1990 Hilux Surf Could Be 4Runner Fan’s Ultimate Find
YotaTech gets the exclusive backstory of unique Japanese equivalent of the iconic off-road SUV just before it hits the online classifieds.
Often confused with the U.S. Toyota 4Runner, the 1990 Toyota Surf (yes, Surf) pictured here is essentially the Japanese equivalent of the iconic off-road SUV. However, the Surf comes with a 2.4L diesel engine mated to a 5-speed transmission and yes, it is legal to own and drive this particular SUV in the United States.
The SUV has just 82k miles on the odometer and is currently for sale by Mike Skeen of Charlotte, North Carolina, who initially bought it via an online auction. Although it looks like a regular ol’ 4Runner, the right-hand drive steering wheel and diesel engine usually get people’s attention.
“It does get confused as a 4Runner fairly often,” Skeen says. “Lots of people ask if it is a mail truck. Of course, there are a lot of people that don’t look twice at an old grey SUV, so it actually doesn’t stand out a lot on the road. But you get some double takes at stop lights, and kids will look at you with confused looks. It usually starts a conversation when people see me pumping diesel fuel into it and they have to ask, ‘is that thing a diesel?'”
While it may look like a 4Runner, this Hilux Surf does have some unique features, like an adjustable suspension that works via a rocker switch in the center console to adjust the stiffness of the dampers. “And it still works!” Skeen confirms. Plus, there is a little gauge cluster on the passenger side that holds an altimeter and displays roll/pitch angles during off-roading (or cornering).
Skeen kept a few tell-tale original items intact, like the still-current Japanese registration sticker on the windshield, as well as some Japanese-language instruction placards that are scattered throughout the vehicle, including instructions on how to grease the CV joints displayed on the sun visor.
Another interesting detail is the adjustable idle screw located beside the steering column. “It’s handy for warming the engine on cold days,” says Skeen.
While these are all really cool features, Skeen did have an issue with one that was not so cool.
“One feature I had to remove was a chime that went off constantly anytime you exceeded 100 kph (62 mph) due to the national speed limit in Japan,” Skeen says. “I kept the chime in case any future owners wish to have it reinstalled.”
How does a Japanese vehicle become legal to own and drive in the U.S? Since the SUV is more than 25 years old, the import and registration process is pretty straightforward. There is a special National Highway Transportation Administration rule that allows vehicles like this one to be imported without having to undergo changes for safety and emissions. Skeen says when he bought the SUV in 2015, the title transfer was fairly simple since it was already previously registered in Virginia. The only snag was going to the DMV for a VIN verification since it was a “non-standard format” vehicle. Then, one phone call later to USAA for insurance and he was ready to roll.
Skeen says overall his 1990 Toyota Hilux Surf is really just another “low-mileage example of a good Toyota truck.” He has only had to upgrade the radiator and repair the clutch slave cylinder with parts “easily acquired at a local parts store and changed in the wheel well without even jacking the truck.”
Why sell it? Skeen says the novelty has worn off a bit and he is looking for a new project. The Toyota enthusiast plans to list it on Craigslist very soon and with its diesel engine and great shape, we don’t expect it to be for sale very long.