Mini trucks didn’t get popular out of nowhere. Over time, compact pickup trucks started to gain traction for practical and aesthetic-based reasons and now, we celebrate the advent of the mini truck through custom car shows like the upcoming Corpus Christi Heat Wave. David MacDonald, founder of Heat Wave Inc. and orchestrator the Heat Wave custom car show tour, is an avid mini truck enthusiast and that’s no secret among the community. Starting with a 1970 Datsun Hatchback that he wasn’t initially very keen toward, he eventually managed to purchase a brand new 1986 Mazda B210 truck. The rest, in a sense, is history.
Speaking of history, that’s the focus of today’s blog post. From a commercial and custom car mod enthusiast standpoint, the mini truck has an interesting history that deserves its own spotlight. While this is by no means a comprehensive essay touching on every aspect of the mini truck, continue reading on to learn a little bit more about something that the custom car community values dearly.
The Practical Appeal of Mini Trucks
Minis aren’t just for modding out. In fact, they’re commonly used for a number of commercial applications, and have been for decades on end. These small, compact vehicles are lightweight, easy to maintain, incredibly reliable, and have features like dump beds that make them very useful in various industrial settings such as manufacturing.
Other areas where the mini truck excels include farms, ranches, police departments, parks and recreation departments, resorts, golf courses, campgrounds, dairies, marinas, and other places where small vehicles that can transport big items are useful if not necessary. You’ve probably seen maintenance vehicles or security vehicles in the form of mini trucks.
When Did Mini Trucks Become Popular In American Culture?
It all started with the gas crisis of 1973. Well, mini trucks were used in America prior to this fuel epidemic, but the efficiency, simple mechanics, and relative reliability of these tiny workhorses offered a refreshing alternative to more expensive V8 trucks and other vehicles with larger engines. This was particularly the case on the West Coast.
Prior to the gas crisis of 1973, Americans began using small pickup trucks for their practical uses as early as 1959. It’s true that V8 trucks were readily available — and affordable in their own right — but owning a mini truck and subjecting it to daily labor just made more sense. Sure, bigger trucks were reasonably priced but they broke down more and cost more to fix. Plus, working on them wasn’t as easy or simple as wrenching on a mini.
The Datsun Takeover
David didn’t like his 1970 Datsun hatch, but that doesn’t change the fact that Datsun pickup trucks were wildly popular in the USDM market. Datsun mini trucks were constructed as early as 1955 but didn’t make their way to the states until 1959. The 1959 Datsun 222, also known as the Datsun 1000, was the brand’s first genuine mini truck and was called the “1000” because it had a 1000cc four-cylinder motor. If that doesn’t sound like a lot of power, that’s because it isn’t — the 1000 only put out a whopping 37 horsepower. It was a struggle to drive around with a passenger let alone a cargo load; eventually, the 1000cc engine was upgraded to a 1200 motor.
Upgrades Over the Years
With the core values of reliability and mechanical simplicity in mind, paired with overall affordability, Datsun mini trucks (as well as Toyota and Mazda mini trucks in the late 60s and early 70s) began to undertake several upgrades. The Datsun N521 was fitted with a “powerful” 1483cc four-cylinder engine that managed to produce about 77 horsepower which is no doubt a distinct improvement compared to 37 horsepower!
Datsun trucks also received extra features like longer beds, extra cabs up front, and disc brakes.
Chevrolet is a household name in terms of pickup trucks and they too caught onto the mini truck craze. The LUV, or Light Utility Vehicle, was a perfect name for a vehicle that’s…well, physically light but also capable of performing everyday tasks. Having already owned a portion of Isuzu motors of Japan, the decision to take a simple Isuzu truck and throw on a Chevy badge was an easy one.
Easy to Mod, Fun to Drive
With a mini truck, speed isn’t necessarily the point — the idea is to roll slow and look good in the process. Years and years of modding these small pickup trucks with custom hydraulic suspensions, rims, and flashy paint jobs has led us to the present where the mini truck community is thriving and going strong.