(first posted 12/22/2016) 1975 was in the midst of the great import mini-pickup boom. Starting with Datsun selling a few of its trucklets in 1959, the interest in these small trucks started to swell by 1971, when almost 100,000 were sold by the various Japanese makers, including two sold through Ford (Courier) and Chevrolet (LUV). In 1974, a quarter million were sold.
Toyota was a key player in the field, and was the only to offer three variants: the short-bed, a long bed, and the sporty SR-5, which was based on the short bed version. It had a better trimmed cab, radial tires, disc brakes, the new 2.2 L 20R engine, and of course the slick-shifting 5 speed. R&T found it to be both practical as well as surprisingly fun to drive.
R&T points out that in addition to professional and recreational users, a third category had developed in the past couple of years, particularly so in California. These mini-pickups were “in” with young buyers, who were into clubs and customizing thema. I would say that they were essentially the most direct replacement for the VW Beetle in that role. When I first visited LA in 1972, these two vehicles (VW and mini-pickup) were the hot thing, and the shift to pickups was even more obvious when I moved there in 1976.
Although it looks almost identical to the prior-year HiLux, the renamed Toyota Pickup for 1975 had a 2.5″ stretch in the cab (noticeable in the longer B pillar) which increased leg room by the same amount, a very welcome addition. As it is, the bucket seats had no ability to adjust the backrest, due to them being right up against the rear wall. Datsun would pioneer the extended cab in this class in 1977, and it quickly became in great demand.
R&T had the inevitable praise for Toyota’s 5 speed gearbox, which was as good as it got anywhere at the time, and started the whole revolution to five speeds. The new 20R engine also got lots of praise, as it was both more powerful but developed its peak power and torque at lower rpm, making it a more pleasant unit, as well as a much quieter one, with the overdrive 5th gear only adding to that. These qualities alone made the Toyota the best of the field in that regard. The Mazda Rotary Truck had a bit more power and was a bit quicker, but its 16.5 mpg thirst was a deficit.
The brakes came in for criticism; it’s inherently difficult to strike a balance in the front/rear brake proportioning in alight vehicle rated to carry 50% of its empty weight, unless something like a ride-height proportioning valve is used on the rear axle. The ride and handling were improved due to the radials, but it was not considered quite as good as the segment leader Mazda.
Performance was decent, with a 13.9 second run from 0-60. Mileage was 20 mpg.
What wasn’t so apparent is just how durable these Toyota pickups would turn out to be, except for their poor rust resistance. This generation really cemented the image and reputation of these trucks, and there are a good number of them still being used in Eugene and all over the West Coast. It’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t still be a part of the streetscape.
Oddly enough, we’ve never done a proper CC on this generation, although I do have a profile of them at the old site. We’ll have to rectify that.
This is my idea of what a truck should be. Capable of doing most of the same things as larger trucks, but in a smaller package. My dad had a 1978 Toyota SR5 Pickup truck. While its seats weren’t very comfortable, particularly during the hot summer months and cold winter months, I found it big enough to fit in comfortably. it was very reliable, it had an awesome engine. It had a 20R 2.2 litre 4 cylinder engine, that delivered 96 bhp and 122 lbs-ft. of torque. My dad and I used it for lots of things.
I don’t know why people these days don’t like compact trucks, why they gravitate towards larger trucks or larger SUVs. There’s nothing wrong with offering a larger truck if you have a larger job that needs to be done, but for some of us, a compact truck is all one needs for whatever we need.
The problem is not with the market, but the manufacturers. The cost difference in producing a small truck and a full sized pickup is minimal, but the sales price on a full sized truck is much higher, thus, more profitable. This is the same problem with American sedans. We don’t do small because we can sell big ones for a higher price. I was hoping that the Mahindra truck would be viable, but alas, not so, and it did not come to the USA market. Bring back a small truck at a decent price and it would sell en masse, but it appears that will not happen.
Ford already tried that in good faith with the Ranger & finally gave up because declining demand couldn’t justify continued production. Americans today want fancy big or midsized trucks, not little bitty trucks. And much of the Ranger market has been taken up by the Transit Connect.
Cost difference? Seriously? I would think that a smaller truck would be less expensive, therefore more people would buy it.
If you break down the costs to design and manufacture two different sizes of the same basic vehicle layout, the only difference in cost will be the amount of steel, glass and plastic—materials. The costs for designing, engineering, assembling, etc are all going to be basically similar. Materials make up a relatively small part of the cost of a vehicle…
I recently had a new idea as to the reasons for the demise of the compact pickup.
Fuel economy – but not what you’re thinking.
In 1975, this Toyota truck had (give or take) the same MPG as a 2 liter compact sedan. That made it a viable alternative as a commuter.
By the time of the demise of the truly compact pickup, let’s say the early 2000s, a compact sedan got 50-100% better fuel economy than a compact pickup. That meant it was no longer a viable alternative as a commuter.
I postulate that the loss of sales to the commuter market may have been part of the reason for the demise.
Evan, this is one of the best theories ever, and undoubtedly true to one extent or another. And this trend was of course exacerbated by the fact that compact pickups got ever bigger, taller, longer, heavier and with 4WD. Today’s typical Tacoma 4×4 double cab gets about half the mileage of a modern sedan or such.
Of course, with current low gas prices, trucks like the Tacoma are constantly sold out!
Actually, Paul, you’re looking at it exactly backwards from how I meant it. I think I wasn’t clear.
A 2017 Toyota Tacoma (base model, 2.7L automatic) gets almost the exact same mpg (21 combined) as R&T claimed for the 1975 model.
A 1975 Corona (closer in size and displacement to the truck than the ’75 Corolla was) got about 24mpg.
A 2017 Corolla gets 32 combined – quite a lot better than the Tacoma.
So what I was trying to say is that it’s NOT that the trucks got *worse*, it’s that the sedans got so much *better* (for commuting).
“Exactly backwards”? I get exactly what you’re getting at. My point was that hardly nobody wants a base regular cab Tacoma anymore. And it’s obviously not just because of its mileage, as that isn’t that much of an issue with low gas prices.
My point is that compact trucks have morphed into much larger roomier 4×4 vehicles, by demand for those features. Good luck trying to sell someone a base Tacoma; image is too important.
But yes, your basic point is still part of the equation, just not the whole thing.
“My point was that hardly nobody wants a base regular cab Tacoma anymore.”
Apparently not new anyway, because you cant even GET one anymore. Which sucks, because a 4×4 shortie is a pretty good offroader. Luckily, theres about to be a Wrangler based pickup on the way.
I think the problem is, anyone who WANTS a regular cab minitruck has a choice of a ton of good used ones for a fraction of the cost. Cheap, tough, easy to work on, economical, and dependable are the motivation for wanting something like this, and a good used one is ALL of that. Maybe these things were a little too well made for their own good….
In 2005 I knew someone who was in this kind of situation. He had a very minimalist 1990 Toyota p/u with a 4 cylinder and 4 speed which he used for a rather lengthy commute. It was giving him mileage in the low 20’s. So he swapped it for a new Matrix with a 5 speed stick, and his mileage improved by over 10 mpg, which saved him just about enough to make the car payment. My own Matrix (with automatic) returns at least 5 mpg over my former 4cyl 5spd S10.
Fuel economy might have something to do with the demise of the small truck, but I also think that our society still perceives small vehicles – especially small trucks – as undesirable.
I’ve tried to use this as justification for upgrading my car. I now have a 60/mile day commute, which isn’t all that bad, but for me it’s a lot. And the old Crown Vic gets *very* low 20’s highway. If I were to get a compact that returned high 30’s highway, at current gas prices I’d save all of about $50 per month. Which *might* offset the difference in cost to insure.
To save enough to where it’s actually a good financial decision to take on a car payment for something more efficient, I guess you’d have to be talking about a commute of way over 100 miles per day. And even then it might only work if fuel costs went up, which will happen eventually, but perhaps not anytime soon. I guess if you’re already making payments it could justify a larger one, or a longer term, but it seems like from a strict financial standpoint that’s a hard battle to win if your current vehicle is paid off. (This is, of course, ignoring repair costs and the other intangibles that have most of the population opting *not* to drive paid-off beaters.)
If you think about it, a small econobox sedan SHOULD get phenomenal MPG. That’s pretty much it’s one job: get me from point A to B reliably and don’t cost me a nickel more than what’s absolutely necessary. With the bar set that low, theres really not much a corolla needs to do well, and the success of that car is built purely on those criteria.
A truck, OTOH has to stay together while suffering some real actual abuse. It really doesn’t matter how many mpgs a truck gets if its incapable of towing anything or if the suspension bottoms out with a bag of mulch in the bed then its useless as a truck. The products are vastly different and more specialized. In ’75 this little truck was probably closely based on a small sedan. Nowadays, would a Tacoma share anything more substantial than badging or some interior bits with a corolla?
” In ’75 this little truck was probably closely based on a small sedan ”
I am not so sure how much was left of the first gen Hilux DNA in this second generation, but the generation before had some aspects still based on, of all things, the Hino Contessa!
Whatever Isuzu the Chevy LUV was based on definitely used a car as the basis. Even the front clip was little changed. Learned that right here on CC!
One of the reasons the Tacoma doesn’t get the mileage you might expect is that top gear is low enough to deal with moderate hills fully loaded without downshifting, rather than a true economy-overdrive.
The Chevy LUV didn’t really have any relationship with the Isuzu Florian sedan, it just saved them making unique bodywork. The Florian was a unibody car, the LUV obviously had a full chassis. Otherwise mechanically the engine and perhaps gearbox would have been shared but tweaked for the different application.
That could be. When I drove my stepdad’s 78 Toyota pickup, the fuel economy we got averaged in the low 20s, and that was un-laden. Fully-laden, I’m willing to bet between 15 and 20 mpgs.
Your theory is very good. I will add on one thing, the “bigger is better” mantra. When I was working at a Chevy dealership, management was instructing the sales folks to up sale on the trucks. If a person came in looking to buy a Chevy S-10 or Colorado (I was there during the last year of the S-10 and the first years of the Colorado) that they(sales folks) were to tell them about the virtues of buying a fullsize pickup. Things like how they get more truck for the money buying a Chevy 1500 over a S-10 and that if the payments were set up correctly then a fullsize truck did not raise the monthly car payment by much compared to a S-10.
This worked and 9 out of 10 possible small truck buyers that came into that dealership left with fullsize truck.
I am sure most dealerships were like that which is why the Colorado only sold about 40,000-50,000 each year. Which is sad as the Colorado was is a nice driving truck and would be good for most folks (I suspect that for 95% of truck buying folks a Ranger or a Colorado/Canyon or a Dakota would have been more then enough) I love mine.
There was a 4 door Colorado displayed on the floor at the Eugene Airport when I came to visit my folks one year. I loved the flat floors front and rear. Just a good size and width.
Its value for your dollar. My dad in the mid 80s priced out a brand new Ranger 4×4. Turns out he could have gotten a 3/4 ton Dodge 4×4 for about $1500 more and that’s 10 times the truck. The mpg penalty meant nothing to him (he had a company car) but the fact that a minitruck would severely limit what he could do vs the big truck was the deciding factor.
Then he scored a ’79 F250 for a steal!
No, it didn’t. It only managed 20MPG…deep gearing, thin power, and dreadful aerodynamics make it a guzzler. Not to mention the horrible brakes, nonexistent rustproofing, and buckboard ride.
For about the same money, you could get a full-size pickup.
This is a really good point, and I would add that child seat laws probably had an effect as well, just as they have for coupes. (In a pre-child-seat environment, the back of an extended cab compact pickup or a 2+2 coupe was mostly for small children, but the changing regulations made that largely impossible.)
Here in Yazd there is still quiet afew of these 70s Hilux and datsun trucks are on the road and desert climate means no rust.you guys will be very surprised that how much weight they put on these poor trucks.i saw one last monday being loaded with cement bags the way that end of exhaust was hitting the ground and two more bags and both front wheels ui in the air.and usa all those big v8 trucks running around empty.i feel bad for trucks that end up here.
Does SR-5 stand for special interior, radial tires, and a 5 speed? These trucks are neat and I enjoy finding them in Oregon. I decided to not buy a Toyota Truck when I was looking for a vehicle to practice stick shift on because I was not sure my 6 foot frame would fit among other reasons.
The “SR5” stands for “Sport Rally 5spd”. The SR5’s did have a 5spd transmission and for these trucks they almost always came with the bucket seats instead of the bench seat in the non-SR5 (small tray/console between the two buckets in SR5 you can maybe see in my attached photo of ours), carpeting on floors and a nicer paint scheme (stripes and SR5 branding on hood). For our ‘78 SR5 Longbed I found the dealer installed nippondenso under dash a/c unit and charged it with R134 to give a little reprieve in our hot desert summers! I’m 5’11” with long legs (34” inseam) and I have the seat as far back as possible and it fits me perfectly when my 5’2” wife doesn’t steal it and take it to work each day!
My stepfather had a 1978 Toyota SR5 pickup truck. His was orange, with an orange interior. It had a 5spd manual gearbox. I loved driving it. It had a 20R 2.2 litre 4 cyl. engine. It had bucket seats, and an AM/FM radio. I’d buy another Toyota pickup truck if I could find one in nice condition.
My employer had a few of these, most were ’76-’77 vintage. Mechanically flawless and did indeed drive nice, but they seemed to have a complete lack of corrosion protection. By the time they were 6 or 7 years old, they looked like they came out of Minnesota. In addition, they would rust in bizarre places. One had an A pillar almost rust completely through. And this was in Southern California!
My friend had a 1976 SR5. His was brown so the rust didn’t show as much. I decided to get a used small pickup in the fall of 1978. The local Toyota dealer had several. The salesman said he would do a killer deal on a new 1978 SR5; as each 1978 sold got them an allocation of a 1979, which was “all new”, and would sell at list price plus. I bought; it was white.
I had the truck for 2 winters. The bed was made in Beach California and would rust on the underside screwing up the ground to the rear lights. The second Spring, the A pillars between the Windshield and the door showed rust bubbles. I cleaned it up and sold it. They did retain value.
I think part of the decline of these trucks is the trucks themselves. Why buy a high dollar brand new version of one of these when there are PLENTY that are still motoring along? A clean example would cost probably $4-$5K if it isn’t completely thrashed. Considering that if all you need is a basic truck, you pretty much cant buy anything equivalent to this nowadays. I just looked on Toyotas website and they don’t even make a regular cab anymore and whats worse, no manual transmission. A 4 cylinder automatic is HORRIBLE to drive. On top of all of that, the max MPG rating on a 2017 Tacoma is 24mpg highway. A Ram 1500 regular cab is rated at 28mpg with the 300hp Pentastar V6. At first I thought that might be for the EcoDiesel but those only come on the crew/quad cabs and are rated at 29mpg highway. I just don’t see the value in a small truck, unless for some reason the exterior dimensions are critical. Even that wouldn’t really hold water, since a regular cab fullsizer is shorter than a compact/midsize which you cant get in anything but a crew or extra cab anymore.
They still offer a 5 speed as standard equipment for a 4 cylinder and a 6 speed is optional for the V6. As the owner of a 4cyl, 5 speed 4×4 Tacoma I can attest that it’s still pretty fun to drive. Not as fun as an old ‘Yota pickup but far more comfortable.
That said I’m sure the take rate on 4 cyl 5 speeds is pretty low, probably less than 5%. At least stick shifts are still available unlike any of the “big” trucks.
As far as the dimensions argument goes, my compact truck will fit on a lot of very tight back country trails where a regular full size won’t. It’s a crucial few inches narrower and since it’s “just” an extra cab it’s about as short as a full size regular cab short box and is therefore far easier to turn around when the trail gets too sketchy. These details of course that don’t matter to 99.9% of truck buyers.
Toyota’s build-and-price is notorious for simply not showing anything your local dealer doesn’t have in stock.
Toyota’s build and price doesn’t give a manual option. There is ONE big truck that offers a manual…if you get a Cummins Ram you can get a 6spd.
Believe me I know all about the width thing. That’s why I loved my Scrambler. All the size advantages of a small truck yet it still had the driveline strength and cab space comparable to a fullsizer AND Jeep unstoppability in the rough stuff. To this day, it was probably the best rig I ever owned.
+1 on Toyota’s “Build and Price”. It’s what they want to sell, not necessarily what you can buy. Around here, new 6 speed V6’es are available but in high demand vs supply; 4 cylinder 5 speeds are very rare.
Interesting, up here in Canada the “Build and Price” is what it says it is. That said, my nearest local dealer (of any brand) is 125 kms away so the US build and price model wouldn’t work so well here. You got to wonder how many weirdos like me are turned away by a system that tells them they can’t buy the 4 cylinder 5 speed of their dreams 🙂
In the late ’70s, I frequently drove a company-owned ’76 Toyota pickup base model as part of my field/soils engineer job. It was sturdy and reliable for bashing around off-road and around jobsites, but the bench seat was very uncomfortable, the ride was stiff and unsettled, and the engine would drone in 4th (top) gear. Rear-wheel traction was almost non-existent with an empty pickup bed. I once lost traction on level wet grass much to the endless amusement of my coworkers.
My 1978 short-bed Hilux was a rarity… auto tranny. With a rear-end geared to haul a load and no overdrive 55 mph was stressing that little 4-banger. Going 65 on the freeway was cruelty to the engine and its dismay at the revs revealed itself in lousy mileage and having to frequently adjust the valves.
I totally forgot how pickups used to be sold without rear bumpers as standard equipment. Seeing these pictures reminded me of the displays at dealers showing various styles of available bumper options, but of course many people just drove around without any rear bumper whatsoever.
Where I lived in the early-mid 70’s many dealers had the basic step bumper obviously from the same distributor where the dealer name and city were engraved in the face and painted red to contrast with the silver.
These SR5’s seemed so fancy compared to the base Hilux, Stout or Datsuns. How times have changed. I recently bought a 2016 Tacoma 4×4 so I’ll chime in with some observations. First, of course the new truck is far more “civilized”, with infotainment and electronic 2wd and 4wd traction features that were unthinkable then. MPG is about the same, perhaps better if you don’t take advantage of the 280+ HP too often; high teens in town and low twenties overall. 40 years later, and it still has rear drum brakes. With the double cab it’s a surprisingly decent 4 passenger vehicle. As to the bigger is better argument, you can probably buy a base Passat for less than a nicely optioned Golf GTI, but does that make the Passat better, or just different? I look at the Tacoma and GM twins the same way. It’s already a pretty big vehicle to drive and park in town, not to mention on trails, so to me bigger is a downside. And equivalently optioned, the only factor that makes full-size domestic trucks price-competitive with the Tacoma is heavy discounting; MSRP’s on optioned US trucks are amazingly high. And resale value is poor on the domestics. Throw in better real-world fuel economy and reliability and the Toyota is a very viable option. But I do wish they’d offer a regular cab 4 cylinder 5 speed. I think they’d sell very well in Eugene and the Bay Area 🙂
There are still one or two of these running around Richmond. (Not SR5’s but Toyota pickups of this generation). A little rusty in one case (a lot rusty in the other) but they’ve managed not to disintegrate yet.
My second Stepmother bought a new SR5 long bed in….1977 (IIRC) and kept it until her death in the early 2000’s.
Basic white it was dead nuts reliable and just kept going and going….
She took it to Whidby Island in W. State when she left Ca., drove it there .
Before the transformation. Brand new SR5 in 1975 from Longo Toyota El Monte.
I’ve always liked the compact truck of 70s and early 80s.
This is how I remembered my days in 1975. At 17, I purchased a new Blue Toyota SR5 5 speed at Longo Toyota El Monte Ca. for 3100.00. 1976 is when I also joined a mini truck club called Golden West Truckers, a mini truck club in Southern California mainly in the San Gabriel Valley area.
Find custom made parts for mini trucks was hard back then. So we did the word of mouth thing and worked most of the time.
Hope everyone enjoys this.
Wow, George :
I remember GWT ! .
Fun times .
Original 1976 Golden West Truckers jacket. Still have it.
Thanks for your comment. George
I agree about the close pricing between the compact and full size trucks. I found that most Ford Rangers were about the same price as a F150 work truck. The F150 had a bigger cab, 8 ft. bed and a/c. Most Rangers were dolled up V6 king cabs or four wheel drive models. For years Ford offered “work truck” models that were decontented and even had the last model year’s body, at lower prices.
Looking at fuel economy numbers, it makes sense that back in the ’70’s lots of mini trucks were sold as mini car commuter alternatives, I knew lots of people back then that bought a new little truck instead of a little coupe or sedan. They were often cheaper. Even some girls that I knew, which kind of surprised me at the time. Mileage was pretty comparable.
In the same way, fuel mileage doesn’t vary that much between full size trucks and SUVs. While some of the latest design trucks have cylinder deactivation and multi speed transmissions, the slightly older models are pretty straightforward. A difference between 18 to 24 mpg. doesn’t make that much difference in costs, but the utility and flexibility of the particular truck or SUV makes more difference. The Ford Truck Owners Bible warns that you should never buy too small a truck, that would be a major disappointment. Your truck should be able to handle 90% of your needs. I think that is good advice.
My Cute little Ranger trucklet fits your buying criteria .
Sadly the fuel economy has been dropping in spite of running *perfectly* .
I filled it up today and was surprised to see only 19 MPG ! .
It’s a total base model yet has A/C so I like it .
My stepfather had a 1978 Toyota SR5 pickup truck. His had a 20R 2.2 litre 4 cyl. engine. I think it developed 96hp and 120 lbs-ft of torque. While it may not win any acceleration races, it will carry whatever you ask of it.
These were terrific trucks, but rusted out severely. My Hilux was a few years older than this year’s, but about 85%, the same. I am 6’3″ and would have really appreciated the extra cab length. Mine had serious rust issues, and needed a lot of sheet metal work, waterproofing and lots of pop rivets. The engine was great.
Everything I thought needed attention in my 1972 Toyota, is addressed here. More comfort, bucket seats, nicer dash, more conventional appearance.
A friend of mine had a ’75 SR-5 that he used to get parts for his various project vehicles that in all but one case, were never completed. The only one that was totally done, with paint, was his ’70 442, the rest were at one point driveable, but never quite done before being sold off.
Back to the truck, after having driven it to LA and back to Vegas, “fun to drive” is not even in my universe. It was gutless, to be nice about it, with just one person in it, and downright annoying with 2 people in it, and some parts in the back. A trip from Vegas to Reno and back to pick up an engine block was me or my friend complaining about how slow the thing was to get up to speed from a stop. Our full sized trucks seemed like rockets compared to the Toy. Besides being slow, they all were death traps, I worked with a woman who had her foot basically amputated (They were able to save it) when she got into a minor wreck in her Courier and the brake pedal mechanism folded up onto her ankle. She limped badly the rest of her life. Covid finally got her.
I will take my Isuzu built LUV over any of these. Hard to argue with a truck built by a manufacturer of real trucks. No, not the most powerful thing (easily fixed) and yes I at times wished it had a 5 speed, but those are easy to overlook when you are hauling 3000lbs of scrap metal in a 2600lb truck, and it never complained
And when you have 3K of scrap metal in the bed, your not going to be using 5th gear anyway.
Ours truck does not lack power, and is fun to drive! I converted our ‘78 SR5 pickup to what some call a “22R Hybrid”…its the early 22R block (81-84) with the 20R head/intake. The 20R head/intake flows better and has a hemispherical design, and it drops directly onto the early 22R block. This mod alone will net a more responsive motor, but I also bored ours .30 over, added a bigger cam, added a header w/ 2.25” exhaust and a Weber 38. With the above mods our little truck hauls!
The rust was bad but only in the critical areas (go figure). I had to fab & replace all 6 cab mounts as they were badly rusted, but besides those really critical areas the rest was okay!