By on February 4, 2010

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.

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25 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1975 Toyota Hilux Pickup...”

  • avatar

    “After ‘83, Toyota eliminated the bulletproof dual-row timing chain for a single-row unit that had problems with the chain tensioner.”

    Huh. And I thought Toyota didn’t start de-contenting til the mid 90s. My father in law had one of those late 70’s pickups til the day he died. I think one of the kids or grand kids is still running around in it.

  • avatar

    This is charming, both the trucks and some of the houses, especially the first one and the one behind the Chinook.

  • avatar

    I had a ’71 first gen. It was one tough bugger. I beat the hell out of it on logging roads for almost 10 years before a front end part (idler arm?) came loose and one front wheel pointed left while the other pointed straight. I was able to strap the part together with some webb/strap and drove 15 miles out of the woods to where it stayed parked until it went to the yard. I did end up welding the doors shut after the hinges started falling off and did the sawzall/pipe insulation topless conversion towards the end. It was a fun beater that got places that my friends needed to use 4×4 to get to.

  • avatar

    The fact that these pickups are hugely popular among Afghan warlords and their Talib buddies is a testament to their rock solid reliability and maintainability. Toyota has uphill task to convince the folks over for the need to upgrade to newer Toyotas with CTS pedals… imagine unintended acceleration while negotiating the mountain passes with full load of fighters and poppy harvest..

  • avatar

    Owners of the current-gen Tacomas are complaining of “surging” problems (not sure whether that rises to the level of SUA).

  • avatar

    My wife had a ’74 long-bed one of these when I first met her. It survived a couple cross country treks, one of our kids “washing” it with sand when we weren’t looking, a runaway horse that ran into it parked and took off the aftermarket passenger mirror and caved in the door. After about 150K miles, including many on logging roads,the bed was nearly rusted through (one of the few areas not washed with sand)and the head gasket started to go. We traded it in on a new ’91 Toyota 4×4 truck that we still have (220+K miles). Rust hasn’t been a problem with it and it was a God-send last winter when we had the once in a lifetime (we hope) 3 ft. of snow and no plows anywhere in sight.

  • avatar

    I searched high & low for a 1982 SR5 4×4 longbed and finally found one in central (rust free) Oregon. Drove it back to the Midwest with 210k on it, no problems and 23 mpg. I got rid of my f-150 for this. Best swap I have ever made.

  • avatar

    Nice writeup. One note: Toyota’s nomenclature for the 4cyl engines was 20R and 22R, not R-xx as written.

    The 22R was also used in the Celica. When my first gen1 4Runner needed an engine replacement (don’t ask), I ended up with a Celica unit. Performance improved noticeably!

  • avatar

    Up here in the salt belt, these trucks rusted big time. Perhaps worse than the Chevy Vega. The only thing less durable than the body up here is the Toyota Matrix 5 speed manual transmission. Sorry about that cheap shot, but I just had to replace mine. Decontenting in the bearings cost me almost 3k. Edmunds even has a page devoted to it. I hate Toyota. Toyota quality is a myth!

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    If you ask me, the Nissan has been the best smaller truck made for some time now, and the Tacoma is good, but price would put me in a Ranger first.

    The Ranger is the only real small truck left anyway, Tacomas are the size of my old F-150.

    • 0 avatar

      “Tacomas are the size of my old F-150”

      People keep saying things like that and are they just repeating something others have written or what?

      Go out and actually sit in each or put the same amount of stuff in the bed and tell us that. The current gen Taco styling gives the illusion of bulk for marketing reasons. Some very, very old F-100’s may be small-ish, but by the time the F-150 was introduced, they were big.

  • avatar

    Great truck, I had an 83 for awhile, till my father tried to go to town with it when I was in the middle of an oil change. (Bought the wrong filter, ran to town myself..)
    My ’81 Celica has the 22r, still runs great. But after almost 30 years, many sitting on flat tires until its brought out of hooning retirement, the body is getting dangerous. Keep thinking about getting a good welder and tube-framing a chassis to drop the engine and 5-spd in. Like a big go-kart. Lots of logging roads/trails in Northern MN i could truck that combo up to.. Guaranteed I could destroy my own handy work before I could blow up the engine. B&B, what should I do with my fading yota?

  • avatar

    PN, you say you chose the F-150 over a Japanese mini truck because you are so tall and handsome. Well, me, I am quite handsome as well but not that tall. So I always put a couple of phone books on the seat under me so I look taller in my truck. People see me drive by and think “Oh, what a tall handsome man drives that truck.” But when I step out of the truck people sometimes say “Hey, you are not really that tall.”

  • avatar

    Oh wow, my father had one of these. Ask him about it and he will go off like a bomb- he considers it one of the worst vehicles ever made. The biggest problem was when it broke, which it did often, was that it sat for weeks because the parts had to come from Japan. All in all it was sitting on the sideline as much as it was running. The clutch was always breaking- and he had driven manuals for 12+ years before he owned this POS. Yeah, this truck turned him off of toyotas for life…. has never owned another and never even thought about owing one, lol.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a 1981Toyota pickup and currently own a 1993 model. I think the fuel ejected 22RE engines are more reliable despite the single timing chain. With FE you don’t get the cylinder wash at start-up. The 93′ has 160K. The only repair it has ever had was the AC filter had to be replaced twice.

    I love your Eugene pictures. By the way, Eugene has a marine west coast climate, not Mediterranean. The closest Mediterranean climate you’ll find in Oregon is Medford and Grants Pass. Eugene wasn’t always so weird, it was a typical Oregon logging town until the late 60’s. Vietnam protests, cheap drugs, Marxist university professors, and lackluster public schools changed all that.
    In 1969 it was named “All American City” by Look Magazine– it’s been downhill ever since.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I would have to disagree here. The 22RE engines were the absolute pinnacle of durability for Toyota truck engines.

    Now for the fellow that doesn’t mind being a hardcore DIY’er, the Hilux certainly had a lot going for it in it’s time. But the 22’s routinely go 250k+ for most daily drivers who aren’t as schooled in auto maintenance.

  • avatar

    Surprised more owners of these haven’t commented. I too don’t know if the single chain 22R is less good or not. I do know the ’85 I had went 230kmiles with only a fuel pump replaced. I sold it running and don’t know what happened after a couple years, but it was in daily use at least that much longer. Fellows I work with have put more than 300k on a couple of them.

    The thing I liked about those was they were tough, simple and cheap to operate. Also, while they could do all sorts of jobs a truck needs to do, they sat low enough it was like maybe driving a tall sedan or station wagon, not a tall pickup. What I dislike about the new ones is how tall and large they have become. I currently have a first year Tacoma running great with a mere 144k on the 24R motor. But the new Tacoma is as big as a full size truck was until just recently. Simply isn’t a small truck. Like many I find it hard to believe all the small trucks have disappeared. They made such good sense. There is the Ranger, but it hasn’t ever quite sat well with me.

    My grandfather purchased a new 1971 Datsun truck the first year a Datsun dealer opened in our town. That too was a good little truck. People derided it as a cheap tin can. And the body was like that. But it would haul unbelievable loads for such a vehicle and just kept right on ticking no matter what. Unloaded it got about 30 mpg too.

    If you build a good engine and drivetrain, keep everything else dead simple a highly reliable vehicle for peanuts is the result. An idea that seems lost today. Too bad.

  • avatar

    Here is some Toyota truck trivia…the beds (long and short) were actually made in Long Beach, Ca then shipped to the US ports where they were installed on the cab/chassis from Japan. This allowed Toyota to import the trucks as unfinished vehicles and pay a much smaller import duty. In the late seventies I worked at Long Beach Fabricators (LBF) for a couple of years as a assembly line inspector. They did not cut corners on primer or paint, but because the sheet metal used was such a thin gage they suffered from terrible rust problems. If you look between the cab and the bed on the drivers side you can see the LBF identification plate. The trucks shown in this CC were made between 1974 and 1978. In 1979 the truck was redesigned and was less boxy and better looking. I always thought these trucks were tin cans, but they were rugged workhorses. I wouldn’t mind having one now for weekend errands.

  • avatar

    I lived in Guatemala for two years as a Mormon missionary. Half the populace still traveled in these rigs. The Guatemalans would pack them full of kindling, stack a half dozen grown Guatemalan men on top and drive them up and down eroded dirt roads for miles and they kept on going. Compared to the ancient Ford and Chevy pickups that went to Guate to die, these 20-year-old Toyotas were rock solid.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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!

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