Never This Nice: 1978 Toyota Chinook

Don’t sleep on this 1978 Toyota Chinook motorhome if you’ve been hunting for one of these rare compact campers. The condition is impressive and the price is right, with the seller asking $16,500 for the rig that has a mere 43,000 miles on the clock. For anyone who’s been looking for a Chinook, you likely know they usually fall into two camps: bad and worse. Many of them have become hippy hideaways, and not the fun kind of hippies who occasionally use a shower in a campsite. This Toyota, while it has some bumps and bruises, have a clean and nicely updated interior, along with several recent repairs and upgrades. Find it here on craigslist in Encinitas, California.

What a way to photograph one of these – with the beach outside your window and some hot coffee on the stove, life is essentially perfect. The seller notes this Chinook was in the care of a longtime female owner who owned the Toyota since 1981 and did an incredible job of preserving it. The interior features a toilet, which you almost never see in a Toyota Chinook due to space constraints, but this ‘Yota has one and it’s integrated perfectly into the living quarters. Other features include a propane heater, two-burner stove, shore power and water hookups, 10 gallon water tank, auxiliary battery power, and of course, the pop-top.

Here’s the view from the pop-top; VW Westfalia, eat your heart out. The Toyota Chinooks were cleverly packaged not just due to their generous interior equipment levels, but also for its shell. It was an aerodynamic design that was far less brick-like than those camper attachments specified for many domestic models, and also integrated the lounge area you see here into the forward portion of the upper reaches of the attachment. The pop-top features vinyl canvas and screens and looks to be in excellent condition with no tears or sagging, but you’ll want to ask that question directly to the seller.

The truck, like so many other Toyotas of this era, is powered by a 20R four-cylinder engine. The seller has upgraded the original four-speed manual transmission to a five-speed unit, which should help out dramatically with highway cruising. Other improvements include a rebuilt Weber carb, two new batteries, four new tires with under 100 miles, spark plugs / distributor cap / rotor, and more. The seller is not incorrect in saying that Chinooks like these come along once in a blue moon, and with the low mileage and impressive cosmetics on display here, I doubt he’ll have any trouble re-homing this wonderful survivor. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Pat L. for the find.

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Comments

  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Very nice for a vintage Chinook. Perfect machine for a single person or two people that are VERY comfortable together..

    However, even with Webers these are slugs on mountain roads with any altitude.
    A friend of mine back in the day had a business of importing used Japanese engines and overcame the issue by installing a Japanese V8-he went so far as to get an “Experimental” plate and got a registration cost break accordingly.

    Like 5
    • Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

      You are correct. These were underpowered even without the camper shell on the back. I had a 78 SR5 Longbed Sport Truck, and the word “slug” is an understatement.

      Like 3
  2. Bhowe Member

    I own a nice 79 Toyota SR5 pickup with the 20R. It can hardly get out of it’s own way, even without a built in camper. Very cool rig but dont expect to get anywhere quickly.

    Like 3
  3. mike

    The 20R engine was a good dependable engine. But like everything else in the Malaise Era it was a bit of a slug….and terrible gas mileage.

    Like 1
  4. Mutt

    The really nice thing about this is that I can live in it after my wife kicks me out for buying it.

    Like 63
  5. angliagt angliagt Member

    A friend of mine who worked at the local Toyota dealer told me
    that he put a Toyota motorhome on a lift at work,& it almost came off,
    because of the weight & overhang behind the rear axle.
    Neighbors of my Parents had one with an automatic,& said that
    the transmission failed at least twice.
    You also can’t tow anything of any size/weight behind these either.

    Like 1
  6. Euromoto Member

    I hear these are slugs.

    Like 3
  7. Ben T. Spanner

    I bought a new 1978 SR5 in Columbus, Ohio. The bed was made by Long Beach Metal Fabricators. At that time there was a “Chicken Tax” The Japanese had an import tax on US chicken, and we retaliated with a 25% tax on pickup trucks. A cab and chassis was not considered a complete truck, therefore no tax.
    Toyota boxes were built and installed in California. Some were made into motor homes/RV’s
    Within 2 years my box began to rust and the ground for the rear lights corroded. In three years the right side A pillar had bubbles from internal rust. Mine was white. My friend’s was brown. At least his did not show the rust in the horizontal bed seam.

  8. Gerard Frederick

    Aside from all the negatives, this is a beautiful rig. As far as the power goes, drive in the right lane, like I used to do in my Mercedes 300D and get over it. Slow, but comfy.

    Like 3
  9. Car Nut Tacoma

    Sweet looking Toyota Chinook. I used to know someone who had one. Its roof popped up to allow more vertical space to walk. If only Toyota continued to offer such campers into the Tacoma generation, or possibly the Tundra. The only upgrade I’d give it would be a Toyota built Turbo Diesel engine.

    Like 1
  10. Steve Clinton

    I had a ’75 SR5 as a company car and it was slower than dirt. I can only imagine how slow this Chinook must be!

    Like 1
  11. Peter Chast

    Unfortunately too many of us are from the hot rod generation… They are what they were designed for… A good example of these is eminently usable in the right environment.

    Flame suit on.

    Like 3
  12. Bob Ellis

    I purchased a 1975 brand new for $6700 and kept it for 15 years and about 108,000 miles. It had standard shift and had adequate power. It even got 25 mpg on trips.
    I also at times hauled a pop up tent camper.

    Like 1
  13. Chris Londish Member

    These were common in the hire fleets here in Australia especially with the overseas tourists and backpackers but now the European manufacturers have taken over Fiat and Mercedes, although Telecom a large fleet of Hiluxes as linesman trucks with toolbox bodies

    Like 1
  14. GT

    1975 $6700 is $32,750 adjusted for inflation. Wow.

  15. Kenn

    Hey Gerard Frederick, not sure what was wrong with your 300D, but mine was very capable on the interstates for almost a quarter million miles. While I’m no leadfoot, few vehicles passed me and I passed plenty.

    Like 1
  16. Gerard Frederick

    Hi Kenn, I had difficulties in the Lake Arrowhead region, east of L.A. on the regular freeways in L.A. or travelling along the grape vine going north to San Frabn, I experienced speed problems. But it never bothered me one way or the other. I suffered terribly in my Maserati though going north, no air and never knowing when it decided to stop functioning.

  17. chrlsful

    No flame suit Peter, & I agree & w/Gerard BUT still w a y better than the class C motor home ones (lrg fiberglass winnebago style). Their nice too but
    WoW the power to weight ratio. Here – I could live w/it.

    Buddy put a tacoma motor ina Starlet, goes to the drags (tubed rear, parachute, turboed to 600, 700 HP). Just put the N/A motor in this one (4 cyl) & assure discs up frnt, A34OE or other OD automatic & do some visitin (just not winter w/da cloth roof).

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