Decades Later, Another Ride in a Bright Red Toyota Pickup

Decads Later, Another Ride In a Bright Red Toyota Pickup
By Patrick Olsen

My very first new car was a 1985 Toyota pickup, back in the days before “Tacoma” was nothing more than a city in Washington. It had no bumper, no radio, crank windows, a back window that wouldn’t open, no airbags and a four-speed manual transmission.

I loved it.

It was candy-apple red, and after plopping in my own stereo I traveled what used to be Route 66 from Los Angeles past Chicago and into Milwaukee.

This week, I was back in Los Angeles and found myself in another red Toyota truck, this time a 2009 Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 V-6.

The ways in which this truck differed from mine cover almost every inch of truck:

  • My truck was a four-speed manual; the 2009 Tacoma was a five-speed automatic, for which my (much-older) knees were entirely thankful.
  • My pickup sat pretty low to the ground. It rode only slightly higher than the 1974 Buick Century I drove while in high school in Southern California, though it was high enough to improve the view. The Tacoma rides really high -- higher, in fact, than a Tundra from a couple of years back that I passed on the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • Speaking of the Tundra, and apropos not at all of differences with my old pickup, I spent the day watching rolling California clichés: a bright pink Volkswagen New Beetle convertible rolling down PCH, a Ford Ranger with pool-cleaning supplies laying out in the bed, and a woman in a very expensive Mercedes refusing to let me into the right lane while holding her cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other.
  • My pickup could only be had with a bench seat, while the Tacoma is a double cab with seating for five. Its front bucket seats are waayyy more comfortable than that bench ever was.
  • My ‘85 pickup was incredibly light, which is probably why I enjoyed the 100-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four-cylinder engine so much; even though it was only four cylinders, it was larger than most compact cars’ engines, and it had enough oomph when tacked onto a very, very light frame and a manual transmission. That light frame came to bite me in the butt, though, when I rolled it in the snow outside Rochester, Minn., on a very cold night in January 1986. Still, it was very durable, with most of the damage to the truck coming at the hands of the tow-truck driver who dragged it across the road before righting it.
  • The Tacoma’s 236-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 offered a lot more power than my ‘85 truck did, especially when charging through Kanan Dune Road, which leads from Malibu through the mountains. I’ve made that drive hundreds of times over the past 25 years, and even though the Tacoma rode high, I didn’t feel much sway or loss of control; it gripped the road pretty well and didn’t leave me feeling like I’d lose my lunch.
  • The biggest difference between the two? For the price of the Tacoma (roughly $31K), I could have bought – get this – six of the Toyota pickups I bought in 1985. That’s right -- the out-the-door price was a mere $5,200. Of course, it didn’t have anywhere near the level of safety that today’s Tacoma has, but I definitely miss that cheap kind of entry-level truck.

2009 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 TRD Offroad

Of course, everything from the fit and finish to the interior materials to the size and quality of the tires has come a long way since 1985. That era was very much the early days of “pickups as everyday cars” for many Americans. While pickups had long been popular in California, lots of people I met in the Midwest assumed I was some kind of farming student when they saw me in my ’85 Toyota.

Even though I’m not likely to park another pickup in my driveway anytime soon, listening to classic rock while driving that new Tacoma with the windows down, past the places I first knew when I was in high school, was a blast. Just seeing that bright red paint job was enough to take me back.


The 2009 Tacoma is a great looking truck, not too much different than the previous model but certainly with a lot of improvements. I wonder if any improvement was made to the ride quality over the previous model's, which rode like it was supposed to, like a truck. Tacomas certainly are tough trucks!

I know the feeling, I had an 85 Toyota 2WD that I bought in Arizona and drove it back to Wisconsin. It had the same 4 cylinder, standard cab, bench seat, 4-speed manual and it was blue. It also had a 4 inch body lift and 33-inch tires.

It had 160,000 miles on it when I bought it and I drove it to 230,000 miles before selling it to buy a 2005 Tacoma.

I built mine up, put a massive pre-runner bumper on it with skid plate, strut frame and long-travel suspension up front with larger t-bars, dual Bilsteins with resivoirs and an over engine bar, the rear had single Bilsteins, new leafs and a custom frame-bar into the rear bumper, I call it a cage to house the shock towers and a spare tire carrier with 22-gallon fuel cell. I also placed the rear leafs above the axle.

The engine was stock except the Weber 40mm carb. and Downey headers with electric fan. Let me tell you the truck ran and ran well and it was sad to sell her but I had to, not much off-roading in Wisconsin and the costs of maintaining were getting higher.

I also took 2 trips to Arizona and one to Baja California with her and it never let me down.

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