Project Cappuccino: Modern Tires, Ancient Car

Our 1992 Suzuki Cappuccino has been an absolute performance bargain.  Poking around under the skin, we’ve found a number of smart aftermarket upgrades under the car.  The previous owner of this car enjoyed spirited driving and it shows in the aftermarket seat and 4-point harness (with harness bar), GAB struts and RS*R springs, and strut braces point to this car having more than a few touge runs back in its home country.  Really, that means the only job we have here is to fill in the gaps and make this car a bit better suited to the types of driving we see here in the States, while maintaining the balance of power, grip, and braking that Suzuki blessed this car with from the factory.

Taco vs. Cappo
Are modern trucks too big? Or is the Cappuccino just ridiculously tiny? The answer is both.

Despite a solid base, there is one noticeable gap in this particular Cappuccino’s performance credentials, and that is the lack of performance tires.  We suspect that at one point this car may have worn some aftermarket wheels and tires, but when the car went for sale at Top Rank Importers, the OEM wheels and tires were in place.  The original tires this car came with were some Toyo commuter tire.  They have plenty of tread, but being a commuter tire, they weren’t great for backroad driving.  They’re very squirmy and were easy to lock under braking.  They needed to go.

Original Cappuccino Wheels & Tires
The original tires were Toyo Nanoenergy 3 tires. A simple, basic commuter tire. Not only were they crummy when new, but these tires were also starting to dry rot, despite having good tread. There’s nothing redeeming about these tires, other than the fact that they survived a 2,300 mile road trip.

The problem is, the Cappuccino’s OE tire size is practically microscopic: 165-65/14.  When most performance cars today come with 18” or bigger wheels, finding a good performance tire in 14” is impossible.  Fortunately, Miatas are popular all over the world, so stepping up to a 15” wheel would give us a ton of performance tire options.  Now we can’t just step up to a 165-55/15 since that’s not a common size either.  After a month of scrolling through tire catalogs, measuring wheel wells, comparing offsets, etc, we realized we could fit a 195-50/15 under the fender wells of the Cappuccino.  This gives us an entire extra inch of tread width on all four wheels and is a common size for all of the major performance tires on the market.  We had an option of 50 or 55 aspect ratio and we went with 50 as a 195-50/15 is only 6mm larger in overall diameter than the OE tire, so our speedo would still be fairly accurate.

Cappuccino at Lexington Car Club Summer Meet
Honestly if I could get tires in the original size, I would have. The OE fitment is stellar and the factory wheels actually look really good. Remove the center caps and you wouldn’t even know they were Suzuki wheels. Plus they are insanely light. The whole wheel/tire combination is barely 30 lbs per corner.

Obviously the original 14×5” wheels wouldn’t work with this new tire, so the search went out for a new wheel.  Our wheel requirements are a bit funky: Suzuki gave the Cappuccino a very high +45mm offset wheel.  This gives really good fitment to the fender, but forces a similar fitment in order to keep from running into the fender.  Fortunately there are literal inches of clearance on the inside of the fender, so even with the huge jump in tire size, we wouldn’t have to worry about clearance except in extreme cases.  Modern wheels are mostly low offset and a custom wheel wasn’t in the budget.  Instead, we wound back the clock and looked for vintage wheels for our vintage car.  Lucky for us, there’s a private wheel distributor in Louisville who specializes in importing vintage JDM wheels.  After bringing a few samples in his stock for us to try, he put out his feelers and found us a perfect fit: Watanabe RS-8s in 15×6.5 with a +47mm offset.

7 comments

  1. When you installed the Strut Brace did you do it with the suspension unloaded by jacking up the front? It helps to do that and then adjust the turnbuckle.

    I have usually been able to feel the. difference with all my braces.

    1. I set the tension with wheels on the ground. I also live in a salt state and I installed the brace in the fall. Snow season started early and I didn’t really get a chance to drive it before and after. The Cappuccino runs terribly in the cold and it has zero rust protection so once the weather gets cold it gets locked up in the garage until the salt gets rained away.

    1. Two reasons: first the lowering springs on the car are way soft. The fronts aren’t even 100 lbs/inch. It would help, but not all that much. Second, the shocks are pretty worn and need replacing, so it would be even more underdamped than it already is. Third, removing the rear shocks requires knocking off the lower control arm. Not something I want to do more than once if I can avoid it you know?

  2. Whereabouts are you again? WI somewhere? Not too far from my home town. Just passed through recently unless WI is dead wrong in which case nevermind.

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