BF Exclusive: Jeff’s 1981 Toyota HiAce Van Project

As some of you likely recall, I rescued a highly unusual and rare Toyota HiAce van from my friend’s property in Georgia about four years ago. It has been a serious labor of love, thrusting me into new challenges related to parts sourcing and making connections with enthusiasts on other continents. The HiAce is now a sweet cruiser, with its two-liter Toyota diesel thrumming away happily under the front seats. It’s a great story, having been bought new in Panama and brought back to Georgia by its first owners, who later traveled the entire western United States. With the punchlist done, I’ve decided it’s time to sell the van and import a later-production 4WD model, as it looks like we won’t be traveling by plane any time soon. Check out a fresh video here on the Barn Finds YouTube channel here for my thoughts on the van and some drive-by shots! I’m asking $11,000 for the HiAce and a full assortment of spares. It’s located in Rhode Island and has 80K miles.

Before anyone asks, I do have a clean Georgia title in hand. The HiAce has come a long way from when I first dragged it home and wondered what I had gotten myself into. The engine ran but wouldn’t accelerate past idle speed, and the suspension was shot. The first problem was traced back to the injection pump, which had to go out for a full rebuild courtesy of Becs Pacific. Once completed, we set about replacing every serviceable component on the engine, including timing belt, water pump, thermostat, tensioner, glow plugs, injectors, valve cover gasket, and more. The engine ran great with the new injection pump, and while not fast, the HiAce is perfectly happy keeping up with non-interstate traffic. Other improvements visible in this picture is a modest lowering kit, Cheviot wheels, bullbar and sun visor sourced from Australia, and more. The HiAce features dual sliding doors and windows, and a four-speed on the column.

Of course, even after the initial work done to get the engine humming, there were more loose ends to tidy up. The clutch was replaced, flywheel resurfaced, rear main seal replaced, among other transmission-related services, and the suspension was also overhauled: new ball joints, tie rods, shocks, and center drag link, along with the drum brakes front and rear being freshened up with all new components. The lowering kit consists of King lowering springs up front, and Whiteline lowering blocks out back. When the original owners brought the HiAce back from Panama, they drove it to places like Pikes Peak and Crater Lake in Oregon, and I suspect many of those components from those trips were still on the van. It’s amazing when you think about such an obscure vehicle surviving through years of neglect after it left the original owner’s care, and I’ve been mildly obsessed with preserving it in their honor.

The interior is ripe for a camper van conversion, but that’s also been the challenging side of listing this van for sale on websites catering to the adventure set. Many of the van’s potential suitors love the idea of living the van life, but owning a vintage vehicle – particularly the kind where there is only one other example known to reside in the United States – takes a fair amount of time, money, and care. I had one starry-eyed wanderer ask me what a column shift was and if it had airbags. That’s the hardest part of letting a project like this go is knowing you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who loved it as much as you did, but I’m hopeful we can find someone on Barn Finds who will do just that. Reach out to me via the form below and I’m happy to bend your ear about this rare HiAce and its many unique features. Thanks for reading.

  • Price: $11,000
  • Title Status: Clean

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  1. Scotty GilbertsonStaff

    Fantastic listing, Jeff! The photos and video are great. I can not believe how much time and money that you put into that van, it really looks outstanding. It’ll be sad to see it go but I’m looking forward to seeing your next project. Best of luck with the sale!

    Like 12
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Thank you sir!

      Like 1
  2. bobhess bobhessMember

    Nice work Jeff! Slick as it could get. After a ’55 VW panel van and two Westfalia campers I appreciate what you did for this guy.

    Like 6
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Thanks for the kinds words, Bob. The hardest part is wondering if anyone will car for the van like I have, but that’s life – once it’s no longer ours, it’s up to the next owner.

      Like 2
  3. Bluetec320 Bluetec320

    Since I like anything with a diesel in it, I am really digging this van! It kind of reminds me of a vehicle that would be used for Pokémon hunting. If I hadn’t just bought a VW Westy in January, I would be on this!

    Like 2
  4. Kenneth Carney

    Great job Jeff! Other than the van you’re
    selling, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. It
    must be a blast to drive and the yellow
    paint makes it look very cheery. That 4
    speed on the column must be a truck to drive though. The last time I saw one was in a ’66 FIAT 1100 wagon. Almost bought it if Dad hadn’t have talked me out
    of it. Does your van use a hydraulic clutch like the FIAT did? It certainly would make a unique cruiser at Oldtown
    on the weekends. Good luck with the

    Like 0
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Hey Ken. Yes, the clutch is hydraulic. It is very…mechanical. But I have to say, given I am in my late 30s and never drove anything with a column shift growing up, I am grateful to have learned and now have that little snippet of mechanical aptitude in my back pocket!

      Like 0
  5. Stevieg

    Very cool van Jeff. I am sure if you read my comments lately, you know what I am facing. If life were different, I would be making arrangements to drive to the east coast and check it out. But life isn’t at that point for me right now lol.
    I wish you and the buyer both a deal that everyone finds fair. Good luck!

    Like 0
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      No worries, Steve – I’d love for you to have it if circumstances were different. Hang in.

      Like 0
      • Stevieg

        Thank you Jeff

        Like 0
  6. Solosolo UK ken tilly UKMember

    Hi Jeff. That’s a great job you have done on that van. If it were in South Africa, where there are hundreds of thousands of them, it would sell in a heartbeat. They were made by Toyota in Durban, where I lived, primarily as a Mini Bus/Taxi, and the early ones had 16 seats and the later models had 14 seats including the driver. There was a recent video of the police stopping one for being overloaded and 52 school children were removed from the bus! These vehicles had petrol engines and managed many hundreds of thousands of miles before throwing in the towel most likely due to the fact that the engine only got to cool down on a Sunday when the country shut down for the day. I was a Motor Vehicle Examiner for 11 years and tested many of these that had over 800,000 kilometres (500,000 miles.) They were crashed, rolled, burnt out, but within weeks they were rebuilt and back on the road again. Absolutely unkillable vehicles. The next owner of your van is going to get one helluva vehicle.

    Like 2
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Ken, there are some videos floating around of these vans burnt out, crashed, rolled, otherwise destroyed and they still move under their own power! Truly un-killable machines.

      Like 0

    Jeff, Nice van. I am curious on the insurance. I know first hand with numerous JDM vehicles I own. The non standard vin throws a red flag. Haggerty is hip. They require all the original shipping docs when it came from Japan (which I had) Last car I bought was a Japanese spec MR2 from Canada. Same thing.

    The reason I ask is yours was already here way before the crazyness of importing and the “25” year rule. Many have snuck in for years and or have come cut in half or in pieces on different containers and welded back together. Without the right docs from the homeland no insurance.

    FYI Not a plug but I now use American Collectors Insurance.

    Like 0
    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Brought back with a service member stationed in Panama in the mid-80s. Been titled in Georgia since that time. Has been on a Hagery policy since I’ve owned it.

      Like 0
  8. Carlos Menjivar

    Hi Jeff, what’s your bottom price?

    Like 0

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