The rise of 1984–89 Toyota 4Runners can’t be ignored

The first-generation Toyota 4Runner was one sneaky little ute. Built in Tahara, Japan, legend has it that it was simply a light truck disguised as a passenger vehicle so Toyota could avoid the infamous “Chicken Tax,” a 25-percent tariff that President Lyndon Johnson imposed in response to French and West German tariffs on U.S. chicken in 1964.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/09/05/rise-of-1984-89-toyota-4runners

Excellent trucks. The holy grail for the US market being the '86 turbocharged models. If I were looking at an imoprted one ( The Hilux Surf) I think I would seek out a turbo-diesel. While the 3.0 V6 is the black sheep of the family, with proper maintenance there is no wrong choice.

I had the 1984 new style Toyota pickup. First car I bought brand new. Solid front axle. I had that thing clean as an operating table. I remember getting a call from a service company asking when the truck was wrecked. I was so clean they thought the front end had been replaced. Everyone version of this model I saw rusted above the bulge in the rear fenders. The seat cracked real early too,

I have an '89 with the V/6 5 speed manual trans combo. She has 235,000 rounds on her and has never missed a beat. The most impressive feature is that it is still cruising with the original clutch. It is a little rusty and lumpy but I still love driving her. This thing is the gold standard when it comes to reliability. Now all I and my family drive is Toyota or Lexus vehicles. None of us know what the inside of the respective service departments look like.

My '89 SR5 4Runner is still one of my favorite vehicles ever owned. I remember waiting while my dealer (a nearby competitor to Jack Safro) scoured computer inventory lists across the country. It was late '89, and I’d been saving to trade in my '87 SR5 pickup on a new 1990 4Runner, when I learned that the 1990’s were completely different. Smoothed over minor details, but most important, a solid roof body that was as boring as an oversized GMC Jimmy. I raced up to my Toyota guy in Milwaukee to get a leftover '89 SR5 V6 ordered & located in the dark gray metallic and every option I could think of because that was the last year. I ended up with a silver one, but I was thrilled they got me one from a dealer about 8 hours away. Despite the eventual problems many had with the 3.0 V6, I was lucky, and never had problems with anything but the eventual “Toyota Tinworms”. I kept it almost 10 years, and despite the wasted dollars on the Rusty Jones rustproofing that had been done to the vehicle at the original lot, the rear fender rust mentioned above bubbled out, along with that, the doors rusted out at the bottom, and the tailgate was the worst. If considering one of these vehicles, you’ll want to take a powerful penlight and really check down the rear glass opening to see if the entire lifting mechanism is rusted, including the side tracks. One day when I was lowering the rear window from the center console switch, I heard a noise, and saw in the mirror that the glass was cocked a little. Pulling over, I tried to raise it. It went up an inch and then dropped like a rock, down into the tailgate, not to return until days later when I opened up the tailgate to raise it by hand and block it up with two wooden sticks. You can’t open the tailgate with the window up, so it stopped being a winter vehicle :frowning: I traded it in, not receiving squat for the trade, nor deserving too.

Nice! That 5 speed was a smooth as the one in my '76 Celica, best manual transmission feel of any truck I ever owned. Long throw on the shifter, but always slid through the gates like silk to where shifts were as quick as most sports cars.

Bought a new 2wd SR5 pickup in 1983 at the Toyota dealer in Greenville NC, which was part of the Southeast Toyota distributorship as I recall. The place was a hotbed of activity and they had a separate building onsite in which they were customizing new vehicles, including converting longbed pickups into what looked like 4Runners.

I bought my red 86 SR5 with 120k miles in 1994 from Circle Olds in NW IN. It was a trade-in that was heading to auction. I saw it back on their large lot and asked what they wanted. After them digging around and finding the lot manager, they said they would take $2200 “today only”. I asked to test drive it and it would not start. They jumped it and it ran but died and would not start again. I offered $2k due to dead battery and they took it. I charge the battery and it was good for years after! I drove my runner through college and moved to CO with it driving it for 10 more years. I did a little of this and that to improve power over the years (Downey Off-road CAI, Magnaflow exhaust, a few tuneups) as the 4 banger just sucked in CO mountains. When I put 31 BFG’s on, it really was terrible in the mountains! The best upgrade I did was changing the clutch and going to a V6 flywheel…TRD called it a torquer flywheel or something and it helped more then any other engine performance mod.

I ran the hell out of my 4Runner until I could afford something newer and nicer. The Runner sat in my back yard for a few years sitting and rusting. The truck had seen road salt so the rear frame rails were almost completely rotted out. Not wanting to fix the frame, I sold her off to a guy with a dream. I got $1500 in running, driving condition. Sold like I sold her a little short!

I really think we’re seeing a “changing of the guard” in collector vehicles. The imports are coming. The younger generation of collectors relates to imports in a way my generation can’t. But that’s what they grew up with and they fondly remember from their childhoods and teenage hoods. They’ve never known a '55 Chevrolet as anything more than the car grandpa has in his garage. They can’t relate to that. And, frankly, the Japanese quality was excellent even back in the 80s and 90s. American cars were not so quality-based.

I recently saw an auction for a 1970 Datsun 240 Z. And I was shocked! I had no idea they were so valuable now. It brought way more than a comparable '70 Corvette would have. Another example would be for an auction I saw for a 1975 Honda Civic CVCC Hatchback. It was a nice little car and had about 60k original miles but it sold for close to $10,000. I knew right then the times, they are a changing.

To the author: It’s Hilux, not Helix.


how can a 4 runner ever be more exciting than Jeep CJ/ Wrangler the Cj6 about matches this wheelbase. Toyota only came with a 4 cylinder and a master cylinder costs $125, alternator was $300 just for the part back in early 90’s.

Jeep offers V8, V6 or 4 cylinder, all kinds of inexpensive aftermarket add-ons, with chevy 350 conversions being very common. and its MADE IN USA…MAGA


I bought my metallic blue 89 SR5 with a V6 new. It now has 205,000 miles. It has been a great truck and actually it is a great driver. I have a 78 Fiat Spyder, a 2017 BRZ and a 2005 Audi A4 station wagon. All have manuals and all are great to drive, but for a fairly high and narrow truck, the 4Runnner is great and will go anywhere I am willing to go. I love it. I thought about selling it but then figured out how to fit 4 cars in my oversized 2 car garage. So now I no longer need to find a winter space for one of them. The 30 year old truck is dependable and living with over 200 inches of snow, in Colorado, it is the one I go to in any kind of weather. It has had some issues. I had the cylinder head rebuilt and the cruise control has not worked for years. I also replaced the two front fenders and part of a rear fender, around the wheel well for rust. Now folks ask if it is new. Does anyone know about an after market cruise control system that fits the V6s? Toyota has not made parts for the cruise control for years.

I have owned four 4 Runners .
‘98 ( stolen)
‘99 - sold for $7k with 500,117 km !!!
All options still worked and no rust. Mind you I dripless oil spray every year.
2011- put 240 k on it and was approached by the dealer for a “no brainer “ deal for a 2014.
Every one of these was absolutely trouble free throughout the time I had them. Just change the oil and filters, do brakes every 120 k or so and tires.

In winter, they were often the only 4X4 that got to the remote locations we had to service.

Though the essentially similar 90HP or so 2.2L 20R was a great engine for the 5 speed Celicas of the middle/late 70’s The 4Runner was simply too heavy for the later 2.4L 22RE 4cyl. I don’t remember what the torque numbers were on the V6, but IMHO, the V6 was the very least that should have been offered.

Did you even read the article? There was a V6 option. Jeeps are great, the original 4Runner was great, also. (Is there a 350 GM option for the crappy FIAT-based Jeeps, too?) Please note there’s a lot of various sized and designed vehicles with the Jeep name on 'em, so it’s hard to compare the 4R to all of them. Mine was solid, classy and never let me down, kind of a downsized Wagoneer with a partially removable top.

My dad purchased one of the early delivery 84 4Runners. It came to the US with NO backseat. Somethnig to do with Toyota already sending their allotment of passenger cars to the US. So the early 4Runners were sent as trucks, without a back seat. The dealership had a local company fabricate and install a back seat. It was pretty basic, and the vinyl didn’t match the front seat vinyl, but, hey, it was now a 4Runner. I later bought this from my dad and ended up selling it years later so I could put a down payment on a house. It was off-road capable, and then some, but you should never try to pass other cars on a 2 way highway (just not enough power to get up to speed).

Just two things: Keep politics off this site, and I think the prices are absurd.

The 3.0 V6 initially had a head gasket issue which got resolved. It also has solid lifters and, at some point, the valves need adjusting by someone who knows what they’re doing. I bought a clean 5 speed '94 with the 3.0 that had a burnt valve (cheap) and had the engine rebuilt - blueprinted, ported and balanced. 'Quite sure it runs better (and smoother) than new.
The four-bangers are bullet-proof, but not enough power for the truck.

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Mine is currently for sale at BAT. Please feel free to bid! It’s the first of the first generation. I’ve spent years making it amazing because it started out super clean.