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Note: This article came from the July 1991 edition of Motor Trend Magazine. This is a copyrighted article which can not be duplicated without permission. It is posted here by permission of the VP/Executive Publisher.

PART 1: Transforming Suzuki's Swift GT into a commuter car with an attitude

by C. Van Tune

In this era of sky-high housing prices, not many of us can afford to live close to where we work. In fact, the housing market in Southern California is so tough, many folks travel 75 or more miles each way-each day. Which makes owning an inexpensive, fuel-efficient commuter car more of a necessity than ever. But there's a big price to be paid for such synapse numbing transportation. Just imagine three to five years of pounding the pavement in the same, boring econobox. Such treatment of laboratory animals would be considered inhumane.

Fortunately, anyone with even a little automotive ingenuity needn't be stuck with this kind of performance penance. By adding the right combination of aftermarket equipment, it's possible to transform even the most sedate sedan into a responsive, fun-to-drive machine. And no, we're not talking engine swaps or other major projects that take big time and require big bucks. Our philosophy is to work with what the factory provided, but to hone it to a razor's edge of sharpness. You'll end up with a car that returns the same (or better) fuel economy as before, but that'll reward its passengers with snappy power, taut handling, and just a hint of arrogance. A competitive edge to help you win the daily rat race to the office. Picture of a SwiftGTi in Motion

To illustrate our point, we decided to transform one of our favorite commuter cars, the Suzuki Swift GT. In stock form, the Swift GT is already a valiant competitor. Picture of Swift's 1300cc motor Its 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine might not sound like much, but, thanks to the DOHC 16-valve design and multipoint electronic fuel injection, churns out a full 100 horsepower at 6500 rpm. With only 1870 pounds to haul around, that's not a bad power to weight-ratio. A dragstrip time of 0-60 mph in 9.8 seconds and a quarter mile of 17.2 seconds/81.1 mph puts it fender to fender with such machines as the Honda Prelude Si and Nissan Sentra, but they still fall short of the numbers we're looking for.

Likewise, the front-drive Swift's suspension of MacPherson struts and anti-roll bars front and rear mates with its standard 175/60R14 radials to give it a fair amount of stick in the turns. Skidpad figures of 0.80g and a speed of 64.6 mph through our 600-foot slalom attest to its corner-turning prowess. Rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Picture of Swift's Suspension

Outside, the sporty Suzuki boasts stylish aerodynamic looks that include a front airdam with fog lamps, side skirts, and a hatchback spoiler, plus lower rear fascia panels. Inside, the Swift GT seats four with good-looking highback sport buckets up front and a comfortable bench in back. Power mirrors, rear window wiper, and AM/FM/cassette stereo are standard equipment, and there's even a tachometer in the gauge cluster.

But there are many items that could benefit from a bit of mechanical massaging. We want to make significant improvements in acceleration, handling, and braking, but not at the cost of a blatting exhaust note nor the punishment of a rock-hard ride. The car must remain-first and foremost-an economical commuter car. No one but you has to know it'll be packing enough muzzle velocity to embarrass cars costing much more.

To help us with the transformation, we called on the performance people at Jackson Racing. Under the direction of owner Oscar Jackson, the company has been responsible for creating many lightning-fast machines out of everyday automobiles. In the past, it's specialized in Honda and Acura cars, but has recently expanded to include go-fast goodies for the Mazda Miata. Our program (and the calls Jackson's received about similar Suzuki modifications) has encouraged him to introduce a line of components for the Swift.

We've just begun our experiment, so even we don't know how far it'll take us. When you get a group like ours together to work on performance modifications, anything's liable to happen. Check back next month, when our Suzuki Swift GT will be finished and ready to roll. Then we'll actually be looking forward to the morning commute.