Saturday 20 January 2024

Project Pickle - Suzuki SJ410 resurrection (part 1)

What if you had some unfinished business with a certain 4x4 of suspiciously Soviet origin and wanted something that had a bit of that "let's do it even more simple" charm? It's sort of hard to imagine that someone would consider the Niva as too opulent, too luxurious, too much of anything really and then you meet it's biggest competitor of the same era. May I present "the pickle", a green-ish, overgrown with moss 1983-model Suzuki SJ410. (And don't you call it no "Samurai" - this is the grandma, the OG if you will.) 970cc, 45hp (at the flywheel when new), 860kg room for four (kind of) and I am pretty sure the designers had no compass at hand when designing it. 

I'll be honest, I was on the hunt for one of these for a while, but it was incredibly difficult to find one I liked. Most of them were stupidly priced for what they are and to keep things interesting rotten as all hell. So earlier this week, I passed by one of those rather dodgy car salesmen that are next to some of the bigger roads leading out of town and there it was. Hood dented as all f*ck, enough moldy leaves on it that you couldn't tell were the bumper ended and the front grill started, rusted brake disks, the distinct scent of wet dog, when opening the door and as I was informed, it doesn't start. In other words an almost perfect candidate. After a bit of back and forth a price was agreed, money changed hands and I had become the proud owner of "the pickle".

What instantly caught me was this dash, where later models have a tach and a clock, here as this is the absolute base model: a fuel gauge, a temperature gauge, some idiot lights and that's it. No fluff, nothing playful or extra-vagant and this drives home a message with a mighty big hammer: what if you took a vehicle and then pulled out your red sharpie and crossed everything off that wasn't necessary until the essence of a vehicle was left over?

... and the essence lies in its off-road capabilities: There's a proper transfer case, with a crawling gear ratio and a manuel rear diff brake (even though that one is really only there, because the handbrake acts directly on the drive shaft and with an open diff it could still roll out of its parking position. 

As the engine turned over nicely and made rather healthy sounds, I admittedly had only very few qualms buying a car that was a non-runner. Unlike later models, it still has points ignition and no brake booster at all. Whilst the lack of brake booster is rather irrelevant for now, the points ignition really only needed a bit of love with a piece of emery cloth to be back in sparking order. 


Almost equally simple is the whole carb situation, everything is accessible from the top and if you (like me) soak it for 12hrs in carb cleaner, then clean out the float bowl, blow some compressed air (and brake cleaner) through various ports and jets and guess what:

What you saw there was the first attempts after cleaning the points and then after some good old fashioned carb cleaning the tiny pickle runs, as a matter of fact, it fired up and almost instantly fell into a solid idle.

Which in turn meant some treats like cleaning out the airbox again and then fitting a new airfilter.

Fix the coolant temp sensor where someone had snapped off the post, most likely when attempting to open the drain plug on the carb. 

And ultimately top off the radiator with some anti-freeze as the overflow bottle was frozen solid. 

... just to prove it: I actually drove it over to my dad's house, to see if I could make it there and back. 

So what's next: Basically when this post comes out, I will have spent an afternoon mostly on the floor underneath the car to look for rust spots, rotten gearbox mounting dampers (I already know about that one), leaking axles and kind of most important for me: find out which brakes are installed on this one and exactly which version this is as there's some very subtle differences between a type 1 (no 4wd warning light on the transfer case) and a type 2 (4wd warning light, thicker shafts) and then also check which timing belt I need as this probably hasn't been done in ages and the waterpump (and various other bits on the cooling system) appear to be leaking. So if my next post starts with a famous quote from Joseph Conrad's heart of darkness, well then you know I found stuff.

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