By on February 14, 2020

In the last edition of Buy/Drive/Burn we pitted three compact pickup trucks from Japan against one another. The year was 1972 — still fairly early in Japan’s truck presence on North American shores. The distant year caused many commenters to shout “We are young!” and then claim a lack of familiarity.

Fine! Today we’ll move it forward a decade, and talk trucks in 1982.

All of today’s trucks have one thing in common: They’re Japanese and wear domestic branding. The Big Three was caught out by the big Japanese players’ small trucks, so its members turned to second-tier Japanese manufacturers and created captive imports. That bought some time while Ford, GM, and Chrysler worked behind the scenes to develop their own compact offerings.

In 1982, the small truck captive import party was about over.

Chevrolet LUV

General Motors offered Isuzu’s Faster as the LUV between 1972 and 1982. Feeling the heat from Datsun, Toyota, and Ford (see below), the LUV started out with an inline-four of 75 horsepower as its only engine offering. A facelift in 1974 was followed with an automatic transmission offering in 1976, and four-wheel drive (the first on a compact truck) in 1979. 1981 brought the arrival of a second-generation LUV, though Isuzu renamed the truck Pick Up in other markets. More power was finally available, too. Today’s engine is the largest 2.3-liter four, paired to a manual transmission and 4×4.

LUV was replaced in 1983 by the S-10.

Dodge Ram 50

Dodge was late to the game with its small truck offering, introducing the new D-50 in 1979. Underneath the logos was the first-generation Mitsubishi Triton, or Mighty Max if it feels more comfortable. The name switched to Ram 50 in 1981, and it was sold alongside its twin, the Plymouth Arrow. 1982 was a year of change for the Ram 50: The Arrow went away as Mitsubishi offered the Mighty Max under its badge for the first time. Meanwhile, four-wheel drive became available. Said versions carried the Power Ram 50 moniker. The largest gasoline engine available (and our pick today) was the 2.6-liter four-cylinder from other Mitsubishi truck products.

Today’s Power Ram 50 is also paired with a five-speed manual. Though Chrysler introduced the Dakota as the Ram 50’s replacement in 1987, it continued to sell both trucks together through 1994.

Ford Courier

Ford hired Mazda to import its gen two B-Series truck, then sold it through its North American dealerships starting in 1972. Its first iteration was saddled with a 1.8-liter engine of 74 horsepower, mated to a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. Ford wasn’t sure how to badge the Courier, switching placement and names three or four times in the first generation. A second gen debuted in 1977 and carried notable upgrades in power and drivability. The base engine was enlarged to two full liters, and disc brakes appeared at the front. Optional was a 2.3-liter Pinto engine. Critically, the Courier was never available with four-wheel drive. That means today’s Courier pairs the larger Pinto engine with a five-speed manual and 4×2. The Ranger was ready for 1983, though Ford and Mazda’s truck times were far from over.

Three compact captives, two of them on their deathbeds in 1982. Which is worth a Buy?

[Images: Ford, GM, Dodge]

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43 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Compact and Captive Pickup Trucks From 1982...”

  • avatar

    You are beyond evil, this celebration of that which we cannot have.

    • 0 avatar

      I have no need for a larger pickup, but would gladly buy a modern version of these smaller ones. I was excited to hear when the Ranger came back to the US, only to be disappointed by the large size of it. Here’s hoping the compact trucks get reborn!

  • avatar

    Buy, buy, buy the Mazda, a/k/a Ford Courier. Burn the rest. The next generation of Mazda pickups, 1986-1992, were absolutely fantastic. My first ever new vehicle was a 1987 B2000 SE-5 short-bed. I would buy one today in a heart beat for light duty weekend work and just the enjoyment of such a simple yet refined pickup.

    • 0 avatar

      I still own a 1992 B2200 single cab long box. Almost 300k KM and aside from quite a few squeaks and rattles, it’s still running strong.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a B-2200, last year, 1993. Great used truck. I was the 3rd or 4th owner, and it traded hands within my family 2 times after that. I think my nephews friend finally killed it recently.

      However, for purposes of this survey I will pick the Luv based on looks alone. Someone in my hometown had an equivalent Isuzu with a diesel and it just kept going forever.

    • 0 avatar

      The 86-93 B-series is a far cry from its predecessor in every way except US-market diesel offerings.

  • avatar

    why does the luv need so many spare tires?

    Buy: Luv
    Drive: Mighty Max – it had a diesel engine option.
    Drive: Ram
    Burn: None, just let the ford be.

    • 0 avatar

      > it had a diesel engine option.

      They all did. As well as the Nissan/Datsun, Toyota, and Ford Ranger (82-83 had the same Perkins engine and RX7 gearbox as the Mazda B2200; 84-87 had the same 4D55 engine as the Dodge/Mitsubishi, not sure with what transmission).

      Also, the Jeep Comanche had a diesel option, apparently a Renault 2.1. This is the only one of the group of which I’ven’t seen at least two examples in the wild.

  • avatar

    Happy Valentine’s Day folks.

    BUY the Ram – When I was a kid, they were used for service trucks and seemed in destructible.

    DRIVE the Courier – Cheap and cheerful

    BURN the LUV – Nothing wrong with it, but GM dealer service departments were shysters :-(

  • avatar

    Burn them? These were wonderful in their cheap awfulness. When I bought my first suburban 2-story colonial these were the commuter cars of choice of all the upward mobile dads in the neighborhood. They were cheap, economical transportation and did double-duty for the many weekend Home Depot runs, but if I have to choose…

    Buy: The Ford, because I still see a lot of them in active duty

    Drive: The Ram

    Burn: The Luv

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Will an LS motor fit in the Luv? Anyway, just came for the “Thsi is the truck everybody wants and if you want a bigger truck than these you are compensating” comments.

    Buy which ever one I can put a big motor in and turn tires into smoke at the drag strip.

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of the old school small blocks were installed in LUVs back in the day so I would bet an LS would fit just fine. Also saw a few Couriers with Ford small blocks in them too. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a V8 converted Mitsu.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah I worked with a tool and die maker who stuffed a Ford 260 V8 in his Courier. He said it got pretty skittish on wet pavement under full throttle.

        But he had a ton of fun at the stoplight races!

    • 0 avatar

      LOL,that 2.3 Pinto motor cam make all the power you’d like. It made 205 in the SVO and will make plenty more than that.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. Motor Trend published a story way back when about swapping V8’s in to a LUV. I don’t remember the displacement offhand, but it was a small block from 1966.

  • avatar

    Since I owned 2 of them (’82 & ’86), I’ll have to go with:
    Buy: the Ram 50. It was the best looking of the whole bunch and extremely durable. Both of mine had the 2.0 engine with manual trans (4spd and 5spd respectively). Both had dealer installed A/C.
    Drive: the Chevy Luv. The 2nd iteration weas good looking and had a good rep around here.
    Burn: Ford Courier. Only because it’s 3rd on my list.

  • avatar

    Buy: Mitsubishi–same truck as the D-50 with quad headlamps and marginally-better appearance packages. I owned an ’83. Decent gas mileage, as long as you kept the speed below 80mph.
    Drive: Luv–at two different workplaces I drove the Luv, one as a general pickup and delivery vehicle for an electronics repair shop and the other working for an airport FBO carrying civil aviation propellors, engines and other components to specialist shops for overhaul. Notably underpowered but well able to perform their duties.
    Burn: Courier–Only drove one once but saw many on the roads. A very popular truck but seemingly lacking in power and at the time looked like a ’60s model, not an ’80s model. My Mitsi could easily out accelerate it and did everything I wanted it to do at the time.

  • avatar

    80s teenage stupidity: racing my friends 80-ish Ford Courier/Mazda B2000 against my ’84 (mom’s) Nissan 720. My king cab truck – barely – won that mighty brawl, even with its really oddly geared 3-speed automatic.

    No real hatred toward any of these but given my lack of Dodge experience I’ll have to go:

    Buy: Ford

    Drive: The Luv (that name that only could have come out of the 70s)

    Burn: Dodge (sorry!)

  • avatar

    Buy them all. Love them all.

  • avatar

    Buy (and then drive!) the Ram…it’s the Arrow Truck (and my first car was a 1978 Plymouth Arrow GT!)!
    Buy (one can never have too many small trucks) the Courier/Mazda. Just great, simple trucks that I still keep an eye for now
    Burn…the Luv, only because I have to play by the rules of the game.

  • avatar

    These trucks were just old enough to be first rides when I was in high-school. Remember the “mini-truck” craze? Take a cheap truck, lower it, add graphics, and spend as much $ as possible on speakers.

    Out of these trucks the LUV was the most popular. Probably because the Ford had dated styling and the Ram looked kind of goofy.

    Buy LUV
    Drive Courier
    Burn Ram

  • avatar

    Buy the LUV. 4WD, and I really like its looks.
    Drive the Dodge with 2.6 liters of 4-banger oomph. Back in the day that was actually a pretty potent little mill.
    Sorry Courier. I can’t hate you, but somebody has to be sacrificed, and you drew the short straw.

  • avatar

    These all have in common they’re BOF and rear wheel drive, that is the most important attribute of a small truck. Without these two attributes any new attempt at a compact truck will fail.

  • avatar

    I am always amazed as to how we romanticize the sh!t we drove in our youth. I purchased an “84 Ranger reg cab base model V6 4×4 brand new. It was fun but after 5 years I upgraded to a F250. A Friend of mine had the Itchypuzzy er Mitsubishi er Ram. He bought it new but it was a steaming pile of crap and sold it. I did not know anyone with the Luv.
    I’d say burn the Ram, drive the Luv since i have zero experience with it and buy the Ford/Mazda.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I had an 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max for 14 years it was a great little truck. I would not burn any of these trucks I miss the size and the utility of them. As for romanticizing these trucks it less of romanticizing and more of missing the just right size and convenience of them especially for suburbanites that just need an all purpose vehicle that is easy to park, easy to access the bed, efficient, and that is cheap to buy and maintain which are all the things missing from today’s trucks even the midsize ones. Not everyone who needs a truck needs a brodozer. I would buy a new version of one of these compact trucks updated for safety especially without all the extra electronics.

    • 0 avatar

      The accessibilty of the bed was great. Current trucks, even 2WD models are too high for easy lifting. The Mighty Max/Ram 50 also had 6.5 ft beds through 1986.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a mixed bag IMO. Lifting stuff over the sides of the bed is obviously worse, and doubly so because they’re now made of clear coated aluminum foil that dents every time you touch it. But the tailgate is my project workbench and having that at working height is worth a lot.

      • 0 avatar

        Box depth has increased due to taller sides and ride height has increased but much of that ride height is due to increased payload and larger brakes which necessitates larger wheels. My current F150 stock tires and brakes are much larger than my 1990 F250. I don’t find lift over height much different between the two.

  • avatar

    These are just a bit too early. The one I want is the early-’90s Toyota Pickup, with a Nissan Hardbody in close second place.

    But if we have to go with this group, buy the Isuzu, drive the Mitsubishi, and reluctantly burn the Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Here’s a stupendously unique Hardbody:

      You’ll have the only(?) one on this continent.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow. I’d take mine in normal form with a gas V6, but that’s a piece of JDM history.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, I love these Japanese ex-plant vehicles. Living in Seattle there are a number of dealers that import vehicles under the 25 year rule.

        I’ve seen a number of Fire trucks built on various forward control pickups, from the mid size down to Kei size. It would be a manageable way to have and drive a fire truck and many are 4wd too. Besides seeing them listed at some of the dealers I’ve passed a few on the roads.

  • avatar

    Buy: the Ford
    Drive: the Chevy
    Burn: the Dodge (where I grew up, no one drove Dodge trucks, even though this one looks pretty cool!).

    My dad had ’79 Mazda pickup, nearly identical to the Courier described here. It was purchased used from my grandfather and it became my regular transportation in the early to mid 90s after it was beat almost to death. I loved that little truck. It was fun to drive. It took me back and forth to college 4 hours away; it was great for camping; and it was used for lots of farm work. I’m surprised no manufacturer is willing to take a chance on a compact truck (BOF) these days.

  • avatar

    I would happily buy and drive any of these trucks. I really miss these bare-bones, no nonsense vehicles. Of course and modern variant would need better rust protection since the ’82 versions of these have long since biodegraded where I live. Something about the wee Atlantic Ocean and the salt therein.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    When you need steps or a ladder to get into the bed of a pickup then it is too tall for most people. I am over 6 feet tall and it is hard for me to get into the bed of a full size 2 wheel drive pickup. Most of the full size pickups from the 90s were not as tall as the current pickups. I never had any problems until the current generation of big rig pickups. I think there is room for a sensibly priced compact pickup that is simple and not the size of a 72 Cadillac, Lincoln, or Imperial. I cannot believe that everyone wants or needs a full size crew cab pickup that they have to have steps to get into.

  • avatar

    I have extensive experience with the Mitsubishi (two 2wd and one 4wd) and the Mazda (also an 82 Ranger with the same engine and trans), a little with the Isuzu (a 4wd), all diesels.

    Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: burn the Mazda. The engine, a licensed Perkins 4.135, is glorious – durable, reliable, simple, efficient, and more powerful than its numbers suggest. The transmission is out of an RX7 (but with a unique bellhousing) and shifts well but may as well be made of balsa wood. The rest of the truck ranges from mediocre to utter garbage, and parts are scarce these days.

    Then it gets a bit trickier…

    The Isuzu is painfully slow, neither handling nor styling are anything to write home about, but the mechanicals are indestructible if left stock. The C223 diesel, in naturally-aspirated form (later C223T turbos had weak rods), will keep up with any Mercedes for stratospheric mileage, while being easier to service and more efficient. Enter one in a race, and it’ll cross the finish line on its own power, DFL, long after its competition has won the race, been retired to daily duty, worn out, sat in someone’s backyard as a project, sold for scrap, turned into a refrigerator, *that* worn out and scrapped… They are the cockroaches of the automotive world; maybe not as abuse-tolerant as a Yota, but they live longer in normal use. The 4wd ones seem to be equally fine for what they are, but unsuited for serious off-road use. Buy the Isuzu once, don’t make it something it can’t be, and enjoy it – such as it is – forever.

    The Mitsubishi is in an entirely different league as far as power, refinement, and handling. The 4wd system is on par with a Nissan or IFS Toyota for capability. I also find it the second-best looking truck of 1982 (behind a Toyota). The 4D55 engine is more or less still in production today (Hyundai D4BH) and was designed from the start to be turbocharged. The downside is that the mechanicals, the engine in particular, are nothing special as far as reliability or longevity. The two examples I most worked on had well above-average amounts of unexpected problems, and a 4D55 with over 200k on its original block and head is unusual. Drive it while it’s good.

  • avatar

    Sadly I really don’t think U.S.A. buyers want basic vehicles of any sort any more .

    All of these were O.K., none great although when I still weighed 165# I didn’t find the ’72 Ford Courier terribly cramped and I just made do with the lack of power ~ I hauled auto parts including V8 engines in it easily if slowly…

    My late father in law (miss you Vitalino) found on in 1989 or so that looked pristine, he thrashed the poor thing and drove it flat out on the freeway constantly, it soldiered on for a few years before he crashed and ruined it .

    Then he bought a Dodge mini Ram (? D50?) that was straight but had been touched by far too many Mexican “mechanics”so I was kept very busy endlessly correcting DPO & DPM errors & bodges .

    It turned out that many parts like the carby were ever so slightly different from the Mitsubishi badged versions so I spent a lot of time at Pick-A-Part .

    If I fit, I’d love an early Courier but I doubt I still could .

    As far as current crackerjack pee- cups, I just bought a 2001 Ford Ranger stripper and it’s snug but feels about the same as the ’72 Courier ~ built to get the job done on a budget .


  • avatar

    Plymouth Arrow? I don’t think so, this is a Plymouth Arrow, along with it’s slightly quicker nitro powered version, and it’s driver. You meant Arrow Sport Pickup. Here are two Arrows..

    And one with a little bit more power:

    And burn all the little pickups, they were nothing but slow, and fast rusting deathtraps.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I could live with a version of the old Ranger or S-10 which were not that much different size wise than these trucks. I would settle for a Chinese one assembled in North America even with power windows, locks, and an automatic although I would rather have a stick with crank windows. Would even settle for limited colors like white, black, or silver. I believe that with commercial users included there would be enough market for a real compact truck. I would buy one. Just keep it simple with limited choices which would make it easier to assemble thus bringing down the cost of manufacturing.

    • 0 avatar

      I looked hard for any S10 or derivative and only found hammered junkers, I didn’t want one of those .

      We had S10’s in our municipal fleet, they were wretched, cheapy rigs -but- they soldiered on for well over a decade of hard use by uncaring or openly hostile operators so in time I grew to like them, all were 4 cylinder automatics and horribly gutless ~ get on the freeway unloaded and run it up to 80 or so and the wind resistance would overcome the anemic power, it’d jump in and out of over drive trying to maintain speed .

      As an intown or low speed rig they excelled in spite of wonky gauges that flipped, door handles that wore out in 40,000 miles and so on .

      I too think there’s a market for base model commercial trucks but I also think it’s prolly too small for the big three to want to bother with .


  • avatar

    LS swap the LUV
    Hemi swap the Ram
    Coyote/Godzilla swap the Courier

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My 99 S10 that I gave to my nephew is still going strong after 21 years. Mine has the 5 speed manual with the I-4. Having a manual in a truck like this makes a huge difference compared to the automatic.

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