When his regular ride, a 1991 Honda Civic Si, blew its engine, Alex Ripstein was without a car for the NASA Southeast event at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina. However, he found another car to use for HPDE — his wife’s regular driver, a 95hp, 2,321-lb., 1996 Suzuki X-90.
“I was still registered [for the event],” said Ripstein, 30, of China Grove, North Carolina. “[My wife said,] ‘Why don’t you try taking the Suzuki?’”
Ripstein bought the Suzuki last summer for $2,500.
“It had a blown motor, but a spare motor came with it,” said Ripstein. “I brought it home … and swapped out engines on Labor Day. I bought it to have something fun to drive to and from work.”
Ripstein admitted that it has its challenges on the streets.
“It’s fine on the highway, as long as you’re not near a semi,” Ripstein said. “It’s so light, narrow, and short that it gets a little ‘floaty’ when you get near semis, especially if you take the T-tops off.”
However, the performance of the Suzuki X-90 at Carolina Motorsports Park pleasantly surprised Ripstein.
“It’s small, light, rear-wheel-drive — it wasn’t too terrible on the track,” said Ripstein. “We got up to a top speed of 80 mph, per GPS. I’d get passed on the straightaways, but through the corners I’d stay right on their butts.”
The Suzuki X-90 could be comparable to another popular car, according to Ripstein.
“If you focused on cornering, this would be pretty close to a first-gen Mazda Miata,” Ripstein said. “It’s pretty close in power and weight, a little taller, so you have some more room. Put some better tires on it, and it would hold its own. The tires on it were super hard, narrow street tires.”
Alex Ripstein earns a living as an EFI/driveline engineer for the NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing. He said that one’s reaction to the Suzuki depends on your knowledge of and passion for cars.
“Everybody [at work] is pretty amused by it,” said Ripstein. “You got out in public, and people are like, ‘What is that?’ Then, you go somewhere where people are aware of what it is, they’re like, ‘Oh, that thing’s really neat.’”
The Suzuki X-90 may make a return to the track.
“There’s a chance that I take my Suzuki X-90 to the February [NASA Southeast] event to get through HPDE and get my solo certification,” Ripstein said. “[The Civic] will probably not be ready for the February event, so I might take this out again.”
The Rock the Curb Executive Editor has covered motorsports since 2000. His many awards include the 2019 Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) Jim Hunter Writer of the Year and the 2013 Russ Catlin Award for Excellence in Motorsports Journalism.