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 had a 76' Ford Courier. My first brand new vehicle. It was ordered for a fleet truck and never was purchased. It had 10 ply tires, am radio and a 4 speed. I was on the road and needed something decent on gas since my Pontiac ate gasoline. It was a great truck until some guy t- boned it. I hope Ford is serious about bringing another small truck to market. With a new ecoboost, another courier size pick up with a five or six speed would be great. No 10 ply tires this time. LOL
We had two different Nissan pickups, the first one was a 1979 King Cab we bought in 1984, then in January 1985 we bought a base model 1985 Nissan pickup. Both of these trucks were used in our convenience store business. We also had at one time a 1987 Toyota xtra cab long bed and a 1988 Mazda single cab long bed. I myself, drove a 1993 Chevrolet S-10 extended cab for several years. We also had another S-10 that we used in the business, it was a 2003 Chevrolet S-10 single cab short bed. It was a ex-fleet truck. I’m waiting to see what the upcoming “Ford Maverick” pickup and Hyundai Santa Cruz pickups will be like. I may choose one for a daily driver. We do have my late Dad’s 99 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 extended cab that’s a great truck.
Since 1983 I've owned four Datsun/Nissan pickups: 521, 620, D21 and a current series Frontier. The 521 was a gift from an owner who couldn't start it--turned out rust in the gas tank had solidly plugged the fuel filter and the fuel pump. It was known as the Red Menace (actually it was faded to a kinda pink) due to randomly failing brakes. Finally fixed that problem--and the rusty gas tank--and hauled stuff for years. While the US version was rated at 1000 lbs, the identical Japanese version was rated at 1000 kg (2200 lbs). The lower US rating was to allow importation as a 1/2 ton truck.
Size creep: my '07 King Cab Frontier is 206 inches long, and has the same size bed as my '72 521, that was 172 inches long. Even my '81 King Cab was only 181 inches...But if I describe my Frontier as a "twin cam, 4 liter V6, six speed manual, 4 wheel disk brakes, Bilstein sport shocks in a 2 + 2 body" it sounds more like a sports car than a pickup truck...
I was doing some instructional art for the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN, and got a tour of the place with the production manager. He showed me a pre-imports Nissan pickup that had been brought home by an Army guy, and eventually found on his farm by some Nissan workers. The plant bought it and made it a resto project for interested employees, and it was eventually put on display in the plant's lobby.
The manager was well over 6' tall, and told me he could not begin to fit in it. Being then right at 6' myself, I had to try it, so with his permission I squeezed myself into the space between the seat and steering wheel, neither adjustable. I did that okay, but could not possibly have used any of the controls! So those "small trucks" Nissan eventually sent here had obviously been enlarged considerably.
The "funnest" conv. I ever did, is a 302 in a 1972 PL521, took 60 hours, 18 inch drive shaft, drag link thru a oil pan tunnel, 3 speed w OD, it weighed 2400 pounds and would blow away 350 covettes !.
Best part is I still have it, I did the conv in Jan 1979.
My Dad had 2 Datsun pickup trucks. The 1971 I took my road-test for my driver's license. I liked that little truck his second was a 1982 with 4 wheel drive. We did a lift kit and monster tires, I can't believe he went for that project! My brother had a Subaru BRAT it really was a fun little thing. It was great in the snow and we used to drive it on the beaches back in those days too. Somehow I don't find the new stuff that interesting anymore. Sure they go like hell and handle nice, but the just don't put the same smile on your face.
How about the Austin and Morris Mini pickup truck, built from 1961 to 1983 on the longer Mini Van platform, it was 11 ft in total length. Started out with an 850cc engine, then went to 997cc. Perhaps the only front wheel drive pickup, ever! A total of 58,179 Mini Pick-up models were built. Then there's also the short-lived Red Bull MINI based pickup truck.
I used to own a 1975 LUV. Absolutely loved it. I currently own a 1982 S-10 standard cab short bed 2 WD manual transmission, and love it too. I will never get rid of it. You couldn't give me a truck with more than two doors unless I could sell it. Those things are taxicabs, not trucks. They are hideously ugly, and the beds are so small they are mostly worthless.
I had a 1985 base D-50, with the 4 speed. That tough little truck had 6 lug wheels and could carry anything I threw into it. It was also fairly fast, and I did the "120 bounce" more than once. The timing belt broke near my house. I rolled backwards down a hill, right into the gas station where I had my work done, and walked home, at 12:30 AM. I figured it was the belt, and since it was a non-interference engine, nothing " tried to occupy the same space at the same time." True story, as I could have wound up stuck on a highway that night.
I got my hilux in 1970. I ordered it from agency in Dallas and waited for delivery. I didn'n even get a color choice. The Dealer had a shipment of 5 and the guys ahead of me were able to make their choice in order of deposit date. I ended up with a white one. It could carry a full load of bricks. not fast but indestructabe. My first brand new truck and I still remember it for what a great little farm truck and runabout it was.
If you really want to look back on early "mini-pickups" you need to include Ford's Falcon Ranchero. I've appreciated them for decades, although I haven't actively prusued the idea of getting one. They've become quite collectable now, and I'd jump on one now if I could find a clean example at a reasonable price. I wish I had done so "back when..."
As an old dinosaur, I was intimately familiar with all - save the BRAT. In 1965, having won the bid on a damaged in transit Datsun pickup, we drove it from Kenosha all the way to Forsythe, Montana, where the state patrol could not find the dimmer switch, either. The days before Federal law now seem like the OK Corral. We got Hillmans, Sunbeams and Toyopets along with all domestics. Had we been as prescient as our friends the Qvales, I would be polishing my XKE instead of reminiscing with Hagerty.
I wish that someone would bring back a true compact pick-up. The Rangers and Colorados are more truck than I need, especially with those price tags approaching full-size truck terrority. I had a Mazda B2000 with manual everything, and that little truck regularly saw 600 pound loads of soil or renovation material. 99% of the time it was all the truck I needed.
The D50/Arrow is probably the best of the bunch shown, especially with the 2.6L four. An 88-05 Toyota extended cab pickup would be what I'd like to see today instead of the larger Tacoma. Those were just under 200" overall. Anything larger just isn't a "compact" truck!! Ford would be good with something like the little Transit Connect made into a truck like the VW Rabbit based truck, or better yet a "uni-frame" like the Jeep Comanche used with a real bed.
my 2009 ford ranger was totaled back in 2018 - i was excited to see that ford was going to reintroduce the ranger - what a bummer when i saw it - the bed is SO HIGH that i can't imagine using it for work (a complaint of mine about most new pickups!) - it might make a nice "stage" for you to parade your expensive mountain bike around on but i can't imagine throwing a couple of 90lb bags of cement and some block in there - you'd need a ladder to get them out!! and i totally agree the 1960-1965 Ranchero should be on this list! i had a beat up old ford Courier that you couldn't kill! and 80's - 90's toyota pickups were always great!
The best one you missed was the Mazda Rotary pickup. With 135hp rotary engine and 1450 lb. payload, it could do the work of a standard pickup (of the time) in a compact size. They originally came with a 4 speed but later had a 5 speed manual trans. I towed a 16' boat up the hills at the same speed (or faster) as the V-8 powered full size trucks (3rd gear, 4500 rpm), hauled 1700#'s of batteries and towed a 3 axle trailer with a dozer blade onboard. I loved that truck, wish I hadn't sold it.
I ordered a 1980 Chevy luv diesel 4 wheel drive thinking I was going all American,only to discover when I picked it up it was a Isuzu .At first I was upset only until I read up on Isuzu and found out they were one of the longest diesel truck builders I had extra leaf springs put in it since I was carring as much weight I was with a F250 .I was a mobile farrier so between my anvil, 3 drill presses plus many types of hand tools and 1000 lbs of horseshoes plus all of my other equipment it was really loaded ,and I was concerned if it was up to the job . Well let me tell you it was a little beast ,I just loved its roar and it just went .At 150,000 miles I had to change the clutch and that was it. I regrettably sold it with 250,000 miles but after 3 years of heavy work,she never let me down but I needed something with more interior space .I wish I kept it as a spare or running around in What a great little truck!
Don't forget about the original American compact pick-up, the 61-64 Corvair Rampside. My 61 is the most useful vehicle I have ever owned. I have moved the entire contents of my garage twice, and large storage shed twice- by myself! The fold down ramp allows you to just put stuff on a hand cart and roll (or comealong) it in the bed. The bed is 9 feet long, too. People have offered large sums to buy it, but what could I replace it with? Nothing today comes even close!
I had one of the first-generation Ford Rangers when I was in high school, a 1986 Ranger Supercab powered by the fuel injected 2.3 I4 and a 5-speed manual. 2wd, AC delete, vinyl seats, and no power options excepts steering it was a "stripper" truck that they just don't make anymore. It was a great little truck that I'm ashamed to say took a lot of abuse at my hands. When necessary it would work just as hard as any full-size truck. I miss my first Ranger.
Both Ford and Ram sell small vans here, the Transit Connect and the Promaster City. It should be relatively easy to create new model by taking the rear top off either one to create a new small pickup.
Being a brand new young Chevrolet dealer in the late 80's,and trying to get an additional allocation of Corvettes, i I scheduled a visit with my Boston zone manager. He presented me with a proposition. Go back to your dealership and order 30 LUV trucks and I'll get you some Corvette allocation. Upon my return my new car manager was instructed to sit down and order the trucks. The only problem was he somehow put the order in twice. We soon had 60 Luv trucks in stock - a little less than the entire new vehicle inventory.
I had a 1974 Ford Courier. It had the 1.8L engine and Jatco automatic. The 1.8L went south, so I replaced it with a 1974 Mercury Capri 2.8L V6 and a C4 transmission. What a difference it made! Also changed the front brakes to later Courier disc brakes. Big difference too!
I would really like to get a Toyota HILUX, like the one pictured in the article. Those turn signals on the tops of the fenders give it character. (Maybe Toyota did not have turn signals for the Japanese markets, so that was the only spot they could put them on for USA.
What happened to the Isuzu PUP and Hombre in your article?
These aren't Pickups! ! These were cars with the back of their roofs cut off and the back seat removed. Show some C10 20 or 30s, K10, 20 or 30s. Or even F150 250 and Ramchargers. Those are Pickups! ! !
Glad to see that my VW pickup made the list. It isn't fast, even with turbo diesel engine swap, but it gets 40+ mpg and has hauled a lot of stuff, including my fully dressed, iron headed 428 FE engine. Gets lots of thumbs up, too.
Loved my Datsun 521 pick up and loving my 1976 620 Datsun pick up done as a tribute to the first Datsun raced at the 24 hours in Daytona.
620 Turns heads wherever it goes and always generates conversation when stopped long enough for someone to walk up.
The Dodge's in the article caught my attention as a possible everyday driver, lots of go-fast stuff for those motors
You should have included the Mazda pickups. I know they were very similar to the Ford Courier but the Mazda Rotary pickup had no domestic clone. It had the R4 rotary engine, payload rated at 1450 lbs and they would go like stink. I had a 74 and loved it. I had to give it up when I went to work for GM (due to a move). It was the best all around pickup I've ever owned