I’m no attorney, but I’ve read articles posted anonymously on the Internet by people who claim to be attorneys, and therefore I feel confident that my extensive research regarding the statute of limitations for insurance fraud in certain Midwestern states is correct. It’s time to tell a story of minitrucks and maxipayments, of bumbling crime and hilariously apt punishment…
Much of my youth was spent in the passenger seat of a Toyota pickup. Many of my BMX pals left the sport due to age, injuries, or plain disenchantment and became minitruckers. While there were theoretically many minis on the market, from the Chevrolet S-10 to the GMC S-15, only the Toyota trucks had any real cachet among the hardest of the hardcore.
When I think about what a Toyota truck cost back then, and what you could expect to get out of it, my eyes get a little soggy. Note, by the way, that under no God-damned circumstances will I refer to these vehicles as the “Hilux”. I leave that for people who watch Top Gear. Here in the United States of America, these vehicles were sold simply as the Toyota Truck, except for the one-ton variant, which bore the stirring name of Toyota One Ton. Plain and simple. You can Hilux that right up your you-know-what.
Back to pricing. In 1989, one of my pals, whom we shall call “Jim”, bought a three-year-old, 20,000-mile, standard-bed four-speed for… wait for it… forty-six hundred dollars. I would buy ten of them today at that price. This was a basic vehicle, mind you. It had the so-called “Japanese” bed, the tailgate of which had two latches, one on each side. They worked by squeezing the very flexible sides of the bed together. Here’s a photo of a 1979 to show you what I mean:
They were single-wall beds and could be permanently dented by leaning against them. I found this out when I dented Jim’s truck by leaning against it. Oops.
Jim “tricked out” the truck by filling it full of stereo equipment and dropping it to the ground on “lowering blocks”. The lowering block is the most terrifying piece of engineering I’ve ever seen. It’s a block you put between the axle and the leaf spring. Torsional-slash-cornering loads? Handled with a U-bolt. The front end was lowered by uncranking the torsion rods. Later on, the truck was painted yellow and a set of Fittipaldi “5-star” wheels found their way onto the thing. Among Toyota minitruckers, it was considered awesome.
Jim got a better job and traded in his used Toyota for a new one. He tricked that one out too, with ten grand in upgrades. Then he realized that he hated his new job, so he quit. When the next set of truck and credit-card payments came, he realized that was a bad idea. Enter Clevon.
Clevon lived in the projects north of downtown Columbus. How Jim met him I’ll never know, but I do know that, after hearing Jim’s tale of truck-related woe, Clevon came up with a ready solution. He would “steal” the truck out of Jim’s driveway using a spare set of keys, strip the stereo equipment for sale, then roll it down a hill into a local river.
Jim didn’t want to break the law, but he also didn’t want to have the truck repossessed, so the deal was struck. That night, the truck disappeared. The very next day, the police called Jim.
“Sir, we have found your truck.”
“Oh, really? Is it… damaged beyond repair?” Apparently, it was all Jim could do not to immediately mention water damage. He wasn’t exactly Thomas Crown, if you know what I mean.
“Well, the dashboard has been ripped out, and there isn’t a single thing of value left in it, but once you get the tree out of the suspension, it should fix up.”
“Did you say… tree?” Upon hearing of this, I rode my bicycle twenty miles to Clevon’s apartment to hear the full story. Return with me, dear reader, to a fall night in the early Nineties. Clevon has stripped-out and trashed the truck to the best of his ability. He has positioned himself and the vehicle at the top of a long grass hill. At the bottom of that hill is a river. Now, as the mother of his child waits in her Cavalier with the motor running, Clevon puts the Toyota in neutral and starts running down the hill with the door open, pushing it along, before tripping and falling out of the way. The truck bounces down the hill… and makes a ninety-degree left turn into a tree. A more intrepid fraudster would have figured out a way to get the truck out of the tree and into the water, but Clevon was not such a man. He was in the Cavalier and down the road before the radiator stopped hissing.
“Why didn’t you lock the steering?” I asked.
“Why didn’t your momma put you in a dumpster?” was the response.
“A slavish devotion to middle-class mores.”
The next day, I watched a towing company winch the truck down into Jim’s driveway. His insurance policy entitled him to eighty percent of the lowest possible bid for repairing the vehicle. His stereo equipment and upgrades were not covered. A brief interview with Clevon regarding the return of said stuff, or at least distribution of proceeds from the sale, did not go the way Jim had hoped.
Faced with this situation, our unlucky fraudster did what he had to do. He went and asked for his crummy job back. He fixed the truck himself, using the cheapest available parts. Somehow, he ended up putting the fenders, hood, and grille from a four-wheel-drive Toyota on his two-wheel-drive Toyota. It started a bit of a national trend. To this day, Toyota minitruckers still consider a “4×4 conversion” to be a must-have for any serious “whip”.
Over the course of a decade, Jim revised and rebuilt the Toyota again and again. By the time he was done, it had obtained what John Updike calls “minor fame” in the minitrucking world. The bed went up, down, and around on hydraulic arms. There were three show-quality paintjobs, all different colors, stacked on top of the crappy original collision repaint. The interior was finished to a standard that would shame a Bentley Continental. The engine bay was completely chromed and/or polished. He devoted a room in his new tract home to minitrucking trophies and framed magazine articles.
I stopped by one day to find a 1963 Chevrolet in his garage. Somebody had walked up to him at a truck show and offered serious money. He had taken the serious money and signed the title over on the spot.
“You know,” he said, “I spent ten years of my life thinking about nothing but that truck, devoting my time and effort to it, spending every weekend with it.” There was a pause.
“I’m so glad it’s gone.”