COAL : 1993 Toyota Hilux – The Truck of My Lifetime

The story of this truck should actually have come right after the Beetle, as it became my daily driver in 2008, but it took me a while to get the whole thing into a manageable size because describing all of it would take at least a couple of COAL chapters and frankly, the truck hasn’t led a life that is THAT interesting. Instead, it’s always been there in the background, carrying any load, going anywhere it was asked to and generally living up to the reputation that the Hilux enjoys worldwide. It has been around for most of the key events in my life so far and I don’t have any intention of parting with it any time soon, although it’s no longer a daily driver. Be warned, this is still a bit of a long ramble

This truck was the first new vehicle my father ever bought, after previously going through a few older cars. His line of work was (and remains) importing and distributing vegetable seeds and the company he started has been in business since 1988. Since work requires travel to the more rural parts of our country, where roads were pretty abysmal back then, after a few years of getting by with an ordinary car (and then a not very successful experiment with a Toyota Sprinter Carib – the JDM version of the 4WD Tercel), he decided that he would need a properly capable tool and started looking for a pickup truck with 4WD.

He started looking around towards the end of 1992, and I still remember sitting with him and going through the brochure for the Hilux as an already car mad 7 year old. Since he had the family (my mom was pregnant at this point), it had to be a double cab and obviously had to have 4WD. There was not much choice in terms of equipment back then from what I remember, the specification was quite basic with only A/C (essential in our climate) and power steering fitted as conveniences. He ended up picking a bright solid red as the color and picked the truck up in February 1993. I don’t remember a lot from back then but an enduring memory is my dad driving home in that shiny red truck and taking us for our first spin, clearly very proud of himself.

Much later picture, but this is pretty much how it looked back then too. 

If you wanted a brand new (imported by the official Toyota agent) 4WD Hilux at the time, your only choice was the LN106 model, which had live axles and leaf springs front and rear, as well as the previously mentioned basic specification, so that’s what our truck is. People who were willing to take a chance with unofficial imports from Japan could by this point get the LN107 model, which had torsion bar front suspension (which I assume is the same as what US market Toyota Trucks of this period had), a plusher interior and way more options such as power windows, locks, a sunroof etc. The 106 though was the heavy duty choice and is sought after for solidity, simplicity and capability even today. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe this generation was the last dual live axle truck Toyota built. Anyway, the cart springs meant that the truck was not the most comfortable thing around, but it wasn’t a bone jarring experience either. My dad loved it anyway, and put it to good use traveling up and down the country for work.

Somewhere in central Sri Lanka. My dad is the guy in the hat, I’m the kid in the striped t-shirt

My parents’ marriage unfortunately started unraveling about a year after the truck arrived, and my dad moved out in early 1995 pending a custody battle for me and my (2 year old at this point) little sister. During this time we visited with dad on random weekdays and on some weekends, so naturally a lot of time was spent in the truck going back and forth. I was closer to my mom and hoped that she would get custody of the two of us and we could visit dad as we had been doing, but things didn’t quite work out that way and I ended up going to live with my dad, much to my distress at the time! My father and I have always been VERY different personalities and we struggle to relate to each other on most levels. So the initial stages of living at his house weren’t smooth sailing, but things did settle down. Eventually, I ended up back at my mom’s a few years later because of complications with dad’s later relationships.

As a kid, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, the answer was always “A Pilot”. I was almost as obsessed with aviation as with cars and was quite sure that was definitely the path my life would take. My mother was very supportive, but my dad was not; he has an irrational fear of flying and he flat out didn’t want me doing that every day for life. Also, he wanted me to come into the business which was his life’s work. This of course led to a lot of arguing as I entered the end of my school life, but I was still pretty determined to go learn to fly as soon as I was done with school at 18. Unfortunately my final exam results were quite bad, so after discussing with my parents I opted to do a degree in business as a fallback option before starting pilot training, as a degree would improve my chances of getting into our national airline, which was the only choice here and was very tough to get into.

As an olive branch of sorts to my dad, I suggested working in the business while doing the degree, for some practical experience and to learn the business so that when I was done with commercial flying I could perhaps come back into it. Well, that was in 2006 and 15 years later, I’m still working in the company. I’m not entirely sure how the pilot plan fell apart but eventually it seemed like the lifestyle was not quite the right fit for me. Coupled with industry downturns on and off over the years, and the not so great state of Sri Lankan Airlines, it kept getting pushed back until reaching a point where it was no longer practical to start over, given age. So I’ve now accepted the fact that the family business will be my line of work, and try my best to adapt and do a good job. Still hope to at least get my private pilot license one day though.

Ok back to the truck, after being my dad’s only vehicle for about 5 years, it was replaced  by a Toyota Land Cruiser  that he bought from my grandfather, and the Hilux was added to the company pool. It worked hard for the next few years, going around Sri Lanka with our sales team, helping build our farm in the north central part of the country, and generally doing the work it was built for. In 2003 it had around 200,000 Km on the clock and the 2.8 Litre diesel engine broke a conrod one day, making a teardown and rebuild essential. This was done in the backyard of our office by an old school shade tree mechanic, using genuine parts bought straight from the agent. I wasn’t around at the time but as far as I know it got new pistons, rods, bearings, gaskets, seals, the whole works, as well as a rebore and a refit of the diesel injection pump (fully mechanical). That rebuild has lasted to this day, and the mileage has more than doubled, though it seems like it could do with another rebuild sometime soon.

By 2008 I was driving the Beetle mostly, but would also take the Hilux on days that I needed air conditioning. The lure of AC proved to be irresistible and after a few months the truck ended up getting used more and more while the Beetle was parked. So I officially took it over towards the end of ’08 and began using it as my daily driver. Besides getting me to and from work every day it was also my faithful companion on many a road trip for both work and leisure and carried me and friends all over this country of ours.

Water crossing at one of our national parks

It also was the backup vehicle for my project cars, hauling parts to and from garages and towing the cars themselves whenever they “failed to proceed”. The Hilux was the unofficial tow truck for a few of my friends’ broken clunkers on a regular basis too. Given that I was the only one in my circle of friends with a pickup truck, I was naturally the first call when someone needed to move house or carry large appliances home, and the Hilux did all of that without a fuss.

I think this was a friend’s washing machine

One of my close friends moved house 3 times over the last decade and me and the truck ended up lugging his stuff each time. Besides regular oil changes, it needed nothing as the kilometres kept ticking upwards and it did everything I asked of it and more without a single complaint. The paint was pretty worn out by around 2009 and there were a few rust spots visible so it got a repaint and the rust was sorted out as well. Beyond that, I can’t think of a single thing that it needed over the years. It just stayed in the background, quietly getting on with the job, all day and every day.

Always in the background, doing whatever I needed it to

The truck saw me through the ending of relationships and the beginnings of others, helping me deal with the the vagaries of both and being my space for reflection and evaluation, which often happened during long aimless drives with music pumping. The fact that the 2.8 liter naturally aspirated diesel put out 90 Horsepower at it’s very best, and had to move 1.8 tons of Hilux meant that it was never fast enough to get into any trouble, which was helpful at times where I tried letting my frustrations out through my right foot.

I used it every day for the best part of 8 years, but eventually felt that something more comfortable and newer would be good to have. So in 2016 the Hilux was replaced by something a lot smaller and very different overall and entered semi-retirement. It mostly sat around the office, occasionally getting sent out on errands, but due to being comparatively tougher to drive than most of the other vehicles at the company it was never anybody’s first choice. By the end of 2019 the long periods of sitting outdoors began to take their toll on the paint, and rust holes also started appearing at various places on the body. So we decided that the old workhorse needed to be given another refresh and it went in to a workshop in early 2020. The pandemic hit us shortly after and a job that was supposed to take 3 months ended up taking almost a year, but it got done well.

All panels off, ready for bodywork

This time around all panels were returned to the bare metal and all areas where corrosion was evident were cleaned and repaired as needed. The door bottoms, a well known weak point on this model were almost non existent, particularly on the rear doors. So a set of replacement doors was found from a used parts dealer, which came with power windows, locks and mirrors, giving the old truck a spec upgrade. There was some discussion about changing the color to something more modern, but in the end it seemed right to keep it as original looking as we could. It finally left the workshop in February of this year. The interior also had taken a beating over the decades, so it got a re-trim and re-foamed seats as well. Other than a few details that need doing (new AC vents and switches), the old Hilux is looking better than ever now, which is only fair considering the work we’ve gotten out of it.

Shortly after paint, side graphics had been redone yet.

Refreshed interior, also looking good.

My dad never likes selling vehicles, while I don’t have such hangups mostly. With the Hilux however, we are in full agreement that it is not going anywhere, and will hopefully be around 30 years from now too. The longevity and durability of these things are pretty internet famous thanks to Top Gear and, more recently, a US YouTuber who put a beautiful low KM example through an insane series of trials and eventually wiped it out by dropping it from a helicopter. Not going to link to the videos because I really don’t want to encourage that nonsense, but it’s not hard to find. Anyway, I hope to take a different approach to proving the Hilux’s durability by having our truck around and doing its job decades into the future (sort of like Paul’s F100), so check back in 2061 or so.