The Toyota Hilux:
"Better Than The Legend"
By Johann Kruger
The Toyota Hilux dwarfed by the sheer bulk of the Katze dam wall but undaunted by the demanding task
of helping to build it.
"The King is dead ? Long live the King!"
This cry is not often heard, but when it echoes around the world, it usually signifies some degree of
heartbreak, sometimes even putting a damper on the traditional festivities heralding a new era.
As kings and queens seem to be getting in short supply around the world (fairly nasty jobs I?ve heard,
although the perks still seem to be quite good), or whether they are simply wise enough to keep a low
profile, is difficult to tell as ? believe it or not ? even as a journalist, my contact with them has recently not
been all that frequent.
What is endearing about most legends, is that they tend to outlast even the hardiest of kings and queens,
normally leaving fonder memories, and when their time finally comes to bow out and to be superceded by
something even better, they often simply undergo a process of rejuvenation. Unlike old soldiers, they do
not just fade away but have a way of living on ? especially in the hearts and minds of those who might have
witnessed their birth and have followed their evolution.
I?m now talking about real legends ? live, dynamic ones such as the South African Toyota Hilux bakkie
legend ? born in 1984, and a decade and a half plus more than half a million locally manufactured units, just
keep going stronger by the day ... Some of them for as much as a million kilometers without major repairs,
but still unceasingly and faithfully fulfilling their roles as workhorse, second family car or exciting leisure
Assuming that each of them has already done an average of 100 000 km, their combined travels are equal
to circumnavigating the world 2,5 million times! Tried and tested? The stuff that legends are made of? The
foundation on which one could build a new legend ? or even more than a legend? One tends to feel justified
thinking along such lines.
And now the Hilux legend is about to experience a rebirth. Will this herald a new and even more illustrious
era for the vehicle that was never intended to be a ?glamour boy? in the world of motoring, but simply an
affordable, practical, economical, perhaps not always so comfortable but above all an utterly reliable
workhorse in the real sense of the word? Will the new Hilux bakkies appearing on our suburban streets,
our byways, highways, our factory premises ? and especially on our farms ? live up to the legendary
standards set by their predecessors?
No reason why not: In the past few years automotive technology in its totality has taken massive leaps,
vehicle manufacturers have learnt invaluable lessons, and real life performance in the tough and utterly
unforgiving world out there has virtually ruled out any possibility of a modern manufacturer designing and
building a vehicle that would not live up to higher standards than its predecessor.
Certainly not a company with the world standing of Toyota Japan, ably assisted by its South African
representatives whose important brief is to ensure that any Toyota built or sold in South Africa would in all
respects be equal to the harsh demands of a country such as ours with its almost unique climate,
topography and ethnic composition.
The real question is: Will it be enough to re-install the Hilux as the undisputed leader of the South African
LDV segment? If the colourful history of the outgoing model range is any yardstick, then only Toyota?s
competitors may have reason to be concerned about aspects such as market leadership, after-sales
service, warranty records, impressive reliability, longevity, and ultimate value retention when trade-in time
A Hilux fleet?s incredible success in the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme is more than sufficient proof
that this recipe worked:
Perhaps the most demanding, unforgiving and relentless test any bakkie brand ever had to endure in South
Africa, was the construction of the Lesotho Highlands project, consisting of the mammoth Katse dam and
its associated network of delivery tunnels that formed Phase One of the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme
? a scheme vital to South Africa?s future.
Taking the country?s uncertain weather conditions into account, it was imperative that the work be
completed on schedule, and that nothing should be allowed to cause undue delays ? especially not the extra
heavy duty construction machines. The contractors chose Toyota?s 1-ton bakkies as support vehicles ?
and they excelled in their role as prime support vehicles on site.
According to the contractors they not only had to transport an army of supporters and other key personnel
up and down steep gradients (the dam wall itself is 185 meters high and is situated at a high altitude where
weather changes are rapid and as harsh as one could expect of the African continent) but also heavy
replacement parts for the machinery, as well as the necessary tools.
The final verdict: The international consortium?s fleet of 105 Hilux bakkies distinguished themselves
beyond the wildest expectations. At the end of the project all but two of them were still in operation on site.
One early casualty double cab rolled, and was too badly damaged to be repaired in the mountain site panel
shop, although the chassis was undamaged. The second unit not making it right to the end, was a 4x4
double cab that was hi-jacked in Gauteng just weeks before the site cleanup ... adding insult to injury!
During their 6-year ordeal, the resident technician charged with maintenance of all vehicles at Katse
mostly had to do routine maintenance on the Hilux fleet. A few engine overhauls as well as some
transmission repairs were also necessary, but they were found to be the result of severe dust conditions
and omissions in the maintenance program. The contractors were very impressed that these repairs were
well below the norm for such situations, and they did not even log them as exceptions. It is also significant
that no differential, axle, suspension or chassis problems were experienced during the whole project.
Toyota SA, in close co-operation with the Japanese, also made sure that there was a bakkie for virtually
every buyer and every purpose in its wide model range. Although the range might lately not have looked
all that modern, Toyota went to great pains to ensure that they were continuously upgraded to offer the
best technology available as far as the mechanical aspects were concerned.
That explains not only why their monthly sales were only recently beaten by the most modern offering of a
competitor, but also why they have kept the Toyota flag flying high in official and friendly outings in the
most difficult terrain ? fine, powdery sand, deep mud, large stones and on the mountain gradients where
ordinary vehicles should really not venture.
In its different 4x4 guises the Hilux Raiders have carved a remarkable niche for themselves as ?go
anywhere? vehicles that are not only capable of taking you to your bundu destination, but also bringing you
back.Safely and without hassles. Time and time again.
No wonder that Toyota?s slogan of "Everything keeps going right" could never be seriously challenged.
As advertising slogans go, it would have been quite a job to prove the contrary.
Now the legend is about to make room for what could be fairly safely assumed to be something even
better. Toyota?s decision to refer to the Legend?s successor as ?Better Than The Legend? is a bold step,
and speaks of confidence. As a company not known for making idle boasts, the competition would be wise
to take note that something good is coming along and that the present fierce competition in this segment of
the market, is soon due to pale into insignificance.
The farmer ? of necessity being more practical and down to earth as far as his production vehicles and
other farming equipment are concerned ? will be pleased with the new vehicles? modern ?American?
looks, their smooth and powerful engines, improved drive-trains and resultant improved smoothness, their
quiet cabins, and possibly most important of all, their improved ride and handling characteristics, the latter
due to the all-new independent front suspension.
One of the most important mechanical improvements is the introduction of a long-travel independent
suspension system up front ? something that has been seen by many as long overdue. Even ardent Hilux
admirers questioned Toyota?s wisdom in delaying this step until now. However, it reminded me of the fact
that Toyota was also the last to introduce front wheel drive in their local passenger vehicle range, and had
to endure the same type of criticism. But when we drove their first front-wheel drive Corollas during the
launch in what was then still known as South West Africa, we knew that they had not just rushed into
something new, but had done their homework properly.
Some of the old-timers may recall that particular launch had its fair share of drama, all due to driver error
and atrocious roads. The vehicles themselves behaved impeccably, and one could expect the new local
Hilux range to offer a superb front suspension system now that it has become a reality.
By the way, when Toyota works out a press launch route, they seem to go for the worst conditions, such as
the Roof of Africa Route for the Stallion 1,5 liter launch some years ago with two flat tyres being the sum
total of damage to about thirty of these vehicles.
With Toyota South Africa?s proven marketing ability, supported by its well-established and loyal client
base, it should not be a problem to push sales of the new Hilux bakkie range to its accustomed heights.
Nobody expects it to be a mere walk-over in the prevailing market with its proliferation of exciting
vehicles, especially in view of the overseas parent companies? closer involvement with their local
What is apparent, is that the local motoring scene is becoming more exciting by the day and that the
Toyota Hilux Legend ? with the promise of soon becoming better than the legend ? will undoubtedly play
an important role in lifting this excitement to previously unknown levels.
Despite its metamorphosis, South Africa?s 1-ton bakkie king is still very much alive, and its numerous
progeny will continue making the Legend?s presence felt amongst us for many years to come. It is now up
to his more glamorous successor to prove itself worthy of its new title of ?Better Than The Legend?,
carving out its own niche in the history of South African motoring.
ProAgri 19 - October 1998