3 April 2017

Are classic Toyota pickups the next big thing?

If you’ve been reading our valuation articles, then you know that Japanese classics are hot. You could be excused, however, for not knowing that the next big thing is—you read it here first—classic Japanese pickup trucks.

Toyota and Nissan have sold small pickups since the late 1950s. Not in any large numbers however. And, the United Auto Workers (UAW) aimed to keep it that way. When Europeans slapped a punitive 25 percent tax on American chickens, we responded with a 25 percent tax on imported potato starch and brandy. This trade war was an opportunity for a deal between President Johnson and the UAW, which added imported pickup trucks to the already bizarre list. Thus, the infamous “chicken tax” was applied. Due to the exchange rate, German trucks like the Microbus-based VW pickup disappeared almost overnight. But for a while, Japanese car companies were able to absorb the tax hit.

Manufacturers also found inventive ways to avoid the tax. Chevy LUVs and Ford Couriers, built abroad, were imported without beds as commercial vehicles and Subaru created the BRAT by placing two seats in the bed of a small pickup thus creating a passenger vehicle. The first Toyota 4Runner was simply a Hilux pickup with a topper shell and back seats.

The Toyota Hilux, more commonly known simply as a Toyota truck, is basically the Chevy C-10 of Japanese trucks. Good-looking, reliable and rugged, 4-wheel-drive equipped Hiluxes are so favored by insurgents around the globe, that U.S. Hellfire missiles could probably be programmed to destroy them on sight.

Outside of combat zones however, the Toyota truck is probably best remembered as the lifted off-roader that Marty McFly finds shined up and waiting in his garage after returning to a slightly better version of 1985 than the one he left in Back to the Future.

It’s the version that tons of Gen-Xers wanted back in the day: Equipped with KC Daylighters, of course. Which accounts for the Toyota truck’s popularity as a collectible. Most have long since dissolved, too, which makes them rare anywhere in the U.S. but the west coast.

Consequently, trucks that the chicken tax and rust couldn’t kill are getting quite desirable. The most coveted are obviously 4-wheel-drive versions. Original paint and loud stripes are a huge plus, too. Trucks that were $8,000 or so a year ago are now bringing low to mid-teens like this listing from Bring a Trailer. Were it a brighter color, it might have brought $15,000, and this one was just a basic truck without the full McFly package.

Interestingly, the word hasn’t quite reached the most remote pockets of the vintage Toyota truck’s natural habitat—places like Medford, Ore., and Yreka, Calif., where vintage Toyota trucks still do regular duty tending illicit botanical projects.

Until sometime this summer, that is. A few more sales like the one above and word will spread. Then ‘80s-vintage Toyota trucks will begin showing up at auctions, festooned with every accessory imaginable, just like rich suburban kids wanted them. Prices will inevitably spike.

For now, we recommend scouring Craigslist in rural Northern California, Oregon and Washington. And if you’re already priced out of the market, you might consider looking for a first-generation Nissan Hardbody pickup (built in the U.S. to circumvent the chicken tax) or even a first-generation two-door Pathfinder. Other Toyota truck-based SUVs, like first-gen 4Runners, are already getting pricey. The secret here is that the second-generation 4Runner is nicer and better looking. Grab one with a rare five-speed. The upper limits of their lifespan have yet to be determined—a 200,000 mile 4Runner is just getting broken-in.

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Mike Idaho April 5, 2017 at 16:48
    As the proud owner of 3 (three, drei, dos....) 1978 Toyota Pickups, I am glad to hear this....and agree. One of the pickups is my daily driver with 126,000 original mile on it.
  • 2
    Charles Georgia April 5, 2017 at 16:52
    Have a 1996 just cracked 413k
  • 3
    Rex Rice Port Townsend, WA April 5, 2017 at 17:51
    I'm not about to part with my '90 two wheel drive extended cab p/u. It has a 22 RE engine with a high lift cam, chip in the computer and a stainless steel tuned exhaust system. It has all of the factory gauges including the tach and I installed bucket seats as I hated the 60/40 uncomfortable original seats. The cam comes on from 3500 to 6000 rpm. It currently has 335,000+ miles with one overhaul at 2000,000. We have been to the East Coast and the West Coast, Mexico to Alaska with never a problem.
  • 4
    Mike California April 5, 2017 at 19:22
    I HAD A SECOND GEN 4RUNNER `94 auto with 3.0 motor. I bought this thinking the same 200,000 it was just getting broken in. As I currently own a `95 Toyota pick up that I bought new and this truck has over 450,000 miles runs great and does not leak oil. Truck 22RE 4Runner 3.0. Well that 3.0 is junk not guts for a heavy vehicle and it blew its head gasket. Those motors are very expensive to work on. I am used to my SBC Willys Utility Wagon `55 > I have owned this Willys for 43 years and it has ran most of those years.
  • 5
    Paul Sellers Utah April 6, 2017 at 13:22
  • 6
    jr nj April 6, 2017 at 16:11
    I have an '84 4wd long bed I bought new. Had to take it off the road 9 years ago, frame rusted badly in spite of my efforts to prevent it. 176,000 miles with a good drivetrain! Such a waste. I also have a '94 with 230,000 miles, the lower left A-frame rusted and busted, had to replace it. Now the right wide the shock mount rusted off. I'm getting rid of it as soon as I can, fed up with Toyota rust.
  • 7
    Steve Fitts UT April 6, 2017 at 18:13
    Toyota 3.0 6 cylinder was notorious for head gasket problems, for years toyota quietly fixed the motors for free. Toyotas only junk motor im aware of.
  • 8
    Ray T Cleveland, OH April 6, 2017 at 10:48
    The only new vehicle I ever owned in my life was a 1974 Datsun 620 pickup truck. I ran that thing into the ground! Great little truck.
  • 9
    Max Yoter Sophia, NC April 8, 2017 at 08:55
    I have owned several Toyota trucks with 22 RE engines. It has to be one of the greatest motors of all time. Great looking trucks with incredible reliability overall.
  • 10
    UtahGuy Utah April 9, 2017 at 14:43
    Second Gen 4Runner nicer and better looking? GTFO with that sort of blasphemy.
  • 11
    Brent Washington state April 10, 2017 at 10:53
    I have 1986 longbed 4x4. Drive it everyday. But I also have 1985. 4x4 with
  • 12
    JimmyCrackCorn UTAH May 3, 2017 at 21:22
    @ UtahGuy - 100% truth right there! @ Paul Sellers - crawl back into your oblivital abyss.
  • 13
    Zack Vermont July 10, 2017 at 23:50
    Too right @UtahGuy! psssst the second gen is the one everybody can forget happily, will never be increasing in value....ever.
  • 14
    Zack Vermont July 10, 2017 at 23:51
    Too right @UtahGuy! psssst the second gen is the one everybody can forget happily, will never be increasing in value....ever.

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