Historic Truck Brands
Daihatsu Australia was initially established in 1975 as a joint-venture between the then Thiess Toyota and the NSW state distributor York Toyota, shipping company Nichimen and Daihatsu Motor Co Ltd.
One of Daihatsu’s early directors, John Conomos, went on to become head of Toyota Australia and a member of the Toyota Board in Japan.
Daihatsu took full advantage of regulations that enabled it to import light trucks with purpose-built fully built-up bodies – most notably tippers with top- and bottom-hinged tailgates and bottom-hinged drop sides, allowing them to function as drop-side flat tops when required.
The imports encouraged a more innovative local body-building industry.
Daihatsu was also responsible for introducing light four-wheel drives to Australia, a trend that expanded into the ‘soft-roader’, SUV segment.
Daihatsu’s best year was in 1995, when it sold 7800 vehicles.
In 1998 TMC acquired 51 per cent of Daihatsu and in 2000 Toyota Australia took over distribution of the brand in Australia. In 2005, with the brand’s market share at less than one-percent, Toyota announced the end of Daihatsu brand distribution, to take effect in early 2006.
When Daihatsu distribution Down Under ended there were about 145,000 Daihatsu cars and trucks on Australian roads.
The Delta Tipper
By far the most significant model in the Daihatsu Australia line-up was the Delta truck and the stand-out Delta models were factory-built tipper variants. Tradies and councils loved ‘em.
From the early 1970s models until the 2000s Daihatsu trucks shared cabs with the Toyota Dyna range, but when the Dyna adopted a tilt-cab in the 1990s, Daihatsu was ‘kept in its place’ by having to make do with a fixed cab. Thankfully, the reliability of Toyota and Daihatsu engines meant that easy access to the mechanicals wasn’t a major selling point.
After a diet of poorly-made US and British light trucks in the 1960s and 1970s Australian operators found the Japanese products a breath of fresh air. They were strong, boringly reliable and had proper warranties.
Wide-cab models could seat three in relative comfort and the centre seat folded down into a desk-top with document storage. Later models had a car-style radio and a cassette player.
The Delta tipper models, in particular, were ‘bullet-proof’. These purpose-designed little trucks had box-section frames, with deep webs in the high-stress, back of cab area. That base, combined with axles and springs designed to handle at least twice the Delta’s rated payload meant that they were literally, unbreakable. Forget Toyota’s ‘Unbreakable HiLux’ marketing hype: the Delta was the real thing.
The downsides were asthmatic diesel engines that were primarily designed for Japan and South East Asia. They couldn’t deliver highway speeds in hilly country and it was often joked that at the head of every traffic ‘convoy’ there’d be a Daihatsu tipper!
Nevertheless, their reliability and overload capacity made up for lack of race pace.
The Delta’s heyday came with the 1980s cab that persisted, with some cosmetic changes, until the early 2000s. ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’
Four models were available for most of the Delta’s life: V107/8 with Toyota 4Y 2.2-litre petrol engine (70kW and 182Nm); V57/8 with Daihatsu 2.8-litre diesel (56kW and 170Nm) and V116 and V118/9 models with Toyota 14B 3.7-litre diesel (71kW and 247Nm). The 14B even had a butterfly exhaust brake and, if purchased with the optional higher-GVM rating, a proper vertical exhaust!
GVMs ranged from 3750kg (single rear wheels) to 6000kg.
The tipping mechanism was simplicity itself: the cab lever actuated the hydraulics and the transmission clutch controlled tipper height. Spreading fast-flowing loads like blue metal without a height control valve took some practice, but blokes and sheilas got used to it.
The Daihatsu Delta may lack the romance and ‘personaility’ assigned to vintage British and American trucks, but was a pivotal machine in the 1980s-2000s and deserves recognition.