The great outdoors is perhaps more appealing now than in any time in recent memory. For a lot of people, it’s the perfect time to buy (or sell) a camper.
Even prior to the recent pandemic, the popularity of camper vans has been at an all time high in the past few years. The craze started with the resurgence of the Volkswagen Westfalia, with its personality and retro-styling inspiring adventure. When some, more ambitious types realized that you couldn’t actually do much with them, they moved on to more utilitarian campers like, budget-breaking custom Mercedes Sprinter 4x4s. What about something in between, though? Where can you find a retro camper with loads of character but also the practicality and reliability to cross the continental divide? Enter the Toyota Chinook.
This 1978 Toyota Chinook just sold on Bring a Trailer for $51,450 after buyers fees, which places it perfectly in the middle of a VW Westfalia and Sprinter 4×4. Fifty grand for a 40-year-old Toyota camper might be shocking to some, but anyone following the Toyota Pickup market won’t be surprised by this outcome. With the meteoric rise in values of Toyota trucks and campers in general, this Chinook makes for the perfect storm of collectibility. Honestly, this thing is so cool I’m surprised it didn’t sell for more.
In the late 1970s, 15,000 Chinooks were built, many selling directly through Toyota dealers. Fans will note that this camper looks a little more rugged than the average example. Originally, all Chinooks were built using a Toyota Pickup rear-wheel-drive platform with an added fiberglass camping shell in place of the truck bed. How did this one get four-wheel-drive, you ask?
The builder, a Toyota mechanic by trade, originally only planned to restore his beat-up 1978 Toyota Chinook back to factory-fresh condition. When a friend crashed a 1980s Toyota Pickup 4×4, a new plan was hatched to meld the two trucks together. In a blog post documenting the build he stated: “With the bare Chinook frame as a starting point I cut the frame in half, grafted on the front section of the 4×4 frame, from there the reconstruction process began.”
The 1978 Chinook borrowed the solid front axle, engine, front suspension and frame from the wrecked 1980 Pickup 4×4. A fourth-generation 1985 Toyota Pickup supplied the G52 5-speed transmission and dual-range transfer case. An upgraded suspension with a 3-inch front and 4-inch rear lift with 31-inch tires gave this rig the capacity to go anywhere. The custom running boards and brush guard complete the rugged look. Once the build was finished, it was retitled in Oregon as a 1992 ASMBL with a new serial number. Since then, the Chinook has been only driven a reported 44,000 miles.
This truck was built to access the middle of nowhere, and it isn’t likely to leave you stranded once you get there, either. It’s powered by one of Toyota’s most reliable engines ever; the 2.2-liter 20R SOHC inline-four was originally rated at 90 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. While the stock power plant was barely enough for the added weight of the Chinook, extensive modifications have been made to help keep up with modern traffic. During the build in 1991, the 20R was completely rebuilt (.030 over bore) with oversize valves and performance upgrades including dual side-draft carburetors, a performance camshaft, header, remote oil cooler, and three-core aluminum radiator. With all that, the engine might now make three-digit horsepower.
The red accents in the engine bay and suspension components are used throughout the interior as well. Light-brown curtains with a red stripe flank the living compartment windows. Recaro seats sourced from a 1985 Supra sport custom red “Chinook” embroidery. Creature comforts like power windows and an air conditioner were installed during the build. To keep the restoration period-correct, shag carpeting was added to the floors, center console, and even the headliner.
The Chinook’s living compartment is well stocked. The kitchen is equipped with a two-burner propane stove, refrigerator, stainless-steel sink, and more counter space than you’d expect in a camper of this size. When electrical hookups are available, a built-in microwave is ready to pop corn the new-fashioned way. An auxiliary battery powers lighting and outlets while boondocking. Four adults could sleep somewhat comfortably with the dual overhead hammocks and dinette that coverts to a bed. Make sure to remind any disgruntled guests that they could be sleeping in a tent.
No detail was overlooked while building this camper, and the price reflects that. Included with the sale is a detailed binder that documents the entire build process, complete with texture samples for materials used in an original 1975 Chinook interior. This build was obviously a labor of love for the original owner. After completion, the original builder spent the next decade showing off his creation at car shows, where it won many awards. The winning bidder didn’t just buy a great camper, they bought a great story.