COAL 10: 1981 Toyota Hilux SR5 – Mini Truckin’ Again Plus a Bit of Dodging

It was a pretty familiar tale at my parent’s house once I had left. My Dad loved to research and shop for things that he thought he wanted or needed. Usually this involved fishing gear, like the sea casting rod he bought, despite being a good 600 miles from the ocean. But a couple of times it involved vehicles that caught his eye, then he realized after purchasing, he had no use for them.  That was OK in this case as I could pretty easily put a 1981 Toyota SR5 to use.

I don’t know much about the details of how this truck showed up at my parents’ house. Dad had stopped in at a dealer to look at a new car and saw this on the used lot, and it followed him home.  Once it came home, he never drove it more than a couple of times, as he had newer vehicles to use. I didn’t even use it when I was home for breaks as I still had a Civic. But when it was time to move back from Uni for the summer, I had a good bit of stuff to bring back, so I borrowed the little truck for a while.

And since the whole excitement for him was the purchase and not the owning he just handed me the keys after that and transferred ownership to me. Thus, somewhat evening out the score from the destruction and dispersal of my classic car collection a few years previous. I did a lot of work for him using this truck so he in the end benefitted from it indirectly.

It was pretty useful with a long bed and the aluminum canopy other than no matter what, when the canopy was on it needed to be off and when it was off it needed to be on.  I have never had a canopy since.

Speaking about my Dad, since there are not going to be any surprises in this story being that it is about a 1981 Toyota pickup, possibly the most reliable vehicle ever built in the carburetor era, we can divert a bit and see how his Dodge Ram was turning out for him as he had it for a few years by this time.

He had bought the Ram on the recommendation of his friend, who as we can see in the below picture had certainly put his W150 to the test for the 240,000 miles he had had it. I forget what we are up to in this picture but pretty sure we are getting out for a drink to get a break from the noise, rattles and dust in the cab.  I remember driving this old grey Dodge a bit and the steering had at least 30 degrees slack in each direction.  A big Newfie Lab cross dog, also sometimes accompanied this truck, and she had the habit of climbing up on the roof at speed and putting her paws down on the windscreen, which was both alarming and distracting when all one’s wits were being used to keep the truck in its lane on the road.

Seeing how his friend’s truck had held up under hard use, Dad got his own W100 with a 318 and a NP435 4-speed.  I do remember that with less than 100 miles on the odometer it was already fording water up to the doors and crawling over boulders.  This picture below may be after a return from the body shop after a bit of a catastrophe involving a tree and the driver’s door. Trucks have never been babied in my family.

The Dodge held up to the hard use. The drivetrain was plenty tough.  Something happened involving a fire under the hood and the wiring harness was already out of production, so some rewiring was done. The wiring on these was the worst issue. Or maybe the steering was but there was a remedy for that with an aftermarket steering shaft.

The Ram ornament looking out from the hood saw a lot of sights from one end of the province to another.  With a 6.69 to one first gear and a 2.6 to one low range, the steepest hill descents were a no-pedal affair.  Steering at speed on a gravel road wasn’t as easy with as the new style Chevrolets of the time I remember.

This truck saw a lot of wildlife as well, like this Ursine family crossing the road. I borrowed the Ram sometimes for adventures. Here it is hauling an entry for the Yahk to Kingsgate River Raft Race. I was going to mount a spare Willys pickup grille I had onto the raft, but I am relieved I didn’t as the wild ride down the flood swollen river would have been even more dangerous than it already was. Full size long box trucks have always been so useful for actually hauling things.

The Ram was also a good choice to take on hikes in the backcountry, being pretty good off road.  And in one more deviation from the story about the reliable 1981 Toyota I spy my friend’s Econoline in the background of this shot.  He had ditched the somewhat less than good Lada Niva from a few chapters back and replaced it with this beauty.

He was quite insistent that this was perhaps the finest hunting and fishing vehicle extant. It had only two front seats and a little round cocktail table in the back where you had to sit on the carpeted floor.  A great place to spot elk from as well.  It was kind of handsome in its own way.

It was funny what he and I owned at the time, as so many of our friends were grownups and were able to buy new vehicles while we were still stuck on the mean automotive streets of Beaterville.  The van succumbed to a terminal failure one day on a hunting trip out in the back of beyond. It had its life shortened a bit by a long trip to Vegas and back.  He insists that crossing back into Canada a pretty female border guard with a gun made him strip down to his underwear as she suspected him of smuggling something. Van guys often had stories like that it seems.

Anyways, back to the subject of this week’s post, the 1981 Toyota. This truck didn’t have an odometer that showed nearly enough digits for its expected lifespan, just a 100,000 km one. It had at least 200,000 km according to the dealership it had been sitting although later I heard it might have been 300,000 from someone who knew the former owner.  It didn’t really matter, the 22R 4 cylinder and 5 speed transmission operated as if new.  As did everything else for that matter. The body had had a respray, someone had really liked this truck. The bed was lined with plywood, so the single-walled box had no dents from large cargo.  I think I put a Sony removable tape deck in it to head off any thievery to replace the stock setup.

During my penultimate year of university, I got a completely faultless year of service from the truck. The next year I did end up changing out the clutch which had begun slipping in 5th gear. I did this in our apartment parking lot, but it went pretty smoothly. As with my last experience with a truck in the city, it was very often pressed into service as a moving vehicle.

It was nice to not worry about a vehicle too much or having to fuss with one for a while. There are surprisingly few pictures of it in my album. Though there are many pictures of the hiking, camping, mountain biking and canoe expeditions from this time period and nearly every one of those trips involved this pickup. The girl with the motorcycle and I spent a lot of time exploring the backroads. Obviously, the Toyota was no 4×4 but it could make it around most things and there wasn’t much that could hurt it. With sandbags and good winters all around it was stable enough in winter as well.

After the end of my last university year, the girl with the motorcycle and I headed across the province so I could get a start in the working world. The Toyota had zero trouble with the mountain passes as it had pretty decent power for the time. It was probably a more memorable trip for her on the bike as I was in the heated comfort of the Toyota, and she was enduring the cold at the top of the mountain passes which remained snowy into the spring.

The timing of my graduation wasn’t ideal in the job market, and I found myself emerging into a time of transition in Forestry.  The real prime company jobs were not as available as they had been.  Today there are zoom interviews, back then I would travel to the middle of nowhere for a job interview, which since I was starting in the middle of nowhere made for some long trips. I came back from one trip, picked up the phone and agreed to another interview at the top end of Vancouver Island in 3 days time. Luckily the little Toyota pickup was always ready for rapid dispatchment. I ended up working for some classmates who had a consulting contract with the government as there was a fair bit of money out there for consulting at that time. We used the Toyota as our field vehicle as even though it was two-wheel drive, with good tires it could get close enough to where we were working.  But it was evident that something with 4-wheel drive and more clearance would be needed in my profession.

The Dodge Ram had a tough life, but it kept on going. A freeze plug blew out on the highway ending the first 318 prematurely. A new long block went in. It was crashed a few more times and then went to a family member who wrecked it permanently.  My friend moved from his one automotive true love, the Econoline, to the next one, an AWD Aerostar with a Mazda truck in between.

I eventually started to worry about reliability of the 81 Toyota as my girlfriend was driving it lots and had to be away from home a fair bit on practicums, so she was ready for something else. I had changed out the noisy center bearing on the driveshaft and the carb was acting a bit funny causing an occasional stutter. As well the box was getting a bit shabby with the usual Toyota rust. I put it up for sale and there was plenty of interest. Someone who had a 180-mile-a-day service contract with the highways department bought it. He had the carb serviced to make it run better and then it put on a bunch more miles. I often saw it out working away hours from home.  I know after that it was sold to another operator for use in a provincial campground hauling firewood and garbage. If it is still out there somewhere, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. I was happy that something I owned actually lived up to the hype.

Forestry got a bit better due to the efforts of Dendroctonus ponderosae, otherwise known as the mountain pine beetle. The beetle certainly influenced my life and automotive habits as we will see next week.