Rare Rides: The Sturdy and Rare Daihatsu Rocky, From 1990

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
Today’s Rare Ride is a little off-road truck that hails from the era when a single SUV could be small, light, cheap, and capable. It’s an oft-forgotten Daihatsu Rocky, from 1990.Rare Rides featured the other Daihatsu sold in North America in a post from 2017; the cheap and cheerful Charade sedan. Though the Daihatsu brand has existed since 1907, it offered vehicles in North America only for a very short time: 1987 to 1992.
The Rocky trailed its Charade sibling to North American shores, as it didn’t enter production until 1989. Rocky was a smaller offering than Daihatsu’s existing Rugger SUV, which started its run in 1984. Worth noting here, Rare Rides covered the first generation Rugger previously in the form of the fancy Bertone Freeclimber. Though both were similar in size in short-wheelbase format, the Rugger also offered a long-wheelbase model and larger engines.
For the Rocky, choice was more limited. There was only one body style, and it had three doors. Visual configurations were limited to a choice of soft or hard roofs at the rear. One engine powered all first generation Rockys: a 1.6-liter inline-four borrowed from the Applause small hatchback. Export-market Rockys came with fuel injection and a power output of around 90 horses.
A five-speed manual or four-speed automatic completes the transmission menu, and there were rear-wheel and four-wheel drive versions on offer. In addition to selectable four-wheel drive with low range, there was also a full-time four-wheel drive setup. That variation had a locking center differential, but lacked low range.
Sold globally, the Rocky was successful in places not called North America. Daihatsu occasionally refreshed its appearance; a grille was revised here and there, and occasionally its tail lamps moved inside the bumper. Rocky continued on with minimal changes through 2002. The nameplate went on hiatus at that point, not returning for its second generation until late 2019. Rocky is now a five-door CUV with a CVT and a 1.0-liter inline-three engine. It’s like a tiny Subaru Forester.
Recalling happier SUV times, today’s Rocky is for sale way outside Modesto in middle-of-nowhere California. With a questionable respray and 153,000 miles, it asks $5,199.
[Images: seller]
Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 23 comments
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 07, 2020

    Three words: Rollover.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Apr 07, 2020

    Gen Xers may remember the Suzuki Samurai -- basically a half-scale Jeep CJ5 with 60 horsepower (at 6500 rpm!) and a dirt-cheap price tag. It had been a huge hit on the coasts until Consumer Reports pointed out (presumably with impressive footage) that it was inadvisable to buy one for your idiot son...because a tall, short, narrow, stiffly sprung soft-top 4x4 -- while ideal waving to the beachfront girls -- would also roll over like an eager puppy the first time Brandon or Chad tried to impress a girl by taking a corner hard. The original JDM Rocky didn't have the flared fenders and wide track. Daihatsu added them and rushed the result into the US market to offer the Rocky as a "safer" alternative to the suddenly radioactive Samurai. Rich parents of idiot sons everywhere thought about it, decided that a slightly wider track and slightly longer wheelbase didn't magically make an inherently unsafe design safe, and noped out. The cheap and cheerful body on frame micro SUV was officially dead in the US.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.