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The Carchive: The Daihatsu HiJet

Chris Haining October 10, 2016 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 7 Comments

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We’ve kicked the tyres and lit the fires. The F110s of discovery are in full reheat and the wings are swept on the Tomcat of time. Let’s buzz the control tower of the past and see what we can shake loose. On Friday the pattern was full so this is a Carchive, Monday Edition.

Last time we took a look at one of the more upscale offerings of Ford’s Antipodean arm, the Ford Fairlane and spent a little time debating whether it most reminded us of a Crown Victoria or a Taurus, and we also mourned the passing of the Falcon. Today we’re looking at something rather smaller, and taller. It’s mid engined and has sixteen valves and isn’t a Lotus Elise. It’s the Daihatsu Hijet.

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“What does your business need from a small van? Economy? Reliability? Manoeuvrability? Load space? With the Hijet from Daihatsu you get the lot”

Aye. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better for those in the market for a van that can’t carry as much stuff as a bigger van. The Daihatsu Hijet was one of the influx of small Japanese vans that swept Europe from the late seventies, providing small businesses with conveniently sized beasts of burden which could penetrate those hidden urban back passages that full-size vans are denied entry to.

I’ve always had a soft-spot for diminutive little wagons like the Hijet, the Suzuki Carry and the Honda Acty. They’re kind of cute.

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“The highly efficient 1.3-litre 16 valve engine provides surprisingly lively performance”

There were 64 horses to summon forth as well as 73 lumps of torque. That’s more torque than I make, for sure. It was certainly a willing little mule and became the driving force of many a business. As you might imagine, though, it was a little out of its depth when the roads grew wide and open, rather preferring city or local rural life.

You could get it in panel van, chassis-cab pick-up and multi-seater versions, all making the very most of those diddy dimensions. In 2003 it was replaced for the European market by the front-engined Extol which shared its power plant with the Toyota Yaris.

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“Looking for truly affordable transport for the whole family, and all their bits and pieces? Not easy, until you take a look at the highly versatile and extremely economical Hijet MPV from Daihatsu”

Yes, for a while in the ’90s the Hijet was genuinely marketed as a mini-MPV, a kind of shrunk-in-the-wash Renault Espace. Somehow the concept seems rather easier to swallow in the ’90s than it would as a proposition today – can you imagine a family passing on a used Honda C-RV in favour of the smallest van in the world with six seats stuffed in? Well, it was the “cheapest 6-seater on the market”… yet it didn’t really make much of an impact on the family bus battlefield.

Mind you, it was also available in a four-wheel drive version which actually did have a moderate mud-crawling capability. Suddenly the little Hijet seems a whole lot more appealing.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Daihatsu, who decided they didn’t need UK and European customers and washed their hands of us a few years back. Probably wise.)

  • GTXcellent

    These little Hijets are actually pretty popular around here for ice fishing – with a set of Mattracks thrown on.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    Think of it as a bonsai truck. I would say that in general Kei trucks are a pretty efficient way to move stuff, except for the crew cab version which seems more cute than practical.

    • Rover 1

      If you owned a forest?

      Of bonsai trees

      • SlowJoeCrow

        Years ago when my wife was into miniature roses, I told her we should get a Mini Pickup truck to haul them

  • crank_case

    My Dad had an early 80s hijet, similar to the one pictured sometime in the late 90s, but a panel van version. Still have a soft spot for Kei Vans like these as it was the second “car” I ever drove, off road, before getting my license. 850cc and was good for 60mph really, comfortable cruising speed closer to 50mph. An extra 10mph could be eeked out on the flat by pulling out the choke and over-fuelling it (maybe it was running lean, who knows?). It’s not intended for the open roads, but brilliant in the city, with a turning circle that makes a smart look unwieldy. The downside of tight turning circle + high centre of gravity is cornering needs to be taken with care if you don’t want to tip over! Once you keep that in mind though it’s great.

    • fede

  • Vairship

    And it’s popular with the ladies!

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