Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! I’m writing this on Sunday evening from drizzly Portland, Oregon, after having spent the day installing new flooring in my basement, rather than from sunny southern California, basking in the afterglow of what I’m sure was an absolutely epic car show at Galpin. It’s all right. I’m not mad, just disappointed. But whatever. I have something they don’t have – a line on two cool little diesel-powered pickup trucks for sale. But before we get to those, let’s check the final tally from Friday’s bad ideas:
Unsurprisingly, the running and driving project won out over the incomplete basket case. That’s probably the right call. But I do hope that LaDawri finds its way to the right owner who will finish it up the way it always should have been.
Now then: For a while in the 1980s, not only did nearly every automaker offer a genuinely compact pickup truck, most of them offered them with the option of diesel power. This option didn’t find many takers; small trucks were generally pokey to begin with, and diesel engines, while they did wonders for fuel economy, didn’t exactly help in the horsepower department. But the buyers who did choose them really seemed to love them, and hung on to them forever, racking up the miles one long slow freeway on-ramp at a time. These days, it’s impossible to find a small diesel truck like these with fewer than 200,000 miles showing on the odometer, and I’ve seen some with a 3 or a 4 in the first digit. Slow and steady wins the race, they say. Let’s see which one of these is the winner.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter turbodiesel overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: 281,000 miles
Volkswagen’s entry to the small truck market was a unibody ute based on the first-generation Golf, sold here of course as the Rabbit. As such, this truck is front-wheel-drive –an uncommon layout for a truck. The only other small pickup driven by its front wheels at the time was Chrysler’s L-body-based Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp. VW Rabbits offered the option of diesel power, so the pickup (also sometimes known as the Caddy) did as well. In fact, most of the pickups I’ve seen are diesels.
From the factory (VW’s Westmoreland plant in Pennsylvania, to avoid the “Chicken Tax”) this truck would have come with a 1.5-liter engine good for around 48 horsepower. It’s not quick. You could listen to the whole intro to “Blitzkrieg Bop” before reaching sixty miles per hour. Add a load in the bed, or a bit of an incline, and you’d probably make it through the first verse. This one has a bit more “hey ho, let’s go” under the hood from a later 1.6-liter turbodiesel, but I bet it’s still pretty leisurely.
The Achilles heel of this era of Volkswagens has always been rust, and this truck does have some. The seller claims there’s nothing “serious,” but those rocker panels look pretty ugly to me. A closer inspection is warranted, I think. The paint is still shiny, at least, though it’s missing the caps on the front bumper. Not a big deal – just take it off; these look pretty cool without bumpers.
Tiny and front-wheel-drive though it may be, this is a real pickup truck, with a payload capacity of 1,100 pounds. You can use it to do truck stuff, just like any Ranger or S-10, and you’ll get forty miles a gallon doing it. You just need to be patient.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.2-liter diesel overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: La Pine, OR
Odometer reading: 245,000 miles
The LUV, of course, isn’t a Chevy at all. It’s a rebadged Isuzu truck, known in some markets as the Isuzu Faster. That moniker is even more ill-suited to this particular truck, powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.2-liter diesel making 58 horsepower. It’s faster than, say, a bulldozer, or maybe a 2CV, but that’s about it. The second-generation LUV lost the charming ’70s styling of the original, becoming boxier and smoother. It’s still a good-looking little truck, but I like the early one better, personally.
The LUV is a conventional body-on-frame design, with a longitudinal engine driving the rear wheels, like most other trucks. Four-wheel drive was available on the LUV, but not with a diesel, I don’t think. This one looks like a pretty basic truck, with a bench seat, rubber floors, and dog-dish hubcaps. The owner claims to be an old guy, and this feels like an old-guy truck, the sort of truck that has seen many fishing trips and hauled lots of mulch home from the local hardware store.
This truck runs and drives well, and has recently received new brakes and shocks, as well as a new water pump and alternator. The seller notes that it needs new tires, but they should be cheap. That’s sort of the beauty of a little truck like this; it’s cheap and easy to keep it on the road. And at 35ish miles per gallon, fueling it won’t cost you an arm and a leg either.
It also comes with a topper on the bed, which I’ve never particularly liked – I know it offers a dry place to carry things when it’s raining, but it also reduces rearward visbility drastically. The nice thing is that they’re usually either just clamped or bolted on, and an aluminum topper like this one is pretty lightweight, and easy for you and a buddy to take off and reinstall.
So there they are, two little diesel-powered trucks. They won’t get you anywhere very fast, but they will get you there. One is a traditional rear-drive truck, and the other is a front-driven ute based on a hatchback. Which one is more your speed?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)