Michio Suzuki, born in 1887, was an engineer and entrepreneur, starting his own business building silk looms at age 22. Unlike its modern competitors, Suzuki began to produce its first prototype engine in 1937 to produce Austin cars under license. The advent of World War II, however, meant the company had to change to produce equipment for the war effort dropping the engine development and Austin car production. Suzuki, like other fledgling motorcycle companies, began producing clip-on engines for the common bicycle although one difference remained, all components for the engines were made in the Suzuki factory. The first purpose built motorcycle from Suzuki without a clip-on engine was released in 1953. The ancillary engine ceased production in 1955 and the company concentrated its efforts to produce complete motorcycles.
Despite the success of his looms, Suzuki realized his company had to diversify and he began to look at other products. Based on consumer demand, he decided that building a small car would be the most practical new venture. The project began in 1937, and within two years Suzuki had completed several compact prototype cars. These first Suzuki motor vehicles were powered by a then-innovative, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, four-cylinder engine. It featured a cast aluminum crankcase and gearbox and generated 13 horsepower (9.7 kW) from a displacement of less than 800cc.
With the onset of World War II, production plans for Suzuki's new vehicles were halted when the government declared civilian passenger cars a "non-essential commodity." At the conclusion of the war, Suzuki went back to producing looms. Loom production was given a boost when the U.S. government approved the shipping of cotton to Japan. Suzuki's fortunes brightened as orders began to increase from domestic textile manufacturers. But the joy was short-lived as the cotton market collapsed in 1951.
In 1953, Suzuki scored the first of many racing victories when the tiny 60cc "Diamond Free" won its class in the Mount Fuji Hill Climb.
By 1954, Suzuki was producing 6,000 motorcycles per month and had officially changed its name to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. Following the success of its first motorcycles, Suzuki created an even more successful automobile: the 1955 Suzulight. Suzuki showcased its penchant for innovation from the beginning. The Suzulight included front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering - features common on cars half a century later.
By 1955, Suzuki was the second largest motorcycle producer in Japan, Honda being the largest. Suzuki realized large gains in the 60's with their CCI (controlled crankshaft injection) system on their two-stroke engines whereby oil would be injected to where the engine needed it most depending on engine load and RPM. This allowed the consumer to fill the fuel tank with straight fuel eliminating the need to pre-mix oil and fuel. The two-stroke designs of Suzuki served them well but it became evident in the 70's that four-stroke was the direction the company had to go to stay competitive and because of the looming emission laws facing two-stroke engines.