By on April 6, 2020

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]

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23 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Sturdy and Rare Daihatsu Rocky, From 1990...”

  • avatar

    I love little 4X4s, including this one :)

  • avatar

    Would not be my first choice to be inside during an accident. It is cute and would be okay for off roading if it was hauled to the locale on a trailer. I bet it is fun. Just not safe to risk one’s life in something so tinny on a highway.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these for the first time about a year or two ago in the local junkyard, never knew they existed before then.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Diahatsu Charade was one of those crapboxes Alex Trebek gave away on Classic Concentration back in the day. Other cars I remember, the Hyundai Excel and the Renault Alliance. It was a who’s who of late 80’s to Early 90s penalty boxes

      • 0 avatar

        THe Diahatsu was definitely an econobox but everything I’ve read about them indicates they were a very HIGH QUALITY econobox, certainly vastly moreso than an Alliance or Excel. They were also priced higher than other bottom feeders iirc.

  • avatar

    I recall one of my neighbor’s cousins driving one of these little things back in the late 90s. It looked very well maintained with its AT tires, shiny black paint and a matching hard top. Back then I thought it looked super cool (I still think it is) and unique. I only recall seeing another Rocky for the last 15 years or so.
    On a side note, I never thought it only had a 1.6 engine. Somehow this guy used his Rocky as a daily driver and would also visit his relatives in Baja, some 150 miles away on a regular basis. I would’ve been scared to drive one of these on the hwy, even back then.

  • avatar

    Very cool. I wouldn’t go looking for such a thing, but I’d buy it if a buddy was wanting to sell.

    That would be a lot of fun for ripping around the city in winter. Too nice though; I wouldn’t want to expose it to the salt.

  • avatar

    The modern day Suzuki Jimney would be a great vehicle for exploring the south west and is apparently doing well in its first year. Of course we cant have nice things like this in the US…..too many idiots driving huge trucks……maybe after the purge…

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Yeah it’s always the other guys fault. Were it not for those big trucks I could drive that Great Wall pickup I want!

      Get real

    • 0 avatar

      I guess I’m an idiot according to silverfin because I drive a huge pickup. I love my truck and plan on keeping it for many years. Sorry but a Rocky wouldn’t pull my boat. A truck does.

  • avatar

    Do business in your Dodge Raider during the week and party with your Daihatsu Rocky on the weekend.

  • avatar

    I recall these from Diahatsu’s brief stint in the US. I have probably only seen a few though in my life. I gotta say, I am digging that paint, wondering if it is factory. I’m thinking no but since its on the insides of the doors, maybe.

  • avatar

    Fabulous condition. Rust monster eats these in the salt belt.

    There is a 2020 model Rocky, I much prefer the 1990 version.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I would prefer a Lada Niva or a Suzuki X-90.

  • avatar

    And I thought this was awful. What Subaru did to it when they bought the nameplate back is damn near unconscionable

  • avatar

    I’ve had an unexplainable desire for a Lada Niva, but the Rocky looks like a much more practical way to satisfy that yearning.

  • avatar

    Love this thing, just LOOK at that fantastic velour. Sad that a 1980s compact rough and tumble SUV has better quality more comfortable upholstery than most 40k+ cars/trucks.

    This particular example is a tough sell however. Overpriced for the miles and (likely poor in person) respray. Too nice to offroad, not nice enough to pay that kind of money for a fun bar hopper.

  • avatar

    Wow! Almost $6000 is way too much for a car this old and rare but it sure is unique. I love the after-market speakers bulging out of the side panels. I also love the rear glass that goes up into the roof line. Roll-over protection?! Bah! Way over-rated.

  • avatar

    Too many dollars, but if I had space it’s 3k, 3500 max. These had to be awful with the automatic, even in 90’s economy car terms. The respray might be questionable, but it works.

  • avatar

    Three words: Rollover.

  • avatar

    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 4×4 — 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.

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