This JDM Toyota Off-Roader Is Worth Buying For the Stripes Alone

This Japanese-market version of the 4Runner is in exceptional shape.

Please turn your attention to the side-graphics on this ’80s Toyota truck. Take note of the crisp, smooth progression of maroon, red and orange stripes. See how they bend, confident and resolutely from rear to front. Underneath is a badge indicating that this Toyota is turbocharged, but this does not signal a speedy intent. No — this graphics package suggests to your fellow motorists an unwavering spirit and steady, undeterred motion, no matter the obstacle. It is fitting because it adorns the side of one of the most relentlessly rugged trucks ever made. And you can own it.

This is a 1988 Hilux Surf, an SUV based on the venerable Hilux, a truck that’s earned its reputation for being nigh-indestructible (as that old Top Gear segment attests). Toyota nuts would probably recognize a similarity to the first-generation 4Runner and, in fact, they’re essentially the same machine, though the 4Runner didn’t come with the torquey turbodiesel that’s an option in this Surf. And that low-end torque is what you want when you’re traversing rocky and muddy terrain, which is what you should buy this vehicle for.

The diesel engine is paired with a five-speed transmission as well as a two-speed transfer case. Part of what makes this generation of Hilux/4Runner so great though is the two-door body style, removable fiberglass top; take it off, and the entire back half of the track opens up, making it look, essentially, like the pickup it was based on. Your rear seat passengers are entirely exposed to the elements as if they’re sitting in the bed of a pickup truck, and will never have petty arguments about who called “shotgun” first ever again.

As other enthusiasts are clamoring for two-door SUVs of this vintage like the Defender and the G-Wagen, the Hilux Surf is an interesting and more affordable alternative (as of this writing, the price sits at just $5,000). Its renowned build quality also makes it a less-intimidating proposition (this particular one pictured above has just over 100,000 miles on the odometer and is just getting started). And of course, there’s an ineffable, quirky charm to a JDM-market version of an open-top off-roader. Besides, whatever this truck eventually sells for, it’s worth it for those stripes alone, right?

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