1987 Toyota Space Cruiser Survivor

This 1987 Toyota Van is one of the few survivors of this rare breed still left on the road, and it wears the rarely seen “Space Cruiser” motif. These unusual people carriers were wildly popular in Europe for years before and after its time on the national landscape, and they’ve enjoyed some light appreciation as of late thanks to the growing van life movement. The Toyota has 251,000 miles on the clock and still presents incredibly well, and has to be one of the few left in the care of compassionate owners. The seller notes it runs great and still has cold A/C, but there’s obviously some flaws of the cosmetic sort that have appeared over time. Find it here on craigslist in Texas for $3,900. Thanks to Barn Finds reader pigneguy for the find. 

I’ve got a warm place in my heart for Toyota vans, as I sold my longtime project van, a 1981 Toyota HiAce this past summer. I was immediately taken by how dutiful these old vans felt, as if their only obligation was to ferry its cargo without complaint from Point A to Point B, and feel free to load up its cavernous cargo bay with whatever you pleased. I got a kick out of videos of vans like mine in South America and Africa being righteously abused by cab drivers and private citizens, with the vans seemingly unphased by how poorly they were being treated. In many ways, Toyota vans of this vintage and older are the Mercedes-Benz W123 of the van world.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge uptick in interest in vans like these. Toyota had this model, simply dubbed the “Van,” and Nissan and Mitsubishi had their own takes on this unusual setup which featured the engine under the front seats. The Nissan Vanette and Mitsubishi Delica were the Toyota’s sole competitors, but those models didn’t offer what some of the rarest Toyota Vans did: four wheel drive. Those vans, with the standard manual transmission, are the most desirable of the Toyota offering, but the Nissan and Mitsubishi were a bit more featured-packed than the two-wheel drive Van. For my money, I want the Vanette with the hidden icebox in back and fold-out bed.

Unfortunately, most of the Nissans were bought back by the company and destroyed due to concerns over the vehicle’s tendency to catch fire. The Mitsubishi Delica, despite now being a household name among the millennial demographic of van lifers, was relatively unknown when it was new and today remains hard to find. The Toyota isn’t easy to find by any means, but the Nissan and Mitsubishi make finding a ‘Yota look like child’s play in comparison. The seller notes that the interior can be reconfigured to such a degree that a six-foot tall individual can stretch out and sleep inside if needed, and aside from some broken or missing trim, the cabin is in fine shape. When’s the last time you saw one of these odd Toyota vans still on the road? Bonus points if it was wearing “Space Cruiser” trim.

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Comments

  1. Geoff

    I had a neighbor who had one Identical to this. It met an untimely demise when he forgot to set the parking brake and it rolled down his somewhat steep driveway directly into a tree..

    Like 4
  2. Argy

    My friends’ parents had one in the 80s- mid-engine, rear drive, manual transmission. A separate power sunroof for the rear passengers. I remember thinking it was way cooler than the Caravans and Aerostars that ruled suburbia at the time. For those who think the new Sienna is weird, Toyota has been at it for years!

    Like 8
  3. AZVanMan

    When I was selling Chevy’s in the mid-80s, my family needed a minivan. I looked into everything available at the time and easily made the choice for a 1984 Toyota 7-passenger van. By far the best built van at the time, and I loved the cab-over configuration. Rock solid reliable, and the dual A/C kept us all cool during the brutal Phx. summers (thankfully only about 8-9 mos out of the year). And the van was surprisingly easy to maintain, thanks to inspection and accessibility panels where you needed them. Funky looking and not a big seller in the U.S., but it was a damn good van.

    Like 5
  4. banjo

    These were followed by the Toyota Previa vans also available in 4WD. During my years as a Toyota Technician I had a love-hate relationship with those things. Very cool vans but not much fun to work on. Also extremely loyal owners who would not let them die, but were not understanding of them being an obsolete model with mostly unique parts that we did not stock. Japans reply to the VW bus!

    Like 1
  5. local_sheriff

    I remember it sell under the name Toyota Model F and I actually met one on the road this summer! But before that I didn’t see any in at least 15-20 years – rust probably got them all. A family in my street always bought new Toyotas, amongst them one of these. Then (and now) I always thought them to look extremely weird but then it’s not exactly my cup of tea.

    With that said it’s cool there are actually car guys who care to keep these alive as they’re a part of 80s automotive history

  6. Ian C

    I was a tech at the local toyota dealer through most of the 90’s. I hated working on these. Not to mention they tended to catch fire due to the f/p regulator (and everything else) being baked to death in the engine compartment until it was a brittle/powder combination. However.. I LOVED to test drive them. It doesn’t have enough power to pull a fart out of a fat lady, but they will do some of the best burnouts you have ever seen!!! I actually saw one get stuck on a dry asphalt driveway once. It was pointed down hill and did not have enough traction to back up the hill! HAHA

    Like 5
  7. CaR cRaZy Dan

    I remember these. I called them “egg vans” the nissan and mitsubishi ones seemed more luxurious. My mother had a boyfriend who had the panel work van version in dark blue. He traded it for a 94 grand cherokee.

  8. Wolfgang Gullich

    Weird, there are a couple Mitsu Delica 4WD Diesels here in Anchorage…guess they don’t exist ;)

    Like 3
  9. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    Good old Toyota. It’s refreshing to see that as odd as these were, Toyota still included the little cubby hole to the left of the steering wheel. All the Toyota’s I’ve owned (eight in all) have had an innocuous cubby hole or drawer in that spot and I’ve found a use for all of them.

    Like 7
  10. Gerry Member

    These were known as the Toyota Town Ace (fancy) and Lite Ace (commercial) here in Japan there direct competitior was the Nissan Vannette
    Though the vannette was rarely seen in AWD or 4WD in the early model some later models did have it
    Can’t remember the last time I saw a Delica that wasn’t 4WD
    Also never seemed to have a problem with fires to the extent the article states with any of them that I’ve seen probably would have made the news.

    Like 1
  11. Alex

    They were super popular in Australia. Called the Tarago there we had one in the early 80s with all the fruit. Dual sunroofs, dual air conditioning and fridge. With the 4 speed auto it had zero power but never ever broke down.

  12. Gerry Member

    Known as the Lite Ace (commercial version) and Town Ace (civilian version) here in Japan they were very popular with both gasoline and diesel models available in a wide range of trims.

    Their direct competitor was the Nissan Vannette which wasn’t available in AWD / 4WD ill later models.

    Don’t think I’ve seen a Delica that wasn’t 4WD in a very long time

    Don’t recall any issues with fires on any of them either and they were driven in most cases till the wheels fell off with several hundred thousand km on them.

    Like 1
  13. Dave

    These were actually featured as ground transportation in the TV show “Space: 1999”. They look great with a hover conversion…

    Like 1
  14. VanDan

    I bought an 84 model in 85 with 7,000 miles, and sold it after driving it for 27 years still in good condition for the age. It was really a truck hidden as a mini-van. Reliable as all Toyotas are. Rough riding, hardly any power with the auto overdrive, but dual heat and air made it comfy to ride in no matter the weather. Probably would still have it but my work vehicles were new vans, and the drivability of newer vehicles won me over. This van sold me on Toyotas mechanical reliability. Properly service them, and they will run forever!

    Like 2
  15. JMB#7

    My friend’s Mom had one of these but without any graphics. We called it the “Lunar Vehicle” When we were home from college we would cruise around in it. Was a great vehicle for backpacking trips. I remember it had a small “air-conditioned” cooler in the center console. With the cab-over design, it felt really weird on twisting backroads or cresting a hill. Good memories.

    Like 2
  16. john

    As I recall, the center console on these had a mini fridge, that allowed the A/C to cool down a compartment only large enough for a six pack to stay close to freezing cold.

    Like 1
    • Bobby

      That was an option. Mine is the top “LE” model and it unfortunately doesn’t have the ice box

      Like 1
  17. Motorsport Whse

    Ive got two I just pulled ito my yard last week. A 2wd camper style with tables etc, and a 4×4 5 spd version. Az climate has saved both from rust destruction.

    Like 2
  18. Bobby

    I have an 87 4×4 5spd van with 325k on it. I drive it everyday on 15 miles of 4×4 road and over the continental divide to work and back. It’s the coolest vehicle I own. Out of the many cool features it has, one of my favorites is the side lights that come on when you put the blinker on!

    Like 1
  19. E.L. Puko

    Like, far out, man.

    Like 1
  20. JMB#7

    I seem to recall that Toyota chose to put in the engine that they used for taxi cabs. The emphasis was on long service intervals and reliability, and not on power & performance.

    Like 1
    • Bobby

      They also put them in forklifts

      Like 1
  21. Cycle Salvage Kevin

    I owned two in the 1990’s, both 1985’s and no ice box, graphics or 4×4. Once, I was hired to haul a Kawasaki H2 750 modified for hillclimb duty to the buyer just south of the Twin Cities. The rear wheel was between me and passenger seat, it was that long. I knew there was a blizzard in the forecast so left early for the 400 mile roundtrip. Well, back then I was still a drinking man (sober 23.5 years now) and stayed too long at the bar w/the buyer. Now back on the road with zero traction weight I began to get nervous when the snow became heavy about 90 miles from home. In both Adrian and Luverne, MN I tried to get motel rooms but nope, full of blizzard dodgers. From Luverne it’s pretty much straight south 40 miles so I took off. I was lucky enough to be driving a half mile behind a semi as otherwise the drifts were too high. Even so, my tach showed not much traction. Heart pounding, white knuckling it at 25-ish MPH, my heart is pounding now as I type! The Man upstairs took care of me that night, I made it home OK. I loved those ultra dependable window vans and the ’80 SR5 4×4 I had years earlier. My only new vehicle ever, ’84 Extra Cab 4×2 was great too but had to sell it due to getting married that lasted 4 years of hell on earth.

    Like 1
  22. JonArd

    I sold these when they first came out … the very first one at the dealership was “loaded” with everything offered at the time – even the ice maker up front … a banker from New Orleans (I still remember his name after 37 years) traded the family Cressida wagon for it for his son who was entering college … what I remember about the Cressida wagon is that, on the trade-in test drive, it would chirp the tires shifting from first to second which many automatics couldn’t manage back then … it was the first of several cars I sold him but the only Van … the ice-maker was really a novelty, only worked when the AC was on (for a very long time), and the “ice cubes” were smaller than gaming dice … I doubt anyone really used them for drinks …

  23. blake

    I found one 82 edition 5sp man a few years back for $500 went 3rds with a few mates to do a camping trip. It had 500,000kms on the clock and had the full trim in pritty good condition. It was just for one trip as we expected it to die on the way back. But ended up keeping it for a few years. Such a Hoot to drive this little beast loved the open road and corners where very fun. The handling for a van was awesome no power but I kept right up the backside of a few sports cars on the alpine roads I am sure I made them very sad :D . So reliable even after years of neglect just kept trooping through everything even a River road.
    The back seats would fold into an extremely comfortable bed.
    Best van ever .. missing it to this day.

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