The Fronte automobile was first introduced in March 1962 as a sedan version of the Suzulight Van. The nameplate remained in use for Suzuki's Kei car sedans as well as some commercial-use vehicles until it was replaced by the Alto name (originally only used for commercial vehicles) in September 1988.
The Suzulight Van-based TLA Fronte was introduced in March 1962 as a passenger car version of the popular light van. 2,565 were built in the first year. A year later the new FEA engine, featuring the SELMIX automatic lubrication system, improved fuel economy and eliminated the need for pre-mixed gasoline for the two-stroke engine. The Suzulight Fronte was based on the earlier Suzulight SS series, itself a fairly straight forward copy of the even older Lloyd LP400, and as such had a transversely mounted two-cylinder, two-stroke engine driving the front wheels. Suspension was independent on all four wheels, with transverse leafsprings on both axes.
In October 1965 the further improved CCI engine (Cylinder Crank Injection), which further cut down oil consumption and startup smoke. The FEA-II engine also gained an extra horsepower, for a total of 22. The FEA-II also received a new front-end treatment, aping its bigger brother the Fronte 800. By the end of its production run, the Suzulight Fronte was beginning to look rather dated (especially the rear end) and the chassis was positively archaic.
The Suzuki Fronte 360 2-door sedan (chassis code LC10) was introduced in March 1967 to replace the earlier Suzulight Fronte. The "Y-16", as the project had been known, had a rear engine and ten inch wheels for maximum packaging. The car sprang from the 1961 "FC" project, also with a rear-engine but with rear-hinged doors, a reverse-angle rear window (à la the Ford Anglia) and an overall rakish profile. The stillborn FC, a reaction to the success of the rear-engined Subaru 360, had a unique 360 cc two-cylinder engine.
Its overall shape is of a roundish profile, soon nicknamed "Daruma" for a Japanese roly-poly doll - this is the smallest (and arguably the only Kei Jidosha) car to use the Coke bottle styling which became popular in the United States for the 1965 model year. The wheelbase was 1,960 mm (77.2 in), the suspension independent with coil springs and the engine was an all new 356 cc three-cylinder air-cooled two-cycle unit which was also called the LC10. The transmission was a four-speed manual, originally with synchromesh on the top three gears only. In a break with Fronte's front-wheel drive traditions, the powertrain was placed transversely in the rear, as was becoming the norm for kei cars of the period. The LC10 Fronte was dubbed the "Queen of the keis" by Suzuki's marketing department - a claim which may have influenced Subaru to name their 360 replacement the "Rex".
The LC10 was introduced with great fanfare and a large marketing campaign, which included television commercials. First reaching dealerships on May 27, 1968, market response was immediate and strong. While the original target production was 3,000 per month, this was soon nearly tripled. Monthly production remained above 8,000 until the end of the LC10's life. While in overall a fairly simple and light car, the triple carburettors were awkwardly located at the front of the engine, behind the rear seat. To adjust them, a mechanic would have to reach through a small egg-shaped opening from the rear seat. The rear lights and the front indicators used the same lenses, only of different colors. There was even a brochure made of a US-market Fronte 360, complete with miles-per-hour speedo and uncovered sealed-beam headlights, but most likely none were brought over.
In November, 1968 came the Suzuki Fronte SS 360 with 36 hp (27 kW), with the sportier yet Suzuki Fronte SSS to follow in April 1970. The SS was the quickest kei-car yet, managing to break the twenty second barrier in reaching 400 metres from standing with 19.95 seconds. The car had different wheels and also featured a rev counter. It was introduced with an unusual marketing stunt: racing driver Stirling Moss and TT-winning motorcycle racer Mitsuo Itoh were engaged to drive two SS Frontes (one red, one pale yellow) on a high-speed demonstration journey along Italy's 750 km (466 mi) Autostrada del Sole leading from Milan to Napoli. In the end, the average speed attained was 122.44 km/h (76.08 mph), respectable for a car with an engine smaller than those of most motorcycles. The original car currently resides in Suzuki's museum in Hamamatsu.
From January 1969 there was also an export version, the Suzuki Fronte 500 with the engine enlarged to 475 cc. The 500 produces 29 PS (21 kW) at 6,000 rpm, four more than does the original 360 export version. In the domestic market, the Fronte competed directly with the Mitsubishi Minica, Daihatsu Fellow, and the Subaru 360. Production ended in October 1970, in advance of the succeeding "Stingray" Fronte.
January 1969 saw the arrival of the Suzuki Fronte Van three-door wagon (LS10) as a successor to the Suzulight FE-series Van which had been built alongside the LC10 for a couple of years. The LS10 featured a conventional drivetrain lay-out (engine in front, rear wheel drive), a rear rigid axle with leaf springs and a wheelbase of 1,995 mm (78.5 in). Design was square in style, radically different from the Fronte sedan. To begin with, the rear opening was a single unit, hinged at the top. The engine was the air-cooled 356 cc LC10 two-cycle three-cylinder unit, here detuned to 25 hp (19 kW) for a top speed of 105 km/h. Unusually for Japanese cars, the spare wheel was mounted in the engine compartment - something more commonly seen in French cars - to help free up more space for luggage. By July 1969 a three-door wagon version intended for private use arrived, the LS11 Suzuki Fronte Estate, to give passenger car buyers a model with more luggage room without the indignity of having to buy a commercial vehicle. The Estate had the same top-hinged rear opening, but featured a more comfortable, non-folding rear seat.
In June, 1970 the Estate model was succeeded by the Suzuki Fronte Custom. The Custom had the same wagon body style but lacked a top opening at the rear. While it received a new grille it came with a downwards opening trunk lid only, possibly to please the private customer who found the luggage room in the rear-engined Fronte too small by disguising the fact that a wagon (not popular in Japan in those days) was involved. Thus the Fronte Custom became one of only two wagons ever without a bottom to top back opening, the other being the 1941-42 Chrysler Town and Country. A more luxurious and powerful (30 hp/22 kW, 110 km/h) Hi-Custom version was added two months later, but the Customs were deleted in 1971. Also in 1971 the Fronte Van received a minor facelift (called "Fresh New Fronte Van" in period marketing material), including a somewhat baroque new grille and a new, horizontally divided two-piece tailgate. The twin round taillights were also replaced by rectangular units. This version also featured Suzuki's new self-lubricating "CCIS" system (Cylinder Crank Injection and Selmix).
In March 1972 the Fronte Van received the two-cylinder, two-stroke water-cooled 28 hp L50 engine also used in the Suzuki Carry, becoming the LS20 in the process. A new grille gave away the changes underneath the skin, as did prominent "Water Cooled" badges on the rear. Aside from the engine, the most important change was that the rear lid was now once again a top-hinged single-piece unit. As before, Standard, DeLuxe, and Super DeLuxe versions were available. The Fronte Van was replaced in April 1973 by the strange-looking Fronte Hatch.
Sting Ray Fronte
In November 1970, the third generation Suzuki Fronte 71 (LC10 II) two-door sedan was introduced. Its aggressive design was commonly referred to as the "Sting Ray Look". The rear-engined chassis design and engine remained the same as its predecessor the LC10, although with a slightly longer 2,010 millimetres (79.1 in) wheelbase. Other minor chassis differences were the addition of a front anti-roll bar and the change to a semi-trailing arm rear suspension layout. There were 31, 34 or 36 hp versions available, the lineup being topped by the S, SS, SSS and SSS-R (the letter "R" merely indicating the fitment of radial tires) versions. As of May 1971 a water-cooled version, the LC10W, became available in either GL-W (34 hp) or 37 hp GT-W/GTR-W ("R" again meaning radial tires) versions. The success of the water-cooled models led Suzuki to quickly introduce further versions, with the lesser GO-W and GS-W models (also with 34 hp) appearing two months later.
By November 1971, after a minor facelift including a new grille, the cars were called Suzuki Fronte 72. The sporty air-cooled engines were dropped as water-cooled became more and more popular, except in the very lowest end of the market. In March 1972, water-cooled GD-W (deLuxe) and GU-W (standard) were added. In export markets, there was the Suzuki Fronte 500 with the 475 cc LC50 engine, also marketed as the Suzuki LC50 (29 hp, 115 km/h). In October 1972 the Fronte 72 was replaced by the "New Fronte" (with a new fascia and bonnet). By this time, only the Standard model ("U") retained the air-cooled engine, with an available automatic clutch. The top-of-the-line "GT-W Type II" came equipped with front disc brakes, as does its sister model the Fronte Coupé GXCF.
In September 1971 the seminal, Giugiaro-designed Fronte Coupé arrived, the predecessor to the well known Cervo range. Giugiaro's original concept was a revised version of the one-box design he had already used for the "Rowan Elettrica" city car of 1967. Suzuki then modified the design considerably, changing the proportions and adding ornamentation. Based on the Stingray "LC10 II" model, the Fronte Coupé was only ever offered with the water-cooled rear-mounted LC10W engine. While initially only available as a two-seater, these were gradually replaced by four-seater versions. At first only two versions were available, the regular GE and the luxurious GX (or GER/GXR for models fitted with radial tires), both with a 37 PS (27 kW) version of the LC10W. Model changes:
- February 1972 – GXF, four-seater 2+2 added. "F" signifies four seats.
- March 1972 – 34 PS (25 kW) less equipped 2+2 GXPF added.
- June 1972 – Base 31 PS (23 kW) GAF version introduced (¥399,000). Top of the line GXCF also appears, equipped with front disc brakes, and a radial tire equipped GER.
- October 1972 – Two-seater versions discontinued.
- May 1974 – Only a 35 PS (26 kW) engine now available, due to new emissions rules. Only GXF and GXCF versions remain.
- June 1976 – Discontinued. In October 1977 the Cervo replacement arrived.
The Fronte Coupé was simply referred to as the Suzuki LC10W in export markets, where it received a 35 PS (26 kW) 356 cc engine. The Fronte Coupé was resurrected in a revised and larger form as the Suzuki Cervo in October 1977, after Kei car regulations were changed in January 1976.
In July 1973 the New Fronte became the old Fronte as it was replaced by the new LC20. Its very rounded "Oval Shell" design was a radical departure from its predecessor, very much in the style of the 1970 Datsun Cherry E10. The underpinnings remained largely the same, however, retaining the water-cooled engines and suspension from the LC10 with a 20 mm longer wheelbase (2030 mm). Overall dimensions, dictated by the kei-car regulations, remained 2995×1295 mm. The air-cooled engines were discontinued, and the engine code was also changed to LC20. The radiator is mounted up front.
The bumpers were very small, no more than trim pieces. A strange and sour-looking front gave way to an ovoid rear end, culminating in an engine cover perforated by at least 50 vent openings. On the rear fenders two louvered vents allow air to the engine compartment; the right-hand one also opens to allow access to the fuel filler. Finally, a frameless opening rear glass provides a measure of hatchback practicality.
A big first for Suzuki was the availability of a four-door version, lagging behind competing offerings from Daihatsu, Subaru, and Honda. Between the three engines, two bodystyles and several different equipment levels, a confusingly large lineup was on offer: two-door GU, GD, GH, GC, GT, GT type II, and four-door FU, FD, FH, FC, FT. In July 1974 the 37 hp GT engine was downgraded to 35 hp, while the 31 and 34 hp versions were replaced by a 32 hp. The LC20 was taken out of production in May 1976, although the doors and basic layout would continue in use for the succeeding SS10 series.
In April, 1973 the LS30 "Fronte Hatch" replaced the LS20 Suzuki Fronte Van. It used the 28 hp two-cylinder two-cycle water-cooled 359 cc L50 engine also seen in the Carry and Jimny and was of a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. The Hatch was available in four equipment levels, ranging from the very basic "E", via "B" and "D" to the range topping "T" version. By December 1974 the car lost the "Fronte" badging, but retained the Fronte name in marketing material. At the same time, the emissions became cleaner, but power was down to 26 hp. The basic "E" version was dropped. The only cosmetic change the 360 series Hatch underwent was a modification of the trunklid to accept the larger license plates (330 × 165 mm) legislated for January 1, 1974. In export markets, the vehicle was also available with rear side window panels.
Reflecting new Kei car rules, in July 1976 the length of the Hatch was extended to 3190 mm (wheelbase to 2100 mm), all ahead of the firewall. The new front and new large bumpers made what was an already odd looking car even stranger. Now the Suzuki Fronte Hatch 55 (or 550), it received the three-cylinder 539 cc LJ50 engine, which was a de-smogged L50 engine with an extra cylinder tacked on: it was also known as the T5A/T5B in other applications. The new model code was SH10. The Hatch was succeeded in May 1979 by the SS30 Alto.
Government plans had been made to gradually up the Kei car engine size limit to 550 cc, to make room for cleaner four-stroke engines and to reverse the slowing Kei car sales curve. Many manufacturers responded with interim, 500 cc models in 1976, Suzuki among them. In June 1976 the Fronte 7-S was presented, model code SS10. It was 100 mm (3.9 in) wider than the LC20 series and had a larger engine of 443 cc. Wheelbase remained at 2,030 mm (79.9 in), while overall length grew to 3,190 mm (125.6 in) thanks to new bigger bumpers and a somewhat bulkier rear end. The more squared-off front end also allowed for a larger front luggage area.
The T4A engine was still a three-cylinder two-stroke (simply a bored out version of the LC10), as Suzuki considered themselves experts at this configuration. However, due to the new emissions system (Suzuki TC, "Two Catalyst"), the new engine produced a mere 26 hp (19 kW) at 4,500 rpm rather than the 32 hp (24 kW) of the 360 cc engine it replaced. The layout remained RR, with a four-speed manual transmission. "7-S" was meant to stand for Space, Safety, Sense, Save money, Silent, Stamina, and Suzuki TC, not necessarily always in the same order.
In May 1977, in an attempt at meeting to the tighter 1978 (53年) emissions standards, the new SS12 Fronte 7-S was presented, with a now even cleaner T4A engine called the TC53. "TC53" stood for Twin Catalyst, year 53 of the Showa era (1978 in the common era). This new, cleaner engine lost power and torque though, now down to 25 hp (19 kW), and still could not meet the official emissions standards. One month after the introduction of the SS12, Suzuki's inability to fully meet the 1978 emissions regulations with the two-stroke engine compelled them to write a contract with Toyota to purchase engines from their subsidiary Daihatsu, Suzuki's main competitor. Daihatsu's catalysed 28 hp (21 kW) four-stroke AB10 engine was installed in the SS11, selling in parallel with the two-stroke at a slightly higher (by ¥18,000) price. Four-strokes had a "4" logo in the grille. These were very weak sellers, offering much less torque and drivability than their two-cycle brethren. Torque was 3.9 kgm at 3,500 rpm, versus 4.6 kgm in the smaller two-stroke engine.
The interim SS12 was replaced by the "full scale" 550 cc SS20 version in October 1977, equipped with the T5A engine (first seen in the Jimny). With a slight facelift (grille, redesigned cladding around the C-pillars) and now 539 cc it offered 28 hp (21 kW) at 5,000 rpm and 5.3 kgm at 3,000 rpm, which helped bring top speed up from 105 to 110 km/h (65 to 68 mph). To use up leftover four-stroke engines, the SS11 received the same facelift, becoming the SS11-2. The SS11-2 was fairly short-lived, though, as the T5A engine met emissions regulations on its own and Suzuki was now able to terminate their contract with Toyota. The production run of the SS20 was not very long, coming to an end after just over a year and a half.
The Fronte 7-S was never a big seller, as it was an old design and two-stroke engines were beginning to lose favor with Japanese car buyers. The SS10 and SS20 Frontes were both clearly based on the old LC20, making do with a widened LC20 chassis and using its doors and many interior parts. For the SS20 Suzuki resorted to increasingly awkward efforts to hide the LC20's curvy design with square blocks of plastic, without much success. Production ended in April 1979, as Suzuki was getting ready to introduce their new generation of front-wheel drive kei cars.
SS30 / SS40
In May 1979 the Fronte 7-S was replaced by the new SS30/SS40 Fronte. The Fronte Hatch 55 was also discontinued, from now on the commercial versions all used the Alto name. Alto also came to be the name used in export markets. SS30S was the two-stroke engined version of the Fronte (539 cc, 3-cylinders, (539 cc, 3-cylinders, 28 hp (21 kW) T5B) while the SS40S received a newly developed, 543 cc four-stroke three-cylinder engine, the F5A. This developed 31 hp (23 kW) (later 29 hp) and proved very popular, soon displacing the two-stroke entirely. The T5B would no longer be available in the Fronte after May 1981. The Alto light commercials received the SS30V/SS40V designation, and considerably lower gearing since it was mainly intended for short distance inner-city use. Both the Alto and Fronte had a claimed top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph).
The new Fronte was a big step away from the SS20, making the switch from a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration to a more up-to-date transversely mounted engine in front, driving the front wheels. Wheelbase was increased from 2,030 to 2,150 mm and the new car was much more spacious. The four-door Fronte had an opening rear glass window, whereas the two-door Alto got a proper rear hatch. In some export markets the car was just known as the Suzuki SS40. In Europe, the Fronte (labelled Alto) was sold with a 796 cc four-stroke three (SS80) from July 1981 and was 100 mm longer, thanks to bigger bumpers. From 1984 until replaced in 1986, the four-door SS80 Fronte was built in India by Maruti as the "800". In Pakistan the four-door version was available with the F8B engine and was sold as the FX 800. The FX was sold from 1984 to 1988 when it was replaced by the SB-308 body style (still in production), called the Suzuki Mehran.
In September 1984 the new Fronte CB71 was introduced. Now only with the F5A four-stroke engine, it retained the suspension of the SS40 model (leaf sprung, beam axle). The Fronte was now a full five-door hatchback, on a wheelbase extended to 2,175 mm (85.6 in). Only the 543 cc F5A engine was available, with the power output back up to 31 hp (23 kW) at 6000 rpm. The most expensive model, the FG, received front disc brakes (the lesser versions making do with drums all around) and a 5-speed manual transmission or 2-speed automatic. As before, the Fronte received higher gearing than the Alto, reflecting its intended usage. Top speed was 120 km/h (75 mph), 2 more km/h than the Alto.
In July 1986 the CB71 became the CB72 after a rather thorough facelift. The headlights were new, of the wraparound sort and the interior was changed with a new dashboard, but the main changes were under the skin: the old rear suspension was replaced with Suzuki's patented ITL suspension (Isolated Trailing Link), a three-link rigid setup that considerably improved the ride. By February 1987, the Fronte became available as a three-door, with the FS Twin Cam 12 version with a 42 hp (31 kW) at 7500 rpm, DOHC 12-valve F5A engine (FR in the five-door version). In August 1987 a 3-speed automatic transmission became available, and lastly there was also a 4-wheel drive version of the CB72 FM (the CD72S, from January 1988). By September, the CB/CD72 was replaced. The '88 Suzuki Cervo used the chassis, front clip and door panels from the CB/CD72 Fronte.
A slightly longer and wider version (bigger bumpered), equipped with the same 796 cc engine as the SS80, producing 40 hp (30 kW) was the export model. In Europe it was sold as the Alto, in other countries as the SB308 or with the Fronte nameplate. The facelifted Fronte has also been produced (or still is being built) under license by many other manufacturers:
- Chang'an SC 7080
- Jiangbei Alto JJ 7080
- Jiangnan JNJ 7080 Alto
- Maruti 800 (aka Suzuki Maruti)
- Mehran 800
- Xian Alto QCJ 7080
In September 1988, the new CN11S Fronte debuted. The previous generation wasn't as roomy as the competition, due to its comparably short wheelbase, but the new version addressed this issue by being stretched out by 160 mm (6.3 in) to 2,335 mm (91.9 in). A sleeker body, with rear side windows that wrapped around the edge of the roof also helped sales. Apart from the cheapest variants, the Fronte got front disc brakes and 12 inch radial tyres. The Fronte also received the 547 cc 12-valve SOHC F5B engine from the Suzuki Cervo, developing 40 hp (30 kW) at a lively 7500 rpm. There was no three-door version this time, but a 4WD variant (CP11) was available.
And then, only six months later, Suzuki's longest running nameplate was laid to rest. When Japanese tax laws were changed in April, 1989, micro commercial vehicles were no longer quite as favored as before. But, since the Alto had long had a much larger market share than the Fronte, it was decided to drop the Fronte name and focus marketing efforts on the Alto, which now became available as a five-door and three-door sedan as well as a three-door van. With the 796 cc engine, the CN11S Fronte was built in South Korea (and a number of other countries) as a Daewoo Tico (aka Fino in Latin America), and in China as the Anchi 6330. Except as a Daewoo, the CN11 was never exported to Europe, as they received the Cervo Mode (labelled as an Alto) instead.