Curbside Classic: 1975 Toyota Hilux Pickup

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

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.

Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

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  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Feb 06, 2010

    Here in Ohio they salt the roads, and those little jap trucks rotted away after just a few years. They didn't get any better in the 80's. Now the frames rot out in the tacomas and tundras.

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Feb 08, 2010

    I had a 1972 first generation Hi-Lux. I bought it used. The window sticker price was $2222.00. I had it from 1986 to 1990. I sold it after I had it nicely detailed and painted. It was a solid simple bucket. The biggest problem I had with it was rust through in the floor and bed. When I got it the seat frame was the only thing that kept me from falling out through the rubber mats. It taught me how to work with sheet metal, pop rivets, bondo, primer and undercoating. The biggest challenge was sheet metal rust. The Celica engine was rock solid. The transmission was a four speed manual and never failed. The driveshaft tried to fall out once, due to a broken ball bearing, but was easily fixed. This is a truck that didn't coddle occupants. I am 6.3 and I could barely find enough room to drive it. The vinyl bench seat was prehistoric. The Hi-Lux road like it had no shocks, braked like it had no brakes, but took off when you hit the gas. The instrumentation was VW Beetle primitive. It was an absolute bear to drive since it didn't have power steering. It's front end had to be manually greased up, but still, driving it was a great upper body work out. My mom would always sigh when I picked her up in it. Her instict was that it was a little death trap made of decomposing Folger's Coffee cans waiting to be crushed in traffic. It got noticed wherever I drove it because it looked really kinda freaky. The first generation had hood mounted turn signals like the kind used on the Land Rover. It had a wierd looking double horizontal grilles, one in the edge of the hood, and one between the double headlights. It was small. It had tail lamps located under the truck bed, above the bumpers, (which were optional). It was the only truck like it on the road in Chicago. I really liked the little freak. My dad found it a home after it sat in his garage off and on, for a year. The buyer was in love with this odd little beast, that looked like a little beast. So, I relented to sell it after my dad assured me it wasn't going to be junked or trashed. When you have a vehicle like this one, you feel an obligation to ensure that it isn't lost to posterity if you could prevent it. I delibetately kept the owner's manual. I never did that to a vehicle I owned after it's sale. I think I may have checked with the new buyer regarding that, because I know it felt guilty to do that. But I am not a photographer and generally dislike photos and wanted something to remember this remarkable little beast. I have it now in front of me. Thanks for spending some time recalling these simple little rust buckets from Japan. Oh - on last thing. When it was assembled, Toyota used bamboo as a sealant around the windshield. That little touch, in my opinion, could be seen as a metaphor regarding how far Toyota has come over the past forty years. Unlike the almost unrecyclable Prius, my 1972 Hi-Lux was indeed an environmentally friendly ride. It composted around you as you drove it!

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.