50 Years of Hilux: The Hilux Story

Known for its ability to handle all kinds of tough terrain – including the North Pole, South Pole and the Dakar Rally – Hilux has been the go-to vehicle if you’re in the market for a powerful workhorse.

Its indestructible reputation has been built over seven generations of constant development and testing in the harshest of topographies. From navigating treacherous icy ridges to entering an active volcano – the boundaries of impossibility keep on being pushed. 

To understand the full legend though, we first need to delve back to where it all began…

The beginning

Born in 1968 at Hino Motors, the original designs were based on the functionality of a car, but this was quickly phased out in order to target those in the commercial sector: people who were after a reliable, durable and comfortable form of transport.

Life started with a four-cylinder 1.5-litre R-series petrol engine with a top speed of 81mph. This was later upgraded to include a gutsier 1.6-litre engine. As the demand for more power and versatility grew, the first four-wheel drive model was introduced in 1979. This allowed people to travel off the beaten track for non-paved adventures over rocky mountains, muddy tracks and everything in-between.

Over time the Hilux (a combination of ‘high’ and ‘luxury’) continued to adapt to meet the demands of modern-day jobs; despite being developed as a commercial vehicle, it began to develop into a popular day-to-day car for families. In 1983 Toyota reassessed its range, offering double-cab body configurations for families that wanted all the comfort of a modern car with the ability to match a conventional off-roader. 

Its large size meant that it could accommodate most things from tools of the trade to the domestic trappings of family outings. This led to more versatile sporty models with increased recreational specifications together with a taller cabin and improved sound insulation being released, bridging the gap between commercial and family vehicles.

Top Gear Tests

It wasn’t long before the Hilux garnered a reputation as the all-conquering vehicle, which led to Top Gear – a British TV motor vehicle television show putting these qualities to the test in the most extraordinary way. Their aim was to ‘kill’ an ’88 Hilux that already had 190,000 miles on the clock. 

It was subjected to all manner of car torture: from washing it out to sea, hitting it with a wrecking ball, to dropping a caravan on top of it and setting it alight. Despite suffering heavy damage, it could still be driven away after a short repair with basic tools.

Top Gear didn’t stop there. In 2007 they put a modern 2005 unit to the ultimate test by driving it to the North Magnetic Pole, making it the first motor vehicle to do so. The vehicle was only slightly modified with larger wheels and thicker tyres and a sump guard, as well as a few other minor additions. 

From here, it was only a natural progression from ice to fire as presenter James May took his Hilux into the mouth of an active volcano in Iceland to retrieve lava samples. This further enhanced Hilux’s reputation of invincibility throughout the generations. 

Extreme Terrain

In 2008 Arctic Trucks – an Icelandic company that specialise in modifying vehicles for rough environments – modified four Toyota Hilux vehicles to use as support for the Amundsen Omega 3 Pole Race to the South Pole. 

The four trucks were equipped with modern technology that used the heat from the engine to melt the snow to ensure they could function in freezing temperatures (as low as -30°C). Driving on unforgiving terrain with icy ridges, deep snow and hidden crevasses suited the Hilux more than traditional enclosed-cab snowcat vehicles that are typically made for moving snow. The Hilux proved to be faster, more fuel-efficient and produced lower carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Hilux is constantly tested in some of the world’s most extreme environments and there are few more challenging environments than The Dakar Rally. Known as one of the toughest off-road endurance races, vehicles are required to cross dunes, rocky canyons and thick mud in severe heat.

In 2014 only 204 vehicles finished out of 450. The epic 9,500-kilometre journey through Argentina and Chile included 5,000km of racing over 13 sections. Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished fourth overall and first in the T1.1 class for petrol-powered 4x4 improved cross-country vehicles. With Hilux occupying six of the top 30 spots. 

So there you have it: the all-conquering Toyota Hilux has travelled the world, conquered pretty much everything in its path and seven generations later has redefined the way we travel. Built to survive intense heat, freezing cold and even the attentions of a wrecking ball, it has proved to be far more than just an everyday vehicle and has plenty more generations left in the tank.

Hilux AT35 Arctic Trucks

The Toyota Hilux has been the go-to vehicle for handling all kinds of tough terrain - from the Dakar Rally to the North and South Pole - for the past 50 years of production. This momentous half century milestone coincided perfectly with the debut of the Hilux AT35, the latest interpretation of this trusty workhorse. 

The AT35 builds on the fine engineering principles Toyota and Arctic Trucks have developed to produce extreme expedition vehicles. It has become first choice for scientists, explorers and adventurers who need a specialist vehicle they can rely on to not only get them to their destination, but also to bring them back. Among the accolades the Toyota and Arctic Trucks team can reassure these intrepid explorers with are a number of world records and multiple world firsts, alongside widespread recognition for supporting BBC Top Gear’s epic expedition to the Magnetic North Pole.


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