The Gritmobile: My Dad’s Toyota SR-5 Turns to Treasure

Posted on July 18, 2016


Keep something around long enough, and magic can happen.

Way back in 1983, my sixty-something-year-old Dad casually announced that he would be trading in his somewhat plain gray sedan and getting, for the first and only time in his life, a pickup truck. “Whatever for?” I wondered. “I just like it. Something different,” said Dad. “What does it look like?” “It’s just a gray pickup truck,” said Dad. Lila pictured some rather boring pickup-truck version of the sedan. I mean, this was Dad we were talking about, right?

When Dad drove home in it a day or two later, young Lila saw the vehicle pivot around to back into the driveway. It was most certainly not a boring plain gray truck, oh no. It had a raised suspension, a roll bar, tubular steel bumpers and a brush guard. “Dad,” said Lila with all the assurance that youth can bestow, “this is not a pickup truck. It is a Gritmobile.”   And so it was christened and ever after known as the Gritmobile.



Dad’s Gritmobile: the 1983 Toyota Mirage SR-5 pickup truck.

At the time, though, it really wasn’t a Gritmobile at all. A real redneck would never go for it, because it was – horrors – a Toyota, for cripes’ sake, a foreign manufacturer, some cheap Japanese thing, and everyone knew the only people who knew how to make real pickups were the Americans at Ford or Chevy. No way would any red-blooded country boy be caught dead hanging his Stetson in a Toyota. No way.

But the Toyota trucks were sort of irresistible. They were inexpensive, fun to take off-road, and had engines that just wouldn’t quit. And heck, they even looked fun to drive.  Here’s one pretty similar to Dad’s old Gritmobile:

Slowly, while I wasn’t really watching, those 1980s Toyota pickup trucks became pretty popular with the rural crowd, despite their Japanese origins. I did notice, though, that when I borrowed my Dad’s truck from time to time when I came home on leave from the Army, it was starting to get smiles around town.

Fast-forward three decades. The Gritmobile eventually passed down to my brother, and finally the time has come to part with it… and lo and behold, it is an actual collector item!

One thing the early Toyotas were not so great about was rust. Between that and several generations of young whippersnappers pounding them into the ground “going mudding,” there are not that many good, solid 1980s Toyota trucks left. But Dad kept his garaged, and he took pretty good care of it. After Lila posted some images on a forum to help out another owner doing a restoration, the truck got noticed… and an offer came in.

Lila had given a good bit of thought to keeping the truck, mainly for sentimental reasons… but… it just wasn’t practical, and I don’t have the automotive know-how to really keep it in top shape. Good mechanics who really understand older vehicles are harder to find these days, too. It was best to let it have a new lease on life with a new owner, and we lucked out with a serious collector. There will be no punk kids running the Gritmobile into the ground.  It has a shiny new home alongside several other 1980s Toyota pickups.

The Gritmobile’s new owner put some serious work into it.  New transmission, new tires, new upholstery, new carpet, buffed-up paint, a complete tune-up and all fluids flushed and refilled… and “a lot of little repairs too numerous to mention,” he wrote us later.  But then, the magic:  he entered it in a state-level truck show and it won the 4×4 Stock Class, beating out some other very nice trucks.  He loves it, and we love that he loves it.    I think Dad would be pleased.


Dad’s Gritmobile, restored!