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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the sturdy and rare daihatsu rocky from 1990
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]
Join the conversation
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.

  • Johnds Years ago I pulled over a vehicle from either Manitoba or Ontario in North Dakota for speeding. The license plates and drivers license did not come up on my dispatchers computer. The only option was to call their government. Being that it was 2 am, that wasn’t possible so they were given a warning.
  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.