Never This Nice: 1989 Toyota VanWagon

These spaceship-like Toyota Vans (also known as the “VanWagon” or the “LiteAce” overseas) will never cease to intrigue, what with their flat noses and glassy four-eyed stare. More uncommon is to see one that has been maintained and even modestly restored, like this one has after receiving a supposedly $5K paint job. Find it here on eBay with bidding over $2K and the reserve unmet; this LE trim Van is located in Chino Hills, California. 

The seller says the Van has been garaged since new, and its condition certainly reflects long-term, careful ownership. Although these were never intended as truly utilitarian vehicles, their impressive durability lead to these unusual family haulers being kept on the road well past their expiration date, often past the point of no return. This example shows a handsome blue cloth interior with captain’s chairs in great condition. My Toyota HiAce project is the precursor to these VanWagons, and was never officially exported to North America.

Although it is a sea of blue plastics and cloth seating surfaces, the Van was never meant to be stylish – just effective and durable, like all Toyotas of the era. The Van showed up in two primary configurations stateside, including this passenger version and another with solid panels where windows should be that served as a cargo van / courier-friendly workhorse, known as the CRG. Although interior pictures are limited, we can see a crack-free dash and possibly an original radio. The automatic is paired to the 2.2L 4Y-E engine producing 102 b.h.p.

That low power output may disappoint you, but it’s actually about 30 more than my HiAce has! Anyways, this is effectively a final-year VanWagon for North America, which usually is among the more desirable variants of any model because it has the most features or all the bugs worked out. We simply like this Van for its rust-free condition and fresh paint, not to mention its ideal configuration for an easy conversion into a weekend camping rig.

Fast Finds


  1. Miguel

    These always worried me.

    While driving I always thought that a rod was going to come up through my leg or worse.

    I don’t like sitting on top of the engine while driving.

    Like 1
  2. Bill

    I have to wonder if the van actually looks like the pictures. I noticed that the date on some of the pictures has been covered up. Makes you wonder.

    • Jacques

      Hey Bill I am the owner of this Van and yes it looks like the PICS

      Like 2
  3. rdc

    Cool. Not for me. I almost bought a Previa. Bought a Plymouth Grand Voyager instead. The wrong move I said 4-transmissions later.

    As you said, not stylish, just durable. Apparently, Toyota has returned to not stylish (read ugly) with their new Camry. Their ads for the car border on crazed.

  4. ron tyrrell

    Change the oil and filter in one of these, you invent words that have never been spoken

    • Rich Tague

      I agree with you Ron Most inconvient place to put a Motor

      • Tom

        I believe it takes 7-8 quarts of oil just so people won’t have to change oil that often.

  5. XMA0891

    On King Of The Hill; Khan Souphanousinphone motored around Arlen, TX in one of these vehicles. Every time I see one I think of that character.

    Like 1
    • Roger

      True! I had a good laugh now remembering Khan singing ‘She blinded me with science’ to scare off the Mariachis in Mexico LoL

      Like 1
  6. Gunner

    Very nice, but I am more of a fan of the last year’s of the VW 4WD Syncro’s. Years ago, I was on the hunt for one. They do command a high dollar when a nice one is located. I especially like the engine conversion using either a Subaru or Porsche as orginial engines are underpowered IMHO. The latter being my preference.

  7. Rod444

    “Low” power is also a big contributing factor to the legendary longevity. Like the Toyota Previa, the van parts are over engineered and under stressed. No power, nothing impressive, but dang, she’ll still be running long after you’ve burned out multiple domestic cars.

    • Joe

      Oh yes. I had one of these back in Jamaica. No complaint. Not even with the oil change.

  8. Rod444

    “Low” power is the big contributing factor to the legendary longevity. Like the Toyota Previa, the van parts are over engineered and under stressed.

    Your Corvette would last for 50 years too, if it had a four cylinder engine built for a truck.

  9. Neal

    A family friend and then a college friend had these way back when in the late 89s/early 90’s. I remember a comfortable and spacious ride.

  10. Daymo

    Also known as the SpaceCruiser GL here in the UK.

  11. Gerry Member

    I daily drive my 1977 Toyota Lite Ace truck and over engineered is true
    These were sold as the Lite Ace (commercial) And Town Ace (passenger) in Japan and they are getting few and far between even here in their homeland.
    Its not unusual to see 300K km (186Kmi) in these or there big brother the HiAce.
    Being a cabover design the death of many was failure to check fluids as its a pain to lift the seat.

    Like 1
  12. Flash

    Bought one new in 87, loved this van. I also learned maintenance was a pain, and never add oil while spark plugs are removed because the tubes apparently were held in by the plugs.

  13. MrBZ

    Had an 84, maintenance was simple as they had access panels everywhere. Don’t know about repairs, never needed any!

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