What can we say about the Suzuki Samurai? The plucky little Jimny hasn’t been sold in North America since 1995, but in its 10-year run, it proved itself a hit. Capable, reliable, and affordable, the Samurai even outsold the Jeep Wrangler 2-to-1 at one point. Hello, indeed!
So why don’t we still get the Jimny in North America? Maybe it has to do with Suzuki pulling out of the market. And maybe that has to do with the Consumer Reports article suggesting the Sammy was prone to rollovers. I guess we’ll just have to leave that to the fanboys to debate ad nauseam. Hey. It’s what we do, alright?
Today, I want to introduce you to Kyle MacCullough of Fortune Off-Road. He recently picked up a Samurai—his first!—and he’s had himself quite the adventure. If you ever wanted a Samurai, I think you’re going to find yourself really wanting one now.
It’s an amazing machine!
Introductions: My understanding is you run Fortune Off-Road, have a solid Suburban for overlanding, and have recently completed a nice little build on a nice little Suzuki Samurai. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[you] That’s correct! My wife and I run an Instagram account and YouTube channel both under the name Fortune Off-Road, which we use to share build tips, review budget friendly gear, and share our adventures on the trail. Last year we built a 1997 GMC Suburban 1500 which included a solid axle swap and a few upgrades for overlanding and camping. Just recently we jumped into the Samurai world and finished our build turning a 1986 JX into a dedicated rock crawler.
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As a Samurai owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them?
[you] This is my first Samurai and working on it has been a lot of fun. Even though it’s 30+ years-old and had been sitting in a field for 15 of those years, almost everything came apart nicely and was easy to work on. I couldn’t believe how well everything went. I’m used to working with 1-ton components like 14-bolt axles and Dana 60s so the miniature version of everything on the Samurai was a piece of cake!
Like all cars, Samurais do have their unique issues that require attention when starting a build. With a truck this light, everything is extremely small and needs to be strengthened prior to use. This includes the axles, steering, transfer case, and even the suspension. With all of the reinforcements I’ve bolted and welded on, it still can only run 31″ tires and remain reliable on the trail. A lot of Samurai guys have a hard time with emissions testing, which can also be frustrating. Mine just recently passed after months of tweaking.
[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? How long do you think you’ll be sticking around?
[you] A friend of mine found a Samurai for $1600 and I quickly volunteered to help him do the research on the components needed to make it ready for the trail. Once I compiled the list of parts, I couldn’t believe how cheap it was going to be to build, especially compared to the full-size trucks and Jeeps I’ve worked on in the past.
I talked with my wife about the possibility of using some of our tax return and my bonus from work to build yet another truck. To my surprise she was on-board and the Samurai hunt began.
I’ve only built Jeeps and Chevy trucks for offroading prior to this, but the Samurai has been the most fun to build and wheel, by far! At this point I’ve only taken it out on three trails, but I plan on taking it on many more as the build continues. It’s definitely the underdog every time I go and people are always surprised at how well it performs. I don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon, and would really enjoy watching my son drive it when he’s old enough.
The Samurai/Jimny community…
[tgp] How’s the Samurai community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot?
[you] It seems like the Samurai community is continuing to grow despite U.S. sales stopping quite some time ago. I used to be a frequent poster in the forums but these days social media has taken that place. I found a few Samurai groups on Facebook and they have been very supportive of our adventures and gave us a warm welcome.
The thing I really like about these Facebook groups is that manufacturers, YouTubers, and regular guys like me all engage with the group, run ideas by each other, and help each other out. There is a ton of experience that these folks have to offer and being relatively new to the Suzuki world, I eat up as much as I can.
This gearhead life…
[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?
[you] I joke around with my wife all of the time about how all of my hobbies are slowly being over-regulated or outright banned. In some parts of the country they’ve even banned working on vehicles on your own property. It seems crazy to me that people have accepted that. A lot of our opportunities are slowly slipping away and the only way to stop that is by doing the research on who you’re voting for, and wrenching/driving responsibility.
I try to keep my hours in the garage and in the driveway between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM so I’m being respectful to my neighbors. With that, having safety equipment at the ready and disposing of waste responsibility are just a few examples of things that contribute to a healthy community that supports our lifestyle. I think this applies not only to being responsible on the trail, but on the streets too. Treating your community and the other drivers with respect keeps everyone happy, ensures the trails stay open, and helps keep law enforcement off our backs.
Lastly, I believe those of us with garages, tools, and welders need to offer up our experience and resources to the next generation to keep it going. I’ve had some very generous people in the past open up their shops to me, which is how I taught myself to weld and learned about working on cars. Without those experiences I doubt I would be wrenching today.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[you] Honestly, there haven’t been many people in my life that are gearheads like me. Most of the people that have really made a difference in my journey are those I follow on social media that take the time to offer encouragement and answer the questions that they have probably been asked a million times.
Off Road Design played a huge part in my Suburban build and the amount of information they share on their site is unbelievable. Every time I had a question, I either found the answer on their site or they got back to me via email. It was a great experience.
The person that solidified my decision to build the Samurai goes by the Instagram name @daburrs. She built her rig herself and wheels it very hard. After watching her videos I knew my little Samurai on 31’s could tackle the hard trails with the big dogs!
I make sure I pass that kindness on by doing my best to answer every comment or question that comes our way. It’s worth the time because I love this lifestyle and to me it’s about community. It’s fun to do this stuff alone, but it’s even better when shared with others!Kyle MacCullough, Fortune Off-Road
Bigger isn’t always better!
Little rigs like the Suzuki Samurai/Jimny shine in the right conditions.
If you’re looking to do serious, aggro rock crawling, you might want something heavier duty. Or if you want to take the family on extended camping trips, a larger machine would likely be a better choice, but if you want the small-car-fast experience off-road, the Samurai remains the undisputed king of the hill.