Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bigger isn't always better

Willy reminisces about his little lost Toyota

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More than a few years ago, a friend of mine told me his sister was looking to get rid of an old Toyota truck that was quietly rusting away on her driveway.

She had owned it for many years, and although it had served her well, it had seen better days. Since I'd owned a couple of these trucks in the past, and gas wasn't getting any cheaper, a deal was struck and I bought the little 1986 Toyota SR5 pickup for a mere $500.

It wasn't much to look at, with a brown paint job and a worn-out interior, but it had bucket seats and a sunroof, and the radio worked. I brought along a battery, aired up the tires and drove it home on a temporary permit.

To say it was rusty would be a considerable understatement. The box was so riddled with rust you could actually see the ground through it. The odometer read 220,000 kilometres, and although the 22RE 4-cylinder, 2.4-litre engine ran smoothly and the automatic transmission shifted like a dream, the exhaust system was rotten beyond repair. My buddies laughed at me when I started working on it, and everyone agreed it was ready for the shredder.

In my eyes it was a jewel.

After welding in a few patch panels and replacing the exhaust system with a some spare pipe and a Cherry Bomb glass pack muffler, I fixed the brakes, did a few suspension repairs and made it roadworthy enough to pass a safety. As time went on, I even painted it with Tremclad rust paint and it turned out pretty nice. I drove that truck to hell and back. With the Cherry Bomb humming and the radio blaring, I transported everything from motorcycles and snowmobiles to a mountain of garbage to the local dump. On more than a few occasions, I also towed a trailer that was way too big for it, and despite the fact it was only a two-wheel-drive model, it spent a fair bit of time touring the old trails along the floodway.

Fast-forward nearly a decade later. With more than 350,000 kilometres on the clock, it had finally had enough. The rust had returned, the passenger door needed a bungee cord to stay closed and the radio quit working. It wasn't insured anymore by then and was sitting in my backyard when a hail storm punished it beyond repair. In the end, it had more dimples on it than a golf ball.

After it had been sitting for about a year, my friend Jay's son, Matt, who was about 14 years old at the time, gave it a boost and got it running again. We decided it would be fun to teach Matt the finer points of redneck driving and proceeded to bomb around the yard for an entire afternoon. Years later, when the crew from the hit BBC TV series Top Gear tried to kill basically the same truck, they learned what we learned that sunny spring afternoon. These little trucks are bulletproof.

Matt learned how to do a doughnut in that truck, and we proceeded to run around in circles throwing a rooster tail of Manitoba muck three metres high.

Eventually, we did manage to break the driveshaft, and the little truck sat in Matt's backyard for a couple of years, slowly rotting away. It was eventually hauled off to the shredder, but not before the resourceful kid yanked the engine out of it (it still ran like a top) and sold it to a guy on Kijiji for $300.

To say that truck served its purpose is a considerable understatement, and it managed to do all of this with a diminutive stature and stellar fuel economy. Sure, on a few occasions I wished it was larger, and even brand new it was never really much to look at, but it was a trusted tool that served me well.

Nowadays, the closest you can come to one of these nifty little trucks when shopping for a new one is the Toyota Tacoma. The model I reviewed this week was a dream to drive and much more economical than a full-sized truck, but it's still much larger and a far cry from my old Toyota truck. With rising fuel costs and more traffic on the road than ever, it makes me wonder how much longer we are going to have to wait until Toyota builds us a puny little truck with big capability like the ones we used to drive and love. Perhaps it's time for a Prius pickup.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2012 F7

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