My first memorable experience with an Alternative Car happened in 2000, when at eight years old I ‘purchased’ my first sports car on Christmas Day. As a child, I would become obsessed with cars through Gran Turismo 2 on the original PlayStation, and it all began with me heading to the East City and blowing my early Clubman Cup winnings on an extra-frothy Suzuki Cappuccino, and all of its tuning goodies.
I became obsessed with this little sports car, but it was only in later life that I discovered how groundbreaking an achievement it was for Suzuki when it launched in 1991. Suzuki’s first sports car was unveiled to the Japanese market in 1989 – the same year the first Mazda MX-5 went on sale – but the team would have to wait two years before it could begin production. The reasoning for the pause was sound; Suzuki had long established itself as a leader in truly small cars and no modern class was truly smaller than the Japanese Keijidosha, or Kei car, class.
As the ’80s made way for the ’90s, the infamously strict rules were about to change. The 550cc limit was upped to 660cc, the allowed car length moved from 3.2m to 3.3m and most importantly there was a new maximum power limit of 64bhp, which made way to the possibility of some truly insane JDM economy cars. While many drool over the mini-supercar Autozam AZ-1/Suzuki Cara today, the Cappuccino was the small car that opened the floodgates to the madcap mini-cars we wish to see on our shores today.
Built to the very limits of the new rules, the Cappuccino was near-as-makes-no-difference 3.3m long and had a turbocharged 660cc triple that produced nearly 64bhp, all in a car with special tax dispensations and the right to drive and park where larger cars could not. It was perfect for the congested streets of Tokyo and the mountain roads above it, thanks to a surprising level of engineering thought from a company then more famed for its agricultural mini 4x4s.
Here was a true rear-wheel-drive sports car with a front-mid-engined layout, limited slip differential, a de facto 9300rpm limit and an almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution. If you believe Suzuki’s figures, it would beat the contemporary 1600cc Mazda MX-5 to 60mph by almost a second! Then there was the TVR-esque – but cleverer – three-piece, three-setting semi-targa aluminium roof and leather interior, which were both way out of place for a class that was once the reserve of the Japanese spendthrift.
Many people wrongly say the Mazda MX-5 is the ultimate Japanese interpretation of a British sports car, but where that mass produced soft-top aped the rarified Lotus Elan and made it slower, the Cappuccino took on the olde worlde ‘Frogeye’ Sprite and created a model village massacring Godzilla of a car. I know which of the two I prefer.
Sadly, though, when Suzuki went through even more hassle to have the car approved for UK use, like idiots none of us bought one despite the rave reviews from the press that pleaded with us to do so. I’ll never forgive the previous generation for that as I struggle to find a survivor today.
I owe the Suzuki Cappuccino a lot and have a real soft spot for them. If it wasn’t for those early days of bouncing of walls and redlines in the Cappuccino Cup I may never have discovered my love of obscure cars.