Crawler Off Road Does It Different In A 1985 Suzuki SJ410 “Samurai”

We all have a past vehicle that we wish we still had. For Richard “Rick” Davis, owner of Crawler Off Road, the Suzuki SJ410 you see here is the vehicle that didn’t get away.

Rick’s 1985 Suzuki SJ410 is the stuff of legend in his world of middle Michigan. If you have never heard of the Suzuki SJ410, you are not alone. Rick explained, “It is the exact same as a Samurai, except that the Samurai was not offered in the U.S. until 1986. Everywhere else in the world it is referred to as a 410 or 412 depending on the length. This one was a Canadian import.”

Rick Davis has always had a soft spot for the Suzuki SJ410. The only difference between it and a Samurai is the model year, since 1986 is when Samurais were officially sold in the U.S. Hence, this SJ410 is an import.

The original owner of the ride swapped a Chevy 4.3-liter motor in. It still has the old iron heads. The motor is backed up by a TH350 automatic transmission. From there, power heads to the stock Suzuki transfer case. The little Suzuki may not be big, but it sure is mighty. Rick joked, “It makes maybe 150 horsepower.” While that doesn’t sound like much, the original motor only put out a whopping 50 horsepower, so it really is a big improvement.

The Suzuki utilizes an Edelbrock Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor to get fuel to the cylinders, but he toyed with the idea of EFI for a while. Rick said, “I was planning on replacing the carburetor. Then I put a fuel pressure gauge inline. I realized it was pushing 12 pounds of fuel pressure into the carb. I backed it down to 4.5 pounds. It has been running like a champ ever since. It runs so good that I haven’t even taken the time to install the EFI system. On certain angles, it will stall out, but it does better than you would think. If I know I’m going to be at wide-open throttle, then I will increase the pressure. When I get back to the rocks, I just turn it back down and that allows me to not flood the bowls. It’s a tradeoff, but it works really well.”

Big Softie

Rick admitted that he has always had a soft spot for the Suzuki Samurai platform. He said, “I bought a Samurai when I was in high school for 500 bucks. Someone had taken a sawzall at the back of the B-pillar and cut everything off of it except the frame. There were no doors on it and there were holes in the floor, so you could Flintstone it when you had to stop. It was just a pile of crap. I didn’t know what I was doing with it. I was fixing it and trying to wheel it all the time.”

Rick’s wife Jessica always knew he had a soft spot for the Samurai. It was his first real attempt at having a wheeling rig. So when she found out about the SJ410’s availability, there was no hesitation. Rick said,  “I didn’t even have to ask. She just said, ‘Figure out a way we can afford it and go buy it.’ Now I have my Samurai back. They’re quirky, goofy, and tiny, but I just love them. I don’t know why.”

Ricks’ friend was the second owner of the SJ410, and after he had kids, he sold it to Rick. The friend was also the one that installed the current suspension and axles under the ride. Pro Comp MX6 adjustable shocks and Rough Country springs handle dampening.

It Begins

The Samurai was on 35-five inch tires when Rick first made the purchase. Rick decided to go with 40-inch rubber instead. Body modifications also began and the rear triangulated four-link needed some love. Rick rebuilt it while also extending the wheelbase a bit. The coil buckets were also massaged at this time and a fuel cell was installed. Rick admitted with a smile that, “The original fuel storage system was a six-gallon Jon boat can!”

Rick is the co-owner and operator of Crawler Off Road. He and his business partner, Fred Willenberg, have built a company that specializes in quality off-road-related recovery gear. So it just made sense that their products would be added to the build.

An 8,000-pound winch was wound with Crawler Off Road synthetic winch rope. It is more than enough for the ultra-light Suzuki. Rick also carries a kinetic rope, soft shackle, and first aid kit. A Home Depot fire extinguisher makes sure that flames can be handled if need be. Rick also took the time to modify the door hinges to allow for the doors to be removed. He said, “I’ve had the doors off wheeling in some mud. When I put them back on, it looked like a wide body kit because of the way the mud flowed into the door and back out!”

A lot of the accessories are from Crawler Off Road, a company Rick owns with his friend, Fred Willenberg.

“I’m Going To Do It Anyway”

Rick also welded the beadlock wheels himself. He spent quite a bit of time on them. He said, “I used quarter-inch plates for both the inner and outer plates, which is overkill. I got the 39-inch Pitbull Rocker tires used for a crazy good price. They had already been on a beadlock wheel, so the bead was squished. I had a hard time getting them to seal, so I went and bought tubes. I have literally pulled the valve cores out of those tires and been able to drive on them. The sidewalls of the tires are strong enough to hold the vehicle because it is so light.”

39-inch Pitbull Rocker tires put the power to the ground.

We love the brightness of the wheels on an otherwise utilitarian truck. Rick even had to go to a special store to get the black bolts. There are several coats of paint and clear on the wheels. Friends told him that they were just going to get scratched up, but Rick doesn’t care. He likes what he likes and he does it his way.

In the hard-packed snow, the rig does well. In lighter snow, which is common for Michigan, the Suzuki is so light that it cannot dig into the snow. Rick admitted that, “It will sit on top and just try to dig. It really is a crazy sensation.”

The GM 10-bolt axles are somewhat rare, and as unique as the rest of the build. While the 10-bolt axle was built by GM for many years, these particular axles have the same carrier both front and rear. The 30-spline axles came out of a 1991 Suburban. This matched combination was only available for a couple of years and allows for the switching of differentials if desired.

It’s A Family Affair

Wheeling is all about community and family. Rick and Jessica are about to add to their family and it’s a good thing wheeling is a family passion. Rick admitted he felt lucky to have someone like Jessica in his life. He said, “Sometimes, on a trail ride, I will end up walking and spotting for people in the group. That will give her the chance to drive and she loves it. She is super supportive of the whole thing. While getting ready for the 2020 Snofari event, I spent five weekends straight in the barn. I was rebuilding suspension, adding the fuel cell, mounting the toolbox, adding light, and fixing wiring.” Not all families are so understanding.

Rick also shared that, “I love it. I just love it. My dad bought me a 1991 GMC Jimmy when I was younger. It was on 33-inch tires and my brother and I would go to the Upper Peninsula and cruise logging roads. We continued with that and it just kind of started this wheeling your daily driver scenario. It was more or less just scenic runs and being outdoors. But that started the bug in me for being off-road. I’ve always wanted to do more and get crazier.”

The interior hasn't been changed much, except for the addition of lots of mud. There are plans for future upgrades.

Future plans for the Samurai include a new front locker, a one-ton rear axle, race seats, finishing the cage, and closing in the body. Rick said, “It has a long way to go, but I’ll get it there. It’s starting to become a showpiece for the company and I’ll try to keep it up.”

About the author

Christie Materni

As a photographer, and self-proclaimed "magic maker" for over 12 years, Christie loves to create anything from amazing images to great chocolate chip cookies. Traveling the country with her camera, husband, and sometimes a dog, in search of fast cars and tough trucks is her favorite way to spend the day.
Read My Articles

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