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Suzuki – SS20 Cervo


Vehicle Overview

Suzuki was the first company to offer a kei car in 1955. One interesting departure from other Kei cars was the Fronte Coupé introduced in September 1971. It was a 2+2 (or a strict 2-seater) Giugiaro-designed mini GT based on the rear-engine Suzuki Fronte, measuring a mere 2995 mm. It used a 359 cc two-stroke engine developing 31, 34 or 37 PS (35 in later models) depending on equipment level. The Fronte Coupé was discontinued in June, 1976, as it didn’t suit the new Kei Jidosha limits, nor the stricter emissions regulations.

After a hiatus of over a year, Suzuki returned to the sports minicar market with the new Cervo in October 1977. The SS20 Cervo was mainly a JDM model (although it was also sold as a LHD in Chile) with a 539 cc three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. The SS20 used the chassis from the 1976 Fronte 7-S, but was equipped with the larger T5A engine (this was the rear-mounted version of the LJ50 used in the Jimny and Fronte Hatch, also known as the T5B in the FF Alto/Fronte). The body was based on the Giugiaro designed Fronte Coupé, but with a bulge in the front and bigger bumpers which led to the loss of some of the original’s grace. Instead of square headlights, the Cervo received round items. The new rear glass hatch added convenience, allowing access to the rear cargo area. With the rear seats folded, one could fit 6.9 cu ft (195 L) of luggage there, with an additional 1 cu ft (30 L) available in the front compartment.

Worse was that the new 550 cc engine was strangled by emissions requirements. Whereas the most powerful 360 cc version had offered 37 PS (27 kW) at 6000 rpm, the new T5A only provided 28 PS (21 kW) at 5000 rpm and had an additional 55-80 kg to drag around. To keep acceleration acceptable, gearing was rather low, keeping claimed top speed to 120 km/h (75 mph). This was ten more than the Fronte 7-S sedan version could achieve, thanks to lower wind resistance, but Car Graphic were only able to reach 111.80 km/h (69 mph) when testing the car in 1977, with the 0-400 m sprint taking 23 seconds. The engine ran out of breath past 7000 rpm. Suzuki were aware that the Cervo, unlike its predecessor, was no longer a mini GT car. The advertising also reflected this, generally targeting the female demographic (except for the sporty CX-G version).

Equipment levels ranged from the entry-level CX (¥608,000 in 1977), via the “ladies’ version” CX-L to the top-of-the-line CX-G (¥698,000). The lowest priced CX model received microscopic hubcaps, painted black, as were the bumpers (chromed on better equipped versions). The CX-L was added in September 1978 and had brighter trim, to specifically target feminine customers. Only the CX-G had front disc brakes; the others had to make do with drums all around. As implied by the weight distribution, the rear-engine lead to a somewhat twitchy front end. In the SC100s, the heavier four-cylinder engine was countered by a balancing weight in the front bumper.

The SS20 Cervo received a very minor facelift in 1978, consisting mainly of interior upgrades. In June 1982, the rear-engined Cervo was discontinued in favor of a more conventionally laid out replacement, the SS40. In Chile the Cervo was originally only sold with the 970 cc F10A engine; a May 1979 drastic lowering on tariffs on cars of less than 850 cc meant that the 797 cc F8A inline-four became available in that market. The chassis code of this model is SC80. This was sold alongside a better equipped model with the 1 litre F10A as used in the SC100.

Technical Specifications

  • Body
  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
    SS20 Cervo
  • Coachbuilder
  • Length (mm)
  • Width (mm)
  • Height (mm)
  • Photo credits
  • Engine Type
  • Designer
    Giorgetto Giugiaro

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