Curbside Find: 1975 Toyota SR-5 Sport Truck – How Toyota Won The Compact Truck Crown, One Gear At A Time

Datsun (Nissan) was the pioneer in selling compact pickup trucks to Americans, starting way back in 1957. The Datsun 211 filled a small niche that no one else had identified, and sales grew slowly but steadily, mainly on the West Coast initially. Toyota had to play catch-up, especially after its larger Stout pickup failed to gain much traction. Starting in 1969, the smaller Hilux pickup arrived and began its long battle with Datsun’s pickup.

There were several factors that eventually vaulted Toyota into the #1 spot, but perhaps none were more significant as the new for-1975 SR-5 Sport Truck. Not only did it have snazzy graphics (barely visible on this faded survivor) and a nicer interior, but most importantly, it had a 5-speed overdrive gearbox, a revelation to all those California drivers who spent so much time on the freeways in their buzzy 4-speed mini-pickups.

Here’s how it looked when new. And no, this generation wasn’t called Hilux anymore in the US, just Toyota Truck; Sport Truck, in this case. Maybe it should have been called “Commuter Truck”, given that’s where its overdrive fifth was most relevant and appreciated.

The graphics are very faded, but here’s what’s left of them on the hood. And under it is Toyota’s 2.2 L 20R four, a high-torque hemi-head SOHC engine that was equally at home in the sporty Celica and the Corona sedan. it didn’t exactly turn the pickup into a stormer, but with a 0-60 time of 13.9 seconds, it hustled right along. And of course that fifth gear made it ever so much more pleasant.

Toyota started a global revolution with its 5-speed overdrive manual transmission; which first arrived in the Corolla in 1972 and then a beefed-up version became available with the larger four in the Celica and Corona in 1974, before it showed up in the trucks in ’75. Prior to this, 5-speed transmission had been something rather exotic and expensive, the domain mostly of Italian cars, and their five gears were closely spaced more for maximum performance than quiet cruising in overdrive. The icing on the cake was that the Toyota unit was as slick-shifting as the best gearboxes out there, 5-speed or not. This was one of Toyota’s most brilliant moves, and forced the whole industry to play catch-up, which took quite a while, especially with the domestic brands.

The business end. “Free Your Mind And The Rice Will Follow”. It is Eugene, after all.

Only the black side stripes are still visible. But the body looks quite solid and serviceable, even without the rest.

And undoubtedly, it still gets used when the need arises.


Related CC reading:

Automotive History: The Toyota 5 Speed Transmission Takes Over the World

Vintage R&T Review: 1975 Toyota SR-5 Pickup – “A Surprising Combination of Utility and Driving Pleasure”