Vintage R&T Review: 1975 Toyota SR-5 Pickup – “A Surprising Combination of Utility and Driving Pleasure”

(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.