You don’t need to go all the way to Eugene, Oregon to find an old Toyota van. Here’s a 1980s Tarago I shot in Brisbane, in pristine condition. These vans wore many different names: Van in North America (boring), Tarago in Australia and New Zealand (odd, but it quickly became familiar), Space Cruiser and Model F in Europe (interesting) and finally, in Japan, TownAce and MasterAce Surf (bizarre). While it wore somewhat funky 1980s styling, at least for a van, at the end of the day it was just another forward-control commercial van that had been converted into a people carrier.
The Tarago nameplate would eventually be used on the much more pleasant Previa, but these more agricultural vans were still quite popular: over 100,000 were sold in Australia from 1983 until 1990. I’ve always thought they looked like ducks, and I’m not the only person crazy enough to say that as I’ve heard others make the same remark. Taragos were available with either a 1.8 or 2.0 four, or a 2.0 diesel four; eventually, a fuel-injected 2.2 four was added.
I’ve only ever known two people who have owned one of these Taragos. One was a good friend of mine’s father, who had both an old Tarago and a VW Kombi Van (aka VW Bus). Eventually, he got rid of the Toyota after years of little use.
The other Tarago owner I met was an elderly gentleman who appeared one day at the foot of my parents’ front stairs many years ago. I was watching TV when I heard an ominous knock knock knock. Instead of climbing the stairs and ringing the doorbell, our visitor had picked up a rock and banged it against one of the balcony pillars. He was wearing a boiler suit and was quite tall and lanky but was very, very old, and his vehicle was an old Tarago like this but one decidedly worse for wear with no wheel covers, faded paint and a few dents. He had come to make an offer to buy my dad’s old trailer. Now, I must point out, this trailer had sat, disused, in the family yard for well over a decade and the floor had completely rusted through, making it completely useless as a trailer. He thought he could use it for some purpose, so he ended up buying it and my mother was happy to be rid of the decrepit old hulk. I saw him sitting in his Tarago in a parking lot one night several months later, and he was sitting so still I thought he was dead until he finally moved a little. Very strange.
So there you have it, the Toyota Tarago: van of choice for elderly men who buy rusted-out hulks of trailers.
Curbside Classic: 1987 Nissan Van
Curbside Classic: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon
These are still very common here in Eugene. They seem to be unkillable. All the folks who once drove old VW buses, or wanted to, seem to be driving these now.
The cooling system is pretty much the only thing that goes tits up with these rigs. The engine and periphery are located directly under the drivers seat, and airflow seems to be somewhat limited by this. Keep the radiator in good shape and these things will run for years.
I’m from Seattle, Washington, and I still see these from time to time. I’ve always like this design. What’s always bothered me is that there was no diesel engine option for the Toyota Van.
I must have another someday. Easiest vehicle to park ever! And such a view.
There’s a bit of a story behind the US-used Van name. The Toyota was originally called Van Wagon in the USA and was even advertised as such in magazines. However, Volkswagen objected because Van Wagon was too close to the VW-used Vanagon name. So Toyota backed down and used the Van nomenclature,
I’ve heard that too. So let me add +1
My parents bought an 84 LE 5MT when they first came out and it’s now mine. Absolutely love it! It’s a bit of a garage queen though 🙂
My neighbor had one sitting in his driveway and when he moved he took it with him, that was last year. He said he loved it and would tow it to his new residence and couldn’t part with it.
I always thought they were pretty cool but I’ve never been inside one and yeah the wife would probably kill me if I bought one. I’ve only seen three or four other ones on the highways and bi-ways of Florida since 2011 but I saw more in upstate NY.
I always think of these as terrorist vans. I picture some masked individuals leering out the side windows ready to strike, guns and ammo in hand.
Before 9/11, I used to joke that Toyota should advertise their trucks as “Taliban Tough,” since all the pictures in the news from Afghanistan in the late 90s showed the mujahideen driving around in Hiluxes with machine guns mounted in the back.
Toyota needs to say nothing CNN and others provide all the free advertising required.
Terrorists don’t live in rust belt, though. lol
I live in the rust belt and haven’t seen one of these in the last 20 years.
I keep seeing folks my age described as elderly in articles. So, I guess there is at least one elderly curmudgeon that likes them right along with the gentlemen. Would love to have had one but think I will set pat.
In Japan, TownAce and MasterAce Surf (bizarre)
Not when it competed with the Mazda Bongo Friendee.
Friends had a Townace 2C T and auto it was fresh off the boat from Japan had the full disaster interior dual air captains chairs power everything it ran as a family beater for years untill the RUCs fell so far behind it had to be deregistered and sold its back on the road and serving someone else now, they really are hard to kill untill you overheat them.
The van was considered futuristic back in the 80s, and they used it in one of the scenes in “Back To The Future” . The main car was the Delorean. The original Toyota vans are just a smaller version of the of the first Ford Econolines.They didn’t handle very well with most weight up front and rear wheel drive. After a few years they offered 4×4 as an option.
Terrorist van is blue and white VW Bus. Why do you say it was a Toyota van? They featured black Toyota pickup truck though…
’twas also sold as the Daihatsu Delta Wide! In fact, in the CC-effect one of my firm’s clients drives a Delta Wide and had it here last week…
The Tarago-badged version were sold new in New Zealand, but were expensive and rare new. And once the sea of used JDM imports started arriving here from 1987ish, the Town/MasterAce became so popular that they killed any sales of the Tarago. They were better equipped than the Tarago for lots less dosh.
My parents bought a 1985 TownAce Super-Extra coach as our family car in late 1990. 16-year-old me had just got my restricted driver’s licence, so I was disappointed in the departure of our sweet-handling and peppy Ford Sierra in favour of the lumpen-handling TownAce… It was the 1800cc version, mid-roof, silver with lovely blue interior. One thing I remember about it was the seats were tiny – they were clearly built for smaller people than your average Kiwi! But it was a good-looking van and went well.
Been a few years since I’ve seen one of these. Used to have a few majorette diecasts of them.
Now if only someone will post a photo of the JDM “town ace’ [same vehicle]- with raised roof and “crystalite ” clerestory windows, plus 4WD and diesel engines. A fair number on the streets of Vancouver, albeit all RHD. I think they’re stunning!
4WD diesel high-roof Townace? Certainly, here y’go. It’s for sale here: http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/toyota/auction-940295152.htm
Had s very nice Town Ace Custom during a military tour on Okinawa – 88 model with a 1.8 FI engine, 4 spd auto, swiveling rear facing seats, etc. Great van, typical Toyota reliability. I’m 6’6 and had plenty of room in the driver’s seat with it all the way back.
Only worry, as with all of these FC vans, was that my legs were less than six inches from the front bumper – even with an air bag, there was no way you were going to walk away from any type of head-on collision.
In our family we owned a 1985 GLS model and loved it. Sadly dad had to sell it. Since then I have had a 86 Gli which was 15 years ago. I had to sell it due to buying a house. 2 years ago I brought another 86 GLi and love it! This van was one in its class and the design was so sleek. who would’ve thought a van could have 2 sunroofs! I dont think i could part with this now unless I find a 85 GLS with low K’s I could consider it.
I still have a 1984 GL torago the electric roof still works has over 521000 km but has carby issues float keeps flooding it and its a gamble if going to break down or run i also have 2007 ultimate torago and will still keep the 1984 one around still get driven around the block once a week just to keep it running