Diesel Longevity: 1981 Toyota Hilux

For those of you who recall my 1981 Toyota HiAce project (there will be updates…someday), this little Hilux diesel played an indirect role in my van making the trip from Panama to the USA. You see, the previous owner realized that the HiAce could be spec’d with the “L” engine – a 2.2L diesel that did duty in the U.S.-market 2WD Hilux pickup, just like this clean example here on eBay where the seller is asking a heady $13,500! 

Why is it so expensive? Well, it is super clean, and no-stories Toyota trucks of this vintage always seem to fetch a premium price. Plus, not to toot my own horn, but that diesel motor is desirable thanks to its longevity and can’t-kill-it qualities; it will outlast the pickup far beyond the time in which the tinworm takes its toll on sensitive Japanese sheetmetal. Overall though, I think the cosmetic condition is what’s driving the seller to entertain the notion that someone might offer close to the asking price.

So, back to the HiAce: I believe the first owner of my van did his research and realized despite being an oddity on US roads, he would still be able to buy basic mechanical parts right from Toyota for any engine components he needed. So far, that gamble has proven him correct as I’ve been able to source a timing belt kit, thermostat, water pump and more straight from Toyota. With less than 80,000 miles, this pickup will remain a desirable specimen for years to come, but check up on that timing belt as these are interference motors.

This truck bed is shockingly clean, practically looking like you could eat lunch off the floor. Obviously, this is not intended as a dining area, but the truck bed’s clean condition can likely be attributed to the topper on back and also its minimum load carrying capacity. I’ve learned to love these older Hiluxes as they are the closest connection I have to my van while it’s sitting idle in a local shop’s storage facility. They are few and far between, even more so for a good one with diesel power.


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  1. geomechs geomechs Member

    Nice truck. It should give lots of trouble free miles but when it does need work get ready to part with some cash; those motors aren’t cheap. Some problems with the throttle shaft and bushing, I modify the top cover and fit a Bosch bushing.

  2. DRV

    I had this truck as my first new vehicle. The primer, separator, and filter were so simple. It revs and drives like a gas motor from my memory. No smoke and great mpg if I used BP diesel fuel. Tan with a stripe packaged as my choice and I loved it for 4 years but saw the destiny with rustand so,d it way before it’s time. This one somebody built a bed over the bed.

  3. Azehole Member

    The diesel trucks had beds that were built in Japan that did not rust.
    The tin-worm loved the gasoline versions that were built in the USA.
    I couldn’t keep out the rust in my 82 SR5 but every diesel I ran across was rust free. If you see one check it out.

  4. Steve R

    The asking price of $13,500 seems like a stretch. It has been listed for auction twice this month with ending bids of $6,300 and $9,200. It’s nice, but how desireable? I could see a 4×4 in similar condition, regardless of engine selling for that amount, but not this truck.

    Steve R

  5. JimmyJ

    My dad had this exact truck but a square headlight 82 I remember the seat was some type of rubbery vinyl instead of cloth.
    It was the first vehicle I ever drove and even did my road test in it.
    Sorry just reminiscing I also remember the wiper motor went Ree reee. Reee reee it was enough to drive u nuts if u couldn’t get reception on the am radio.
    O ya u could drop the clutch in 3rd gear and it wouldn’t stall so it was great to learn stick.
    Cool truck way to much money.

  6. JimmyJ

    Oh almost forgot gutless,gutless,gutless can barely get out in traffic
    Shoulda had a turbo!

  7. KC Jones

    I had thought of this engine transplant for my beloved 87′ 4 Runner after seeing a 300 Mercedes transplant but after reflection upon past driving both of those mills I remembered why I didn’t like my 22RE with the slushbox; it’s a gutless wonder.
    I still have my 4 Runner and a tinwormed 78 FJ-40 which I had originally bought for an axle swap into the mini. Now I’ve both and can’t seem to depart with either.
    These Toyotas are just fantastic trucks. Like having a European car on the track you learn to deal with the slow speeds and make up for it in the corners so to you must learn to be careful about when and where you drive and merge on a highway.

    Someday I’ll find a perfect swap for my mini and an a nice Canadian FJ-45 frame and aluminum body will show up for the old timers second lease on life. You either love these things or you don’t. Kinda like a durable old 911 that does almost everything except go fast😂

  8. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking truck. I’ve always loved old-school Toyotas. I regret that I’ve never seen a Toyota Diesel Hilux. I’d buy one if it were available in Tacoma, Washington.

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