By on October 15, 2013
Diesel and Baby Blue to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies

Diesel and Baby Blue to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies

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;


The occupants were amazingly fine

The occupants were amazingly fine

This particular one died at the hands of a UNMO with no understanding of flash floods or rapidly moving water.


"What? The water isn't even over the hood, we'll be fine!"

“What? The water isn’t even over the hood, we’ll be fine!”

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.

Road to Asab


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!”

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27 Comments on “Capsule Review: Toyota HiLux Surf (United Nations Edition)...”

  • avatar

    Awesome! Did your Surfs have the e-locker out back?

    I finally took my 96 camping 2 weekends ago in the Hoosier national forest, nothing more extreme than well graded gravel roads that any sedan could traverse unfortunately, I never so much as put it in 4H, let alone into low range and locked. Although after a night-long downpour, there were some big puddles and a few streams that swelled up across the road, felt like I was in a car commercial blasting across them. Hopefully I’ll find something more remote and challenging elsewhere in the Midwest.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a similar camping trip in April. All easy peasy roads right up until we reached the campsite. Rather than carry all the gear across a down tree that gave access to the other bank of the stream, we loaded up the 4Runner and pushed through. Definitely felt like a car commercial, haha.

      • 0 avatar

        Aren’t car commercials supposed to feel like real life? Most commercials show a completely unrealistic view of off roading anyway.

        • 0 avatar

          Well ‘like a commercial’ in the sense that it focuses in one one cool looking sequence or image, ie splashing through a stream, whereas most offroading is just driving on bumpy roads/trails that make up 99% of the route between actual challenging obstacles be they mudholes or rock gardens.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t think Toyota would move many vehicles if they had a commercial of my 4Runner sitting in the driveway waiting for snow or outdoors-related trips. :)

          But, yeah, what gtemnykh said. I do understand what you are saying about the truck commercials that show the truck schlepping through the mud at 30mph and up over sunken logs. Most offroading is relatively boring on film.

          • 0 avatar

            Trust me, they will sell. Even if they had a commercial of your 4Runner sitting in the driveway waiting for snow or outdoors-related trips.

  • avatar

    My dad used to own a 1995 or 96 Hilux in a deep red. 2.8D. He had bought it new, before they changed the body style to look a little too much like the Tacoma. It rode high on big tires and it was lean and gorgeous. I loved that truck. It didn’t have an interior to speak of, but I think shortly after that trucks especially but cars in general started looking really thick and fat.

    One of my favorite trucks ever. I remember trying to figure out ways so that he could give it to me when he was done with it in the late 90s, but I lived in the USA at the time and he was working in Costa Rica so it was an expensive proposition. If I could have that truck right now I would be a happy man.

  • avatar

    I hear the Hilux and Tacoma will be the same truck next time. The Tacoma will probably have a less punishing suspension. There isn’t much difference between the two these days.

    To the author how is the UAE? Still plenty of work for American even post recession? I know the population of the coastal countries there is mostly immigrant workers. Like Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE.

    • 0 avatar

      The UAE ain’t bad. It’s very progressive here. But 75% of the population came from somewhere else. There are jobs to be had, my old roommate coined the phrase “First Country National” as a nod to professional ex pats vs the “TCNs” you see doing the menial work.

      Just don’t ever expect bureaucratic things to move with the same efficiency as the western world. Yes, I actually did just type that in October of 2013.

      As far as working overseas, you could do worse. But the competition for the white collar jobs is strong. Europeans and other Arab nations with pretty solid educations and experience are all competing for the same gigs.

      • 0 avatar

        There is a fascinating article about imported UAE workers from Vanity Fair a couple of years ago. Well worth a read.

      • 0 avatar

        Good to know. I do hear it pretty forward thinking out of most middle east countries.

        Say what. I would think having a whole bunch of kings stuff would get done really quick.

        I did hear there is a separation. If your white you can make tons of money. If your not, slave.

        I was looking into this the other day. It be a good base to operate out of. European destinations are a bit closer than here at home. Cost everyday goods isn’t stupidly priced. Housing is probably not one of those areas.

        For now I’m working my way up the ladder. When i have enough skills I’ll venture out. I want to live in another country for awhile just for the experience.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A few editorial nits: it’s “du jour” not “dejuir.” And it’s “all for naught” not “all for not.”

    Sorry, once an English major, always an English major.

    A really excellent story, BTW, and TTAC is fortunate to have the benefit of your usual experiences: a soldier of fortune, or a fortunate soldier.

  • avatar

    “Food Poisoning and Intestinal Parasites, the Key to a Slimmer You!”

    While living in Egypt, I found that a nice bout of Dysentery, followed by a severe case of Hep A did just the trick. I went from 186 lbs. to 147 lbs. with hardly any effort at all. And, it cost just a few piasters a day.

    Take that, South Beach Diet!

    • 0 avatar

      If you want to avoid that, do as a business associate did many years ago when visiting an Egyptian oil exploration camp. Alone of all the visitors, including some locals, he did not get sick. His secret? For a week, a diet consisting of French fries and canned Coke (not bottled). IOW, stuff fried in 600F oil and a liquid in a tamper-proof container with a pH of about 2.5-3. Apparently causes less weight loss than getting sick. Wouldn’t be a workable solution long term though.

      • 0 avatar

        That would have been a tough diet to stick to for a year. Besides, I wouldn’t have lost a pound! Besides, I would have missed eating salad out of a cart, pulled by a mule, with the mule tail swishing the flies from the communal salad bowl. I’m 100% certain that’s where I got the Hep A.

        Speaking of that year, let’s talk Peugeot 504. That car was a flying carpet on those rough roads.

        • 0 avatar

          I spent 3 years living and travelling around East Asia and made tremendous sport of eating everything I could find on the street. I like street food. I got sick once, in Nepal, and it was cured in, literally, hours by Cipro.

          The key to not getting sick is to not be a pussy. Get it down yer gullet, give the bugs a chance to acclimate, they then become your friend. I’d give someone the wedgie of their life if I saw them eating fries and drinking Coke with tasty local food about.

  • avatar

    Posts like these are why I love this web site.

  • avatar
    Augie the Argie

    Reminds me of when I went to Dili to help in overseeing the smooth independence of East Timor in 2002. I was driving a pretty eaten Land Rover Discovery. Their 4×4 prowess has really no match. Toyota Prado were ubiquitous as well. Nice read!

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