Curbside Outtake: 1971-72 Toyota HiLux, Still Ready for Work or Maybe Play

This style of early seventies Toyota Hilux (or HiLux or Hi-Lux) pickup is getting rare enough on the ground that it warranted a few pictures when I saw it recently. As I thought about it, I realized that this was a hugely significant vehicle for Toyota here in the US, a tipping point if you will. Maybe not in sales numbers, but in helping create an image and market that Toyota dominates today.

It’s been covered here before of course, in particular with both a sighting and some historical background by Dave Skinner here. I won’t repeat most of what he wrote; rather I’ll add my own memories of when these first appeared and especially their last few years. The first Toyota pickup sold in the US was the Stout (the red one above was photographed just a few blocks from where I saw the green HiLux), and it didn’t sell in huge numbers.

By contrast the smaller Datsun (as Nissan was branded here until the Eighties) Pickup, first the 320, and then especially the 520/521, really took off both as a light-duty work truck, but especially as a “lifestyle” truck. Commute during the week, haul garden supplies on Saturday, carry surfboards or dirt bikes on Sunday. Despite the fact that the Datsun was really only offered in one basic form – perhaps with some dealer-added stripe package – it seemed to gain a sporty image by association with the activities one could do with it, despite its mundane mechanicals. Though an OHC engine did seem pretty radical for a truck in the Sixties.

The Stout and early HiLux, by contrast, seemed to be just work trucks, and not big or particularly useful ones (mostly by perception, not reality). Coronas and Corollas were selling like hotcakes, but the first Celica showed that Toyota could also do sporty.

Then, between 1973 and 1975, Toyota started changing the HiLux, culminating in dropping that name for the US market and branding it as the Toyota Truck. Most significant, to me, was the introduction of the SR5 version. With a 5-speed, more upscale trim and sporty stripes, suddenly Toyota had Datsun – even with the updated 620-  in its crosshairs and seemed to pass it quickly in appeal … though I’m not sure about sales yet.

For the 1979 model year, Toyota redesigned the truck again, to my eyes less attractive than the final years of the previous generation, though it has grown on me over the decades. But in addition to the two-wheel drive SR5s, there were 4 wheel-drive versions for the first time, borrowing from the Land Cruiser’s solid front axle with Birfield CV joints and leaf spring design. Although at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in pickups, let alone 4WD, it seemed to me that Toyota was now serious about their trucks. They had created a whole new category of 4WD mini truck as a lifestyle and work vehicle, that is still going strong, though not quite “mini” anymore. Toyota still dominates this category in sales in the US, despite strong offerings from Nissan, and all three domestic brands. A year later Datsun started offering 4WD on the new 720 series, with independent front suspension (my interest in trucks changed, and I now own a Tacoma, immortalized by Google StreetView) but the Datsun was far less capable and rugged off-road than the Toyota and has been a perpetual runner-up or worse in sales.

Is this HiLux a work truck or a play truck? Not sure. I suspect the rack and the PVC pipes are for lumber/piping and garden tools, respectively… but maybe also for fishing poles and surfboards. It was parked less than a mile from the ocean. By the way, I didn’t even notice until uploading this photo that the HiLux’s modern successor, a 3rd Generation Tacoma, was photobombing my shot. If I’d noticed it then I’d have been more careful with my composition, but these Taco’s are so common I rarely notice them.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: First Generation Toyota Hilux – Building Block