If today’s “compact” pickups seem like yesterday’s full-size pickups, you’re not crazy. A 2020 Ford Ranger is 210 inches long, and a Toyota Tacoma, nose to tail, is 212; those figures are comparable to a 1979 Ford F-Series regular cab pickup. Even in the ’70s, that seemed like more truck than some people needed. The Japanese pioneered the idea of smaller pickups, mostly because they designed trucks for their home market, where space came at a premium. However, as consumers embraced small cars in 1960s and ’70s, they also embraced small pickups.
Here are 8 throwbacks to an era when compact pickups really were compact.
Read the full list on Hagerty.com:
I view the unibody designs as the compact coupe utilities aka baby El Camino/Rancheros. Subara Baha, Honda Ridgeline, the rumoured Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz are the successors to this.
Where I live we didn't really see the first gen compact trucks (or they didn't last 10 winters). 80s to early 90s S10, Rangers, B2200, McFly Toyotas, Nissan Hardbodies and such were everywhere until they weren't. Only thing I have seen that kind of felt the same in recent decades was the first-gen Chev Colorado but they might have been bigger (never had one side by side with a 92 Mazda).
My two best friends in high school drove 87 and 92 Mazdas respectively, and they were great trucks (though the fold-down cushion wasn't much of a back seat). I'd happily buy a new version of that exact same truck today.
I just finished a complete rebuild of my Mazda B2600i Cab Plus engine, w/ 5spd. ( I'm the original owner.) All new water & fuel pumps, filters, hoses & belts, with likely more to come. After spending $5k-$6k, I've got an 'almost new', great truck (240k miles), that fits my needs and handles like a decent car. I expect it to be the last truck I'll need, and I like driving it better than anything I checked out to replace it after the original engine died.
I remember those trucks well. Almost bought an 1992 space cab 4X4. Really liked them. Guy at work had a Mcfly Toyota, and I was telling him about the Mazda. He insisted that Mazda did not Make a Pickup truck. I told him, Dude! I was in the showroom and sat in it. He wouldn't believe me until I showed him my brochure. What I also remember was for some strange reason there was less leg room in the space cab then the regular cab, The seat wouldn't go back that extra notch I noticed, being that I was 6'3. Also A/C was dealer installed and they had a hood bulge (pretty cool) for the larger 2.6 I-4 engine.
I had a 76 Datsun pick up.It came down with carb problems. I fixed it,I put a Ford 289/C4 in it. That wasn't easy I had to make a dog house and put the back four cylinders in it. By the time I got done the only thing Datsun was the sheet metal and the frame. It wasn't unibody.
Loved all of my compact pickups. Did all the jobs the big guys could do but in a tossable easy to park and drive way. Owned 1980 Plymouth Arrow that was rear ended by a fool on an interstate off ram, no injury. Replaced with an 86 Dodge D-50 that rust finally ate. Then on to 95 Mitsu Might Max and lastly to a 98 Nissan Frontier 4X4. Then the extra large phase started and I was done with pickups. Cost became extra large too. Miss all the little guys who could!
Though I really loved my 3 Toyota pickup trucks, (two if I don't count the 4Runner) the ones that surprised me the most where the Volkswagen and Dodge front wheel drive pickups' failure, because they were such perfect pickup trucks for snow country where a full-size truck wasn't needed. Even when empty oh, they had the engine weight over their driving wheels and would go through snow based only on their ground clearance.
Those little Datsun pickups were common as muck in the 70's San Francisco Bay Area. For a while I drove one delivering auto parts. With no load, the ride was just awful, the unencumbered rear axle bouncing off the road with the slightest provocation. I picked up a hitchhiker once. He quickly revealed he had just spent the night in jail after a bar fight in which he broke a few ribs. He would have been a lot better off if he had been picked up by someone in a Vista Cruiser.
You missed one that I owned in 1969 not many imported to the US it was a Morris Minor pick up. It was fun to drive had a 950cc minor engine with a four speed transmission. Not sure how much the payload was because I used it for fun.
Only weeks ago I just missed out on buying a 1970 Morris Minor sedan delivery. The only one I’ve ever seen, even in Brit car/truck books. It had a standard Minor front ( up too the B pillar, but had a slightly wider-than cabin enclosed box from the B pillar rearward. The box was open to the two seats, and it had twin side-hinged rear doors ( with square windows in each door ). It was very eye catching but had sold on the first day of the advertisement ( the same day I called to arrange viewing ). It would have been a popular conversation piece because it looked both unique and cool.
My son and I put a '75 burnt orange LUV back together. Bought it with floorboard rust through but not much else. Great engine. The carbs were bad on those so replaced with a Weber and Pertronix electronic ignition where the points used to be. It was a hoot to drive and all the drag racers wanted to buy it and put a Chevy 350 in it. Like to have that one back you don't see them much.
Wow! I forgot how many of these mini's were in our family. Dad had a red 72' Datsun 520. My late father-in-law had a Chrysler store in No. Cal. and he always had a Dodge D-50 with the 2.6 4 banger. Quite quick. My son-in-law had a Rampage. I had a 74' Toyota long bed with Chevy 350/350. Kept the sleeper camper on the back with the steel wheels and dog dish hubcaps. What a sleeper. A friend who owned a body shop had a early Chevy LUV with a Mazda rotary in it. Unbelievably quick but he later replaced that with a 350 and added 4WD. That made the cover of Off Road Mag in the mid-70's. During my stint as a Datsun parts Mgr. in the 70's we had a couple of early 620 pickups. Those were fun and looked great too! There was a guy in town who had a early courier with a 302/C4 combo for pulling toys to the desert. I recall the exhaust manifolds installed backwards with the pipes coming forward than wrapping down and back due to a lack of room for conventional mounting. It worked very well. Ah...the good ole' days with V-8 powered mini trucks. Before S10's with LS kits.
On a strange note I remember the early Datsun's were shipped to the US without a bed. The beds were shipped separately and painted here then installed on the pickups at the docks. It had to do with taxation at the time. A different paint was used on the beds versus the cabs. That's why the older pickup beds never matched the cabs over time. Taxation was also responsible for dealer only installed AC in pre 1974 imports. Shipped with AC pre 74" imports were taxed as luxury vehicles. The hot rod crowd used the tail light assemblies from the 520 (68 to 72) pickups for numerous applications.
You showed a photo of 1959 Datsun 1000 and in all my years as a professional automotive technician, I never saw one anywhere. However, I saw many Datsun 520/521, 620 and 720 trucks. I bought a used 1977, 620 King Cab and drove it for seven years until it rusted out from beneath me. I loved that truck, the mechanicals were bullet proof, it always ran like new and never broke down on me. I was very sad the day I had to have it taken to the local boneyard because it failed state inspection for excessive rust. But back then everything coming out of Japan was a favorite prey for the ubiquitous Tin Worm. Datsun/Nissan, Toyota, Toyo Kogyo/Mazda, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, None were spared.
I had a Ford Courier, then a Toyota HiLux ... loved them both ... got them gently used ...
I bought a 2000 Ford Ranger new and still have it ... bought it while I was a stonemason (heavy, hard loads ... still works great for me every few weeks now ...
I suppose if you want contractors to use your trucks, you have to enlarge the bed ... the rest of the truck leads or follows ...
As a penniless foreign student in upstate NY I remember looking longingly at the few Subaru BRATs that were around. They were soooo cool. I’m sure someone could make a similarly fun and basically utility-free SFUV (Super Fun Useless Vehicle)
Learned to drive stick in a Ford Courier. I was hired as a parts runner for a brake shop at age 15-1/2. Truth be told, I only had a CA learner's permit. Loved driving that truck.
The AMC Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 made from 1981 through 1986 deserved a mention as a notable small pickup. The recently released Jeep Gladiator incorrectly has been compared by some to the much-missed Scrambler.
My friend "Dilly-Boy" had a Chevy Luv pickup lowered during the time in the mid 80's that lowered mini-pickups were hot. We had a trip planned to drive his Luv 3 1/2 hours from San Diego to the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ to camp for the weekend. While filling the truck up with gas-a rare full-tank fill-up - we started smelled gas and seeing it leak out under the truck. It turns out that he had a hole at the top of the tank. (Never noticed it before because he had never filled the tank to the top. Usually $5 a fill-up.) We pondered what to do, three wide in the cab listening to Iron Maiden. He went back into the 7-Eleven and came out with gobs of Bubblicious bubble gum-which we all started chewing. He stretched the bubble gum out and put pieces of it on top of the gas tank hole-which eventually hardened with the gas. No more gas tank problems during that San Diego-Yuma road trip.
I owned a 1976 Ford Courier ( Mazda B-series ) with a four speed for a few years. Although the truck was really only suited for two ( smallish )
people, the bench seat accommodated seat belts for 3 people. But it sure was cramped with three. Although I tried hard, I couldn’t not brush
against my buddies wife’s inner thigh every time I shifted into either 2nd
or 4th gear. Although my truck really needed the fifth gear ( it revved high at even 55 mph ) I still always enjoyed driving it. By that time
( actually before that time ) the Japanese were building very well synchronized gearboxes. I remember that they had a “king sized “ cab that was no more than about 6 inches longer than the standard cab.
Where the Mazda rotary truck? Friend had one, very fast, but as with rotary engines, low torque for hauling. Yet we hauled a bed full of tile, and handled it pretty well, with a sagging rearend from the weight.
Personally, I think the manufactures are missing the boat, they should offer a small, lightweight pickup, with few luxury features, a stick shift, four banger and sell for around $12,000. It would sell like hotcakes. Regular cab. Make A/C and automatic options. No power windows, no power steering or brakes. 1000lb payload capacity. Rear wheel drive.
They aren't worried about what's good for us! Not enough profit margin in a truck like you describe. That's why they moved all trucks rather upscale. The only "plain Jane" (I should say "plainer Jane"...) you can get now is a fleet only model. Even they have AC standard, at least all I've seen have...
Lets cut the manufacturers some slack-even a Chevy Spark is $14,500. More realistic to see a truck for $18-22k. Feds want all kinds of compliance- emission and safety- that was never thought of as necessary for the trucks in the article (it is necessary). At this price point the small truck will need to come in from "elsewhere". I agree with the tech specs and the market need for sure.
totally agree! my 2009 ford ranger was totaled in 2018 - i was excited that the ranger was coming back out - what a bummer when i saw it!! the bed is SO HIGH off the ground it seems unusable for "work" - maybe it makes a nice "stage" for you to parade your mountain bike around in but i can't imagine throwing a 90 lb bag of cement and some block in it - you'd need a ladder to get it out!! stupid if you ask me - and yes i agree with the ranchero inclusion in this list
Nothing usable will be sold for an MSRP that low again, in my opinion; too many mandatory safety features nowadays - not to mention that there would likely be NO profit for a manufacturer at that price. And, while I like small trucks, I doubt if it would actually sell all that well: too many are in love with the big, bulky four-door pickups. No status or macho in a little 4-cylinder pickup.
My small pickup just passed its 40th birthday, low original miles, a West Coast truck so no rust anywhere except for paint that is going away. A reluctant 4 speed manual, 0-60 in five years. I've owned it forever and I refuse to sell it even though I've had 3 good offers. It's the parts chaser, the girls in the family love it and can park it with ease (no Power Steering; who needs it?) so they shop in it, and so on. It's a member of the family. It never does not start and run. I can afford several new pickups and won't go near them. Unless one is in construction or some trade where size and other requirements are necessary they are ugly, cumbersome, and too expensive.
My small truck will be restored in tandem with some other projects in the offing. It will be restored as a decent driver.
All of them, except for the Datsun 1000. We own a 2012 Danger Ranger. It's simple, surprisingly well built and reliable. I don't know how anyone except big city dwellers gets along without a small (or large) pickup in their stable.
I just had Hagerty insure my 1994 Honda Acty. A truly compact Kei-sized mini Truck. It’s a direct Japanese import, right hand drive. 38 HP, 4WD and can haul 771 pounds of cargo (some Acty owners regularly haul over 1,000 pounds). I got a 1994 with 6,000 miles and it looks a couple of years old for $6k
I would have included the 1960-1965 Ford Ranchero...equipped with a V8 automatic these were fast little trucks...my sister admitted many years ago that she never lost a drag race when our father let her use it on weekends...
My first non-motorcycle was a three year old 67 Datsun 1300 pickup. At 6' 1" it was close in there but hey what did I know. It had taller rear tires and I didn't know the speedo was off. Thought I was going 65 but it was maybe 70. That's a lot for that truck. I used to add oil when it started rattling. Two quarts into a four quart pan. I was a dummy about car motors. I drove on a ripped bench seat that got worse and worse and decided to reupholster right before selling. It looked and felt great and I remember thinking how stupid to not fix it earlier so I could enjoy it. That lesson stuck with me - fix problems earlier.