(another Niedermeyer nephew joins the CC Contributors’ club) It’s hard to believe that in eight years of Curbside Classic that this generation of Toyota Pickup/Hilux has never been covered. I thought it was finally time for this unstoppable little truck to etch its name in the CC archives, and since I own two of them, it wasn’t exactly hard to find one.
The third generation N30/40 Pickup came to the US in 1979 and finally brought with it four wheel drive, which really helped its appeal in the US market. 1984 found a new fourth generation N50/60/70 making its debut and this model is where sales really took off (with a little help from Marty McFly).
It is well known among enthusiasts that 1985 is THE year to have if properly optioned as it is the one and only year to combine fuel injection by way of the 22R-E along with the leaf sprung solid front axle when 4WD equipped. 1986 saw the introduction of independent front suspension with torsion bars that brought some better on road comfort while sacrificing rugged toughness, simplicity, and articulation for the off road enthusiasts. 1987 brought the demise of the diesel engine’s availability in the US and was also the last year for the carbureted 22R.
In 1986 Nissan really caught Toyota with their pants down when they debuted their new 3.0L V6 (VG30i) with 140hp and 167lb-ft of torque; a huge step over the 22R-E’s 105 horses and 136 torques. Toyota was in a scramble to fight back and get their V6 powered truck on the market and came up with a now rarely found stop-gap: the 1987 22R-TE. the now turbocharged four gained an additional 30hp and 37lb-ft which still fell short of the new Nissan engine, but served its purpose until the 3.0L V6 (3VZ-E) debuted in 1988 with even more power (150hp/180lb-ft) thank its Nissan counterpart.
Another area where Nissan had an edge over Toyota was the availability of a limited slip differential on 4WD equipped trucks. I am surprised that Toyota never countered that, at least not until the TRD Off Road package came out in 1998 featuring a rear differential locker.
The number of V6 powered Pickups and 4Runners soon started to outnumber their four cylinder counterparts, but the R family of engines had made a real name for itself and Toyota. Every American Toyota truck and SUV sold today owes its success to the R family as well as the F family of straight sixes that graced the FJ’s because of their legendary reliability over hundreds of thousands of abusive miles.
In 1988 the fifth generation (N80/90/100/110) Pickups made their entry. The exterior updates to this new truck were minimal in appearance and are more in keeping with the mid-model facelifts of today. But the dash was significantly changed, moving from squared edges to a more modern and rounded off look.
An interesting item of note is that some of these trucks were still being imported from Japan after US production at NUMMI began in 1991. These imports, like all the previous generations, were making their arrival without a bed. Once reaching US shores, the beds would then be affixed to the trucks in an effort to avoid tariffs by claiming that final assembly took place in the good old USA. This could sometimes be recognized without looking at the VIN because often the paint would have a slightly different tone between the cab and bed because they were from two batches of paint.
During this generation, as in the previous two, a one-ton dual rear wheel version was also sold, used in motorhomes and flatbed trucks like this one.
Sadly, the Hilux was discontinued in the IS in 1995, being replaced with the Tacoma and the rest is history. The early Tacoma was a bit larger and took the amenities of the top of the line SR5 Pickups and made them the new main stream standard. Vinyl door cards disappeared as did many of the simple, lighter things about the truck. In 2005 the second generation Tacoma grew to the point that the traditional compact pickup was a thing of the past.
The red pickup shown here has served as my daily driver since October 2005 and together we have covered around 150k miles of the nearly 240k indicated. I found her in the Atlanta area after searching for a couple of months for a replacement for my wrecked Honda CRX and this one checked all of the right boxes: rust free, less than 100k miles, 1994, V6, 4WD, 5 Speed, extended cab, maintenance records, and a bonus grill guard and winch. 32″ tires easily fit inside of the massive wheel wells for maximum off road ability. After a clean PPI, I brought her home to Charleston, SC where I was stationed at the time. Since then we have been cross country three times as we moved around the nation and have driven all over from Eastport, Maine to Key West to San Diego, to Long Beach, Washington.
When a fender bender on the Capital Beltway put my truck out of action for a couple of months in the fall of 2016, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to buy a fraternal twin from a friend, albeit with white paint, regular cap and 275k miles. She shows evidence of a time in its life where it hauled a dirt bike judging from the sagging tailgate, the front of the bed is bent forward, and the FMF exhaust sticker inside the bed liner. There must have been a stereo amplifier fire under the driver’s seat because the carpet there is burned up and the original bench felt like sitting on a toilet with no seat as the guts were all burned up and broken. I replaced the bench with a good set of buckets out of a 4Runner.
Both of these trucks have had their mechanical issues as all old vehicles do, but I absolutely love them. I still see so many of these handsome, simple trucks on the road, although the regularity on the West Coast vastly outnumbers the east. It was really interesting to see a number of these trucks that were towing each other on I-10, their beds fully loaded down with car parts and furniture, surely bound for sale in Mexico and Central America. This really goes to prove the reliability and capability of these old trucks as they move on to another life of hard service in these countries. That and Jeremy Clarkson’s inability to kill one despite his best attempts.
I do wish that I had the increased power and efficiency of the next generation 3.4L 5VZ-FE V6; swaps are available, but expensive. The double cab available on the newer Tacoma’s (and on older Hilux in non-US markets) is nice to have for kids, friends, or dogs to take with you. The infotainment system available in the new ones are really handy and the long list of other features makes for a tempting urge to upgrade.
But then I find notes on my windshield or people at red lights asking “Do you want to sell?” and I remember what I have and what I often take for granted. I could never willingly let go of this because it’s been such a big part of my adult life. My answer always ends up the same: “Sorry, I just love this old red truck!”