Curbside Classic: First Generation Toyota Hilux – Building Block

Toyota Hilux close up

Finding old Toyotas anywhere except on the West Coast can be a challenge.That’s where most were sold, and most older Japanese vehicles, like many European (and a good number of American) cars back then were not properly rust proofed, and thus very vulnerable to corrosion.

However, older Toyotas remain on the road in LA, such as this first generation Toyota Hilux, built from 1968-’72. This example is probably an 1971 or ’72, since the lower grille has a finer texture (more bars) than early trucks. To my eyes, this truck looks completely original, with the exception of the wheels. While they appear to be factory Toyota steel wheels, they are from a newer model with a bit more style than the original steelies.

Toyota Hlux Side view

This side view shows the successful mini pickup formula as used by Toyota (and Nissan). It’s essentially the same as American pickups, on a smaller scale: RWD, body on frame design, with a manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, and leaf spring live axle out back. This first generation truck only came in this configuration, with automatic transmissions, longer beds, and four wheel drive waiting to appear in later iterations.

This simple formula provided Toyota (and other Japanese manufacturers) with a basic building block, and the foundation for future success. In fact, these small pickups proved so successful that US manufacturers responded almost immediately. First offering captive import models with domestic nameplates, Ford and GM both offered own home built versions in the early eighties.Datsun Lil Hustler

As it happens, I also had a Datsun Pickup in my files, so here’s an example you can use to compare and contrast with the Toyota. Back in the day I found the Datsun’s cab a bit more attractive, and in the early seventies Datsun seemed to have a bigger presence on the street.  That advantage faded into the eighties, and in recent years Toyota has dominated the small pickup market (assuming the current Tacoma is in fact a “small” pickup).

Hino Briska Light_Duty_Truck_(Pickup)

Although it was the first generation Toyota Hilux, it was loosely based on the Hino Briska, which dated back to 1961, and used a modified version of the 893 cc Hino Contessa engine, derived from the Renault 4CV. After Hino joined the Toyota group in 1967, the Briska was renamed Toyota Briska, since Hino would henceforth specialize only on larger trucks. But this first generation Hilux was still engineered and assembled by Hino.

Toyota Stout 1967_02USA

The Hilux slotted in below Toyota’s larger Stout pickup (above), which Toyota had been building in various versions since 1954. A version of the Stout was sold in the US between 1964 and 1969. But Toyota decided that the mini pickup market had more potential, although the Stout is closer to the size that the Hilux eventually grew to be.

Toyota Hilux gen1

Since the Hilux (or “Hi-Lux”) was first sold in the US in 1969, for that year only one could buy either the Stout or Hilux in the US. This ad shows how the original wheels and hub caps would have looked.

Toyota Hilux Rear three quarter.2

If “Hilux” was meant to suggests “High luxury”, then hopefully it was done tongue-in-cheek, as there was nothing luxurious about these spartan and rugged work trucks.

Toyota Hilux Interior

Some versions of the Hilux offered a column shifter for their four speed manual, but most likely didn’t make their way into the US market. presumably it was offered in Japan to make more room for a third passenger, something that was not envisioned in the US, although back in the day three young kids could be seen squeezed into one.  This example uses a floor shifted transmission (barely visible at the bottom of the picture), and includes a set of aftermarket gauges mounted below the dashboard. This was also the only generation with vent windows, as Toyota followed the lead of American manufacturers, and went with one piece side glass in 1973.

Toyota Hilux Rear three quarter.1

In other markets, the Hilux offered a 1.5 liter OHV R series engine (the 2R). The Hilux arrived in the US for the 1969 model year, and with the same 1.9 L 3R ohv four as used in the Corona. In 1970 the Hilux received the all-new SOHC 8R engine, which in 1972 received a larger bore, creating the 2.0 liter 18R.

Toyota Hilux turn signals

Those clunky looking turn signals were only used in the US market. Other countries used the eyebrow lights shown in the inset image. I’m not sure why Toyota went with the free standing lights, but I suspect they were a quick and dirty fix designed to meet new 1968 US lighting standards. Those eyebrow signals probably only held a turn bulb function, and either the lens size was too small to meet regulations, or the bulb assembly could not accept a two filament bulb that complied with the regulations. The US turn signal assembly appears to be match the units used on the Land Cruiser, so Toyota may have killed two regulatory birds with one part.


Well, no matter; Toyota tucked the front running light/turn signal assembly under the front bumper on their second generation Hilux, as shown in this one. Since the ’72 first gen Hilux has already received the 2.0 liter 18R motor, this new truck shared most mechanical features with our featured truck. However, the sheet metal and cab both received an update, and the tail lights moved alongside the tailgate, mimicking the domestic pickups.

After all, building on an existing structure is the definition of a building block, and over time Toyota has proven they have mastered this approach.