Now that I am in a satisfactory place with the current setup of my Suzuki Swift Sport, the car addiction bug hit me again. I mean, why not? I am in a country where awesome, cheap, and fun little cars can be had quite easily. I am also fortunate to have access to parking spaces where lots would otherwise be pretty limited. Thanks to the encouragement from my friend, Matsuda-san at Rodeo Cars, I went forth to find a fun little second car.
At the same time, my friend Nick was leaving Japan. He couldn’t find a buyer for his admittedly old 1998 Suzuki Alto Works, despite asking for a reasonable price. I don’t blame anyone; a 20 year old car with 130,000 kilometers on the odometer isn’t ideal as a reliable mode of primary transportation. But to me, a turbocharged, cheap kei car with a ton of aftermarket potential is the perfect second car.
A little history on the Alto: The Alto-class car started initially in 1979 as a Fronte, a FWD economy car developed for the kei car class of super compact vehicles. As the mobility market expanded, Suzuki realized the need for growing families for the growing middle-class. By keeping it extremely affordable, the Fronte and then the Alto became outstanding successes. During the next generation in 1984-1988, the “Works” nameplate was introduced with turbocharging and increased performance. Officially in Suzuki nomenclature, that generation is considered the first Alto in the Japanese domestic market. The HA11 third series of Altos were introduced in 1994 as their lowest-end economy car and much of the car reflects this. Simple interior, flat body panels, and basic amenities nonetheless made this generation extremely popular. The Works, as with previous versions, retained its sporty intentions with turbocharging, differentiating alloy wheels, bespoke aero bodywork, and unique seats.
This isn’t my first Alto Works. I owned one based on the fourth generation Alto body for nearly two years, during which I fell in love with its surprising performance. My HA12S Alto Works was a Superior White base-model ie, driven by a 59 HP SOHC F6A turbocharged and intercooled engine. Despite being underpowered, it’s low speed stability, predictable and sharp handling, and well-spaced gears made the car a joy to throw around corners. Sure, it could’ve used ABS and an LSD... Sadly, it’s long and fruitful life at 180,000 km was cut short by a terribly unskilled driver: me. I ended up sliding into a water ditch, severely damaging its undercarriage and front control arm. (Ditch drift fail.) The cost of repairs would’ve well exceeded its current value and with the additional $700 cost of shaken (mandatory maintenance) coming up, I decided to put the proverbial bullet in its head and send it to the scrapyard.
Back to this new (to me) Saturn Black Metallic HA11S Alto Works. It’s powered by an identical F6A to the front wheels, tuned to the surprising government-limited 63 HP. This is the last of the model year of the third generation body style and is also a Limited model, the primary notable differences being the additional upper rear spoiler, sportier bucket seats, and larger 14x4.5 inch wheels. I couldn’t care less about the high kilometers or the overall condition, which is nonetheless quite decent. The body work seems straight on initial inspection. My issue, and this will be a sticking point for me in the upcoming months, is the automatic, 4-speed transmission. Sigh.