Mini-Trucks Could Be Next Big Thing

Chevy LUV II

The mini-truck segment was most popular in the late 1970s and early '80s when the small-truck segment offered the average buyer products from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Mazda, Datsun, Toyota, Nissan and others. As the entry-level small-pickup market contracted, so did the mini-truck craze. But that could be about to change.

According to Hot Rod magazine, the next big thing in the customizing world looks like it’s going to be restoring and modifying vintage mini-trucks. Finding good pickup truck candidates for restoration projects used to be pretty easy, according to the article, when Datsuns, Ford Couriers and Chevy Luvs could be bought for $500. Now those same trucks are selling for $5,000 in good condition. That means we could be seeing more Toyota Stouts, Datsun 1600s and Mazda B2000s at car shows, the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas and maybe even on TV. Of course, this particular trend will not help those interested in keeping their little truck's payload and towing capacities. 

We'll keep our eyes open for any mini-truck trends that may pop up in Southern California, and be sure to let us know if you see any truck-modifying trends happening in your town. images


Mazda B1800 II



Maybe it's because not everyone wants the choice of:

A: giant truck


B: almost as giant but not as useful

Not to mention smog exempt is better than having to put concentrated piss in your diesel engine with a (DPF) diesel diaper, or all the expensive garbage hooked to modern engines.

I see modified mini-truck all through the midwest, there are even mini-truck clubs around, California needs to get with it....

I just don't understand why NOBODY will give us a mini truck in the USA today. My best hope is that polaris, honda, kawasaki, etc. will up their UTVs to this size and give us a street-legal version or make it easily converted to street legal. A street-legal UTV would be a game-changer.


The pickup truck cartels will be force-feeding us large $40k+ trucks as long as people are stupid enough to buy them and if you don't like it you can either go buy a volkswagen or just go die in a fire. They really could care less which one you choose.

@Beebe - there was a huge debate on TTAC recently over the contracture of the small truck market. The debate to a great degree focused on tariffs.
There are those that say tariffs had no effect (but offered up zero proof). I'm on the side that believes that tariffs i.e. chicken tax paid a huge role in killing off economical imported pickups.

There isn't a huge difference in cost to build a small or large truck in the USA. The Tacoma and Tundra are a prime example as both run down the same assembly line.

I believe that there would be a viable market for small trucks if they could be imported without a 25% penalty.

Once the "chassis cab" loophole was closed prices of imported small trucks shot up 23% in 3 years and domestic small truck prices went up 29%.

(I can post all of my references as opposed to the naysayers who will ramble on with vague vignettes from personal experience)


Or consider that a Ford compact van/truck coming here from Europe (Turkey?) is parked near the dock, the interior ripped and replaced, to avoid the CT.

Imagine what THAT costs!

This is my first comment in this article.

Even here in Australia there isn't too many old Datsuns, Toyotas, etc from a few or even two decades ago left.

From what I've gathered the closest you guys will have to a mini truck of old in size will be your next Frontier. It will be the size of a D20/22 which is really inbetween a mini truck and midsizer.

Maybe in the south or on the West coast but most mini trucks are 2wd and a lot of northerners no longer know how to drive a 2wd truck in winter.

@Beebe Polaris just might some day soon check this out.

2015 Polaris Slingshot First Pictures

@Big Al--TTAC had a later article saying that the new Frontier would be closer to the Navarra and not the smaller truck that they said was coming. I doubt we will see the mini truck unless maybe they eliminate the Chicken Tax and possibly the Chinese make one for export to the US. I do see another problem even if the Chicken Tax is done away with the fuel mileage standards established for smaller trucks and the safety standards still might result in a larger truck than the old minis. I think this is another reason that the regular cab midsize trucks have disappeared (Tacoma's regular cab to disappear as well) besides sales. An extended cab puts the midsize trucks in a larger category thus not as strict of fuel standards. Interesting discussion.

I assume most of these mini trucks are from the West where the tin worm hasn't done its damage. It is good to see these trucks restored except I prefer to their original stqte. If anyone decides to have a museum collection for smaller trucks in a few years I have a S-10 that would be a real gem that is for the most part original and that is close to show room new. I would be glad to donate it when I am finished with it in a few years (miles are not too high and excellent condition).

@papa jim - Ford got dinged for that end run around the chicken tax. I don't know if that dispute has been settled yet.

The reason why Ford got dinged was because the stuff they put into those vans was not the same stuff that goes into the passenger van version.

If one looks at the margins on the pickups that were being imported in the 70's as chassis cab trucks the cost to adding the box was minimal. Closing that loophole put the cost of figuring out an end run to the tariff above profit margins.

VRA's of the era had huge effects on the market. VRA's did not hurt the Japanese as much because they shifted to importing higher end cars and consumers absorbed the cost. It was different with pickups, those that needed trucks were stuck with buying more expensive full sizers or taking the financial hit on a small truck. We all know how that turned out - most people aren't going to buy a small truck for a similar price to a large one.

Tariffs were proven to hurt the lower classes much more than mid and upper classes since cheaper import products at that time were more likely to be purchased by lower income people.
"Estimates by Hickok (1985) indicate that trade restrictions on only three goods – clothing, sugar, and automobiles – caused increased consumer expenditures of $14 billion in 1984. Hickok also shows that low income families are affected more than high-income families. The import restraints on clothing, sugar and automobiles are calculated to to equivalent to a 23 percent income tax surcharge (that is, an additional tax added to the normal income tax for families with incomes less than $10,000 in 1984 and a 3 percent income tax surcharge for families with incomes exceeding $60,000.”

@PapaJim - I'll post a few more links for you.
“U.S. Imports of Japanese Automobiles
• Under the VER, the average price of U.S. cars rose very rapidly—43% increase from 1979 to 1981.
• This was due to the exercise of market power by the U.S. producers, who were sheltered by the quota.
• The quality of U.S. cars did not rise by as much as the quality of Japanese imports seen in figure 9.5.

So called hot rod trucks are not real trucks at all in my book. It's the sole reason Chevrolet has plummeted with market share since the early 90's. They had no halo truck as their identity. IE: Ford Super Duty, Dodge Power Wagon or the Baja Ford Raptor. Combined with poor interior and exterior looks & piss poor body quality of Chevrolet's for 10 + years now, it has been a disaster.

Everyone loves a Chevrolet V8. The original or GM's LS knockoff. The engine doesn't make the truck.

@PapaJim - another link

“In 1980, the United States “applied” the “chicken tax” tariff to imported Japanese trucks and cab chassis, which then became subject to a 25% tariff rate. 8 In 1984, the Japanese automobile industry challenged the United States classification of lightweight trucks and cab chassis as finished trucks because the new classification significantly increased the tariffs on Japanese imported lightweight trucks and cab chassis.’ The Court of International Trade upheld the cab chassis classification and the 25% tariff and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the decision.’ Once again, the cost to consumers was dramatic: over the next three years, this tariff led to more than a 23% increase in imported truck prices while the price of American-made compact trucks increased by 29%.” Ironically, the Japanese auto industry remains the principal target of this tariff despite the chicken tariff’s rather limited purpose and even though Japan imports more United States poultry products than any other country.”

@Big Al--Eventually the Chicken Tax will disappear and most of us will be driving a global size truck which is slightly larger than the current global trucks and slightly smaller than the large half ton US trucks. The cost to develop unique products for one market such as your utes is not sustainable. Corporations are global in nature and are owned by stockholders globally and sell their products in a global market. The van market in the US is seeing a wave of global vans with GM being the sole hold out and GM will eventually have a global van in the US of their own.

Those look like Australian heavy duty tow vehicles.

I think if GM brought over the Montana from Brazil to USA and Canada, it would sell well.

@johnnydoe - That looks like a cross between the KTM X-bow (pronounced crossbow) and the Skidoo Spyder.

I don't see these trucks ever becoming popular for restorations. I hope anyone doesn't take offense by this, but they have too much of a negative association with being used as landscaper trucks.

It's kind of hard to change a negative association. That is why in the US full sized trucks are so popular. Not only do they serve as a status symbol, but they send a clear message that the whoever is driving it would not humiliate themselves by driving a smaller truck.

Please, just let the mini truck die already. They are barely worthy of hauling even a refrigerator.

People who don't have any use for a full size pickup should not purchase any size pickup.

It would be cheaper for you to pay someone with an appropriately sized pickup to deliver large items to your location for a small fee.


@HEMI MONSTER - I think that these low-riders and the whole rat rod movement is silly.

I do think that this movement is just as much about being anti-establishment as it is about restoring 70's era beaters.

The fully custom mini-truck fad/trend died out too soon for me. I loved the mini-truck jamborees/shows/sound offs, bikini contests, cruise nights, club events, etc. Endless expression of creativity. Misspent youth and Trillions in lost wages.

California is where it all started, but it was the first to frown upon it, phase it out and move on. "Ship those things to the mid west already..." I never got into it myself, but really wanted to. Sorta

So yeah, I want to see it make a comeback. Same with custom/molester vans... OK almost.

Yeah...give me a mini truck with diesel so i can drop it down to the ground and make sparks while i roll coal!

Seems to me the pinnacle of mini trucks was to use them for anything other than trucking :D

These have been popular in southern Ontario (Canada) throuhput the 2000's. Mainly mazda b series and nissan hardbodies. Chevy luvs were rare to see done up. I prefered them over the fast and furious craze of the same period where everybody have a hatch back batmobile body kit and fart can exhaust.

I've owned several mini-trucks. They worked great, as intended. I hauled and towed many things with small trucks with no problems. I don't know why a true mini-truck is not sold in the US. Mid-size trucks are nearly as expensive as a full-size truck.

"I don't see these trucks ever becoming popular for restorations. I hope anyone doesn't take offense by this, but they have too much of a negative association with being used as landscaper trucks."

That's really funny. You see, even where I live the remaining small trucks are NOT "landscaper trucks" but either customized to the extent of the photos above or if in good condition still quite original and clean. But then, no matter where you live there will be those who buy the cheapest thing they can--no matter the size--and run it until they can no longer fix it themselves. Even then, they're not landscapers but rather "recyclers", grabbing any junk material they can find (even when it's not junk) and selling it at their not-so-local recycling center. Whatever vehicle they're using is just as likely to get dropped off at that same center when it's no longer repairable.


Mini trucks have very good uses for a lot of people. Trucks aren't just for carrying heavy loads, but dirty or damaging loads. I have a mini truck that I use for driving around the farm to check things. (it's a ford ranger regular cab manual trans and I consider it small enough to be a mini truck). It is fun to drive. I get 26 to 27 mpg on average where I get 16 average with my full-size in the exact same driving. My worst MPG ever was probably 23 or 24. I can carry all the tools I need in the bed. I can tow a small trailer to transport atvs. I can take my dirty dogs in the back. And when I need a full-size for heavy towing I have that too. I bought it used in extremely good condition 5 years ago for only $4,000 and I could sell it for that price easily today(i have had friends and neighbors offer to buy it from me). I'm sure it has paid for itself in fuel savings alone. There is no other car, suv, or full-size pickup that I could adequately replace my ranger with. If I couldn't get one I'd have to drive my full-size all the time and spend a lot more on fuel and maintenance. I can see how a lot of people that don't need a full-size could have a lot of great use for a compact truck either as their only vehicle or as a second vehicle.

@Jay--You pay for someone to haul your stuff. I would rather do it myself in my midsize truck and not have to depend on someone else when they feel like it. You are one of those guys who likes to tell others what to do but you do not want to be told anything. Crawl back in your hole.

Most of the landscapers I know have HD trucks. Maybe in California where working is a recreation hobby.

So I have a 1977 Toyota pickup that I bought when I was 16 . I still drive it to work sometimes. What I would like to know . Is there any places that sell parts for this truck I am trying to restore it and could use a few news parts

Friends there is a small Vehicle Coming in 2015, It is a three wheel, two passenger ELIO. It is being built at the old GM Colorado Plant in Louisiana. Go to

@David--I would go to the internet and search. You might want to search for any Toyota clubs that collect older Toyotas. I am sure in this day of the internet you can find sources. I see a few older Toyota trucks around where I live.

@louis o: The Elio is not a truck in ANY sense of the word.

@RoadWhale--I don't think he mean't it as a truck. It is a low cost commuter vehicle that you can pay on installments for those that cannot afford a newer more fuel efficient car. Hopefully it is long term.

I know that Roadwhale, this information was for Johnny doe , maybe i should of put his name on the first line of the Elio information !

@Louis o: I admit the Elio is one cute little rig; my wife loves it. But she doesn't love it enough to buy one over the Fiat 500c she wants.

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