Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thinking About Cars: Toyota Pickup

For a couple of decades, Toyota Motor Corporation built a compact pickup they sold in the States as, simply, the Truck.  Sometimes they called it the Pickup.  It didn't hardly need a model name, it fit the bill of "truck" so nicely that I thought, as Toyota apparently did, that a name was superfluous.

The rest of the world knew it as the Hilux, but in my opinion that was about as misrepresentative a name as you could stick on it.  The roots of that made-up name suggest high luxury, and let me assure you that it was highly luxurious only when compared to walking.  By the middle 80s you could equip your Truck to a level of moderate comfort, way below the level of coddling present in all but the most basic pickups on the market today.  But the base model with no option boxes checked yielded a bench seat inside, a 4-speed manny tranny and no radio.  No radio, and when's the last time you ever saw a car or truck that didn't have a radio?

My truck came to me with no radio.  There was a little block-off plate over where the radio would go, and a super-handy little pocket below that.  Since I got the radio installed at a Circuit City, that pocket went away and was covered with...a little block-off plate!  Dammit.

The Truck - the one in my front parking pad right now - was available from 1983 to 1994 with the venerable 22R engine, both carbureted and fuel injected as the years wore on.  It's no barnstormer, not highly powerful and not even very popular for hotrodding.  But it is solid.  It has longish throws, decent displacement for a four-cylinder, and plenty of torque down low.  It's exactly the right engine for a small truck.  You could have the short bed, at six feet long, or you could have the long bed, which was over seven feet long.  The longest bed you can get on a brand-new Tacoma is six feet; get the Double Cab and that goes down to five.  That's not a truck, that's a large wheelbarrow.

The old Truck is even thrifty.  A couple of years ago, when it had just turned 22 years old, I took the truck on a middling road trip and whistled up over 39 miles per gallon.  That was over 200 miles of driving that it did it, too.  That's good for a new Corolla, and this is a battered old carbureted pickup.  No fancy continuously variable transmission, hybrid electric parts, any of that.  It worked great.  That's an uncommonly high number, but with little effort I can keep the mileage in the middle 30s, no problem.  Like Steve Jobs likes to keep saying about whatever new gadget his eggheads have generated, "It just works."

Where are compact pickups now?  The current Tacoma, Toyota's "compact" offering is really more in line with the old T-100, the truck they were trying to pass off as a viable alternative to a fullsize pickup back in the 90s.  The T-100 wasn't a bad truck, but cursed with too-modest power and a peculiar not-this-nor-that size class.  Americans didn't know what to make of it, and it only stayed on the market five years.  Though it dwarfs my old truck, the new Tacoma with its tiny bed is less of a truck, not as useful in my opinion.

You don't see many T-100s on the roads.  You do see plenty of Trucks like mine though, and older.  Toyota sold them everywhere.  It even got a nice little cameo as the Dream Ride in Marty McFly's garage in Back to the Future.  You could dress it up and have a fun, sporty looking runabout truck, or dress it down and have a basic blue-jeans-and-tee-shirt truck, fit for work work work and when that's done more work.  Mine's done a bit of both.

My truck has about 200,000 miles on it, and it's about done with its first clutch.  When I get both kids fully comfortable driving a manual, I'll replace it.  That'll be fun.  It's about due for its next paint job and I'll take it back to its original color.  It'd be nice to have air conditioning but to be honest in 24 years I've never had it break, so I do have the avoided headache of frustratingly dead AC to be thankful for. 

I've had my Truck for 24 years, since it was sold off the new car lot in 1987.  I think it's got another 24 years left in it.  If we're still burning petroleum fuels by then, I'll reassess whether it's time to buy another truck.

I wonder if it will have a model name.

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