BY ANDY ENRIGHT
British motorists like to assume the role of put-upon victims of a money grubbing state, but spare a thought for the poor residents of Japan. With vehicle ownership a crippling financial proposition and average metropolitan traffic speeds slower than the tectonic plate the cities sit on, the Japanese have some tough breaks. The K-class of motor vehicles was designed to give the miserable Japanese motorist the opportunity to own a car that would merely render them destitute rather than eternally in the debt of the local yakuza boss. To conform, the cars in question needed to be less than 3.3 metres long, less than 1.4 metres wide and with an engine size of less than one litre. These midget cars were not meant to be fun. Fortunately, nobody told Suzuki that last bit. The 660cc Cappuccino was an instant hit and soon developed a minor cult following in the UK. Track down a decent used one and you'll have landed yourself a tiny slice of Oriental exotica.
Models Covered: (2dr roadster 657cc petrol)
First unveiled at the 1989 Tokyo Show, the Cappuccino was at first dismissed as a mere styling exercise, many bystanders ignorant of Suzuki's resolve to put the tiny roadster into series production. Production began in earnest at the Kosai plant in October 1991, although aspirations for the car never extended beyond the domestic market. Aware of the favourable reception the car was receiving in its homeland, Suzuki GB soon spotted the potential for the Cappuccino to act as a brand builder for the marque, and entered into discussions to bring the car to these shores. Being such a specialist car, the type approval process wasn't straightforward, yet the Cappuccino officially went on sale to an initially bemused British public in October 1993, priced at £11,995. Tight import quotas meant that only 1,110 cars were sold in the UK between 1993 and 1995, of which 80% were red and the remaining 20% were silver. Tougher emissions regulations eventually made the import of the Cappuccino unfeasible, but the car carried on for sale in Japan in Type2 guise until late 1997, and personally imported examples continue to hit UK docks.
What You Get
Highlighting the fact that the Cappuccino is small may well be a Pope/Catholic or bears/woods sort of observation but it's worth reiterating. This car is seriously diminutive. If you're broad of shoulder, Cappuccino driving can be rather intimate. The car is so low slung that it highlights a feeling that there's even less car than you at first envisaged. Although a driver's airbag and anti-lock brakes are standard equipment, some drivers may feel a touch vulnerable in such a tiny car. When the roof is stowed there's not too much luggage space. Standard equipment includes air conditioning and electric windows, but security provision is poor. Nevertheless, everything is impeccably built, the engine bay being a masterpiece in miniaturisation. If it didn't have a Suzuki badge on it, you'd swear it was built by Sony.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
First things first. The Cappuccino is a target for villains so make sure that your prospective purchase has a Thatcham approved alarm/immobiliser fitted. If it doesn't, try to negotiate the value of one off the price. Official UK cars are worth around 5% more than equivalent vintage imports and they can be identified by their indicator light casings on the front wings. If the casing is flush with the wing it's an import, if it bulges outwards it's likely to be a UK car. Even the official UK cars were never supplied with any meaningful rustproofing, although a 6-year anti-perforation warranty acted as an emollient for many new buyers. Cars that have been undersealed or wax-oiled are a sure sign that the previous owner was fastidious in their care. Otherwise check for rust bubbles around the sills, wheel arches, doors, engine bay, and rear number plate recess. Make sure the rubber roof seals on the hard top aren't perished, that the panels aren't dented, that the rear disc brakes haven't succumbed to metal moth and that the air conditioning is still up to par. British cars were trimmed in PVC which has proved to be agreeably hardwearing although most import cars will have some rather uninspiring cloth seats which haven't stood the test of time quite so well. One advantage of buying what is developing into a cult car is that a dedicated community of enthusiasts can help with any problems or queries you may have. The Suzuki Cappuccino Register for Enthusiasts (SCORE) is an excellent resource and their website at www.score.org.uk is an invaluable source of advice, the club also being a handy way to land some discount at affiliated Suzuki dealers. Personally, the temptation to name the club SCARE would have been too great to resist.
(approx based on a 1994 Cappuccino). Prices can vary according to where you shop, but parts tend to be surprisingly reasonable given the limited volumes the Cappuccino sold in. Expect to pay around £52 for a pair of front discs and £45 for a pair of pads. A front wheel bearing will be just over £210 whilst a clutch kit is approximately £170. A rear shock absorber retails at around £95 whilst an alloy wheel will leave change from £180. A starter is in the region of £190 but should you need a new alternator, prepare to drain the current account of £480.
On the Road
The 64bhp three-cylinder engine epitomises the word 'willing', generating enough power and torque to give the Cappuccino surprising verve. It's possible to hit 60mph in a mere 8.2 seconds, and this will feel a good deal more dramatic than an equivalently quick family saloon! Top speed is pretty variable, with progress beyond 80mph an exercise in teeth gritting. A refined motorway cruiser the Cappuccino most definitely isn't but it's enormous fun on back lanes. There you can take the roof down and enjoy every thrum, whiz, pop and hiss of the turbocharged and intercooled engine; a powerplant with a smaller capacity than your average bottle of Chablis. Fuel consumption is, as one would expect, superb - the Suzuki capable of averaging around 43mpg. It's easy to be dismissive of the Cappuccino's abilities, to patronise it as a toy, but in the right conditions a well-driven example will show its pert rump to some far more serious tackle.
The limited numbers that reached these shores, the critical acclaim and the sheer infectiousness of its personality make the Cappuccino difficult to resist. Whilst we'd wouldn't contend with the view that it's best enjoyed as a second or possibly even third car, if you've the yen for s bonsai slice of eccentricity, a used Cappuccino might be just your cup of tea. So as to speak.