With summer is upon us, so are dreams of beachside cruising. In the history of kei cars, there was perhaps no vehicle more fitting for that purpose than the Jimny Santa Monica (it’s right there in the name!). Built upon the second-generation (1984-1990) Suzuki Jimny, it replaced the body with a composite, door-less dune buggy-ish body. Sadly, they are also increasingly rare. It’s estimated that surviving Santa Monicas number only in the single digits.
To be clear, the Santa Monica wasn’t an official Suzuki product. It was built for Jimny aftermarket specialist Suzy Sports by Auto Craft Izu, a company that today builds mainly novelty playground and amusement park vehicles shaped like animals.
Because the Jimny is a legit body-on-frame truck, it was possible to replace the steel body entirely with the fiber. It weighed about 740kg (1630 lb), or about 88 to 154 pounds lighter than the stock Jimny, depending on whether you had the soft or tin top.
The kei-spec, 550cc, 3-cylinder turbo engine and drivetrain remained stock and delivered 42PS, so it wasn’t particularly quick. Santa Monicas built later in the run had intercooled turbos but on paper the power rating stayed the same.
The first ones were built in 1988, but they made their official debut at the 1989 Tokyo Exciting Car Show (now Tokyo Auto Salon), where it won the Dome (dream) Award. Santa Monicas were assembled at Suzy Sports’ own facilities, but a number of factors made kept the production stupefyingly low, estimated to be around just 100.
First, it wasn’t cheap. At ¥750,000, it rang in at 75 percent of the base cost of a brand new Jimny. Construction was reportedly quite crude, so few have survived until today. That didn’t stop several of them from participating internationally in grueling rallies like the Baja 2000 in Mexico and the Pharaoh’s Rally in Egypt. Some of these were further customized by fitting a roof over the exposed top and cargo area with rudimentary top-hinged gullwing doors to protect drivers from the elements.
These activities only further diminished the Santa Monica’s numbers, which is why survivors are thought to be in the single digits today. While the car is kind of a footnote in Suzuki Jimny history, it’s another example of just how into customization Japan was at the height of the Bubble Era. Unfortunately, even with the advent of the new Jimny, there probably isn’t much of an opportunity for a Santa Monica revival.