anticipated.  We discovered upon closer inspection that approximately 50% of the rear part of the drivers side floorpan had actually become completely detached from the surrounding metalwork. 

This obviously needs sorting - and the panel itself isn't in good shape either, so replacement would seem to be the best option.  Unfortunately, floorpans for Cappuccinos are all but unobtainable new - they do appear now and then, but at astronomical prices.  So it's looking increasing likely that we would have to fabricate something, which isn't something I'm really happy doing when you're talking about a large chunk of the car...a large chunk of the car which I SIT ON when driving!  Given that there are also a dozen or so smaller patches needed elsewhere on the floorpan, the rear brakes to sort, and it's been noted now that the metal fuel lines aren't looking too clever either, it looks like the little Suzuki may well be off the road for quite a long while.  Hopefully not permanently, but some very serious discussions are going to have to be had, and some hard decisions made.

In the meantime, attention is going to be diverted into getting the camper van on the road for the summer, as I actually need it in July!



After much consideration and thinking and procrastinating, the decision was taken to sell the car in its current condition on to another enthusiast who is better equipped in terms of skill, resources and finances to tackle the rust.  Last I heard at the start of January, most of the work on the offside floorpan was complete, with attention moving to the nearside.  So work seems to be progressing at least.  Personally, I really, really hope to see the car back on the road even though I won't obviously be driving it. 

Of all the cars I've had over the years, and there have been a few, this one has probably been both the most fun and the most surprising.  Surprising in that it's proven to be such a flexible little thing in spite of its diminutive size and frenetic nature.  I dragged this thing from a near brush with death, did a tiny bit of welding, changed the water pump and gave it a service - then had a year's worth of absolutely trouble free motoring out of it, in use as my daily driver.  It was 16 years old, had been neglected utterly for the last five years, and let's face it, on paper doesn't look like it would be exactly reliable! 

The only things the Cappuccino couldn't do that you would expect of most cars I found were A: Carry anything particularly big, or B: Carry more than one passenger!  I drove it around town a lot, on rural roads (where it's most at home to be honest, don't reckon there's a more fun car for a good twisty country road out there...), and had a few longer motorway trips.  All of the above were dispatched with ease, in comfort and with surprising economy too, managing an average of 41.8mpg over the time I had it.  It was even, much to my surprise damn near unstoppable in the ice and snow.

I miss all the cars I've had and no longer own.  This is one however that I will definitely miss more than most.  I'll miss the way you slot into the driving seat like in a go-kart, I'll miss the indescribably direct steering through which you can feel every ripple in the tarmac on a corner, I'll miss it's grip in the dry and tail-happy antics in the wet, I'll miss the noise it makes - both the addictive whoosh of the dump valve and the spine tingling howl of the exhaust note as it comes on cam at 5000rpm with the top down, I'll miss the silly little green light on the dashboard that tells you you've got boost from the turbo and just eggs you on more, I'll miss that stab in the back as the revs shoot from 5000rpm up to the 8500rpm red line, I'll miss gently cruising through town with the top down on a sunny day, but most of all, I'll just miss the way it could always come rain, snow or shine, it always could put a smile on my face the moment I got into it.

If you're someone who enjoys driving, and you find a solid, relatively rust-free Cappuccino, I seriously, seriously recommend that you give one a shot.  They're not the toy that their diminutive size and 650cc engine size suggest.  They're getting very rare now and only getting rarer, so if you want to find out what they're like to drive you're going to need to do it now before there aren't any left.

Fare well, my friend.  You will be missed.


Manufacturer: Suzuki.
Model: Cappuccino.
Engine: 657cc 3-cylinder inline petrol, with turbocharger and intercooler.
Gearbox: 5-speed manual.
Power output: 65bhp.
0-60mph: 11seconds approx.
Max speed: 85mph (electronically limited).

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