By on December 17, 2018

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
When Chrysler had such a smash hit with the K-derived minivans of the 1980s, Toyota USA needed some kind of family hauler bigger than the Cressida, Camry, and Tercel wagons. The solution, from the perspective of the suits in Aichi, was obvious: Americanize the TownAce mid-engined van and ship it west ASAP!

Here’s an ’84 Toyota Van I found in a Charlotte, North Carolina, wrecking yard last month.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsToyota wanted to call it the Van Wagon in North America, but Volkswagen’s lawyers started swiveling their cannons in Toyota’s direction when the similarity to the Vanagon name was noted in Wolfsburg.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, Little Tree air freshener - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThey love Car-Freshner Little Trees in Charlotte, maybe more than anywhere else. Black Ice is the most popular Little Tree in American junkyard cars, by the way.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, wheel - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI see plenty of these vans in wrecking yards, though I don’t photograph most of them. So far, I have documented this frighteningly rusty ’84, this art-car ’85, this ’86 van conversion, and this ’86 van conversion.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAs you might expect, most of these vans have astronomical mileage figures by the time they retire. Their successor, the Previa, was similar in this way.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, dealer emblems - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsLooks like it has been around the dealership block a few times.

1984 Toyota LiteAce Van in North Carolina wrecking yard, rust repair - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThere’s some body-filler-and-paint (or maybe that’s roofing cement) rust repair, which probably works better in North Carolina than it would in, say, Illinois.

The Japanese-market ads for this van are far superior to the American ones, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

If you like these junkyard posts, you can reach all 1600+ right here at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand!

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36 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Toyota Van...”

  • avatar

    I pray rectangular headlights never, ever, ever return.

  • avatar

    I still see a few of these limping around, more so then other makes of the same era, must have been something to them

  • avatar

    Speaking of Little Trees, I went to the Petit LeMans earlier this year, which was sponsored by Motul, the French lubricants company. One of the things they handed me as I went through the gate was an air freshener, shaped like a bottle of motor oil. I was a little reluctant to open it lest it actually smell like motor oil, or worse yet, gear oil, but someone talked me into doing so. Turns out it smelled like any other car air “freshener” with an overpowering artificial pine fragrance.

  • avatar

    Make mine that metallic blue it came in, with captain’s chairs, mini-fridge AND manual trans, please! Grew up kinda secretly loving these. They were all over the place on bases/posts in Germany back in the day.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the van of which you speak. It was an ’86 LE in dark metallic blue, captains chairs, Ice maker, and horizontal blinds. Automatic, though. Prior to that, I had an ’84 in silver, which I gave up for the promise of more horsepower.

      It was a good van. It had a lot of quirks.

  • avatar

    Best jack stands ever!

  • avatar

    These were a hot item in the late eighties and my family owned the Nissan version creatively named the “Nissan Van”! These were all rear-wheel drive with the engine under the drivers seat. Ours happened to be a manual trans with a small fridge between the drivers and passengers seat. I ended up working for Nissan North America’s corporate office for several years in the early 2000’s and at that time they were buying back all of the Nissan Vans and crushing them due to engine fire issues. I wondered why my mother complained on long trips that the driver’s seat was getting too hot! Evidently the Japanese quick fix with bringing these minivans over to compete with the Dodge/Plymouth Caravan did not properly test these vehicles in the US with our tendency to drive longer distances. Mitsubishi also offered one as well.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The Mitsubishi Delica! We didn’t get the jacked-up 4×4 turbodiesels of Internet Card Nerd fame, though. This one is more typical:

      Aside from its incendiary tendencies, the Nissan Van is perhaps best-known in the West as the vehicle mode of Ironhide and Ratchet.

    • 0 avatar

      They shoved a larger engine into the Nissan Vanette, but didn’t change the cooling or engine ventilation. That’s what caused all those pesky fires.

  • avatar

    The Previa- iconic but not iconic enough to star in Back to the Future.

  • avatar

    My parents had one of these for years, a high-spec one. I loved it, but I didn’t have to keep it running.

    The two biggest problems they had with it were, 1, the rear, being sprung for 1,000 Kg loads, was way too light when the van was empty (which hurt stability in the wind and traction in the snow), and, 2, the engine was designed to be under the front passenger seat, but ended up under the driver’s seat when they moved the steering (which ruined the accessibility).

  • avatar

    In 1990, I got into one of these (or a Previa) as a cab in the Bahamas. I was thinking it was a column shifted manual transmission, not sure though. As a side note, anyone know when the last column shift manual transmission was sold in the US? I would think it would have been one of the big three trucks in the late 80’s maybe?

  • avatar

    Not just rusty but “frighteningly” rusty. That’s pretty rusty.
    I despise most if not all Japanese vehicles but I still love these little vans.

  • avatar

    My Mom’s best friend had one of these. My Dad and I called it the “LE Van” because it had no nameplate on the thing. It only had the LE trim level displayed. I think Toyota referred to it as the “Wonder Wagon” in advertising. Now I finally know why..the “Van Wagon” name was too similar to the VW Vanagon!! They were so desperate to fight the almighty Dodge Caravan that they decided to skip naming it. You learn something new every day.

  • avatar

    Chilton’s repair manual for this van was combined with Toyota Cressida. For the brief period that I had a Cressida, it was very annoying.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’m surprised no one has grabbed the wheels off of this. They’ve always been a hot item for RWD Corollas and the AE86.

  • avatar

    We had one of these– an ’85. It was reliable (as opposed to the Chrysler products). It was convenient for two small kids but the wind blew it all over the road. It was good to know your legs protected the engine in a frontal collision.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Was driving on 680 south in Fremont, CA back in the 80’s. Was late at night. Freeway should’ve been open. Traffic jam instead. One of those Toyota minivans hit a car turned and stopped perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Some guy was in the front passenger seat. Unbelted. Looks like he went through the windshield, over the other car — and wound up lying face down in the same lane they were driving in.

    What was weird is how he was positioned in the road. Looked like no injuries, no blood, no appendages bent into funky shapes. Just lying there with his head rotated to the left as if sleeping — with his arms against his sides, and legs straight down — kind of like Superman flying along.

    Will never forget that. Then, right as we went by, a cop put a tarp over him.

    • 0 avatar

      A friend and his family died in one of these, hit head on, in the late 1980s. Cabover vehicles have made me a little twitchy to ride in since; really they are no safer than a VW van.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the 80’s Nissan offered a similar van called, drum roll, Van here in the states. They’d figure why not catch on to the burgeoning mini van market. They were so awful that after numerous recalls including fires they bought them back and issued rebates to owners.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve read that they tried stuffing their big Z24 engine into the van leading to overheating and the fire issues. Too bad. It was probably a good vehicle otherwise.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the 1985-1994 Nissan Vanette which we received in Europe. They engine bay was so compact and poorly ventilated the engine had a tendency to overheat, particularly in stop-and-go traffic. The engine, being between the two front seats, also functioned as a ‘seat heater’, or so I am told.

  • avatar

    The ride in the front seats was a pretty good imitation of a coin-operated hobby horse. Bucking bronco, yeah!

    No passenger crush space, as many have noted. Every time I got out of my friend’s, I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d been spared. Crap ride, useless handling, no protection and built to last for years if you avoided contact with shrubs. Toyota, Feel the Excitement!

  • avatar

    There was a 4wd version of this van, with raised suspension and I believe, a low range and skid plates It was extremely capable for off-roading. Sitting in the front dropping into deep ditches, the upside of the ditch would FILL the windshield, seemingly inches from your face. Though the underbody rad seemed vulnerable, no one seemed to puncture them.

    Fancy executive-style JDM versions of this van are still being imported.

  • avatar

    It looks like this even had the ice maker – I can’t imagine it was effective – did anyone ever try to make ice cubes? And does anyone own of these, or was this the last one to exist?

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    I remember the commercial with the lady excitedly looking around inside then popping out of the sunroof and saying, “it’s a condominium!”

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