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1981 Toyota Hilux Diesel: 40 MPGs


We recently featured a version of the classic Hilux pickup, albeit in more impressive 4×4 configuration. This little 4×2 Hilux though, found here on eBay, has a factory diesel engine – a rarity these days and a reminder that Toyota attempted to pair fuel economy with trucks long before it became fashionable.


This 2.2L oil burner certainly isn’t fast. It doesn’t even crack 100 ft.lbs. of torque. However, this is not a large vehicle and the L-Series diesel should move the truck along just fine. Fuel economy in the 40 mpg range was not impossible to achieve and this babied ‘Yota is a potential candidate for a grease car (or truck) conversion. You can haul the untreated veggie oil in the bed!


The seller says it was owned by a fastidious old man for a number of years before it changed hands. The truck was babied, to say the least, and doesn’t appear to have been used for overly-taxing duties. The bodies on these vintage Toyotas tend to suffer from rust, so it’s nice to see this one holding together quite well. Perhaps its longtime southern address helped matters out?


The interior is simple but effective. The seller says that he is too tall to use the truck comfortably, so those of you with long legs will likely want to verify that you can use a compact Toyota in comfort. There’s not much to go wrong here, other than driving it in conditions where speed and salt apply. Keep it in a warm dry climate with a 55 mph speed limit and you’ll do just fine.


  1. Avatar photo Stephen

    Warm dry climates in the U.S. tend to have higher speed limits.

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  2. Avatar photo DRV

    I loved my ’81 but had to sell it in ’85 for a VW Golf that would go in the snow. Had I kept it , it would have returned to the earth in another 5 years in spite of being able to run forever. The water separator and primer on the firewall were an awesome design. It barely ever smoked and revved an kept up like a gas engine, especially compared to the VW “truck “of the day.
    Wish I had it. Tan with brown decals and ugly goldfish interior.

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    • Avatar photo DRV

      Goldish interior..

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  3. Avatar photo jim s

    sold for $5900. someone got a nice truck.

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  4. Avatar photo Mark S

    I took a trip to Uruguay back in 2004 and to my supersize I noticed lots of small Japanese diesel trucks, most of them were Nissans almost all of them were crew cabs and almost all of them were painted white

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    • Avatar photo Kman

      Friend of mine had a little Nissan diesel but the injectors gave out. Older small Rangers offered one too. The rest of the wold got a new diesel crew cab Ranger with 4 doors when the Ranger was discontinued. Too bad we, north america, cant hve it. Understand our diesel isnt clean enough. Pity.

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  5. Avatar photo Leon

    1987 dealer in New Orleans had 1. Ton versions in fleet white. All bare bones trucks

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  6. Avatar photo brakeservo

    I don’t know if it’s relevant, but my ’98 Toyota Tacoma 4 cyl automatic 2wd just turned 425,000 miles. Still on the original rear brakes and automatic transmission. Can’t believe how terribly weak the motor is though – I’ve had to replace two exhaust valves, a timing chain and an exhaust manifold before it had clocked 400,000. Sheesh, even the original battery went 14 years . . .

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  7. Avatar photo steven

    I had a 1971 Hilux and I was in construction and driving from Ventura County to the Los Angeles basin for work, working on jobs as far away as Riverside. Easily a 150 miles a day at times. Wonderful truck. Wish I could find one just like it…finding a blue one would really be a miracle.

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo Juan

    Here in Argentina almost 30000 of these trucks (betweend gas and diesels) were imported in early 80´s, now you rarely see one but they were almost eternal, some of them got a million kilometers without mayor repairs.

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  9. Avatar photo justanothertexan

    i had a tan 81 diesel yota with matching interior the info above do not give enough credit on how slow it is. It’s basically suicide accelerating to highway speeds with no power steering you need a little bit of muscle at low speeds plus it hates hills. I always had to downshift to go up any hill. But other than that it was my pride and joy to drive around until the frame rusted in half. i’ll always will remember that old truck no matter what it had a unique personality unlike these new trucks.I put mine through hell and back. I only wish i could of fixed it. My fondest memories were in that truck when i was growing up.

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  10. Avatar photo Jerry Scott

    I got mine in 1982. It was a demo w/ 9,000 miles. The last time I drove it was in Tacoma Wa 8n 1987 it had 275,000 miles . It started every time. 40mpg was great. I REALY MISS IT . LOOKING TO FIND ANOTHER ONE, I NOW LIVE IN
    OCALA FL. THAT ‘81 Toyota diesel was the toughest little truck I ever had , till this date approx. 30 vehicles

    Like 1

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