The durability of the original Toyota HiLux, known in the United States as simply “Truck,” is the stuff of legend, especially if you enjoy Top Gear. It often seems that only rust can kill these simple but durable pickups, which means that in areas where rust does, in fact, sleep, they are effectively immortal. My daily ride in Abu Dhabi is a Fortuner, the HiLux’s Asian cousin.
But this isn’t my first foray into Toyota reliability. My graduate level work in this field came from my time as a UN Unarmed Military Observer (UNMO) on a peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2004. The patrol vehicle dejuir was the Toyota HiLux Surf (aka the 4Runner). But rather than the V-6, the UN standard issue at the time was a 4 cylinder turbo diesel mated to a 5 speed manual.
A never ending array of different driving styles from around the world ensured these trucks were well worn long before I got there. Some succumbed to landmines;
This particular one died at the hands of a UNMO with no understanding of flash floods or rapidly moving water.
But the vast majority of them pressed on. They weren’t as slow as you’d expect, but the turbo lag on these trucks was awful. However, when they finally spooled, you knew it. My Russian navigator friend Vladimir and I perfected the proper way to leave the compound. Rev it and dump the clutch in the soft sand to spin the tires, this would build boost just in time for the shift to 2nd and simultaneous left turn exiting the compound. The engine would be right in the sweet spot allowing you to walk the truck sideways up the road until you touched the redline while maintaining a totally sweet sand rooster tail.
Drifting comes to Ethiopia.
On pavement, this was a bit more challenging. The tires were willing, but the suspension did not cooperate very well with a controlled slide. We usually stuck to dirt. Once we mastered the gate exit, we perfectly our slide abilities traversing the main road to Manda, the regional command HQ for the Ethiopian Army.
Vlado and I became quite capable and despite the speed limit imposed by the on-board tattletale system, and could usually make the run in just under 50 minutes. This was not a comfortable trip and the road was only a road by the most liberal definition. But it was fun channeling your inner Colin McRae.
Our skill became an asset on one occasion. The Ethiopian Regional HQ insisted that our inspections could only take place when one of their subordinate commanders was present. To inspect one of the three troop camps within 15 minutes of our site, we had to make the hour-long one-way drive (with someone other than us) to Manda, pick up the Major, return to our village, approach the troop camp, be denied access, and then return the commander to Manda. So what was usually a 30 minute denial of access became an almost 5 hour denial. The intent, as it is so often in that region, was to make us too flustered to complete our job, or even ask. All of this was for not, because the inspections were always denied by local commander and we were unarmed.
Our Bosnian team leader had become increasingly frustrated. He decided that Vlado and I should pick up the Major. Before we left, we stuffed the rear seat belts deep into the seat. The ride we gave that Major back to our village of Bure was something most gearheads would pay money to experience. I am certain we were airborne at least twice. We arrived back at the site with the Major in under 90 minutes. A new record! Woot!
Of course, our inspection was denied, but we experienced a breakthrough. The Ethiopian Major spoke with our Bosnian Team Leader. It was agreed that we could conduct local inspections without leadership from the Ethiopian Regional HQ present.
Then he politely requested that someone else drive him back.
That will do little HiLux, that will do.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. As a result of his adventures in Ethiopia and Eritrea, he is currently seeking a publisher for his new diet book; “Food Poisoning and Intestinal Parasites, the Key to a Slimmer You!”