The Toyota Hilux is the A-10 Warthog of pickup trucks. It's not especially powerful, it's not the biggest one ever produced and it isn't the prettiest by far. It doesn't use all the newest an highest-tech hardware, and it lacks the marketing flash of other, sleeker offerings. Like its aircraft equivalent, the Hilux is beloved amongst those who truly know it, a flying tank and a cannon on wheels.
Most Americans have either never heard of the legendary Hilux, or think that the truck line went away in 1976. Introduced in 1958, the little Hilux pickup was Toyota's entry into America's burgeoning compact-truck pickup market, competing primarily with the Mazda B-Series (later rebadged as the Ford Courier). The Hilux slotted between the smaller Briska and the full-sized Stout. The Hilux fit into a sort of Goldilocks zone for import trucks, large enough to be usable but small enough not to directly compete with established offerings like the Ford F-Series or Chevrolet C/K.
As of 2011, the Hilux has been produced in seven generations. The first two generations (1968 to 1972 and 1972 to 1978) went on sale in America initially as the Hilux, but Toyota dropped the name in 1976 and rebadged the Hilux as a "Toyota Pickup" when they realized that it was in fact the only pickup they sold in North America. This may have been due in part to the name, which implied "high luxury." Indeed, the Hilux was more luxurious than the old Stout, but was far less so than other trucks on offer in the 1970s.
It has been said of the A-10 Warthog that it was the only airplane ever produced that was intended to survive hits instead of avoid them. This is a fairly accurate description of the Hilux (aka Toyota pickup, SR5, Toyota Trekker), which always traded more on its legendary reliability and go-anywhere spirit than its outright performance. The last true "Hilux" left American shores in 1995, when Toyota replaced it with the larger and less-rugged Tacoma.
Jeremy Clarkson of the BBC's award-winning show "Top Gear" has always touted the invincibility of Toyota's mini-truck. On the show's "How to Destroy a Hilux" segment, Clarkson set a diesel Hilux on fire, dropped a building on top of it and parked it overnight at the bottom of the English Channel. After some drying out and refueling, the mighty Hilux started up and Clarkson drove it home from the beach. Clarkson and James May would later go on to set a world record by driving a modified Hilux over the frozen North Sea and to the North pole (The Top Gear Polar Special), and then up the side of an active volcano. Hilux also made it to the South Pole in 2009 during the Omega 3 South Pole Race (while towing a trailer), making it the first 4WD vehicle to see both sides of planet Earth.
- "Haynes Manual: Toyota Pickups and 4-Runner, 1979 through 1995"; Haynes Publishers; 1996
- Automotive Portal: Toyota Hilux Completes Another Polar Conquest, Reaching the South Pole
- Toyoland: The Toyota Hi-Lux, Compact Pickup, and Tacoma
- Military Toyotas: Tacoma Trucks
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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