Little Trucks For Doing Great Things: 1980 Toyota 3/4 Ton vs 1980 Dodge D50

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Good morning, and welcome to Thursday, or as my wife’s boss calls it, “Friday Eve.” Today, we’re going to see if size really matters, and take a look at two tiny, hard-working trucks. But first we need to decide which button-laden sedan takes the cake:

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Wow, lots of brave souls out there, choosing British charm over Japanese reliability. Honestly, with both of these cars in front of me, it would be a coin toss for me. I’ve always liked Jags, but something about the weirdness of that Sigma speaks to me.

But now, let’s talk trucks. Everybody loves beat-up old trucks, right? OK, what about beat-up old little trucks? How about beat-up old little work trucks? We’re about to find out, because I found a pair for us to consider.

1980 Toyota 3/4 ton pickup – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Tacoma, WA

Odometer reading: 118,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

I’m surprised this truck has sat on the market for five days, actually. I fully expect, as I write this on Wednesday evening, to discover the link is dead come Thursday morning. But I already swiped the photos, and got all the information I need, so even if it sells, we’ll talk about it anyway.

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Toyota trucks are, of course, renowned for reliability and durability. It’s not uncommon to see 300,000 miles or more on the odometer, and while the rest of the truck may fall to pieces around it, the mechanical core, highlighted by that 20R/22R engine, will just keep on keeping on. (Or at least the earlier ones like this will; my ’88 with those stupid plastic timing chain guides sounded like someone threw a handful of pennies into it, because using plastic for such a critical component is idiotic. But I digress.)

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This truck does suffer from the other Toyota truck weakness: rust. It’s not terrible, but it’s there.  You can see the bed seams starting to go, and although it’s hard to tell with the bottom third painted black, I bet the door bottoms and rocker panels aren’t too pretty either. But it doesn’t have to look good to haul stuff, and I bet this truck does that just fine.

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Inside, it’s as beat-up as you would expect. The rubber floor mat is half gone, and I imagine the blanket over the seat is covering some really ratty remnants of blue vinyl. But as we’ve seen in other vehicles from this era, the minimalism of the interior is a breath of fresh air. And that’s a good thing, because without A/C, fresh air is your only option. It also appears to be lacking a radio, so let’s hope you can infotain yourself.

The seller says this truck runs and drives great, but will need tires soon. Luckily, they’re cheap; you can probably re-shoe this truck for under $500, and then wear those down to the cords.

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And it’s a 3/4 ton long bed! Bonus! Yeah, this truck won’t be for sale for long at all.

 

1980 Dodge D50 with utility bed – $1,950

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter (probably) inline 4, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: El Cajon, CA

Odometer reading: 40,000 miles (probably 140,000)

Runs/drives? Yep

This is a new one on me; I’ve never seen a D50/Arrow/Mighty Max with a utility bed on it. Utility beds are rare on small trucks anyway, but on a D50, especially what looks like a Sport model? It’s got to be a unicorn.

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This truck is, of course, not a Dodge at all, but rather a Mitsubishi. Chrysler never did build their own small pickup (unless you count the Rampage), relying on Mitsubishi’s Mighty Max to fill the space below the D-series in their lineup until the “mid-sized” Dakota came along in 1987. The truck was sold as the D50, Dodge Ram 50, and Plymouth Arrow at various points. This one, by the looks of the interior, started out as a Sport model, which would mean it has the larger 2.6 liter Mitsubishi four.

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Bucket seats and a racy three-spoke wheel in a work truck? Sure, why not?

The rest of the truck looks like it has lived a hard life, but that is, after all, what trucks are for. And it looks like it still has some life left in it. It could use a repaint, especially on the utility box, but I don’t see much in the way of rust that would be a problem. It would be a cool ride for a handyman or painter or someone, with a little tidying up.

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We don’t get much detail about its mechanical condition beyond “it does run and drive,” but that’s 80 percent of the battle right there. If it can come home with you under its own power, you’re already ahead of the game. Obviously you’d want to go over it with a fine-toothed comb before relying on it for work, but it’s a simple truck.

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And it’s got a good face. It kinda looks like an old cigar-chomping foreman, tough but fair, chuckling at your joke and then telling you to get back to work.

Trucks don’t have to be gigantic to be useful. And they don’t have to be intimidating to be tough. These two prove that, and either one looks like it’s ready to get shit done. Which one would you add to your fleet?

 

QuizMaker

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58 Responses

  1. Dad had a mid 80’s Nissan 1-ton flatbed with dualies. and a free floating rear axle back in the day. He sold a 66 Ford F350 flatbed dualie. in order to get it and it’s much better MPG. We would haul the heck out of hay with it every year.

  2. Bought an ’85 D50 4×4 2.6L 5 spd brand new. Wanted 4×4 to slog through Michigan winters, never took it seriously off-road or abused it. Trans went out at 20K miles. Dealer told me “They are all doing this.” It seems that there was a gear or retainer in the trans that had to be “staked” during assembly to prevent it from backing off on the threads. The staking operation was not done properly on most of these in that model year. It sat at the dealer for 3 months waiting for parts because there was so much demand. Every time I went in to ask about progress, the owner, who I knew well, would ask that favorite salesman’s question, “what can I do to put you in a new truck today.” That started to wear thin after the first month. The mechanic that did my trans had a little trouble with the Raider (SUV version of the D50) he did before mine. He screwed up on assembly and the trans locked up during his test drive. He lost control and rolled it. Thought I was lucky that didn’t happen to me. It turns out I would have been better off if he had wrecked that POS. Dodge did cover the repair with $100 deductible, even though the truck was well out of warranty.
    This was just the start. Got another 10K miles and blew the head gasket. Motor was never overheated, mechanic explained that the problem was “fretting” between the iron block and aluminum head, and again, “they all did it.” After living with the lack of power, lousy cold driveaway, hard shifting trans, cramped and uncomfortable cab and lousy seat, along with a bunch of other defects that cropped up, I was over it. Traded it in at 50K miles on a loaded 89 Dakota LE. Put 235K comfortable miles on that truck with only problem being the OD trans wearing out at 210K miles. So much for vaunted Japanese quality.
    That D50 was the second Japanese vehicle I owned and will be the last. I had a 75 280Z I loved dearly, but it broke my heart and my wallet. This was the car I longed for, my “Rosebud” (ref Citizen Kane). This was the first year for fuel injection and they used the Bosch L-Jetronic system. This was before digital injection so it was an analog system. The only way to diagnose the system was to go through the 144 page troubleshooting section in the Datsun factory service manual and check pinouts with a VOM. I won’t detail all the problems I had with that car, but at least the fun of driving made up for the headaches to some degree. The worst part was rust. I had never seen a car rust so badly so quickly. It was four years old when I got it and what looked like some surface rust due to paint failure was actually much worse. These cars were made to biodegrade. After the second paint job I got rid of it while it still looked good. The worst part of this memory is that I also looked at a 72 Corvette with a 454 and went with the Datsun because fuel economy. What a joke that was. It was a good day if I got 18 mpg.
    That’s my sad story about my experience with Japanese cars. I know everybody says they’re great. My son has a nice, loaded Tacoma that’s his work truck. He’s got about 100K miles on in a bit over a year with no problems. However, it is not nearly as capable as the two 3/4T Chevies he had previously, and he doesn’t think it’s going to take the abuse he has to give it, but it’s what the boss bought. He put a combined total of over 700K miles on the Chevies with little more than routine maintenance. The 6.0L LS motors never needed anything but spark plugs and oil changes. Oh, more on the abuse I mentioned. He has a 10 foot heavy duty Boss V-plow mounted that he uses to clear logging roads used by the six crews he runs. These are trails bulldozed through the woods that have to be cleared for log trucks and he has to punish his truck unmercifully to get the job done. I rode along with him one day on a job in one of the Chevies and he was pushing snow 4-5 feet deep over some rough as hell terrain. I asked, “would you do this to your own truck?” Answer: “HELL NO.” He also hauls heavy equipment like skid steers and dozers and says the Tacoma just doesn’t measure up to the Chevies in that or plowing. His boss agrees they are going back to Chevy when he wears this out or it breaks in half.
    I know I sound like a naysayer, but I was all in on Japanese cars until I owned two. Maybe it’s karma (carma?). I’m reading a recently published book, “The All American Crew” by Russell N. Low. That tells the story of my uncle and his B-24 crew who were shot down over the jungles of New Guinea in WWII and are still listed as “missing in action, presumed dead.” They were shot down by Mitsubishi Zeros, made by the same company as the D50.

  3. I own an 81 Dodge Ram D250 Stakeside pickup with a 318 4bbl Holley and dual FlowMaster exhaust and the truck runs as strong if not stronger than it did in 81. The interior is completely redone and the vehicle is an 8000 pound tank that still runs strong. The exterior could use some TLC but is sound overall. It gets a lot of looks. Currently for sale for $5000.00 and worth every penny.

  4. Toyota is clearly better for just work . . . . stuffs. But I already have an old pickup for that.

    Utility bed for under 2k? Hmmm. 50 bucks worth of rattlecans and some elbow grease and it could look almost decent. Maybe keep it a shade of pale yellow to match the engine bay, with light blue accents? I’ve got enough spare tools I could throw in the back and it’ll become a runabout to take to the kids houses to help with jobs.

    Wife might even be onboard with that. Good thing it’s a bit too far away to go look at.

    D50 for the win. Unless it doesn’t smog. Then Dodge for the loss

  5. They’re both fairly attractive to me in the shitbox kind of way, but I’ll definitely go with the Toyota, once again as the devil I know. My ’94 Hilux with the 22R-E (only vehicle I ever bought new) is still running somewhere up in Alaska with about 300,000 miles on it. And my first wife had an ’83 with a 4-speed like this one. That engine view is so familiar it hurts, but in a good way. Neither truck ever pissed me off. I could drive one of those right off the edge of the Discworld and never stop till I reached Valhalla.

    1. Can confirm and agree. 1984, 1991, and 1994 22RE. Well over 500K miles combined. These will not let you down. But then again the Mitsu is also fun, but have no ownership experience. The devil you know is always the best choice when dealing with the unknown…

  6. I have a bit of a soft spot for the old Toyota Pickup. My father owned several back in the day, and they were versatile and tough things that could handle abuse with aplomb. The Mighty Max/D-50 might be a decent truck, but nothing can beat the Toyota’s sterling reputation for durability and reliability. Thus, it is my pick.

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