By on October 20, 2010

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.”

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32 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1994 Toyota Truck And The Incompetent Insurance Fraudsters...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    “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.”
     
    I think every thinking man fears his hobby becoming his obsession.  And every man that doesn’t is pretty stupid.

  • avatar
    turbobeetle

    I miss the days of Minitruckin’. I still have a stack of Minitruckin’ magazine’s about 3 feet high. Minitrucks gave birth to crazy things like aftermarket air ride suspension and some of the most craziest body mods and paint jobs. I’m currently piecing together a bagged truck now, but on an F150 this time.
     
    Lots of good memories of bagged and draggin’ trucks at shows such as Texas Heat Wave, but I suppose everyone has to grow up sometimes….

  • avatar
    friedclams

    “A slavish devotion to middle-class mores.”
     
    Great line.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I received many a blank stare from the Clevons of my area after delivering similar lines.

      In other news, ‘ 1994 Toyota Truck And The Incompetent Insurance Fraudsters’ would make an awesomly bad band name.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Ha ha ha! That story is pretty good!

    In my early 20′s, I tried restoring two 1957 Chevy 2 dr. sedans into one good car. Well, almost seven years later, I sold the works for $400 bucks with a stripped body on frame and several boxes of stuff. Lesson learned: Doing this right requires LOTS of time and especially, money. My mistakes: young, single, no real job yet. Later, a real job, marriage, family. In other words, responsibility and more important things to do. Still not enough money to get the job done, hence the sale.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’m on the end of that lifestyle equation. Finally.
      Years ago I got out of the Navy with a Beetle I had driven daily. Bought a car in Italy originally sold near here. Fun car. Got about 80% of the updates that I wanted to do done. Mostly just cosmetics left. Didn’t have the time or tools or money to build it right. Then a ’78 VW Westfalia van came along and I could not pass up that deal (CHEAP, nice). Drive it daily for several years. Then it needed paint and an interior. Then life set in. Couldn’t afford the right tools, didn’t have enough spare cash, didn’t have a garage, etc. Then got married. College. Kids. Mortgage. Life. Graduated. Nearly $50K in daycare payments over ten years. A very patient wife. MUCH better employment. Then her degree(s).
      Finally about 14 years later I still have these two aircooled beauties in a million pieces and finally have the money, the tools, and the garage. Now I’m only searching for the time… Tonight it was Webelos and 5th grader homework. Last night it was homework and school projects. Tomorrow it will be Halloween preps. GRIN!
      We’re getting there. Dry storage for everything really helps.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I myself have a 40 year old beast out in the driveway.  It currently needs its transmission replaced and then it will need another paint job.  After that it will need…………………
     
    One moral of the story should be – don’t purposely set out to commit insurance fraud.
     
    With regards to those Japanese truck beds – I thought they were cool, even when the lower sidewalls rusted out prematurely.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      A friend of my dad’s really messed up his finances, after bringing in a wife from the “old country” (Greece), who was a LAWYER. She got pregnant immediately, had the kid, and soon passed her bar exam. She filed for divorce, and took him to the cleaners, and brought her Greek sweety over and married him. My dad’s buddy had bought a huge motorhome for “family vacations” and he was desperate to get rid of it. After trying to sell it, he decided to have it “stolen” and wrecked. He tried to hire someone to do it for him, and even asked my dad if he knew someone who could do it. My dad thought he had him talked out of it, bankruptcy would have been a better move, but he decided to go through with it anyway.
      Instead of taking it somewhere and doing it, he simply came out of the restaurant he owned, got in, drove it to the top of the riverbank, put it in neutral and jumped out and pushed it. Down it went, getting smashed up pretty badly, and it went into the river, and sank in about 30 seconds. Three people who recognized him called the cops to report it! When he came to work the next morning, the cops were waiting. He got 2 years in jail, lost everything, including the restaurant. He got out about 15 months later, and soon remarried, but never had any success, and a couple years before he died, he tried it again! This time, he hired some meth head to steal his car and wreck it, but the guy took the car and drove it around for a week, until he got busted for something else, and ratted him out to the cops, who listened to him talk on the phone with the junkie, asking why he hadn’t wrecked the car yet! He got probation this time, due to his wife’s health problems.
      My mom and I saw the story on the news and were about on the floor when we saw him cuffed up and doing the perp walk! He was like 75 years old at that point.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    While we’re on the subject of fraud, have you heard of mechanics lien fraud.
    Here’s what I saw about 15 years ago.  A guy had a vehicle that he was upside down on and owed money.  It was tricked out, but the “upgrades” had no insurance value, so it wouldn’t do any good to commit insurance fraud. The guy put the car in a repair shop owned by a friend.  The car owner “couldn’t get the car out” and pay the inflated bill, so the repair shop applied for title arising from a mechanics lien.  To do this, the mechanic needed to show the state dmv that the owner and lienholder were given notice of the right to pay the repair and storage bill, but they didn’t do it.  That gave the right to the mechanic to sell the vehicle, and in this case the vehicle was sold to a straw buyer who later resold the vehicle to the original owner, who got title free and clear of the lien.  I believe in the meantime, the original owner went through a bankruptcy which removed his personal obligation to pay the lienholder.
    This kind of scam is easy to root out if the lender does any due diligence.  All to often they don’t, and the scam works.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Conslaw;

      I forgot about that scam.

      When I lived in Missouri, this scandal came to light, not always with cars, but on home reapairs/remodeling back in the 80′s.

      Thanks for bringing this back to light. Here’s a brief description from wikipedia:

      “Mechanic’s liens were first conceived by Thomas Jefferson, to encourage construction in the new capital city of Washington. They were established by the Maryland general assembly, of which the city of Washington was then a part.”

      It’s an old law that’s still in effect. Like most laws, they are there to protect, but can be twisted to deceive.

  • avatar
    86er

    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.

    Hey, if it worked on The Simpsons, it’d have to work in real life.

    Oh wait, no it didn’t.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    I miss the variety of mini trucks we had back in the 80′s. Say what you will about them but they were all good values for the money and just about every manufacturer had one (except Honda).

  • avatar
    JMII

    All the mini-truckers I knew back in the late 80s favored the Mazda B2200s – extra cab so you could fit even more speakers in the back and 2WD so dropping it was easy (and cheap). As an ex-car audio installer on-the-side type of guy I helped many people damage their hearing forever back then. One guy even put a small pool in his bed so bikini clad ladies could cruise in comfort during the long, hot Miami days. Back in those days a mini truck was the cheapest “car” you could buy, several buddies bought them just because they were so affordable and easy to work on. A set of lowering blocks could be dropped in for only a few bucks with just a floor jack. A set of nice rims and low-pro tires and you were riding in style. Throw on some dark window tint, a couple of subwoofers and lots of vinyl stickers to really be the “cool” kid on the block. With a 4-banger and 4 speed stick you got good mileage and could haul all kinds of stuff for the neighbors to earn extra income. When the time came you could tow a Jetski as well. Good times those mini trucks, I loved them but was more the “ricer” kind, driving a Civic hatch dropped on CRX Si rims and more speakers then most movie theaters have these days.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      My brother in law was an award winning stereo installer back in the 90s. He said a minitruck came into the shop one day for the “treatment” and when he popped the hood and saw the front suspension mods to lower it – he told the guy to just leave. The front suspension was so poorly modified my BiL worried it might collapse just sitting there and somehow he reasoned he might be held responsible. He said he really worried about it running down the road at speed.
      I remember seeing another minitruck here in town with broken leaf springs on side. I think the front leaf spring to frame bolt was missing. Anyhow the rear axle was walking front to back all over the place. I don’t know if he knew when I saw him.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Next time the TV news shows the BIG hurricane coming ashore on the USA, even with all the advanced warning, note the number of newer automobiles parked next to the ocean, awaiting the storm surge to devastate the waiting vehicles.
    I wonder how many of those vehicles are purposefully placed there for the invading water to inundate and result in the insurance firm to pay whatever they will pay or whatever.
    There has to be some scam going on!!!!
    What with so many warnings to evacuate, etc.
    And so many newer vehicles awaiting their demise.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Right next to or under the expensive beach homes on stilts. No skin off their bones for them, either. Who’s kidding who?

      Very nice.

      Very good observation. I never thought of that.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Back in 1999, Hurricane Floyd blew through my town and dumped something like 12 inches of rain in 24 yours.  Bottom line, 1/3 of the town was underwater — up to four feet in some parts. Funny thing is that the water came up slowly, as I recall 6 inches per hour.  Many of the people who lived on the low side of town could easily have moved their cars to high ground.  Instead I witnessed hundreds of cars being towed out of the flood zone in the following days.  I remember thinking, “WTF? Why didn’t most of these people just move their cars?”  Oh, right.  Insurance.

  • avatar
    rpm1200

    Great story. I thought aftermarket audio was covered as long as it was permanently installed. Maybe it depends on the specifics of the policy. Even if you got something I’m sure it would not be much.
     
    My buddy used to have a set of Fitti F5s on his Sentra. Good times.

  • avatar
    Commando

    I am possessed right now.  I am running amuck with a 76 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham, turning it into the nastiest mo-fo luxury muscle car ever known to man.  Totally outrageous.  Have you EVER seen a NYB with a four in the floor ?!?!?!

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I find the term ‘brougham’ revolting. It’s an exemplar of ignorant pretense to wealth, origins not withstanding. As far as I can tell, it mainly means, “velour on the inside, vinyl on the outside, and a poseur at the helm”.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I find the word Brougham silly when you look up the original meaning.
       
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brougham_%28car_body%29
       
      Although neither the real definition or Perisoft’s definition would stop me from buying one.  http://imcdb.org/images/025/434.jpg  Now that’s a Brougham!

  • avatar

    That story busted the NIST/DARPA* experimental titanium laughmeter!!!
    *National Institute of STandards & Technology/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In other words, nothing should have busted this laughmeter. And yet, for all the humor, there’s a moral–something to live by. Maybe several…
    And Jim certainly must be a case study in making lemons out of lemonade.
     
    I’m not sure what to think about Clevon.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I suspect that the Clevons of today are the ones selling three grand’s worth of subs and amps for 500 bucks on craigslist. “Got it last week and need the money” my ass. That sh*t is hotter than Jessica Alba and Morena Baccarin in a Baruthian escapade.

  • avatar

    +10!

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Is it a crime to forget where you parked your car? One time I forgot where I parked my car and had to report it missing. It was never recovered. Four years after, I suddenly remembered where I parked and I think I might have left the keys hanging from trunk lid when I went back to get my jacket. It gets chilly in those rooftop night clubs in Tijuana…

  • avatar

    Another +10 for PeriSoft, this time over the definition of “Brougham.”

  • avatar
    Zackman

    What a great thread! +10, 10, 10 for PeriSoft’s “bougham” comment as well! Reminds me of the idiots who like putting $3500.00′s worth of wheels on a $500.00 car! They deserve what they get!

    Back in the day – the early 1970′s, I was alarmed when the 1973 Monte Carlo came out. What was happening? Let alone the death of the hardtop, but what was going on with half-vinyl roofs, padded half-vinyl roofs, VELOUR upholstery? Why were these cars trying to look like Rolls-Royces? Who’s kidding whom? At least “naugahyde” – vinyl-covered fabric – didn’t fool anybody, and was somewhat honest and durable (relatively).

    Faux-luxury. It stinks, is phony, is laughable, is pretentious, is gaudy, is distasteful. I drove away flatly disgusted from Daoust Chevrolet in Marysville, Ca. on a hot September day in my heavy, black vinyl-upholstered ’64 Impala SS convertible with the sun beating down, but with my “cool-cushion” (remember those?) securely under and behind me, smug in my small world, knowing that this too, will pass. Next: “Corinthian” leather…

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    See, this is what I’m talking about. For the love of God, what was wrong with these people? I mean, not only is it a Brougham, it’s a Brougham d’Elegance!
     
    Behold, gentlemen – the BROUGHAM OF ELEGANCE! But it’s French, which is even more elegant!
     
    And the upholstery on the left – check that out! That’s not sitting; it’s spelunking! Men who sit in stunning crushed velour never return!
     
    The best part – the vinyl roof isn’t just any vinyl. No – it’s Elk Grain Vinyl! What kind of grain does an Elk even have? Did they examine Elk and say, “You know what? This Elk’s grain just says elegance to me.” It’s more than elegance – it’s eklegance! Brougham d’Elkegance!
     
    I think I’m starting to feel ill. If I ever want to go on a diet, I’m going to print that and and put it on the fridge.
     
    The bad part is that I remember seeing some that were far worse – some of the seat fabric made that stuff seem understated, and they had the full treatment: Plaid yellow-and-green velour, a bunch of flowers on the seat, an open door with a party on the background, a woman in a gauzy dress looking wistful, and the whole shebang photographed with a lens that had enough vaseline on it to supply fifty 14-year-old boys for a month. Jesus H. Christ.

    • 0 avatar
      pnnyj

      Cadillac was selling the Brougham d’Elegance with those “Contoured Pillow Seats” and the Elk Grain Vinyl roof well into the 1990s.
       
      I drove one of them last week and it was fantastic. It was like driving wretched excess itself.

  • avatar

    /looks at 1990 Toyota Truck moldering in side yard, coolant seeping from timing case.  This? All that fuss over this POS?


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