Classic Small Trucks

There was a time when you could shop for a full-size, a mid-size, or a compact truck. With today’s choices in new trucks ranging from full-size to goliath, the remaining compact trucks are lessening in numbers, and their value is growing.

Nissan and Toyota trucks are leading the way in the increased demand for compact pickups. It’s no surprise as Japanese classics in general are popular right now.

Apparently Japanese classics are very hot, because a five-speed 1983 Toyota 4×4 with 99K miles and a 22R four-cylinder engine recently sold for $13,500.

Since the late 1950s Toyota and Nissan have sold small pickups, but never in any large numbers. The United Auto Workers (UAW) wanted to keep it that way. So, when Europeans slapped a punitive 25 percent tax on American chickens, we responded with a 25 percent tax on imported potato starch and brandy (almost 10 times the average U.S. tariff). This trade war brought about an opportunity for a deal between the UAW and President Johnson, 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 overnight, but Japanese car manufacturers were able to absorb the tax hit for a while. 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.

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-generation 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.

Oh, what a feeling! Check out the vintage Toyota truck commercial below which features the automaker’s once-supremely popular catchphrase, “Oh, what a feeling!”

Let’s not forget that beautiful black 1985 Toyota SR5 Xtracab pickup that Marty McFly drove in “Back to the Future”.

If you want to purchase one of these gems, the best advice is to start in dry climates. The best-preserved vehicles in the nation are often found out west where a much drier climate stands a better chance of fending off rust.