Curbside Outtake: 1983-90 Toyota Tarago – A Van By Another Name

toyota tarago van

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.

toyota tarago van front

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.

toyota tarago van 2

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.

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