Rice Burner to Savage Beast: History of the Toyota HiLux

By October 17, 2016Blog

Toyota utes have sat firmly at the apex of beloved Australian vehicles for decades now, but this wasn’t always the case. In their formative years, Japanese cars – or “rice burners” – were looked down upon by Aussie ute lovers as being far inferior to local made V8’s and V6’s.

To most, nothing could beat the brutish power of a Ford F-series or a Holden HK – especially not the funny interiors and rattly four cylinder engines that were synonymous with early Japanese utes, mainly the Toyota Crown and Stout models. But all this changed when the HiLux came along.

history of the toyota hilux

From “rice burner” to Australian classic, we take a look at the history of the Toyota HiLux and its rise to the apex of beloved Aussie vehicles.

Salad Days

The history of the Toyota HiLux spans almost eight generations, during which time it has become renowned as a beloved workhorse, a no nonsense ute that bridges the gap between a work vehicle and an everyday driver.

The HiLux has roots that extend beyond the Toyota Motor Corp, tracing back to the Japanese commercial vehicle manufacturer Hino Motors in the early 1960s.

In 1961, Hino began producing a small ute named the Briska – one of the first Japanese work vehicles celebrated outside of Japan.  The Briska’s first generation was widely lauded as a tough and versatile vehicle with many capabilities matching those of popular ‘Western’ trucks.

In 1966, the Hino Briska was renamed the Toyota Briska after a partnership was struck up between the two motor companies, but it wasn’t until 1968 that the Briska was discontinued and the very first Toyota HiLux rolled off the production line at Hino Motor’s Hamura plant in Japan.

This new model was a huge step forward for Toyota and Hino with both companies striving to produce medium-to heavy-duty commercial vehicles with the comfort of a passenger car. The US was the first export market to see the new vehicle, but there it was known as the Toyota Truck. Everywhere else it was known and HiLux – a marriage of the words ‘high’ and ‘luxury’.

The first generation of the HiLux bore the N10 chassis code and utilised a separate frame construction with a double wishbone/coil spring suspension set up at the front and rigid axle/leaf spring arrangement at the rear. It borrowed its 1.5L engine (with four-speed column-shift manual) from the Toyota Toyoace and had a 1000kg payload and a cargo bed measured that 1850mm. In other words, the very first HiLux was no lame duck.

history of the toyota hilux

Second Gen

In 1972, the second generation HiLux N20 was introduced. Aimed mainly at the US market, the new HiLux saw a number of improvements on the original, chiefly to meet the US demands for a vehicle that was a little more ‘highway ready’.

This newer version was stocked with a 2.0L four-cylinder petrol engine and came fitted with a three-speed automatic transmission, a tandem master cylinder with a master vac and load-sensing brake proportioning valves that were introduced in order to keep in line with US safety standards. However, the 2.0L version was soon dropped for a 1.6L alternative in order to meet tightening US emissions laws.

The next incarnation of the HiLux was birthed in 1978, ten years afters the vehicle’s introduction to the world. The third generation was very similar to the second until 1979 when Toyota saw the release of its first 4WD model (as well as diesel and double cab options). 1979 also saw the introduction of the classic ‘Toyota’ embossment on the car’s tailgate – then an optional feature but now a standard component of the car’s beloved aesthetic.

history of the toyota hilux


In 1983, the HiLux was reinvented once again, this time taking car’s ‘jack of all trades’ ethos up a notch. The fourth generation HiLux N40 was immediately admired for its bold new looks. Both single and double cab versions were introduced, including a new raised-bed model with three bottom-hinged sides. This brought the grand total of HiLux’s range to 20 models.

It was around this time that the demand for recreational vehicles began to really take off. Rival SUV models like the Ford Bronco and Nissan Pathfinder were being gobbled up by prospective markets.

Toyota, always with their finger on the pulse, were quick to react, removing the bulkhead cover from the back of the HiLux cab and adding a one-piece fibreglass-reinforced plastic ute canopy. They also added a bench seat in the back and softened the rear suspension. Larger engines were fitted too, including 2.4-litre turbo and 3.0-litre V6 petrol options.

The HiLux was progressing quickly and it was showing no signs of slowing down. Two decades down the track the car had become one of Toyota’s flagship models, renowned for its power, comfort and indestructibility. It wasn’t until the HiLux’s fifth generation though that the ute really began to cement itself as a true Australian classic.

history of the toyota hilux

An Aussie Classic

1988 – the year of the Australian bicentenary –  saw the launch of the brand new HiLux N50. This updated version saw many improvements on previous models; the interior became much more passenger car-like with a new dash and technological updates, and the exterior bodywork now featured integrated window sashes in the doors and a one-piece loading bay.

4WD models also now featured pumped mud guards with additional flares. 2WD models featured either 1.8-litre Y-series petrol or 2.4-litre L-series diesel engines and 4WD options featured a gutsier 2.0-litre Y-series or 2.8-litre diesel.

It wasn’t until nine years later that the next incarnation of the HiLux was introduced. This intermission allowed time for Toyota to breathe and focus on splitting the Toyota range into two clear categories – business and personal.

In Australia, four different options were made avaliable: 2.0 litre petrol, 2.7 litre petrol, 3.0-litre diesel and 3.0-litre Turbo-diesel. Two or four-wheel drive transmission and either single or double-cab body configurations were avaliable.

Toyota’s ‘personal’ HiLux models were more feature-heavy, with technological updates to suit recreational use, whereas the ‘business’ models were simpler, more rugged. All vehicles now came with independent front suspension – a first for the HiLux – which saw the ride and handling capabilities reach new heights.

history of the toyota hilux

The Modern Ute

The seventh generation HiLux was introduced in 2005. With a 4.0L V6 petrol donk producing 175kW and 376Nm of torque, it was the most powerful ute on the Aussie market (and a far cry from the Hino Motors Briska back in the 60s).

Toyota also beefed up the exteriors of the HiLux in a big way, with the wheelbase increased from 235mm to 3085mm, the front track increased from 115mm to 1510mm and the rear track increased from 100mm to 1510mm.

Safety was improved too with chassis and body stiffness improved by around 50%, as was the suspension, now running a new coil-spring double wishbone independent front suspension with ball-joint mounted stabiliser bar. All you need to do is take one look at the 2005 HiLux and you’ll see that Toyota were right on the money – it’s a beast.

history of the toyota hilux

Australia was key in the development stages of the 2005 HiLux, something that carried on into its eighth generation. Engineers spent years testing and conditioning the 2015 HiLux, and the result was another complete makeover inside and out.

The current HiLux features a stronger ladder chassis, reinforced deck structure, enhanced all-wheel drive capabilities and improved towing capacity. Inside, the ute is more comfortable than ever, with updated interiors and techy features, keeping in-line with the HiLux’s passenger car ethos. Under the hood you’ll find a high-torque turbo-diesel engine, plus it features six-speed transmission, and beefed-up suspension and brakes making it one of the most capable and versatile vehicles on the road.

The HiLux has been the best-selling 4WD in Australia for the last decade with more than 860,000 utes sold, averaging at about 20,000 every year. Who would have thought that a rickety little “rice burner” could reach such heights.

Check out our range of Toyota HiLux canopies here.

We work with our trusted European manufacturer to bring the most stylish and functional canopies to the Australian market. If you have any enquiries about our purchasing process or installation or Toyota Hilux accesories, feel free to contact us for info or a quote.