By on February 11, 2019

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Toyota Hilux pickup truck first hit the streets in 1968, shoving aside flimsier trucks based on the Corona and Crown within a few years. While the Hilux (or “Hylux”) name got a bit of marketing use by Toyota in North America, this truck was known here as, simply, the Truck. I found this well-worn-but-unrusted ’78 in a Denver self-service yard last month.

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHow many miles are on it? Plenty. Toyota felt confident enough to go to six-digit odometers (or perhaps just became willing to throw some yen at an extra reel in the mechanism) soon after 1978, but this could be indicating 626,569.7 miles as easily as 126,569.7 miles (the wear on the seats and pedals rules out the possibility of 26,569.7 miles).

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, 20R engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese trucks were small, efficient, and got their power from an engine family that earned a reputation for sturdiness rivaled only by the likes of the Chrysler Slant-6 and certain Soviet agricultural engines making 20 horses per liter of displacement.

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, engine compartment - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 2.2-liter 20R in this Truck made 90 rumbling, grumbling, low-revving horses when it was new. Perhaps the 20R didn’t quite fit the sporty image of the Celicas in which it was installed, but it was perfect for the Truck.

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, gearshift - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMost of the second-gen Trucks came with four- or five-speed manual gearboxes, even in the United States, but this one has the luxurious three-speed automatic (sadly, the Toyoglide two-speed didn’t go in this generation of Hilux).

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, wire wheel - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSpeaking of luxury, check out these wire wheels!

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, storage compartment - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe homemade plywood desk atop the split-bench armrest suggests long-term use as a delivery vehicle; delivery drivers need to do a lot of paperwork while performing their appointed rounds.

1978 Toyota Pickup in Colorado wrecking yard, tailgate - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese trucks held their value for many decades, but the used-truck market is now saturated with cheap big pickups equipped with air conditioning and menacing road presence; I’m seeing a spike in 1970s and 1980s Trucks in wrecking yards in recent years.

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22 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Toyota Truck...”


  • avatar
    jatz

    Like a typewriter or telephone from 1978, this truck even in new condition would wear out its welcome mighty fast today.

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    My parents bought one of these new in 78, trading in a 74 F100 that was getting 10mpg on a good day. It was yellow like this one is under the brushed-on blue paint. They put a camper shell on it similar to this one. I believe theirs was called an SR5 if I recall. It was a 5 speed overdrive manual which was a novelty back then. Mom named it Tojo.

    There were still a lot of WWII vets in those days. Dad would get confronted from time to time at gas stations for buying a Japanese vehicle.

    Dad fought in Germany, so I guess he had no hard feelings for the Japanese.

    • 0 avatar
      2drsedanman

      My uncle has one around 1980, the same yellow color as the pic inside the engine bay. He loved it but held on to his old Chevy work truck to drive to union meetings/gatherings at the local steel hall. Most of the steel workers in our area had a dim view of foreign cars and would not let you park them in their parking lot. More than a few had windshields broken out or some other for of vandalism.

      In this area, only love and rust would be holding one of these together now. Bodies and frames crapped out way before the drive trains.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      My grandfather on my Mom’s side fought in Germany as well and he harbored resentment to all Axis powers when it came to cars. My gearhead uncles felt the same way and so did I until I was old enough to begin thinking for myself.

      My Dads mother had one of the first gen Corollas. You might imagine how that went over with some folks in US Steel country. They lived in Duquesne, the heart of steelmaking in the Steel Valley. But that car was well before me. The car I remember grandma having was a powder blue Citation V6.

    • 0 avatar
      Gedrven

      With a name like Tojo, it was asking to be harrassed by Pacific theater vets.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Seeing the stock steelies on the right side, I have to wonder about the wire wheels on the left. Did the owner run over something that bent the ones on the right? The 20R and 22R engines were indeed bulletproof, but as some LeMons racers have found out, they’re not meant to be revved high on the track (they tend to fly apart), which makes me wonder why Toyota also used them in the early Celicas.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    My brother bought one new in 1978. 525k miles later it still passed smog, but it needed a lot of babying to make it happen.
    The engine is original, sort of like grandpa’s hammer but the tranny is just now starting to give trouble staying in top gear.

    Darn near indestructible, but it did get replaced late last year and he occasionally gets an offer to buy it.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    My Dad had a 78. It was red at one point in its life. It became slightly pink as it aged and extremely rusty. But it only had 80k on it when he traded it on our 88 Ranger XLT extended cab with the 2.9 V6, which was like a luxury car coming from the Toyota!

    Seeing that instrument panel brings back memories. But those don’t appear to be the original seats. My young legs (in the 80’s with shorts and tube socks ya know) remember a distinct grained vinyl and it being very hot.

    I would love to have a simple 2wd Toyota or any Japanese mini-truck from the 80’s up to the late 90’s. I keep looking for a Mitsubishi Mighty Max!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I test drove a ’91 Mighty Max last spring when I was on the hunt for a cheap compact truck. The one I drove was well preserved as far a rust and overall condition goes, but the young guy who had bought it off the original owner had lowered it, totally ruining the ride and messed the steering up (way too heavy for a manual rack). Interesting you bring up Rangers and how much more luxurious it felt after a 1st gen Toyota, I had the same impression of the ’94 Ranger I bought compared to that Mighty Max! The Mitsubishi had the thinnest door panels I have seen in my life, it truly was like driving around in a tin can. The Ranger felt much quieter and more substantial and safer. But if it weren’t for the suspension issue, I would have gone for the Mitsu anyways based on character and uniqueness alone.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        As a former Mitsubishi owner, I know what you are saying. It was a good car for me, better than the sum of its parts, but not by much. I like the Mighty Max for character and uniqueness, but a Toyota or Nissan “hardbody” would be fine too.

        I hate when people “ruin” cars. I’ve been shopping C4 Corvettes, YJ Wranglers and Fox body Mustangs for various reasons. Most people have more money than taste when it comes to mods of any variety. Or they cut corners on odd things. My brother has a 2010 Mustang GT convertible. The previous owner put a cheap cold air intake on it, but a Magnaflow exhaust.

        We had two Rangers, the 88 that was new and a 94 used we bought around 2000. I prefer the 88 all day long, but the 94 was much more civilized.

    • 0 avatar
      Gedrven

      A few years ago I was involved with several early-80’s small trucks, at one point either owning or sorta-co-owning: two 1981 Toyota 4wd, a 1984 Mighty Max diesel 2wd, 1983 Dodge Ram 50 (same thing except badge and headlights) diesel 4wd, 1981 Mazda B2200 diesel 2wd, and 1983 Ford Ranger diesel 2wd with the same Perkins engine and fragile Mazda transmission as the B-truck. There were also frequent appearances by a 90-something diesel 4wd Mitsubishi Delica, a 1982 Yota 2wd, a 1978? yellow Yota just like this one, and a 1991 Toyota 2wd. These trucks are all variations on a particular sweet spot among vehicles.

      The Ranger had by far the best ride of them. The only things seriously wrong with that truck were the gearbox and the lack of a handbrake.

      The Yotas were the best-looking, most reliable and best-built. The 4wd ones were technically more capable off-road than the 4wd Mitsubishi, but didn’t ride, handle, or sip fuel half as well.

      The Mazda wasn’t well-made and parts were sometimes a problem, but the Perkins engine it came with is a lovely mill.

      Apart from the Mazda transmissions, the Mitsubishis were the least reliable overall – headgaskets, piston rings, electrical gremlins – but when they behaved were the best to drive. Being 1-wire turbodiesels, they had no trouble with modern traffic, and ran great on any blend of B100 (when available). They handled well, had a decent cabin, seemed generally well-designed, and looked good.

      The 4wd one was especially impressive. What other vehicle ever sold here – let alone a 3200lb 30+ year old brick – can haul 1200lb of firewood up a muddy logging trail, and keep up with 21st-century highway traffic while getting 32mpg (~27 combined)? The 2wd one got mid-high 30’s, maybe pushing 40 highway.

      On the Mitsis I learned something very first-hand regarding diesel tuning. For the 1983 Dodge Ram 50 4wd turbodiesel 5-speed manual, the federal version was rated at 28mpg highway, the California version with a “timing retard device” at 24. Apparently it just had the pump clocked to a different setting; I advanced it by ear and feel, and measured several highway tanks at 32, on all-terrain tires.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    A good friend of mine had one of these in the 80s. At that point it had low compression, and it appeared to be worn out. He kept driving it like that well into the 90’s.

    Luckily, his was a manual.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    This one hardly looks used up .

    My late stepmother bought a long bed SR5 in……? 1977? and kept it until her death, it never missed a beat .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I haven’t seen one that rust free since…well, ever. Wow.

  • avatar
    Ben T Spanner

    I bought a 1978 SR5 new in Central Ohio. It was cheaper than a 1 year Chevy Luv, as the Toyota dealer got a larger allocation of redesigned 1979 s if they sold their 1978 s by a certain date. Because of the chicken tax, the bed was made by Long Beach Metal products in California. ! believe they may have used old oil drums for steel. In two years or so, the bed began to rust along the horizontal seam. I repaired it. Shortly there after the right side A pillar began to bubble. I sold it. It did retain a lot of value.
    Later i bought a new 1986 Nissan Hardbody V6. In 12 years in Central Ohio, it had no rust. Both were bullet proof wth no repairs.

  • avatar
    RHD

    My ’78 Hilux SR5 is still running… it now has 136K miles. It’s just used for helping people move stuff, picking up loads of wood or shingles from Lowe’s, making runs to the dump and is handy in maintaining rental properties. It’s also a good second vehicle, at least in theory, since it’s very rarely ever used for that purpose.
    They are good, honest, dependable vehicles that do what they should, and don’t let you down. The 20R is as bulletproof as you can get, and the 5-speed lends a bit of entertainment to the driving. The low deck height, compared to newer trucks, makes it particularly easy to load and unload.
    And if you need help picking up your new washer and dryer, your neighbor with the old Toyota is happy to help you out.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Right on RHD, you’re making me miss my little Rangers! Very accessible bed, and truly fun to buzz around town in with the stick shift.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        “Low Deck Height”….now take a look at all of today’s trucks…cartoonish, indeed.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I got a lot of satisfaction out of putting my little 110hp Ranger at its full 1200lb payload, squatting down but still off the bump stops. Still perfectly safe to drive like that, just slower to accelerate and decelerate obviously. Built a paver patio, privacy fence and raised bed garden that year, and hauled a motorcycle back from my brother’s in PA. My ’94 didn’t get worked quite as hard but did some garden soil, mulch, and furniture hauling.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            In the early ’80s, there were a number of Datsun/Nissan 720 pickups running around with 1-Ton labels on their tailgates. They were still around when I was selling Dodge trucks in college and trying to understand how they could be rated a quarter-ton higher than the Cummins powered D250s I was driving to lunch.

  • avatar
    TNJed

    The quintessential crazy old man truck: an old and/or obscure compact pickup with a camper top, tons of miles, and homemade customization. Just needs to be plastered with political bumper stickers (left or right not important, just lots of them), and the more random crap in the bed, the better.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    This would make an awesome Pizza Planet delivery truck….looks like it was already yellow at some point in its life, just strip off the blue paint.

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