Suzuki RS/1

You're looking at a prototype that Suzuki actually ended up building, kind of.

Completed in 1985, what you're looking at here is a Cultus-powered (that's the Swift), mid-engined, 2-door sports car developed by Suzuki engineers to be fast, light, simple, and sexy. Think of it as a Toyota MR-S scaled down by 1/10th and you're probably there.

Because I am who I am, I should also mention that the engine was also available in the Asüna Sunrunner.

The problem with developing a sports car at any time is that there might not be a market. If launched in, say, 1986, the car probably would have ridden the wave of the Japanese stock market and almost certainly would have starred in at least a dozen Best Motoring videos. Hindsight shows us that building a sports car in the late '80s would have helped to put Suzuki on the map, and by the time the second generation RS/1 came along, maybe the company would have started sending them to the U.S.

As it happens, Suzuki did see the potential in the car, and ordered more development work to be done. At the same time, the car was swept up in something that gripped nearly all of the Japanese automakers: luxury. Lexus, Acura, Infiniti…and Mazda's Ẽfini. I've written about the Japanese obsession with differently-branded dealership "stores" that only sell certain models. 

By the time the RS/1 had turned into the RS/3 in 1987, the market had shifted. The idea for a mid-engined kei sports car softened within Suzuki, and the company decided to go with a more conventional front engine, rear drive layout for the Cappuccino. Suzuki and Mazda were in talks about sharing various vehicle platforms, and Mazda was looking to fill a niche for one of its dealer groups with a kei-sized sports car.

What did the two companies decide to to? Turn the Suzuki into a Mazda—the AZ-1. (A car that would, itself, turn into the Suzuki Cara.) Many don't know that the AZ-1 was assembled by Suzuki during its entire production run—the RS/1  and AZ-1 also share similar names and very similar proportions.

As a show car, Suzuki also made sure that the RS/1's gauges were a single CRT monitor, but don't think for a second that the car wasn't one of the more advanced for 1985: the car wore four-wheel disc brakes, independent suspension, and fibre-reinforced plastic body panels.

It's cool that, unlike many stillborn sports cars, the RS/1 was so far ahead of its time that it was eventually put into production, albeit (primarily) under a different marque.