Wanted: Small Diesel 4×4 Pickup For Veggie Conversion

February 16th, 2007 by William


My girlfriend loves the mountains. She frequently hauls her dogs and ski equipment up to the Sierra Nevada range or up to Oregon to hit the slopes in the winter. For anyone who has driven to the mountains in the winter, you know it is much easier to pass by the chain control people if you have four wheel drive and snow tires instead of pulling over and chaining up in the bitter cold, or shelling out big bucks for someone else to do it.

She came up with the idea of getting a small diesel 4×4 and running it on Biodiesel. I must admit I liked the plan, although I’m a big advocate of SVO (Straight Veggie Oil) as it can be attained for free. Small trucks are great; they are easy to park and maneuver in city traffic, they get good gas mileage, pollute less than larger trucks and you can still haul a ton of stuff (scooters, beds, gravel, dogs). Diesels are pretty cool too; they are torquey, get good mileage and run forever if you take car of them. And of course I love 4×4’s and I’m all for alternative fuels, so the package did sound appealing. The only problem is there aren’t very many trucks in the US that meet these requirements.

I spent hours scouring the internet for small diesel 4×4’s and I cam up with a very short list of possibilities. The first, and best in my opinion, is the Mitsubishi Mighty Max which was also sold under the Dodge brand as the Ram 50 or D50 and under the Plymouth badge as the Arrow Truck. I believe the Mighty Max was available in the US from 1982 through 1996. The reason I like the Mitsubishi is it came in 4×4 and with a turbo diesel four banger, the 4D55 (later replaced by the 4D56). The 4D55 puts out a respectable 83 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque. This means that compared to other diesel trucks of its size it could actually develop a little speed on the road. Fortunately the Mitsubishi diesels were also very popular outside the US so there are numerous low mileage motors floating around and parts are still readily available.

Mighty Max

Option number two is the Isuzu Pup or more correctly P’up. Like the Mitsu, the Pup was also sold under the Chevrolet brand as the Chevy Luv. In my own personal searches it appears that the Isuzu diesel 4×4’s are a bit more common than the Mitsubishi’s and have quite a cult following. The C223 diesel engine became available in 1981. Producing 58 horsepower and 93 lb-ft of torque the diesel powered Isuzu achieved a remarkable 33 mpg city/44 mpg highway. The C223 diesel also proved to be extremely robust and it was not uncommon for them to go 500,000 miles between rebuilds. With production running into the mid-1990’s there were plenty of Pups made. Also like the Mitsubishi this truck had a large following outside the US so parts availability isn’t much of a problem. While the Pup is a naturally aspirated truck there are also plenty of upgrades available from bolt on tubochargers to complete turbo motor swaps. I also heard mutterings of a factory turbo, but I have a feeling it was only available on the gas powered engines.

Isuzu Pup on the trail

Nissan/Datsun also made a small diesel pickup from 1981-1986 called the 720. Unfortunately in the US the diesel was only offered in the 2wd truck, however a swap into a 4×4 would probably be a straight forward endeavor. Sporting a naturally aspirated SD22 diesel engine up to ‘83 when it was replaced by the SD25, the Datsun is similar to the Pup in performance, and like the other two trucks parts are readily available for this vehicle.

While I heard rumors that both Toyota and Ford made small diesel 4×4’s for the US market, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence to prove it. However, many of these companies sold small diesel trucks in other countries such as Canada and Mexico. This led me to investigate the last option, importing a truck to the US. After sifting through mountains of info from government sites like the DMV, to private accounts of bringing cars across the border I decided to throw this idea out the window. It appears to be an incredible hassle with high odds of failure and an extremely high price. The chances that you could buy a vehicle and have it not allowed into the US were too high for me to seriously consider.

Despite the fact that these trucks are hard to come by, they are still remarkably affordable, usually in the $1500-$5000 range. Now if anyone knows where I can find one of these diesel 4×4s at a decent price please let me know. If I do succeed in my search and convince my girlfriend to actually buy the truck, look for an in depth write-up on straight vegetable oil conversions.

Pup in the mud

-Bill Mertz

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.

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