Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Hagerty Employee

Japanese Rock Stars: Three cheap rigs from 1987 go dirty dancing in Utah’s canyon country

It was the age of perestroika. Of peak Michael Jackson. Of U2 and The Joshua Tree and RoboCop and Reagan and the Black Monday Crash that seemed so terrifying back then. It was also a time of body stripes and dashboard inclinometers and five-speeds on everything. It was the time when Japanese trucks were cool.


This all started last year when three friends were talking about the idea of throwing in together on a barn-find Porsche 356C in need of everything. The plan fell apart when one of the friends, Hagerty’s own Logan Calkins (last seen jumping his VW Thing), decided that the Porsche was too much of a sinkhole, and that what he really wanted was a 1980s Toyota 4Runner. Because the 1980s were rad and because, despite the fact that he had already owned 13 Toyota 4Runners, somehow that itch wasn’t fully scratched ... 


Read the full article on


Nice article, with the JDM market opening up access to some of these vehicles in great shape is getting easier and easier.  Would be fun to get a tiny Jimny (Samurai) and putter around on the weekends ferrying the kids to bball and soccer games.  Park next to Escalades and the various huge luxury $60K-$90K suv's.

Edit, they still make the Jimny, looks like a mini new Bronco! 

Intermediate Driver

I will take my old 2-door, 1st gen Pathfinder over any of those. 

Intermediate Driver

I had 5 different 80's and 90's 4Runners back in the day.  i love the 4Runners.

Last year I restored an 88 Samurai.  I dropped in the "big block" Tracker engine to bump the horse power to 90. when i got it finished, i drove it a week before a guy bought it from me.  Fun while it lasted,20190817_184322.jpg20190824_181616.jpg2017 chevy trax seats2017 chevy trax seatsoriginal rear seat to matchoriginal rear seat to match

New Driver

The writer(s)? did a award winning piece. I truly enjoyed reading every word, and then read it again. Just fantastic! "The stars switched on one by one until the whole sky was paved with diamond dust." 


Great article. Makes me want to take my 1980s Land Cruiser 70 series out there. Prefer this era off roader to anything current. 


As an owner of a 1988 Samurai I really enjoyed the article.  But, I am curious as to why Hagerty wouldn't insure it for me because I drive it off road occasionally? 

Hagerty Employee

Hi there @talldan! There are a number of factors that determine eligibility for an insurance policy. While some *light* off-road usage is allowed in certain circumstances, anything beyond driving down the occasional dirt road or well maintained trail is typically prohibited. I would love to look into this a little deeper for you if you would like to message me directly though.


Nicely written, a nice walk down memory lane. I had a 1987 V6 SR5 and it sure wasn't inexpensive when new off the lot, especially considering in a metro area like mine there was plenty of "bidding" at the dealership just to secure one for a few thousand over list. In my case, the smooth as silk 5 speed was a non-negotiated "must have", and I ended up waiting over a month for my dealer to find me one in TX, to ship to WI. Loved it right up to when it's rusting tailgate only kept the window up with a wooden stick, and without lowering the window, one couldn't open the tailgate 😞

A few quick notes; my 3.0 V6 never had any head gasket (or any other) problems, some others did. By '87, the front end wasn't a solid axle anymore, so adding height isn't the same for all years. I kept the stock aluminum wheels and OEM tires, because the closest I came to Moab was annoying my now ex-wife by slipping the transfer case into low and slowly driving at idle over the concrete parking logs at the end of a handicapped parking spot until I was parked in the non-handicapped space behind it facing forward. So much for politely declining the valet service at the Dearborn Inn.  The 2 door only build of the time made it a little tricky for adults to squeeze into the back, but when you buy the vehicle, you get to sit up front. 😉 With the rear bench seat folded flat forward and an air mattress in the back, we spent more than a few quick camping weekend nights, especially convenient once when all the rooms were full at our "reserved" Mammoth Cave hotel. Went up to the counter the next morning and asked if anyone had checked out yet, because it was time for a shower.  

New Driver

Best JAP SUV=  Isuzu Trooper.  'Had 2, roomy & bullet proof, zero defects after many, many miles.

Intermediate Driver

I believe its spelled "Japanese".... 


Not going to get into a "my SUV is better" contest. I say the best SUV is the one that takes you to places like Moab. I've been to Moab and Arches in a couple of different SUVs and what I remember most isn't the SUV. 🙂 


5 stars to the author for an excellent article and inspiration to check out new areas.

New Driver

Nice article 

When I used to take my 710 Pinzgauer up to Colorado and run the mountain passes I used to see a lot of tricked out Samurais on lift kits and big tires. 
They seemed underpowered at high altitudes BUT they just kept putting along and some went places I had no desire to go!!

Pit Crew

Spent a lot of time in the '80s 4 wheeling and camping in the Moab area.  Had a mostly stock '83 Toyota long bed pickup. 

Intermediate Driver

I bought a 1991 Samurai when I lived in Colorado Springs in the early 90's.  My '91 was fuel injected (1990-95 all were).  I mounted 30" tires, 3" lift, winch, and a rear locker.  It was an extremely reliable low cost goat that never got stuck or broke if you were reasonable about your off road expectations.  Great vehicle.  Sold it when I moved to Alabama.

Pit Crew

Only one Nippon vehicle for me...  Toyota FJ-45 


There is only one "JEEP".   All the rest are copycats.


Nice story though.


I always like the Samurai. It's the ideal vehicle for tight and narrow conditions. I rented a Samurai twice on visits to the Virgin Islands and it was the perfect car for the islands. Sure, it may have incredibly poor handling and can tip over by leaning out the door but otherwise, a fine specimen.


The 4Runner's price adjusted for inflation is $33,204. Once you factor in what is standard now, it really isn't much more expensive at all. I remember looking at a couple of used ones in late 1988, and the independent used car dealers were asking more than the new base price for ones with some use.  


CJininSD, True, and I hadn't noticed when I made an earlier price comment that the 4Runner in this article was an entry level. Mine was an SR5 w/V6, and I recall it going for just under $30k in '87. Felt like I was buying a yacht at the time. 😉 


"There's only one Jeep", does that include Jeeps based on Fiat 500's? 😉 


Pit Crew

Very nice feature. Well done!


Love this article! Thank you for the read. 


A friend had an automatic Montero (recall the "urban guerilla" ads?) back in the early 1990's, and later replaced it with a newer/larger Montero with 5-speed.  She still loves her SUV's, and currently has a Range Rover.






Outstanding photography and good writing too .


I loved Japanese trucklets beginning in 1971 when first I saw and made a living driving a Courier (" FORD'S NEW 1800CC IMPORT !" said the decal on the backlight) . under powered and noisy all those old trucks had easy rusting tin foil bodies but actual truck frames and running gear that took a beating and came back for more .


Kudos to Glenn who hipped me to this great article .