After a deep immersion in cheap, plastic (un)fantastic Toyota electronic gas pedal assemblies, we need to swing the friction arm pendulum way far the other direction; right into a cast iron Hilux pickup. The only electronics in these would be a handful of transistors in the radio, if it even had one. If there had to be a vehicle to keep running indefinitely, I couldn’t think of a better choice. And I’m obviously not the only one: there are dozens of these on the roads hereabouts, being used daily by thrifty gardeners, carpenters, handy-men, and just homeowners wanting a weekend dump-run truck. There’s no question in my mind; if I wasn’t so tall and didn’t like a big bed, I’d be driving one of these instead of my old F-100.
The one thing I find interesting is that there’s so many of this particular vintage, the gen2 Hilux, which was made from ’73 through ’78. But I haven’t seen a gen1 Hilux in ages. There’s probably quite a few of them in California, where they were strong sellers in the early mini-truck wave. But its also true that Datsun really created this market in the US, and its early trucks were its best sellers in the early-mid sixties. And Datsun maintained its lead over Toyota with its popular Li’l Hustler trucks until probably well into the seventies, although I don’t have the numbers at hand.
In fact, Toyota didn’t sell a “compact” truck to compete directly against the Datsun until the Hilux arrived in 1968. But what they did have is something I used to lust after, the first “mid-size” truck, their Stout 1900. I’m using the words “compact” and “mid-size” in relation to their times, when the Datsun was minute, and the Stout was probably about the size of the previous Tacoma. But its cab and bed were more me-sized, and it made a nice step up from the tiny Datsuns.
The Stout already wore the mantle of Toyota ruggedness, and not just in name only. Obviously, all these old vehicles were prone to rust in the snow belt. But the Stout and these old Hiluxes were simple; solid and well made. I helped a friend rebuild the old OHV four from one of these Stouts; it looked a lot like my Ford six, minus a couple of pots.
The Hilux used a newer OHC four, the legendary R Series. And the ones made prior to 1983 are considered to be the must rugged and reliable of the family. After ’83, Toyota eliminated the bulletproof dual-row timing chain for a single-row unit that had problems with the chain tensioner. That might explain why there are so many of this particular vintage. The R20 and R22 (dual-row chain) are legendary in their ability to keep running for practically forever. The later R22E made quite a rep for itself too.
I’ve thrown in a smattering of pictures of these trucks, including some camper versions. The Chinook camper was a huge hit in its day, and because it’s riding on the Hilux, there’s still a fair number of these around. It has a pop top, which made it a viable alternative to the increasingly expensive VW Westfalia camper. Nothing quite like them has ever been made since, and they still have a loyal if dwindling following.
I don’t remember a significant number of cab-over sleeper campers like this one in its time. When Toyota came out with a heavy duty dually chassis in the next generation, they became massively popular, especially in the early eighties gas crunch era. Some of them were pretty massive, and until the V6 came along in 1988, they were badly underpowered with the 90 hp four. But I still see some trundling along in the summertime.
The real problem was in overloading the chassis. Some of these rigs were pushing the limits of the design strength empty, and when folks piled in with all their stuff and toys, rear axles started breaking. Toyota saw the writing on the wall in terms of warranty and more serious safety liability risk, and sometime in the nineties they abruptly pulled the plug on selling bare chassis to RV manufacturers.
I’ve saved my favorite Hilux for last, the foam-mobile. I’ve seen this around for as long as I’ve lived in Eugene. I grabbed one shot as it was pulling out of a parking lot, and then I ran into it recently in an industrial area, where the owner apparently had secured camping/parking privileges, I assume. I used to think it started out as a Chinook, but the windows location and size are different. Who knows what lurks under that layer of sprayed on foam; maybe even a home-built plywood box. But it seems to be holding up, and it probably doesn’t take more than her dog’s hot breath to keep it warm and cozy in the winter. And if I had to guess, it’s going to be around for quite a while yet.
I have a lot of accumulated respect for Toyota, and my xB reminds me quite a bit of old-school Toyota simplicity. But their new trucks leave me cold. The new Tundra has a profoundly cheap interior, and that feeling extends to the rest of it. I’m not going to get into a anti-Tundra rag here, but the change from the previous Tundra/T-100, as well as the older Tacoma and earlier pickups is mighty palpable. If the crappy and cheap gas pedal assemblies I’ve been seeing in my dreams at night are any indication of their overall build quality, I doubt strongly that there will be 2010 Tundras hard at work on the streets of Eugene in 2045.