I bought my 94 Suzuki Swift GT in December 95. My car was manufactured in October of 94 and was one of the last Swift GTs produced for the United States. Since its purchase, my car has seen quite a life. Every red light has been an opportunity to blip the throttle in anticipation of the green. Screeching tires, and redline are things that my car sees all too often. Through it all, my car has come through with flying colors.
My first opportunity to race this beauty (On a closed track that is) came in April of 96. My father races in RMVR - Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing. His vintage eligible cars include a D-Sports Racer and two Formula Fords. This was the first year he was going to let me race his cars (God knows that I couldn't afford the tires on the cars, less alone the actual car.) For Drivers-School, my father suggested that I race something that I felt comfortable in - my Swift GT. What happened that weekend astounded me and many others.
I was placed in the small bore production car group. My group included the following vintage classics: Austin Healey Sprite, MG Midget, Sunbeam Alpine, Triumph Spitfire, Triumph TR4, Austin Mini Cooper S, and an Alpha Sedan. The production cars that joined this group included my 94 Swift Gt, LT-92 Corvette, Corvette Stingray, Porsche 944, a Datsun 280Z, and a modified Honda Accord.
The drivers were as diverse as the cars. Most everyone had extensive racing experience with the exception of me and the Datsun 280Z driver. Some drivers had new cars that they needed to get experience in, but most drivers were there to just get more seat time (If you're a race car driver, you know that there's nothing like seat time to get faster track times).
The event had 5 different groups each with 4 20 minute track sessions per day. That's a total of 80 minutes. For those of you that haven't raced before, that may not seem like much, but when your concentrating for 20 solid minutes, and you only have an hour and a half break between sessions, it's pretty intense.
I'll skip a lot of the boring details: me learning flags, turn apexes, trail braking, checking mirrors, heel-n-toe, rolling starts, etc. Let's get into how the Swift GT performed. On the final day, there was a practice session, a qualifying session and then two race sessions.
The first thing I'd like to note is that all-out racing on a closed track is VERY different than taking a few turns fast now and then on the street. Pardon my soapbox here:
When I started pushing my Swift Gt, the first thing I noticed was that the stock tires (175/65 R14) loved to talk - screech..... The louder the whine on the tires, the more I knew that I was pushing them. I kept pushing the car harder and harder, and the tires got louder and louder - until finally they lost traction and my car almost slid off the track. I noted the sound that the tires made just before giving way and tried to duplicate that on every turn. The fun part (at least I thought it was fun) was at the end of the first straight. At the end of the straight lies a 180 degree banked turn - and the Swift GT is travelling at over 85 miles an hour. I found out that if your brave (stupid?), all you have to do is lift your foot off the accelerator, and dig down low in the turn. The tires are incredibly loud trying to keep the car from flying off the track.
Handling on the car was terrific! The Swift was extremely predictable and easy to drive. My instructor, Terry Allard, was impressed by how easy the car was to drive. I'll always remember my first lesson with him at the wheel of my car - needless to say, the power of my car didn't impress me (I'm at 5000 ft elevation - which results in a sizable loss in power), what did impress me was the cars ability to handle like it was on rails. My instructor was pushing my car to its' limits while I was trying not to panic. It's really different being in the passenger seat while a car is pushed to its limits - just remember that when you have a person sitting besides you when your driving - they are trusting YOU with their life.
The first part of the training did not allow passing except on straits. With this restraint, my car had a very hard time passing the Datsun 280Z, the Porsche 944, and both Corvettes. The other vintage cars did not represent a difficult challenge for the Swift (This includes the Austin Mini Cooper S - a car I really wanted before I got my Swift GT). This restriction led to me being extremely bored half of the time - Since I couldn't pass the above cars, I went really slow and let them have a large lead, after which, I would drive all out and catch them. Luckily, after the first day, they let us pass in corners.
The second day was much more exciting. The Swift GT was put to the test with amazing results. I'll let you know upfront that the Swift GT was NOT the fastest car; The Porsche 944 won that honor. The Swift GT won the honor for the second fastest car - based on lap times. In racing, the results where a bit different. After lap times where posted, I had four drivers walk up to me and ask what I had done to my car - all of them thought that it was a heavily modified pocket rocket. I was happy to tell them that my car was 100% stock! The next question was usually: How much did it cost? When I told the L92 Corvette driver the $12k sticker - his jaw dropped... my car outperformed his at a third of the cost.
Racing was very different from just trying to get good lap times. Although my lap times where 2 seconds quicker than the stock L92 Corvette, I could not pass the L92 Corvette under any circumstance (the only possibility was under braking at the end of the first strait - an unpleasant place to pass - if you pass under braking, you have to dive for the corner and hope the other guy doesn't turn into you, needless to say, this was a manouver that was frowned upon at the driving school).
During racing the L92 Corvette, I found that the Swift has considerably better brakes (The only modification to my stock brakes was the replacement of the DOT 1 brake fluid with DOT 3 racing fluid - guaranteed to not boil). Due the low weight of the Swift, it took less time to brake (resulting at staying at speed longer - the key to good track times), it had better handling (resulting in taking the corners faster).
Racing the L92 Corvette was extremely amusing (although frustrating at times). Every strait I would see the Corvette pull away from me - opening up quite a lead. This lead would evaporate on the next few turns as the Corvette's brakes struggled to slow down the heavy vehicle and the huge tires and suspension tried to keep the massive car on track. After two to three turns I would be a car length away and would have to back off and just wait for the next strait. The same characteristics that made the car slow in the turns also made it very difficult to pass on a narrow race track. In practice sessions, I would just pull into the pit lane for 20 seconds. When I would go back out, the Vette was far enough ahead that I could concentrate on really going fast (And I could still catch it by the end of the session).
As far as the Corvette Stingray goes, it wasn't even a challenge. I think it must have been a V6 model, because my Swift could pass it on straits - turns weren't pretty in the thing either - All show and no go in my opinion.
Racing against the Porsche 944 was fun, but I never could keep up for long. I would have to say that the Porsche 944 drives like a Suzuki Swift GT on steroids. The Porsche has all the the great braking and handling characterics of the Swift plus some. It also has slightly more power. I really feel that a slightly modified Swift GT could equal or slightly out perform a stock Porsche 944.
The Datsun 280Z didn't run for more than two sessions, and had problems during that period. It was a highly modified 280Z and showed some real potential at times. The car could accelerate faster than the L92 Corvette, and it could handle really well besides. Unfortunately, it's modifications proved to be unreliable.
As for all of the other cars, I lost respect for them (although I still think that several of them are great looking cars). I had actually looked at buying a few of the different models before I settled on my Suzuki Swift GT. Now that I've had a chance to race them, I can safely say that I made the right decision in buying my car. For the money, the Suzuki Swift GT can not be beat.