"Suzy" the truck gets glamorous. Suzy is a 1990 Suzuki Carry Japanese 'Kei' truck

Before and after pictures

Why be a 'plain Suzy Suzuki' when only a couple of thousand dollars and 100 hours of work is standing between you and glamour?  Well, there is no reason to be plain when you have the right vision, an open wallet, a shop, and most importantly, an understanding wife! (thanks sweetie!)

Project goals:

Improve the off-road ability of the truck Improve its looks. Do whatever maintenance or improvements required to extend the life of the truck and finish in two weeks (finish the job in two weeks? Try a month!)

Fulfilling these goals ultimately involved the following:

Note: Lift kit, bumper/trailer hitch, and tires/wheels ordered from G&R Imports

A little history before we get into the makeover. We have needed a utility vehicle for our little ranch and while the Kawasaki diesel Mule was the first choice, the price was a huge turn-off (~$9,000+). Some shopping revealed that used golf carts were priced anywhere from $1k to $3k, and off-brands of Utility Vehicles (off as in not John Deere or Kawasaki, etc) were in the $3-5k range. I briefly considered a quad (ATV), but I decided these weren't as useful as a vehicle with a cargo bed.

Having seen these little Japanese trucks around once in a great while, I got interested in pursuing one of these as a suitable work vehicle for our place since the prices were reasonable (~$4-5k), and the little trucks were for the most part, 4-wheel drive, a nice feature for ranch work when the traction isn't occasionally good enough for two-wheel drive. I did some research and found an advertisement on Craig's List for a truck located on a ranch in Uvalde, TX. We made arrangements to make the two hour drive from our place west of Kerrville to see the truck. This fellow lived in Houston, had a large ranch (1,000+ acres) just south of Uvalde, and was getting out of the mini-truck business. He had three trucks for us to consider and the oldest truck was the best one in our opinion. Even though this truck was 18 years old (a 1990 model), it had less than 11,000 miles on it and felt tight, didn't rattle, bump, or squeak.  The other two trucks were years newer, had more desirable features (locking differentials, granny gear - super-low 1st gear), 30 or 40 thousand miles on them and had what I think were steering and suspension issues. He told us the 1990 model was the best of the three, and sure enough, we ultimately concurred and that's the one we purchased.

Let's get started...


Parts removed

First thing is to remove parts! I made a run on Jane's Ziplock bags and brought a bunch to the shop to carefully bag and label all small parts removed. This was an incredibly forward-thinking move as putting everything back together went quite well!

Sand blast the frame

One of the first tasks was to pressure blast with abrasives the areas of rust that were obvious. Lots of the area around welds had some rust, so I shot all of those I could see and then immediately primed the bare metal

Ready for sanding

I removed everything that seemed possible without a huge amount of effort or extraordinary knowledge (or skill) to make the sanding/priming/painting easier

Parts ready for work

Some of the parts hanging around the shop waiting for some action!

Clutch job was necessary!

As a totally unexpected event, I needed to back the truck out of the shop for some wet-sanding and discovered the clutch was totally non-functional. After much head-scratching (and a question on the Mini-truck forum), I decided the transmission needed to be separated from the engine so I could discover what the heck was wrong with the clutch. After pulling the tranny, I found the clutch plate had rusted to the flywheel, apparently as a result of pressure-washing the engine and drive train a few days earlier which allowed a water mist to enter the clutch area. Since I had all of this apart, I ordered a new clutch assembly even though the original clutch wasn't worn too much. Never an easier time to go for new parts!

Cans of paint

You betcha - good old Rust-oleum! Inspired by a fellow who used Rust-oleum to paint his car, I thought it would work for me as well, and the price was right - about $25 a gallon. This is a one step paint, so I didn't need to worry about a clear coat over a color coat. Gloss black was used for the frame

Spray guns

Here are the three spray guns I primarily used. The $20 Harbor Freight gravity-fed gun is great for primer and you can't beat the price. The CH touch-up gun is a nice little gun for almost any application of small physical size. It atomizes the paint really well and is easy to handle, manipulate, and clean up. The IR 270G is a really nice spray gun. Since it is High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP), there isn't as much overspray, but you do need a healthy air compressor. I don't recall a CFM spec on this gun, but I think any 60 gallon compressor would work fine. I saw an exact copy of this gun at an Advance Auto Parts store under a different brand name, but it looked like it came with a plastic material container instead of the metal one on the IR. It was priced at $98 (as of 10-03-08), but I'll take the metal container for a few more bucks (bought at Tractor Supply)

Air dryer for the compressed air supply

You don't want humid air coming out your spray gun, or your abrasive blaster!

Dry air is difficult to obtain with a traditional air compressor - as the air is compressed, it heats up and condenses moisture from the atmosphere. Even with a water separator, the air is still humid as it travels through your delivery piping and out your spray gun. A desiccant air dryer is a very effective and inexpensive (~$50) method of ensuring moisture-free air. The brass thing on the right-hand side before the air chuck is a moisture indicator ($20) - what I didn't realize was that one is integral to the dryer, so I essentially wasted that money. (Thanks ecompressedair for that omission in the product description!)

Front left is primered

We're well along with the sanding and applying primer. The white area on the front should have been sprayed with primer and the color coat since the bumper grill allows some of the white to show (if you are low to the ground and looking carefully!) One of the other 'loves' in my life is my Kubota tractor that you can see in the background

Front right in primer

Right side of the trucklet. Sometime between the primer coats and the first green coats, I sprayed the frame with two coats of gloss black

Parts are primered

It was a seemingly never-ending cycle of spraying primer, wet-sanding, retaping, cleaning, spraying primer, etc. I sprayed about two primer coats. Some areas could have used six coats of primer and block-sanding IF you were going for a show-car finish, but that was not the project objective

Final coat of green

Last coat of green. Actually I had to respray some of the front since I was having trouble spraying the paint heavy enough to where it flowed out, and not too heavy to where it sagged, ran, or did a heavy orange-peel. Notice the bed is still in primer since I will be applying Herculiner bed-liner coating

Another view of the final green coat

Another view of the final green coat

Another view of the final green coat

And yet another view

Miscellanous parts to be sprayed

Couldn't leave the plastic bumper and headlight trim alone - I washed them and then sprayed with an adhesion promoter, then two coats of Rust-oleum gloss black. The two parts at the bottom are the metal wheel wells

Sides of the bed on a table

This is the east way to spray - the parts are laying down flat!

Back view - almost finished with the paint!

Just about finished with green and ready to start the bedliner application

Close view of overspray and underspray

Nope - it all didn't turn out perfectly. You can see primer overspray, and green underspray!!

Bed liner supplies

Moving on!! I bought the Herculiner kit at Auto Zone and ordered the UV Topcoat protection from Amazon. Be sure and use fine-line blue 2" tape when taping off for the Herculiner application

Bedliner applied

I think this picture is after I rolled on the first coat of Herculiner. You must roll on two coats and after the second coat dried for about six hours (the second day of Herculiner application), I taped more paper around the truck and sprayed on the topcoat. I stuck pencils in the holes where I needed to protect the threads from Herculiner intrusion

John showing off his Carry

YES!  The finished project! Looking good!

Glamour shot of the truck

Lookin' good in Hunter Green!!