By on April 19, 2017

1990 Toyota Town Ace

High atop Mount Forbidden, the “other market’s” imported vehicle stands alone. It awaits that special day, some 25 years in the future, when the clouds will break and a descent into the mortal realm is possible.

And, after that special day comes, the vehicle gets a chance to stand out beyond all normal cars in any given American parking lot. It was never meant to be seen in this country, and yet someone with an entrepreneurial spirit made it possible. Come with me now, as we experience JDM van goodness.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

The two-tone brown box you see here is a 1990 Toyota Town Ace, and I’m staring at it just as much as you. As alluded to, this vehicle was never available in the United States. In 1990, the Toyota van available at your local dealer was distinctly more egg-shaped, and it was called a Previa. The Previa replaced the Town Ace, or “Van” as the American market knew it, after the 1989 model year.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

This Town Ace is the restyled version, with full-width headlamp covers in the front and matching style lenses at the rear.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

Oh, and did I mention this is a turbodiesel model, which is also four-wheel drive?

1990 Toyota Town Ace

This one is well equipped, with a Skylite Roof feature. Much of the ceiling is covered with glass panels, each with its own retractable sun shade. It looks as though two of them even prop up (for excellent mid-cabin ventilation).

1990 Toyota Town Ace

With all the glass, visibility can only be described as excellent. Life becomes a panoramic photo from behind the wheel of the Town Ace. Also, that wheel is on the right side, because that’s where wheels are supposed to be it was at home, in Japan.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

Seating is reconfigurable, and six people can sit, recline, or lounge in spacious, well-lit veloured comfort. There’s a small fridge between the front seats, which will easily chill your Fiji water.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

Cargo space is also considerable, as the seats flip up against the wall when needed.

1990 Toyota Town Ace

Currently listed for sale on Craigslist, this spectacular van’s owner is asking $13,999. A small price to pay for a dog camping adventure, don’t you think?

[Images via Craigslist]


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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: This 1990 Toyota Town Ace Simply Kills It...”

  • avatar

    Oh yes, these Toyota vans (and Nissans and Mitsubishi Delicas) in various guises and funny names “Toyota TownAce Noah” and endless configurations are very popular East of the Urals in Russia. A St. Petersburg youtuber recently bought basically this exact van and drove it from Vladivostok West across the entirety of Siberia. Theirs was quite worn out when they bought it and suffered some fairly serious engine issues, but with a bit of help carried them through

    I’d seriously consider buying one of the L400 4wd Delicas once they reach importable age. The L300s are cooler looking but just not quite as highway friendly. My own ’98 MPV was awesome for camping trips and a bit of offroad capability to get you where you needed to go. Very comfy for long hauls on the highway as well, just very underpowered.

  • avatar

    Drive it before you buy it. The ride in those things makes you feel like the basketball in an NBA game during a fast break.

  • avatar

    From the dealership’s website:×4-van/

    Drooool. It’s like a better VW camper van. Would be awesome for a family camping outing. The biggest question on some of these vehicles is part availability. The Mitsus are actually not a bad choice as they were available with the common in the US 3.0L V6, lots of shared stuff with Monteros IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The crew cab Hilux caught my eye. I’m a bit surprised that those and the Nissan D21 crew cabs don’t show up in the US very often. I suppose they were all exported to Russia, Africa, and the Middle East before they reached age 25.

      • 0 avatar

        I love a Toyota HiAce Crew Cab diesel 4wd.

        I just spent four days at my cousin’s fishing camp on the river, it’s awesome and I thought about how that HiAce would be perfect for that life, or those types of trips anyway. We could all load up and go to town, it can tow and launch the boat, and it could get in and out if it rains heavily enough to wash out the entrance road, which it does, and haul supplies.

        Such an awesome basic truck. I would probably install a proper drop-side bed on it, because it would be so much more versatile.

  • avatar

    The base “vans” were quite popular when we were stationed in Germany. Quite a few families had them (one even had a nice dark blue metallic one with a manual trans!). Went on many a campout riding around in that one, and always had a soft spot in my heart for finding one and using it as a dog hauler/stuff hauler.

  • avatar

    I LOVED these, and always used to surf the automaker’s websites salivating over the forbidden JDM fruit.

    I’m talking about cars here, people! CARS!

    Mitsubishi Delica Space Gear!

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    The photo looking through the rear hatch reminds me of looking out of the nose cone of a B-29 Superfortress.

  • avatar

    Finally, something worth buying.

  • avatar

    Despite the description of the ride above, if I had the space and cash to justify getting one of these, I would pull the trigger downsize my daily driver to a family sedan.

    Its weird in a cool way, but not in a ‘impossible to maintain unless you have a large parts budget’ way.

  • avatar

    I remember VW vans had that same arrangement for the second and third rows, with a table between them. Pretty cool until you hit something.

  • avatar

    I would love to have the option of switching seats around in my Sienna. That third row bucket seat option should be available on every multi-row crossover/van.

  • avatar

    Love all that glass! I managed an office that had the cargo version of this, probably an ’85, when it was empty it was a hoot to hoon. Although it did manage to eat a couple of transmissions, and they were not cheap to replace. And you really do not want to run into anything in one of these. No airbags, and no crumple zones.

    Great find!

  • avatar

    Look at that sunny, airy, open interior!

    Drive me to the euthanasia center in a clean version of this!

    Toyota Heika Banzai!!

  • avatar

    VERY nice ! .
    When I vacationed in St. Lucia some years back, these in 2WD version were the basic Taxi and I rode a long ways in them .
    A few years ago, a fellow I know (Hiya Joe !) found the panel version of this languishing in the back lot of some Ford Dealer in So. Cal. , bought it and put it back on the road after chasing many odd ball parts, IIRC it was a manual tranny version, he tired of it soon after making it good again and sold it, I wonder where it went .

  • avatar

    Reminds me of Lost in Space. Put a big dish on the roof and watch for big, hairy giants throwing rocks.

    Wonder if these ever wore Rescue Noda or Himedic or Super Ambulance in the home market?

    I luv Japanese talking ambulances with speech synthesis and the large headboard of flashing LEDs above the shield. The harmonic siren and blasting the wailing siren thru lights makes an impressive sight.

    • 0 avatar

      From Wikipedia:
      “The “Chariot” was an all-terrain, amphibious tracked vehicle which the crew used for ground transport when they were on a planet. As stated in episode 3 of season 1, the chariot existed in a dis-assembled state during flight, to be re-assembled once on the ground. The Chariot was actually an operational cannibalized version of the Thiokol Snowcat Spryte,[8] with a Ford 170-cubic-inch (3 L) inline-6, 101 horsepower engine with a 4-speed automatic transmission including reverse. Test footage filmed of the Chariot for the first season of the series can be seen on YouTube.[9]

      Most of the Chariot’s body panels were clear – including the roof and its dome-shaped “gun hatch”. Both a roof rack for luggage and roof mounted “solar batteries” were accessible by exterior fixed ladders on either side of the vehicle. It had dual headlights and dual auxiliary area lights beneath the front and rear bumpers. The roof also had swivel-mounted, interior controllable spotlights located near each front corner, with a small parabolic antenna mounted between them. The Chariot had six bucket seats (three rows of two seats) for passengers. The interior featured retractable metallised fabric curtains for privacy, a seismograph, a scanner with infrared capability, a radio transceiver, a public address system, and a rifle rack that held four laser rifles vertically near the inside of the left rear corner body panel (“Island in the Sky”).”

      Most LIS episodes were laughably bad, but the cast seemed earnest (they were in on the joke, much like the cast of “Batman”), and the gadgets were cool. They lasted long enough to make the transition from B&W to color film, which probably killed a few series in the 60’s.

  • avatar

    We bought a 1987 Lite Ace van in Australia years ago which was a great vehicle and though small had just enough room for 2 to sleep in with on a futon with the seats folded flat. One surprise was the poor gas mileage out of the underpowered 1.8L with manual trans. Think it was just over 20 mpg on the highway…and gas was $4.00 gal. We sold it to some backpackers and the actual cost to own over 3 years was less than $1,500. I never felt that this vehicle was “reliable” enough to circumnavigate this huge country (it had @160,000+ miles on it) but we did drive it to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. Only failures were a bad water pump and a leaking slave brake cylinder. The a/c worked for a while and then died…not worth fixing. These older Toyotas are legend for reliability in Australia.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t touch this with an eleven foot pole. We had an ’85 Toyota van that had the same general look so I suspect the same layout. You sat on top of the engine sometimes getting quite warm. In the event of a head end collision your legs served as protection for the engine beneath you. The thing was so susceptible to cross winds that it’d be easy to find yourself in an opposing lane.

  • avatar

    JDM vehicles can be imported into Canada when they are only 15 years old. So the newer versions of theses vans, with the engine in front, are almost a common sight. Manning Park Lodge has a fleet of them.

  • avatar

    * Dog sold separately.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    A close friend had the North American version of this van. It burned down to the frame on the TransCanada just West of Calgary. He absolutely adored it.

  • avatar

    I drove one a Toyota Van as a courier when I was 19! Great stability and maneuvering! Sitting on top of the front wheels, a sharp turn would have you physically moving sideways!

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