By on January 30, 2012

One of the neighborhood characters growing up was “Toyota Van Man”, a middle-aged gentleman who drove a denim blue Toyota van. We never knew much about him, but assumed based on his vehicle choice that he was some kind of pederast. More likely, he was a hard working immigrant from Vietnam who lived on top of our local pizza joint and we were a group of overprivileged adolescent brats.

Over a decade has passed since my friends and I would shriek at the sight of “Toyota Van Man”, and these mid-engined oddities have all but disappeared from the roads. But Auto City, a Redwood City, California car dealer, has a Toyota Van for sale, with a mere 85,000 miles. Sporting a “Gold” on red color combo (come on, it’s brown), and a 5-speed manual transmission, this is an automobile that was born before customer clinics and brand management were a twinkle in the eye of an ex-Bausch & Lomb marketing wag. Bidding starts at $1,100. Hell, you could even submit an alternate album cover for the Black Keys with this thing.

Thanks to Bring A Trailer for today’s entertainment



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46 Comments on “Mid-Engined Brown Car For Sale: $1,100 OBO...”

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    That is in great shape, too bad it’s nowhere near me

    • 0 avatar

      It IS near my brother… but he likes the 4WD versions… and, from what he has told me: 1. mechanics HATE to work on these– the motor is difficult to get to, so labor costs are insane (when you can find someone who is willing to work on it) and 2. it is near-impossible to get parts. There IS a cult around the 4WD versions, but finding low mileage, complete cars is difficult. So… I’ll pass…

    • 0 avatar

      Back in NYC, it would be owned by a Nigerian immigrant, and working as a gypsy “dollar car”. They followed thew bus routes to the ferry terminal, and promised to get you there before the boat left. Cheaper than the MTA bus

  • avatar

    Memories – my family had one of these, identical color as above but ours was an automatic. Typical Toyota bulletproof quality, a bit dicey in snow but otherwise a great vehicle. Now with a family of five and a Chrys Town & Country (yawn) I would snap one of these up in a heartbeat.

    Front passenger crash injuries must be ugly. The only car I felt less safe in was our ’81 Vanagon. Your sneakers rested on the backside of the front bumper….

  • avatar

    That. Is. Awesome! If it weren’t for the $1000 or so bill to have it shipped across the country, I’d buy it. Now.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto over here in the MOKAN wasteland. Those were sweet vans. As long as you sat in the front seats.

    • 0 avatar

      Bidding has stalled at $2700, with 5 days to go on the auction. I live in Redwood City. If anybody here ends up buying it, I’d be happy to deliver it to anywhere in the country for cost (gas + ticket home + ~$30/day per diem) just to have an excuse to make a road trip. Unfortunately I don’t have any open time in my schedule to inspect it for anyone before the auction ends.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Here in the south-east these Toyota vans have survived in decent numbers and you still see them from time to time. The contemporary Mistsubishi and Nissan vans are all but non-existant.

    The Nissan vans were prone to catching fire and during the 1990’s they were recalled, bought back and crushed. It is said that this is the only time an automaker has ever bought back an entire line of vehicles.

    Here is a Mitsubishi I saw a couple of years ago. I think every one of these I have ever seen was painted refrigerator white.[email protected]/3705647124/

    • 0 avatar

      Sometime after it was cleared by the government as being mostly safe, some guys inside Audi floated this idea visavis the 5000, not because it had any kind of defect, only because the whole Unintended acceleration fiasco gave them headaches.

      It was decided not to pursue this because it might send the wrong signal, one that might look as if the company had actually something to hide.

    • 0 avatar

      Friend of mine’s family had a light blue Mitsu van. Truly a terrifying ride in the hands of a newly licensed 16yo. How we all survived to adulthood I will never know. Though in my case, “adulthood” may be a relative term….

      Another friend had the Toyota, it was too slow to be all that scary, and he was a more timid driver. Though the most terrifying friend of all drove his Dad’s 4×4 Tercel at warp speed. He ended up taking out some trees with it.

  • avatar

    Everytime I see one of these I think of that horrible old joke.

    Q: Does your Toyota Van go?

    A: Only when I step on Degas.

  • avatar

    Cool story about the van-owner in your neighborhood.

    But in your haze of reminiscence, you forgot to mention what year this car is. It’s a 1985, for those who don’t want to look at the ebay listing. This van was introduced at roughly the same time as Chrysler’s minivans. So I think it’s interesting that in 1984, Toyota did not yet have the US car buyer’s desires completely figured out.

    • 0 avatar

      I wasn’t even born in 1985. Also, the Magic Wagons were the first (North American) front-engine/front-drive minivans, correct? I know the Renault Espace was out in the early 1980s, but until Chrysler came out with their minivans, there really wasn’t anything like it. Someone help a youngster out.

      • 0 avatar
        I've got a Jaaaaag

        The Chrysler Minivan was released 3-6 Months before the Espace and sold much better than the Renault.

        The Chrysler was so popular that it sent every other automaker come up with a minivan for the US market as fast as possible. Ford and Chevy built theirs on light truck frames, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi quickly adapted their Japanese models for the US market with various amounts of success. Chrysler really hit it out of the park with the K-Car based minivans it was the right car for the right market at the right time. The European Market took more time to come around to the Espace.

      • 0 avatar

        In much of Europe, the Espace-sized vans are too big for many people: thus the success of smaller people-movers like Renault Scénic or VW Touran.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        During the 1960’s Ford, GM and Chrysler all built small, unibody vans based on their compact car platforms. Aside from the rear-engined Corvair Greenbriar, these were all front mid-engined designs not unlike the 1980’s era Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan vans.

        What made the 1984 Chrysler K-Vans so revolutionary was their transverse-engine, fwd layout. This configuration made it possible to have a completely flat floor. It also allowed the front passenger to step back to the rear of the van without having to exit and re-enter the vehicle. This is a handy feature for a family with small children riding in the back. Also, the unibody construction resulted in a lower floor step-up height and more car-like ride than conventional pickup-based, bof full-sized vans.

  • avatar

    From what I recall—my parents had one of these—they barely go when you step on the the gas. They do, however, go sideways in a crosswind, with alacrity.

    Eighty-eight-inch wheelbase, baby! Woo! The Tercel was a foot longer, despite being more than that nearer the ground.

  • avatar

    A co-worker had one of these. We would all pile in to go out to lunch. His died an early end in a severe rainstorm when he hit a too-deep puddle of water and the engine ingested the puddle. Massive internal damage. Faced with the choice of a new engine or getting rid of it, he chose the latter.

    I thought my friends went quite well with all of us packed in.

  • avatar

    This was the first Toyota my inlaws ever bought. My MIL apparently saw a white one w/ an “aussie bar” on the transport truck and said “that is the one I want”. They drove the wheels off the thing and eventually replaced it with a 1st gen Sienna that was eventually replaced with a Matrix that was eventually replaced with an RX350. My father in law had a 1st gen Rav4, 1st gen Tacoma, and now has an FJ Cruiser. Must have made a decent impression.

    My fondest memory of these vans was catching a ride to tennis practice with a friend after class. He’d just totaled his Saab 900, with my Nirvana Nevermind CD in it, to never be seen again, and his parents sent him to school with one of these Toyota vans. It must have been some sort of family hauler because there were only 2 seats in the thing… the front captain’s chairs. I sat on a milk crate as he, IMO, tried his best to roll the thing.

    I wish Toyota would sell the spiritual successor to the old Toyota Van: the Daihatsu Mud Master-C Geared hubs for add’l ground clearance, gullwing side doors, built in bike maintenance stand!

  • avatar

    This brought back some memories. The parents of my friend up the street had one of these, same color, also a standard-shift. I rode in it many times sharing a ride to or from school or Cub Scouts.

  • avatar

    We had one of these, a 1984 in gold/brown and a beige 83 60 series Land Cruiser.

    The magic van crapped along to the mid 90s, mileage unknown, I’m guessing it hit 300k but the odo stopped years before that. One day the e-brake failed and it unceremoniously rolled into a tree.

    I still have the Land Cruiser–which runs now better than new with a rebuilt engine and 5 speed tranny, 350k actual miles, 290k on the original engine and tranny.

    I doubt that Toyota will ever build cars that reliable again, they haven’t in the last decade.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Wow…this really is in nice shape! gives our 84 Van LE a run for its money! [though ours isn’t a cargo conversion like this one]. We get the nicer interior (and color-matched bumpers), but this one has rear leaf springs rather than coils on mine.

    Also, mid-engine+RWD+5MT = supercar or Toyota toaster :)

    Very happy to see this post up here. Thanks Derek.

  • avatar

    i have memories of riding in one of these on the way to school with a bunch of other kids. i never seemed to care about sitting on the engine cover. it was like riding around on land inside an inboard speedboat.

    they work pretty well as mini-campers, too, especially with 4wd

  • avatar

    I had one of these in high school after smashing up the family flagship on some Minnesota black ice – an 89 Buick Park Ave Ultra. It was an automatic and was slow, and apparently the “interior” had been outfitted by some “conversion van” company at some point. Mine had 4 captains chairs and a bench in back, and was mighty comfy (if you know what I mean) I do remember this being the first of the cab forward designs, and it took some getting used to that you would be so close to the bumper of the car in front of you when you stopped at a stop light, or even the swing of the nose, with you along with it, as you sat atop the steered wheels. I eventually sold mine at a profit to some immigrant roofers, and saw it again some weeks later sporting ladders and slightly worse for the wear. I think it would have ran forever, even if it was gutless.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey

    Obviously “overhang” wasn’t a four-letter word back then.

  • avatar

    Would rather have a mitsubishi delica personally… (this is a test comment)

    (this is a test edit)

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      I remember my trip Downunder where I was amazed with the Australian market that LOVED the L300/Delica 4WD. The camper versions went everywhere and took pride next to the Nissan Patrol and Toyota trucks.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but every time I saw one of these, it seemed the driver was on the wrong end of a teeter-totter and the fat kid was on the other end about to slide off.

    Junk to me and a death-trap.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the other mid-engined Toyota minivan: the Previa.

  • avatar

    No more of a death trap than a vw microbus. Lots more reliable.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “an alternate album cover for the Black Keys”

    I don’t get it. Why shouldn’t the cover of an album entitled “El Camino” be an El Camino, not a van?

  • avatar

    I worked for a company in the 80s that had a Toyota van for a delivery vehicle, it was a kick in the pants to drive compared the the Econolines that made up most of the fleet. Not a big fan of the auto tranny, we went through a few of them. Granted, we flogged the little beast pretty hard. I’m going to be looking for a cheap runabout pretty soon, and there’s a house outside of town with 5 or 6 of these in the driveway. Hmmm, wonder if one of them’s a 5-speed?

  • avatar

    Funnily enough I only remember Mitsubishi L300, not this one. The days when a tripple diamond was not a mark of shame!

  • avatar

    If only Toyota had used the Space Van name in the United States. Imagine the mural-and-bubble-window possibilities!

  • avatar

    Wow, the memories come flooding back. I was having a mid-life crisis in the spring of 2005. Decided to take a month off, bought an ’88 cargo version of one of these and drove from Vancouver Canada to Tucson Arizona. I had driven a few of these before, back when they were new and remembered that they were a hoot to drive. Filled the rust holes with bondo, built a platform in the back and headed off. This was April, had snow in Oregon. Stayed in Winnemucca a few days to avoid a storm in Utah. Started running hot just past Flagstaff. Made it to Tucson fine. Only made it half way back, it died in Green River Wyoming, and is still there. Got a rental for the drive home. It had no radio, so lots of time to think. Definitely a unique vehicle.

  • avatar

    We know how much you like DOT mandated bumpers so we put a DOT mandated bumper over your DOT mandated bumper!

  • avatar

    I was selling, try to anyway, Toyotas back in 85 for a few months.
    I seem to remember the LE models ahd dual a/c for front & back & a cooler in front of the engine on the floor. Cooled by the a/c and would hold a six pack.
    The dealer made good money on the conversions. Someone in Calif would take the delivery model throw in carpet, a couple velour bench seats in the back and presto, a passenger van. This was when the Japanese had import limitations on cars. The factory vans were cars and went against the allotment. The delivery/conversion vans were trucks so they couls import as many as possible.

    Found out I wasn’t a car salesman. Hated the “if I could would ya” grind to make deal…..

  • avatar

    When these first came out in ’84, I was in second grade, and for some reason had a severe hard-on for one of these! I wanted one in blue, and imagined whenever I drove it, the rear wheels would be in the air because of how it was proportioned.

    In ’86, when my brother was born, my parents were thinking about getting one…WITH THE NEW ICEMAKER! They didn’t get it, ended up getting a used Mercedes W123 station wagon. In Blue! My mom regretted selling it a decade later…

  • avatar

    My first car was one of these. LE, in silver, with the in-dash fridge and icemaker. Like the other posters I remember it having laughably low power and blowing from lane to lane on the highway at the slightest crosswind. Its shape also made the front end light at speed, so if you drove it constantly pedal-down on the highway the steering would get increasingly vague.

    Nevertheless I loved the heck out of it. RWD meant you could do donuts in the school parking lot. I took the seats out and put a couch in the back so guys could pre-drink on the way to parties. The rear sunroof was huge enough for four girls to stand up through. And you can’t beat sitting on the front bumper for visibility.

    Even now I can’t feel right driving a car unless I’ve adjusted the seat to smash myself against the steering wheel.

  • avatar

    Yes, you can drop the clutch and get the front end off of the ground. I had one, and it can be done. Mine ran fine but the floor rusted away and at 256K I took her to the wrecking yard. They welded their welding rig inside the van and used it for their parts pulling vehicle.

    I remember running down the road at 70MPH and getting 26MPG. Not bad for a box, eh?

  • avatar

    I love those old vans and pretty much any 80s era Toyota. There’s still a few out here in CA and some pretty mint ones (like this one) turn up on eBay from time to time and fetch a pretty penny.

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