Project Samurai, Part 1: Turbo Diesel Jeep Killer

Apr. 16, 2012 By Rick Sieman

This project was started with a 1988 Suzuki Samurai. These four-wheel-drive vehicles are available everywhere for ultra-cheap prices. This one was purchased for $500. We also picked up some used Samurai parts, including extra doors, to complete the body modifications. The motor in this vehicle was absolute junk, but it didn't matter because the plan was to put a turbo diesel in it Ė a 1.9-liter TDI Volkswagen diesel, to be exact.

Hereís what the project was started with: a dirt cheap Suzuki Samurai with a bad motor. You can find these things everywhere.

The stock 1.9-L Volkswagen motor has 90 horsepower and 145 ft-lb of torque. It comes standard in a Jetta and the Golf. The Golf motor and the Jetta motor are all known as an ALH 1.9 TDI.

The stock motor got yanked and placed in a parts pile.

The motor was purchased from Quality German Auto. Although this is a great stock motor, it will be given it to Kerma TDI and they will work their magic to modify the motor to 220 hp and 300 ft-lb of torque. We'll cover all of the specifics on this later in the build.

The VW diesel motor was stuffed easily under the hood. Itís light, compact and makes good power, with plenty of options for more power.

All of this is in a very small and very light 1.9L diesel motor, which, by the way, also gets incredible fuel mileage. Some of the Volkswagens that run this motor are getting 50 miles per gallon. So you can expect to have a completed off-road vehicle that will be capable over the rough stuff, yet still will get great mileage when cruising to and from the riding area.

A number of people have put this great motor in a Suzuki Samurai, and while it works excellent on the highway with the stock transmission and transfer case, it's geared way too high for off-road use. If the Samurai is used with the small stock tires, it's okay for off-road use. Note that we said OK, not great. But as we all know, serious off-roaders put big gnarly tires on to handle tough situations.

At this point, the entire frame and chassis was cut in half.

The aftermarket makes a gear that you can put in your transfer case that will supply the right gearing for use in the Samurai with big tires. This way, it works great off-road, but you still have a real problem with on-road use, and that is over-revving the motor's brains out trying to run at highway speeds.

Body section was installed.

To get around this problem, the plan is to use one of Acme Adapter's kits. They offer both VW-to-Suzuki and VW-to-Toyota kits, complete with adapter and motor mounts. Both are very simple to install, but the Toyota got the nod for this project. It marries the motor to the early Toyota five-speed transmission and transfer case. This way, you end up with a dual-case setup. This gives you the best of both worlds in that you have enough grunt for off-road use and can cruise down the highway at very comfortable speeds with the engine just barely turning over.

With the chassis a full yard longer, there was now room to fabricate another set of doors on the Suzuki. Voila! A four-door Samurai.

This means that youíll literally have two transfer cases, giving you low and ultra-low ranges to use when needed for off-road conditions. When you put the diesel in it and keep the stock tires, it works OK, but once you put oversize tires on the stock Suzuki running gear, the diesel has a problem off-road because the gears are too tall.

Reinforcements were made at critical junctures on the frame.The first upgrade everyone does, is get an aftermarket lower gear for the transfer case, which is the best thing you can do for a Suzuki. However, when you do this behind the diesel, it makes a great off-road vehicle, it then becomes terrible on the highway. The rpms are too high at cruising speed.

With the dual cases, when you go down the highway one-to-one, or in 5th gear overdrive, your diesel is turning a low RPM. However, when you go off-road and you put it in low range, you now have the option of a great trail gear. When you get into real heart-stopper off-road situation, you now have that second T-case to get you through by doubling the low range.

You might think this could turn out to be a nightmare, but with the Advance Adapters transfer case setup it turns a real problem into an easy solution. Even though the transmission and the transfer case with the adapters is only a few inches longer than the stock Suzuki Samurai setup, it was decided to make the Samurai more radical than any other Samurai you've ever seen on the road. 
Wes Holmes decided to make a four-door Samurai out of the stocker. This meant cutting the chassis literally in half and extending it by 36 inches. That's right, the Samurai was made a YARD longer than stock! That should guarantee some whiplash from spectators doing double takes. A four-door Suzuki Samurai should draw some attention.

An ultra-long frame is a trademark of the Samurai at this point.

Because there will be so much more power and torque, thanks to Kerma TDI, it was decided to upgrade the running gear to Spidertrax housings and Randy's Ring and Pinion (high pinion 9-inch third members) with Yukon Gears and gorilla lockers, keeping the Precision Driveline drive shafts out of the rocks.  

This will all be hooked up to RCV's 35-spline axles. These axles come with a lifetime guarantee and are bulletproof. They reduce the chance of wheel hop by eliminating the use of u-joints. By combining Reid's Racing knuckles on the ends of Spider Trax housings, this gives you the option of four-wheel steering. It got coupled to the chassis with FK rod ends. The plans for this Samurai are getting wild at this point.

Howe Performance will supply a tech support and parts to bring the rear wheel steering to life.

Like we said, the plans for this particular Samurai are genuinely wild and are likely to modify and improve as the build progresses.

However, there seems to be no limit in the pursuit of perfection. The Jeep Killer is now officially on its way. Stay tuned.


1.9 TDI motor
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Ontario, California

Modifications to motor/more horsepower
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Avon, Colorado

Motor and transmission adapter
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Clackamas, Oregon

Adapters for two transfer cases
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Paso Robles, California

Rear end housing
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Longmont, Colorado

9 inch third member/Yukon gears
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Everett, Washington

Rod ends
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Southington, Connecticut

35 spline axles
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Loves Park, Illinois

Steering knuckles
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Pleasant Hill, California

Power steering parts and pumps
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Lakeside, California

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