Of all the custom vehicles that Toyota took to SEMA last year, the one that seemed to resonate most was a low-key beige Tacoma with a graphics package straight off an 80’s era Toyota Truck. It had simple wheels and tires and yellow smiley shrouded KC running lights mounted on a tubular rollover bar. What it lacked in technology and tricks, it more than made up for in character.
Toyota officially calls it the Tacoma Truck Concept but it’s more often referred to as the BTTF Truck, short for “Back to the Future,” because it recalls the classic 1985 Toyota pickup that Marty McFly drove away at the end of that movie.
Of course, the small trucks that Toyota sold in the 1980s are legendary. That was when small really meant small — not midsize — and onboard electronics were the Mattel handheld football game you left on the passenger seat.
Toyota still lives off the goodwill its Reagan-era compact pickups generated. The 1984-88 Toyota Truck and its famed 2.4-liter four-cylinder 22R and 22RE engines have virtually untarnished reputations for reliability and durability, at an inexpensive price.
And it didn’t take much to turn Toyota Trucks into lookers. By adding aftermarket wheels and a light bar, it was quickly turned into something distinctly American. Many young guys who saw “Back to the Future” walked out wanting exactly that for themselves.
Which brings us back to the BTTF Truck. While today’s Tacoma may be almost as big as a first-generation Tundra, it’s the direct descendant of Marty McFly’s pickup. In tribute, Toyota created this one-of-a-kind 4x4x4: four-wheel drive with a four-speed automatic transmission and four-cylinder engine. The closest you can come to this configuration from the factory now is a two-wheel drive PreRunner.
We spent some time with the BTTF at Southern California’s Johnson Valley OHV park, where the ultra extreme King of the Hammers cross-country/rock crawl race is held. It’s a near-perfect place to bring Toyota’s retro truck but, for now, the BTTF remains a very light-duty pickup. Its fabrication came together so quickly last year that Toyota didn’t have time to finish up the last few tweaks required to complete the bullet-proof capabilities it needs to match its looks. It’ll run, but only on dirt trails and flat fire roads.
The ultimate nod back to the Toyota Truck is the BTTF’s solid front axle that replaces the Tacoma’s stock independent front suspension. Hardcore rock crawlers and trail junkies instantly recognize the credibility of an SFA because it provides better wheel travel off-road over obstacles than IFS does. It’s simple, functional and practical, like the rear live-axle setup and leaf springs that continue today on almost every pickup sold in the U.S.
The project team responsible for building the BTTF truck cribbed the front axle from a 1990-97 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80, along with much of the rest of the front running gear plus the rear axle (though it uses leaf springs, not the FJ80's multilink setup). This widened its track a bit too.
Exterior components — in addition to the paint, wheels and lights — include a custom grille and strictly business tubular front and rear bumpers.
The BTTF’s inside is retro too. The brown and tan interior features seats with genuine 20-year-old Recaro cloth inserts. The surplus patterns were found in the corner of a Toyota warehouse. There’s also a floor-mounted manual transfer case (also drawn from a Land Cruiser) lever next to the transmission shifter to switch the truck from two-wheel drive to 4-high or 4-low, instead of a modern dash-mounted electric t-case knob.
As much as we want to put the Tacoma Truck Concept through its paces off-road, we wonder: would Toyota actually produce such a truck?
Ford’s gained a lot of recognition lately for creating the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor high-speed desert runner. It features a special purpose-built long-travel suspension that was developed by Fox Racing Shocks. With Toyota’s Tundra struggling to compete in full-size trucks, why not focus the product spotlight on the Tacoma, which dominates sales in the U.S. midsize segment, and create their own off-road halo truck?
Toyota has plans to continue developing the Tacoma but for now they don’t include building a production BTTF.
As cool as it is, there are a couple of things that make building a SFA Tacoma more daunting than the Raptor. Swapping out the IFS for a SFA would almost surely drive weight up while degrading on-road ride and handling. A big reason IFS has taken over the market in most pickups is because it drives better and the setup reduces weight and helps contribute towards better gas mileage – something that’s much more on the minds of truck shoppers than pure off-road capability. We also think the Tacoma’s 159 horsepower 2.7-liter 2TRFE four-cylinder engine is also a little outmatched by the truck’s 3,700 pound curb weight.
Perhaps Toyota could realize the BTTF truck in a future iteration of the Tacoma, by creating an architecture that’s modular enough to accommodate either an IFS or SFA setup. Maybe we’d also see the creation of a more powerful and efficient direct injection four cylinder motor to propel the truck, and maybe its footprint might finally start to shrink a bit instead of growing from generation to generation.
In the meantime, we’ll dream — not just about Marty McFly’s truck, but also about the Tacoma concept we can’t have either. Back to the future, indeed.
Toyota Tacoma Truck Concept Features:
– Cream Pearl Exterior with retro stripes by Focus on Cars
– Brown interior with Recaro fabric by Fast Ed’s Interiors
– Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80 drivetrain conversion: solid front axle, transfer case, rear axle
– Custom tubular bumpers, roll bar
– Custom front grill by Focus on Cars
– Grant’s Kustoms Rear Roll Pan
– KC Daylighter 6” Off Road lights
– Bushwacker Fender Pocket Style Fender Flares
– American Racing AR-23 wheels
– BF Goodrich All Terrain KO tires