I now understand why Suzuki got out of the car biz… I’m driving one of their last creations today. It’d a generic 4 door econobox loaded with every imaginable bell and whistle, which is a shame because it actually does car stuff like going, steering, and stopping tolerably well. But the driving experience is sadly obscured by dozens of buttons, gadgets, warning bells, and just plain stupid stuff we never asked for. And you’d think Suzuki could at least follow ISO standards for all this gadgetry so the windshield wipers and light switches would work the same, regardless of manufacturer of origin. But Noooo… Then those “features” wouldn’t be exclusive. And like everything else today, the documentation is missing… Wouldn’t want a customer to lose an owner’s manual, ya know. And all of the above may explain why at 17k miles this Suzuki seems destined to a life as a service department loaner… Who would want such a loser of a car to be a permanent resident of their garage?

Now didn’t used to be this was… Suzuki used to be known for their simple and strong econoboxes with a 3 cyclinder engine good for 150k miles and more. A little car so sturdy that 4 escaping felons using a 150k mile example as a getaway car couldn’t kill it, and last I talked to the new owner who bought it at the police auction it’s still going strong. Same with Suzuki’s motorcycles- their best selling 650 twins and DR singles are prized for their durability, economy, and versatility. But sadly, Suzuki lost their way in the winds of complexity, and as a result there’ll be no more Suzuki cars. Heck, I suspect this one will see the scrapyard within 10 years and 100k miles, while it’s simpler Suzuki siblings motor on for decades.

Which brings us back to the three million mile Volvo I wrote of a couple weeks back. Four cylinder engine, manual transmission, no power ‘nuthin to fail… That seems to be the recipe for automotive eternal life. Last night while web surfing I came across a roster of some of the Hostess Brands fleet. Unlike the other handful of fleet rosters now in the public domain thanks to Hostess’ bankruptcy, this one listed mileages. ‘Twas quite the eye opener… Econoline and Astro vans with 500k on the odo, stepvans with 800k, and who knows how many on the ones with mere 5 digit or busted odometers. Now part of this longevitry was due to Hostess being too broke to buy new replacements, and part was due to some clever speccing back in the ’80s. Hostess was cheap and simple to a fault, spending $$$ only when it’d buy a return in longer life and better fuel mileage. While most Astros were built with a V6 engine and all wheel drive that made them a contortionist mechanic’s delight, Hostess’ had an inline 4 and simple manual tranny and rear drive. Kinda boring, but perfectly adaquate for the job, and easy to fix if it ever did break.

But the step vans were Hostess magnum opus. Being Hostess’ most common vehicle, anyd savings that could be won in the step van’s operating costs had the most positive effect on the bottom line. Hostess was obcessed, going as far as practicly building their own step vans if the manufacturers wouldn’t do their bidding. This tradition started back in the 60s, when Hostess thumbed their nose at gas engined steel bodied vans and persuaded Ford to import and install a British Ford diesel, then wrapped it with a custom made rust free aluminum body. The Ford diesels gave way to 3-53 and 4-53 two stroke Detroit Diesel’s in the 70s. Hostess kicked off the 80s with a 4 cylinder Hercules diesel in the lighter one ton econoline chassis, and when that didn’t work out bought Ford chassis with Ford’s 300 6, yanked them out, and swapped in Cummins B series 4s. Before the decade was over Hostess was experimenting with Onan diesels and John Deere chassis before switching to Oshkosh then similar Freightliner chassis with the simple and steady Cummins 4BT engine. BTW, I’d heard rumors of the John Deere chassis but never seen one, but there’s a few on the fleet roster and one of the only John Deere trucks know to exist would make a heckuva a find for the fans of the green machines. So at Hostess we see the ultimate strength of simplicity- a fleet of simple bread trucks that three decades on were still delivering ’til management pulled the plug and parked ’em. I think there’s more than a few lessons there…

And I have to hand it to VW for smart marketing… They’re paying for the rental Suzuki. What better way to sell me a new VW than to stick me with something else to drive!