It’s no secret that America is in love with the pickup truck. America loves trucks so much that you’ll find commercial trucks bearing the beds of light duty pickups. Many Americans opt for four-door crew cab pickups as their family haulers and workhorses, but the regular cab truck still has a lot of charm, especially when it has performance goodies. For one year only in 1997, fans of the Toyota Tacoma could get their truck with a regular cab, a V6 engine, and oh, a supercharger bumping power up to 254 HP.
Last time on Holy Grails, reader Ben C took us on an adventure exploring the variants of the Mazda 323 that America didn’t get. The Mazda Astina was a wedge-shaped family car with pop-up headlights, a fastback rear end, and power borrowed from the Miata. Then there’s the Familia GT-R, a Group A Rally homologation special making 208 HP and 184 lb-ft torque. Finally, there’s the Mazda Lantis (Mazda 323F), a curvy vehicle penned by a former Porsche designer, marketed as a 4-door coupe, and with a Mazdaspeed variant that includes a terrific wing.
Today, we’re going back to a vehicle you were able to buy in America, albeit just briefly.
As I’ve written about before, America is deeply in love with its trucks. Back in January, Ford reported that the F-Series surpassed 640,000 units in 2022, allowing the Blue Oval to retain its crown of building the best-selling vehicle in America. Seriously, for more than 41 years, Americans have purchased more F-Series trucks than any other vehicle. Meanwhile, General Motors and Ram have been losing the race for 46 years. But it’s not like they’re hurting, either. If you combine every truck sold by a GM brand, the company moved 881,787 units last year. Meanwhile, Ram moved 545,195 units of its own.
Toyota also has a good time as it sold 215,853 Tacomas last year with 104,404 Tundras bringing up the rear. The manufacturer moves more Tacomas in a year than the sales of Ford Rangers and Chevrolet Colorados combined. Earlier this year, I went to the fourth generation Tacoma’s release in Hawai’i, and it was incredible seeing the locals get excited about Toyota’s newest midsize pickup. Toyota Tacomas are as ubiquitous on the Island of Hawai’i as the Ford F-150 is everywhere else in America. Drive down the island’s picturesque roads and every other truck will be a Tacoma. Every third truck will be a Tundra. Locals told me that Toyota Tacomas are legendary in Hawai’i for their longevity and are so iconic that the truck should be the official vehicle of the state. One person said there should be a Tacoma on Hawai’i’s state flag. Hardcore.
For years, you could get a Tacoma with a practically bulletproof V6 engine. Those days are over as the Tacoma has moved on to 2.4-liter four-cylinder power with the option to go hybrid. If you’re a fan of the V6, stick around because there’s a version of the Tacoma you may find yourself attracted to.
The legend of the Tacoma starts with a truck that, itself, is an icon. Toyota’s had trucks on American roads for nearly as long as it has been in this country. First came the FJ45 Land Cruiser in 1963, which was joined by the Stout in 1964 with its 86 horsepower, 1.9L four-cylinder engine. Then came the Hilux. Launched in 1968 with a 1.9-liter four making 108 HP, this pickup would bear the Hilux name until 1976, when it was renamed “Pickup” in the North American market.
Regardless if it’s called a Hilux or a Pickup, through its generations the tough Toyota truck gained a reputation for durability.
Winds of change came in 1995 when Toyota launched the new Tacoma. The truck had been in development for years and the goal was to give America its own flavor of Toyota truck. The Tacoma would be a little bit softer and a bit more comfortable than the Pickup that came before it. And that name? It comes from the indigenous Salish people’s term for Mount Rainier. Design work was carried out by Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Southern California. Kevin Hunter’s truck sketches were reportedly chosen in 1991 and then frozen in 1992. Design patents were filed in 1993.
In 1995, the legend was born at the Chicago Auto Show, from Toyota:
“Built exclusively in America, Tacoma exemplifies Toyota’s commitment to constant product improvement, as well as its commitment to the U.S. market,” said Dave Illingworth, TMS senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “The all-new Tacoma features three powerful new engines, a redesigned chassis and suspension, enhanced safety features and aggressive new styling inside and out.”
The original design concept for the Tacoma was provided by Toyota’s Calty Design Research, Inc. in Newport Beach, California. The hood, fenders and grille of the Tacoma are deeply sculpted emphasizing the truck’s sportiness and bold character lines. To visually differentiate the 2WD and 4WD Tacomas, styling variations were made to the front fascia and fenders.
A roomier cabin is one of the many refinements made to the compact pickup’s interior. The cabin height and front hip point have been raised on both 2WD and 4WD models and the floor height has been lowered, improving ingress and egress. When stowed, the rear seat cushion of Tacoma’s Xtracab model lies flush with the back of the cab. A folding table behind the Xtracab’s passenger seat provides for the use of a child restraint system. The table may also be used as an additional cupholder.
Despite the refinements, Toyota was still selling a pretty barebones truck. It had a base price of $11,848, but still had options like a tachometer, radio, air-conditioner, and clock. Toyota boasted such standard features as a driver airbag and a third brake light.
Under the handsome bodywork sat a few different variations of a durable truck. The standard truck was rear-wheel-drive with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 142 HP and 177 lb-ft torque. Four-wheel-drive models got a 2.7-liter four making 150 HP and the same torque with an option to get the 3.4-liter V6 from the T100. In that guise, you got a truck with 190 HP and 220 lb-ft torque. Toyota advertised a coil-sprung, double wishbone independent suspension, an aerodynamic body, and rack and pinion steering.
There were a number of variations of the Fremont, California-built Taco. The first-generation Tacoma offered up the PreRunner, a rear-wheel-drive truck with the 4×4’s suspension, as well as the TRD Off-Road, which netted you off-road gear like a locking rear differential. You could also find the rare S-Runner, which gave you a street-oriented body kit, Tokico suspension, and a 3.4-liter V6. As for cabs, the first generation Tacoma could be had as a regular cab, the larger Xtracab, and eventually, the four-door Double Cab.
Any of these trucks would be pretty cool and the S-Runner could be its own Holy Grail. I mean, street trucks are pretty awesome by themselves. But these aren’t what we’re looking for today.
A grail that seems to be well-known among Tacoma enthusiasts, but not widely talked about is the first-generation Tacoma with a regular cab, a V6 engine, four-wheel-drive, and if you’re lucky, a supercharger. This suggestion comes from reader Jacob Rippey:
Another holy grail that people often overlook is the 1995.5-1997 Single Cab V6 Tacomas. They made the Single Cab with the pretty unkillable 5VZFE for 2.5 years. After that, they were 4 cyl (2RZ/3RZ) powered only. Some of them were also fairly loaded with bucket seats, tachs(!), power windows, rear locker, etc. Those were also the only years that you could get a 2WD 5 Lugger with the V6 (until the S and X runners, of course!) The real holy grail of those trucks was the 1997 as that was the only year that had an ECU that could accept the boost from the optional TRD (Magnuson) supercharger. There is a guy on Tacomaworld (1997tacomav6) who has something like 700,000 miles on his supercharged example.
Now, I was astonished to find out that the regular cab Tacoma hasn’t had a V6 since 1997. Sure enough, this appears to be true. Toyota dropped V6 power from the regular cab Tacoma after the 1997 model year then dropped the regular cab entirely in 2015.
So, for about two and a half model years you could pair a Toyota Tacoma with a regular cab and a healthy V6 making 190 HP and 220 lb-ft torque. As Jacob up there says, you could even fill that truck with some sweet options. Something Jacob didn’t note is that you also could have optioned your regular cab V6 4×4 Tacoma with a manual transmission. Payload for the regular cab was 1,640 pounds and towing was as high as 5,000 pounds. Toss teal paint on there and I think it might just be the perfect midsize truck.
Sadly, I could find no professional reviews of this exact configuration, but here’s what New Car Test Drive had to say about the first-generation Tacoma in general:
On the highway, the V6 Tacoma exhibits fine manners. It is reasonably quiet and copes well with passing maneuvers and grades. Though nowhere near as economical (17 mpg city, 19 highway in our test truck) as either of the less powerful engines, its increased performance makes it attractive nonetheless.
For a pickup truck, the Tacoma rides well. The coil-spring front suspension copes well with all but the worst potholes, and has enough travel to deal with off-road obstacles. Like almost all pickups, the Tacoma’s rear axle’s leaf springs do best when there’s a load in the bed; with only a driver on board, the rear tends to react noticeably to freeway expansion joints and similar small bumps, and hops up and down over rough surfaces off road.
Once again, options play an important role in preparing Tacomas for their intended use. ABS is recommended for all versions, while the 4×4’s off-road capabilities are much improved by ordering the 31-in. tires. Standard-cab Tacomas can be ordered with a new Off-Road package that adds a rear differential lock to the larger tires plus a shift-on-the-fly 4wd system (with V6 engine).
Oh yeah, I forgot. If merely having one of the coolest compact pickups wasn’t enough for you, in 1997, you could option your regular cab V6 Tacoma with a Toyota Racing Development supercharger kit. This bumped power to 254 HP and 270 lb-ft torque. TRD also sold a 7th injector kit, which bumped power even further up to 262 HP and 279 lb-ft torque.
In describing the supercharger kit, TRD said “The TRD supercharged 3.4L engine produces as much torque at 1,800 RPM as the normally aspirated engine does at its torque peak.”
I have not found exact performance testing figures. The Xtracab V6 Taco from MotorWeek‘s test hit 60 mph in 9.1 seconds. Meanwhile, in 2001, MotorTrend got a Double Cab supercharged V6 Tacoma to 60 mph in 8 seconds. But that truck was an automatic, made just 245 HP, and of course, had the weight of more doors. I would expect a regular cab V6 Taco with the supercharger and the injector to be even faster. In other words, with the right configuration, I bet a regular cab Tacoma V6 with a TRD supercharger was pretty close to being Toyota’s Ford SVT F-150 Lightning.
Our reader is right, too; there is a Toyota Tacoma regular cab V6 out there with a TRD supercharger and well more than half of a million miles (see video below).
I could not find any production numbers on these beasts, but the Tacoma community accepts regular cab V6 Tacomas as being about as rare are unicorns. After all, they did sell for just 2.5 model years. That’s not long! With that said, I easily found a couple of these for sale, and both are over $10,000. So, you can find them but don’t expect them to be cheap for old-ish trucks.
This is one of those Holy Grails I didn’t know existed before it was pointed out to me, now I want to own one. Sadly, with those prices, I might not be in the market for one soon. Still, it sounds like if you do find one of these, you’re getting a true unicorn. Have you owned a Tacoma with a regular cab and a V6 engine? Was it a hot rod? I’d love to know!
Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at email@example.com or drop it down in the comments!
(Images: Toyota, unless otherwise noted.)
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