If you were a young man in the mid-1980s, you wanted a 4x4 Toyota SR5 pickup truck. By any name, these trucks embodied the virtues of the mid-1980s — they were stylish, a little bit boastful and a lot of fun. It’s no coincidence that young Marty McFly dreamed of owning a tricked-out Toyota SR5 in “Back to the Future.” McFly represented the Everyman of the era.

Affordable and functional

Japanese automakers sold mini trucks in America since Datsun brought the first models over in 1959. Toyota followed in 1964 with a small truck called the Stout. The Stout was derided as ugly in its day, but time has been kind, and today it looks pleasantly retro. Toyota gave the Stout a 1.9-liter engine that made a respectable 85 horsepower. Toyota trucks really took off during the first energy crisis of 1973. Suddenly a V8 or a big straight 6 didn’t seem like such a good idea — unless you really needed full-size carrying capacity. Plus, you could buy a little Japanese truck for pocket change. American dads and small businesses bought mini trucks in large numbers. Unsurprisingly, the next generation of American boys (including this writer) learned to drive in those trucks. They were cheap and, to be honest, expendable vehicles. And let there be no doubt — we expended a few. Still, these are very sturdy — and reliable — little trucks. With care, they last for hundreds of thousands of miles — as long as you keep the rust demon at bay. By the late 1970s, you could get your mini truck with 4-wheel drive, alloy wheels and an attractive sticker package. Automatic transmissions also became available, such as they were. Small trucks were set to move beyond the status of a cheap working vehicle and become a lifestyle ride.

Enter the SR5

The third generation of the Toyota pickup arrived in 1978, with attractive bodywork and a 2.2-liter engine that made 90 horsepower. Technically, SR5 was a trim level, but it was so popular, it might as well have been the model name. The SR5 trim included luxury features such as power steering, power brakes, an AM/FM radio and optional air conditioning. Four-wheel-drive and a 3-speed automatic transmission were optional equipment. If you chose 4WD, you got a traditional dual-range transfer case, and locking hubs on the front wheels. The aftermarket loved these trucks, producing lift kits, suspension upgrades, rollover bars, tube bumpers and even transfer-case upgrades. Oversize tires were a popular modification, although the increase in final drive ratio made acceleration a fond memory. That hardly mattered, though, because no one else was going much faster. The first generation of the SR5 held on until 1983. By the end of production, you could get your Toyota with a carbureted 2.4-liter 22R engine rated at 97 horsepower. Toyota redesigned its truck for 1984–88, and the new model was even more popular — even though it was less beautiful on the outside. You could get the new SR5 with an Xtracab, which gave the truck six more inches inside and allowed taller people to drive in comfort. Buyers could also choose an upgraded fuel-injected engine with a dizzying 105 horsepower. That was McFly’s truck.

Act now

SCM’s Platinum Auction Database has kept an eye on SR5 prices for a few years now. As far back as October 2016, we documented auction sales of clean SR5 trucks of this era in the $20,000–$30,000 range (SCM# 226774). Since then, some auction sales have hit $55,000 (SCM# 6883512). Those are high-water marks, but they’re becoming less unusual all the time. For example, at the Mecum Las Vegas auction on October 10, 2019, four Toyota pickups from 1980 to ’93 crossed the block on high bids of $14,300, $22,000, $27,500 and $28,000. Only the lowest of those bids (SCM# 6918737) resulted in a sale. A week earlier, five more Toyotas from 1983 to 1987 went up for sale at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas Auction, and all were sold at prices ranging from $7,150 (SCM# 6917435) to $28,050 (SCM# 6917437). Earlier sales throughout 2019 show the same range of bids. Most trucks are moving in the $10,000–$20,000 range, with prices peaking above that for top examples.

A representative SR5

Let’s look at one of those Barrett-Jackson sales. This well-modified 1983 SR5 sold for $25,300 (SCM# 6917436). That’s typical money for a truck like this, as it’s well kept, with period-appropriate aftermarket equipment. Everything about this truck is clean and desirable, and for once it’s not painted in that god-awful beige that dominated the era. The listing acknowledged a prior collision, but the nature and extent of damage is unclear. That may be the only thing that kept this truck from leading SR5 sales this fall. The reason to buy a Toyota SR5 pickup is pure nostalgia. You could just buy a new Toyota Tacoma with all the modern conveniences. But a new truck cannot help you relive the 1980s as they should have been. As Doc Brown wisely said, “If you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” ♦

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