Yeoman of the Guard

The Toyota Hilux: Never knowingly underestimated.

Image: carsguide

Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not transform a humble pick up into a battle wagon?

Others follow but the ubiquitous choice is Toyota’s Hilux due to ease of maintenance, speed of conversion, dependability and sheer numbers available. A light truck swamped with soldiers festooned with bandoliers or anti-tank missiles can glide over dunes or wadi’s with ease whereas that average MBT remains out of action, miles away. 

One instance of Hilux mass involvement entitled by Time magazine was the Great Toyota War. The Aouzou strip of desert in Chad (some 44,000 square miles) was invaded by Libyan forces in 1978. Over the next nine years fractured skirmishes took place until 1987 when inspired moves by Chadian forces finalised hostilities. A former French colony, Chad’s army had no means of transportation until the French Air Force supplied around 400 Hiluxes with a handful of Land Cruisers thrown in for good measure. 


Using a combination of diversionary tactics, fast paced raids, alongside a better understanding of the terrain, the Chad-clad Hiluxes took a decisive victory in the Battle of Fada on 16th December 1986. Along the way, some poor soul somehow established by driving at over 100Km/h, the Toyota would not trigger land mines regardless of payload. Un-armoured, the rugged, square box chassis could out manoeuvre their cumbersome quarry – Chadian Hilux losses were few.

Fada became the first recorded battle consigning the use of light trucks in such fields of warfare. Nicknamed Battlewagons, military assessors soon coined the phrase Technicals although arguments continue concerning the exact definition; they are said to equate to the use of vehicles (or other equipment) not procured by the known military.

Another significant factor in the armoury of the Technical/ Battlewagon being the Hilux engine. Toyota’s 22R was destined never to be a speed demon (around 100bhp) but produced generous torque (130) whilst surviving extended abuse. No oil? No problem. Spares and fuel? Next village – however distant. No complicated manuals or highly-skilled technicians required here.

Ubiquitous as the Technical had become, early 21st century US Special Forces took inspiration, shopping for the slightly larger Tacoma trucks in North Carolina and Kentucky for their own brand of modification. Roll cages, winches and brush guards were not only quick and easy to install but lightweight and useful. More subtle refinements removed most lights (in lieu of infrared if any at all) along with door and seat belt warnings. Nothing like giving away your position in the dead of night because of operating DRLs.

Image: carsguide/ wheelsage

Which in turn leads us into a position more peaceful, bucolic even, yet calorific. For the Hilux (a misnomer until the fifth generation) has grown corpulent in its octavalent offering. Chief Engineer Hiroki Nakajima chose to “destroy and create” in regards to the differences between the seventh and eighth, beefing up the ladder chassis, making it “tougher than you can imagine.”

He also focussed on refining the Diesel engine, making the ride and looks more car-like whilst acknowledging the vehicle is more a work partner than simply a tool of the trade. Nakajima-san openly admits to purposefully pursuing an SUV aping ride regardless of payload. 

Introduced in 2015, manufactured in Thailand (and available in Japan subsequently following a thirteen year hiatus) compare and contrast these dimensions:

4th Generation Regular Cab – wheelbase 2,616mm, 4,435mm length. Long cab – wheelbase 3,086mm, 4,729mm length.
With weight around 1,270Kgs.

8th Generation wheelbase standardised at 3,085mm. Single Cab length extends from 5,075 through 5,270mm with crew cab 5,345mm. Weights vary upwards from 1,955 to 2,100Kgs. 

UK base specification Active starts at £28,000. For that outlay, your Hilux proffers 17” black steel wheels, pre-collision systems, manual air-con and just just the one engine – a 2.4 litre diesel and 150bhp with AWD. One can shell out £700 for a spray of Scorched Orange or Nebula Blue but the standard flat white comes FOC. 

Heading into the M25 battlefield populated with suitably modern varmints, best to be seated in the leather echelons of the Invincible X family. The wheels remain black but have become alloy. The chattering classes annoying you? Turn up the JBL Premium Sound System or perhaps tap the sat-nav to ascertain a suitable hillock to tarry upon. Tick the Titan Bronze box for a distinctly military khaki hue but pockets deep you must possess.

Cash? Fitted with the 2.8 diesel, 204bhp automatic AWD you’re looking at over £40,000, more for larger cabs or payload area. Those preferring the monthly payment route along with limited mileage and final balloon remittance means £300 over three and half years. Tailored with all the warranty you could ever need, Hilux can, akin to famous rival LandRover, sit happily in the builders merchants yard, muddy farm track or pristinely placed in the office car park or supermarket.

Toyota Hilux. Image:

Whilst builders, warlords and yeomen farmers grow old, Hilux in the UK has become a recreational, inasmuch still wholly professional vehicle as it circles middle age. Loaded with family, friends, alongside bikes, camping gear but more likely plain fresh air, one can perambulate ones estate in car like comfort, loftily perched with reach/rake steering for added kudos. And as human joints struggle with every passing day, in and egress in the Hilux will be far easier than a retirement promised Lamborghini; dignity in the shape of “keen look” design language with no hint of sciatica. 

Mirroring its size, global Hilux sales, if anything, appear to be increasing – the fanfare continues at respectable volume.

 A ‘banned’ advert from Australia 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

10 thoughts on “Yeoman of the Guard”

  1. Good morning Andrew. You highlight a role for the Hilux* that I suspect Toyota would prefer to remain unacknowledged, but you’re right, they are always a fixture in TV news coverage of desperate conflict zones around the world. Does their increasing sophistication make them more difficult to keep going with only rudimentary tools to hand in a war zone, I wonder?

    I’m sure Toyota hugely appreciated that segment in Top Gear a few years ago when Clarkson and co. subjected an old Hilux to all manner of violent destruction and it still kept going. You couldn’t buy any better publicity. I’m sure there used to be a joke doing the rounds that cockroaches and Hiluxes would be the only survivors of a nuclear winter.

    * Am I imagining it, or was the name originally hyphenated? (Hi-Lux)

  2. I remember an episode of TopGear where Jeremy Clarkson tried in vain to kill a Toyota Hilux.
    I don’t know what all was staged in that episode, but it was quite fun and pretty good advertising for the Hilux.

  3. Thanks Andrew for this highly insightful article and, as rightly mentioned by Daniel, I’m pretty sure Toyota would rather have the badges removed when in use by warlords and likeminded… This must be one of the most political cars of all time? Or perhaps not, as it can be bought and operated by anyone and everyone?
    Had the pleasure of renting one in Thailand, must’ve been around 2005. I vividly remember when exiting (right-hand drive!) the porch of the hotel yard, immediately being caught up in roundabouts a billion mopeds on the streets of Chiang Mai. Quickly learnt that size does indeed matter. Sometimes…
    While driving the sandy backroads further up north you could notice the lack of weight on the rear axle made it a bit bouncy, but otherwise the Hilux was a very satisfactory car.

  4. I believe early incarnations had the hyphen, Daniel.

    I was also deliberately avoiding the TG references, but only to see who would mention them first! Most of that show seemed staged but the everlasting Hilux episodes certainly made an impression on me. Still haven’t driven one, mind.

    Here’s “Gilbert” my neighbours Hilux that will probably look exactly the same in ten years. That’s his name for this creature. Whether or not he was inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan’s tune is unknown but that music inspired the title, certainly.

    And Joost, you paint an inelegant picture there of just how large a beast these things are when swarmed by ant-like mopeds. One imagines that was quite a terrifying journey but sounds like that once rid of the ants, you had a nicer time sat High up in Luxury, thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Andrew, just to make sure we’re not running into misunderstandings here, it was rather that the rules of the road seemed to be aligned with the actual size of the vehicle. Once that’s understood it was pretty easy to navigate without fear, and without harm to others for sure…

  5. May I point out that the ‘technicals’ in the first two pictures are 75 series Land Cruisers? The period Hilux was a very different vehicle.

    1. Agreed Roberto, but finding a usable image that wasn’t so-called IS-related wasn’t possible with the time available. Apologies.

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