This Suzuki Swift swiftly became one of my favorites at RADWood
Silver, compact, and more fun than it has any right to be
I’ve always been a fan of small or compact cars. The idea of having a car that’s both easy to park and almost as practical as a full-size car is very appealing to me, hence why I’m such a big proponent of Kei cars and small EVs. One of my all-time favorite small cars is the Geo Metro/Suzuki Forsa/Suzuki Swift/Chevrolet Sprint/Pontiac Firefly. This rebadged wonder was GM’s utterly tiny and rebadged version of the Suzuki Cultus. I always see these cars putt-putting around in various stages of disrepair but I’ve never gotten the chance to write about one. That is until I spotted this one at RADWood.
This is Brandon’s 2001 Suzuki Swift and while it isn’t a race car, it sure identifies as one. Before it landed in Brandon’s collection, it was owned by an older gentleman in the Oakland hills who could no longer drive it and decided to sell it to someone who would take better care of it. Even though this beauty was already cheap at $900, the two agreed on $650 smogged. Upon closer inspection, a smog was the easiest problem to solve on this Swift. The car was well overdue on several maintenance items and a little rough around the edges but thanks to the plethora of parts available, it was very easy and cheap to get it in good running condition.
One of the first questions I had when I saw this Swift, and one I’m sure many of you have as well, is “why?” Well, it turns out that Brandon here loves Metros as much as I do! He previously owned a 1993 Geo Metro hatchback, currently owns a 1989 Suzuki Swift GTi, and has religiously learned everything he could about the platform that these little stinkers were built on. Armed with that knowledge, he set out to buy another Metro to modify, and thus, this egg-shaped hatchback came to be.
The list of mods begins with this thing’s ability to turn on a dime. Now I don’t understand some of these terms but I’ll do my best to explain how this Swift is like a JDM drift machine. Through a combination of dark magic, Whiteline polyurethane bushings, pushing the front caster out a couple of degrees using shims, negative camber via strut bolts, and a fat Addco 7/8" rear sway bar, it “rotates and turns in like nobody’s business.” Brandon also increased the spring rates with some Vogtland springs paired with KYB GR2 shocks and they apparently get the job done. The underside received even more love in the form of a trapezoidal 4-point belly brace in the front and a fully adjustable rear toe with 4-bar rod ends and aluminum tubing.
Visually, it’s a hodgepodge of retrofitted parts. The front bumper is from an earlier 2nd gen Metro with an NA generation Miata lip replica. The headlight surrounds are stock but they’ve been fitted with Mini H1 bi-xenon HID projectors. The mirrors are DTM BMW E30-style mirrors that help keep a very low and aerodynamic profile compared to the stock Swift mirrors. In the back is a Subaru Impreza Wagon GD/GG spoiler with a half-cut rear bumper that’s reminiscent of the Japanese Osaka Kanjozoku racers. Last but not least are the “phone dial” wheels from an early FC3S RX7 wrapped in Falken Azenis RT615 tires. Brandon tells me those tires have been “nothing but predictable for track use”, which is something nobody would think to do in a Suzuki Swift.
Since Brandon’s Integra and NC Miata bit the dust, the Swift has received most of the abuse. That’s right folks, this is a tracked Suzuki Swift. A car that was once meant as nothing more than an economical commuter car is now pushed to its limits among cars that are in a much higher tax bracket than it.
“I kind of went off the deep end by deciding to take a perfectly good stock Metro/Swift and modifying it to an extent that is seldom seen, “he said. “This car suddenly went from an econobox with egregious amounts of body roll and plow to a vehicle with amazing turn in, lateral grip, and rotation. The acceleration is still lackluster but it’s just enough to have fun. It's a great stress relief car for canyon and mountain driving and it has started to see track days/HPDE recently when I have the bandwidth. I have plans to take it to a couple more events this year as well as subsequent years as my other car is getting ready to fulfill that role.”
With 165k miles on the clock though, the end is inevitable for the stock G13BB engine. When it eventually crosses the rainbow bridge in the sky, it will be replaced with a 1.6-liter G16 engine from a Suzuki Esteem along with other modifications like a reground cam and header, a shorter 4.1 or 4.4:1 final drive ratio, a rear brake disc conversion, and BC Racing coilovers for more compression damping. Think of it as an uncommon race car turned into an even more capable, yet equally uncommon, race car.
In closing, I’d like to say that there’s nothing I love more than seeing cars that would have otherwise rusted away being turned into usable, fun machines. These Suzuki Swifts (and Geo Metros and the other rebadges models) were seen as disposable commodities, much like early Honda Civics and Accords, which means that many of them are gone or very nearly gone. Brandon’s Swift is one of the lucky few that was saved from such a fate and honestly, it’s a beautiful sight to see. Hopefully, more enthusiasts will take note from people like Brandon and save these aging compact cars from their pre-determined fate.
Huge thanks to Brandon for bringing his rescued Swift to RADWood and for taking the time to talk to me about it! I was beyond excited to see a fellow Geo Metro lover show up and it gave me hope that I may encounter more of these beauties in the future. “Get to know Geo,” and you won’t be disappointed at what you find.