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A Short History of the Toyota Pickup Truck 1970-2000 – From Hilux to Tacoma

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The fabled Toyota pickup has done it all since first landing on our shores in 1969 as the Toyota Hilux: fought in numerous Middle East and North African conflicts, survived everything Top Gear threw at it, been the dream machine for a generation of time travelers, and carried the torch for small trucks everywhere.

Here’s a look back its history as the Hilux became the generic “Toyota Truck” and eventually the Tacoma, covering 1970 through 2000, and found in Chilton manuals 68600, 68602 and 68604.

First-Generation Toyota Hilux Truck (1970 – 1972)

Introduced to North America in the 1969 model year, the Toyota Hilux was available in the United States solely as a rear-drive regular cab truck with a short bed. Underneath the Hilux was a smaller version of a standard truck chassis, with front A-arms/coil springs and a live rear axle with leaf springs, providing decent handling and ride for the time. One of the reasons these small trucks proved so tough is that commercial truck maker Hino had been acquired by Toyota and helped with engineering and design.

Power started with 1.9-liter four cylinder engine producing only 84 horsepower. For 1970 and 1971, a new SOHC 1.9-liter raised the power output to 97 horses, only to bring in a 2-liter version (the long-serving 18R) pushing the figure to 109 horsepower for 1972. Despite these modest numbers, these sturdy little tucks immediately began winning Americans over with their dependability and simplicity. All used a manual four-speed transmission.

Second-Generation Toyota Hilux Truck (1973 – 1978)

Toyota Hilux truck 1970sThe second-gen introduced a newer look for the cab, and in North America, the option of a longer (7 1/2 foot) bed behind it, which had been available elsewhere since 1969. The new truck continued to use the 2-liter SOHC 18R four cylinder for the ’73 and ’74 model years before it was replaced in 1975 with the 2.2-liter 20R, which only delivered 97 horsepower compared to the 18R’s 109 horses but was more smog friendly.

While the rest of the world would carry on with the Hilux in their showrooms, the name was dropped in this generation for the U.S. market in 1975 following a significant redesign; the disappearance of the Hilux name began in 1973 when usage was dropped from ads and pamphlets. From 1975 to 1994, the U.S. Hilux would officially be known simply as the Toyota Truck.

The updated 1975 Truck was also the first year for the SR5 upscale trim package, which came with a five-speed manual and the 2.2-liter 20R engine. This was also the year the Truck grew in size (from a wheelbase of 102 inches to 110 inches), and it began to get less spartan standard equipment and options. The second-gen Toyota pickup was the perfect foundation for building a small, fuel crisis friendly RV, which many U.S. motorhome manufacturers did.

Third-Generation Toyota Truck (1979 – 1983)

1980 Toyota TruckThis third-generation Toyota Truck offered a four-wheel drive setup for the first time, featuring a solid front axle and leaf-spring suspension, and a gear-driven RF1A transfer case, all of which were near bulletproof in off-road usage. This was also the first Truck to offer an automatic transmission (a three-speed) alongside the four- and five-speed manual options.

Speaking of motorhomes, Winnebago and other conversion companies allowed Toyota to enter the U.S. SUV market with models based on this generation Truck. These fiberglass clad trucks, with carpeted passenger room in back, led to the development and introduction of the Toyota 4Runner in 1984.

Power came from the 2.2-liter 20R with 90 hp from 1979-80, or the 2.4-liter 22R with 97 hp I4. The SR5 long bed model was also available with a 2.2-liter diesel four cylinder, good for 62 horses and 93 lb-ft of torque. Near the end of the 1983 Toyota Truck SR5’s run 3,500 units were given a luxury makeover, resulting in the Mojave: bucket seats, upgraded radio, chrome bumpers, and optional cruise control, power steering and AC.

Fourth-Generation Toyota Truck (1984 – 1988)

1985 Toyota TruckThis is the Toyota Truck everyone recognizes from Back to the Future, specifically a 1985 SR5 Xtracab Deluxe 4×4 with a five-speed manual, 2.4-liter 22R-E with electronic fuel injection, solid front axle, Goodyear Wranglers, KC lights, and so on.

Speaking of the Xtracab, this was the first generation of Toyota Truck to offer this extended cab option, providing six inches of in-cab space behind the front seats. The new generation also received the newly introduced fuel injected 22R-E, which delivered 105 horses and 136 lb-ft of torque. At the top of the line in 1987 was introduced an optional turbo—aimed at Nissan’s V6 trucks—which would raise the output to 135 hp and 173 lb-ft of torque.

The diesel options were discontinued after the 1986 model year, which also saw the solid front axle of the 4×4 model swapped out for an independent front suspension/torsion bar setup. Also added to the 4×4 Truck was an electronic transfer case and optional automatic differential disconnect, to eliminate the need to get out and lock the hubs manually.

Fifth-Generation Toyota Truck (1988 – 1994)

1989 Toyota TruckThe fifth-generation Toyota Truck would continue through 1997 in most of the world but would be discontinued in the U.S. after the 1994 model year. American production began at Toyota’s NUMMI plant in Fremont, California in 1991, though some trucks still came over from Japan. The Xtracab gained more room in the back at this time, allowing for optional jump seats for really small people or children.

Engine options continued to start with the 2.4-liter 22R-E four cylinder, now with 114 horsepower, and for the first time added a 3.0-liter 3VZ-E V6 option, with 150 horsepower. The Toyota Truck SR5 V6 Xtracab took home Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year award in 1988. Moreover, of course, the 1992 model year saw the Toyota badge change to the then-new emblem we all know today.


First-Generation Toyota Tacoma (1995 – 2000)

Toyota TacomaNearly two decades after Toyota renamed its U.S.-bound Hiluxes simply “Truck” the company dropped the truck from the U.S. lineup entirely. Its replacement? The Tacoma, introduced in February 1995. The Tacoma—derived from the Coast Salish peoples’ name for Mt. Rainier—focused more on ride quality, comfort and safety over the previous Toyota Truck’s ruggedness and payload capacity. This was possible because the larger Toyota T100 had been introduced in 1993 for more serious truck buyers.

The first generation of the Tacoma was powered by a pair of four cylinder engines, a revised 2.4-liter rated at 142 horses and 160 lb-ft of torque, and in PreRunner and 4WD models, a 2.7-liter rated at 150 horses and 177 lb-ft of torque. The six cylinder was back, now a 3.4-liter V6 good for 190 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. Even more power for the V6 came from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) in the form of a dealer-installed supercharger, pushing power and torque up to 254 horses and 270 lb-ft.

Delivering this power were a four-speed A340F automatic transmission or a five-speed R150F manual in most regular and Xtracab models, but PreRunner and Double Cab models were stuck with the automatic. TRD’s Off-Road package, introduced in 1998 alongside the PreRunner model, added a locking rear diff to both two and four-wheel drive Tacomas powered by the 3.4-liter V6.

The Toyota Truck and Tacoma continue to be popular among enthusiasts looking for a solid truck that punches up despite its small size.

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