As I’ve been told (many, many times), “Babies change things.” The urgency of some of these changes are more obvious than others. One of these immediate changes was vehicle. As anyone who has ridden in the back of our old Suzuki Samurai could tell you, it was no place for a small child (or any human being for that matter). It seems that when Suzuki was in their final design phases with this vehicle that they suddenly realized that they hadn’t designed a back seat. Some intern then ran out back and pulled off some metal trash can lids and wrapped some old pants around them, which Suzuki apparently promptly worked into production as a finished design.

So, we’ve purchased a brand new used vehicle, a 1991 Nissan Pathfinder. We’ve been slowly making it Honduras ready (roof rack, decent all-terrain tires, additional lighting, etc). It’s kind of unique because it has a motor that they didn’t sell in the US, a 2.7 Turbo Diesel, which has already won me over. Stacey is won over by the AC, real back seats, and a suspension that doesn’t necessitate a kidney transplant.

 I do miss the Suzuki already (we made the swap in December), but it was a necessary change. In tribute, I’ve written a review below.

1996 Suzuki Samurai
When you first check out a Samurai, the production year is immediately brought into question. Round, sealed-beam headlights? No power steering? Is that a choke-knob? Manually-tightened  seat-belts? No air conditioning? No torsion bars or coils? No carpet? The thing is a true throwback, not just in styling like the wave of posers from the early 2000s.

 To say the thing lacks refinement would be a cruel understatement to a potential buyer. Golden Corral lacks refinement, but it is at least an environment suitable for human life. Driven on Honduran roads, the Suzuki is rough. It seems that its sole purpose is to bruise you with its sparsely-adorned, all-metal, sharp-cornered interior, of which all surfaces are always ~2.5” inches away at any moment. This brutality is mostly due to its Medifast curb weight and cutting edge leaf springs at all four corners. That being said, in two years of truly abusive usage on terrible unpaved roads, over rocks, through mud, into car-slaying potholes, never once did the suspension need an ounce of adjustment. It is tough.

The motor is a thing of beautiful simplicity. Four tiny cylinders in a straight line with a carburetor on top. It doesn’t take an Audi certified master mechanic to understand this vehicle’s mechanicals. It is almost like it was built to show people how motors work. I’m not sure if you caught the word “tiny” earlier, but tiny here means that all said and done, the displacement of this motor barely competes with a standard Nalgene bottle. 1.3 liters working for a grand total of 63 hp. I hope you’re not in a hurry. All-in-all, it was a great little motor except for the little detail of consistent overheating. To be fair, we are in a really hot environment and would often abuse it on terrible rural roads then drive it at full speed into the city and then sit in 100 degree traffic for an hour. I was overheated, no wonder the car was. Those being said, once you warp the heads on these things, get ready to spend some cash to get it reworked or better yet replaced.

The simple, slick-shifting five-speed transmission never failed and was one of the snickiest stick-shift experiences I’ve had in a 4x4 vehicle. Placement was easy, quick, and sure. Handy since you often need both hands to crank the wheel in tough off-road type situations. The 4x4 transfer was pretty finicky and once replaced. With the new used one, I often had to pull out the shift arm and boot to realign the internal pins. Caught without a screwdriver once about two-hours away from pavement, we did the operation with a machete tip.

Despite its overwhelming downfalls, this has to be one of my favorite vehicles that I’ve ever owned. Its (painful) simplicity draws you in. On top of that, once you’re actually off-road, this goofy little thing is nearly unstoppable. Part of that has to do with the confidence it gives you. It weighs nothing, so you feel like you can hit obstacles at three-times the speed recommended by your chiropractor (forget about your back, watch your head). The simple manual hubs lock everything together to make sure you’re spinning things where they should be spinning. I can’t count the times that we’ve scooted in somewhere where the rest either didn’t fit or couldn’t continue.. Its slight size is clearly an advantage in tight spaces, but even then, its ability to get through the muck is magical.

Never has a vehicle inspired such a loving hatred within me. It abuses, but simultaneously woos you. I’m a fairly big guy and it makes a Mini Cooper seem Mega, but somehow it was always accommodating. (Also, please realize that I’m speaking as the car-loving driver, I’m not sure my wife would agree with that, and certainly no one in the back seat would agree). The Suzukito was a part of our identity here for two years. Everyone this side of Mexico knew we were the Suzuki’s Gringos. Its fame proceeded us. It was cheap, capable, fun, and ready for the down and dirty, but I’m so glad my little daughter won’t have to ride in the back of it

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