Driving as smooth as the smoothest car, this van was a revelation when it arrived in Ireland. The Toyota HiAce (pronounced “high ace”) was a light, commercial van produced by the Japanese. Like the Honda 50, this was another Asian-bred vehicle which found a ready-made home in Ireland. Being so versatile; it was capable of endearing itself to any society.

First introduced in 1967, the HiAce was offered as a delivery van and a commuter vehicle. Coming with a range of engine sizes, the HiAce came complete with a heater – something considered a luxury item at the time.

The HiAce was primarily designed as an Asian commuter vehicle, with the aim of transporting huge numbers of people.

With this goal in mind, the HiAce exterior dimensions and engine displacement were in compliance with Japanese government regulations to encourage sales and accommodate the most passengers by utilising body style.

With the engine installed underneath the front passengers, a front bench seat and column change gear lever, the formula for spaciousness was complete.

These unique vehicles have moved tens of millions of people every day, every year, for the past 40 years... and that, my friends, is an awful lot of people

Being of Asian origin, it was there the Toyota HiAce had its greatest success. In minibus form, it swept the boards for being cheap to buy, easy to run and offering trouble-free motoring. In the cities of southeast Asia, where people live and move about in teeming millions, the HiAce was pressed into service as commuter bus and taxi. These unique vehicles have moved tens of millions of people every day, every year, for the past 40 years... and that, my friends, is an awful lot of people!

Toyota has had vans for sale in Ireland since 1977, but the HiAce only came to prominence in the 1980s. While it has never been a big player in the commercial vehicle market here, it did form a few very special and lasting relationships. For many commercial salesmen, the HiAce replaced the station wagon, allowing more goods to be carried while still providing a very comfortable ride. Many builders came to love the smooth-running and reliable van which never failed to get them to the building site on time. However, the HiAce found its real niche in Ireland in the most unexpected of places; among the travelling community.

Affordable motor

The HiAce was cheap enough to appeal to the cash buyer and strong enough to pull a large caravan. For the Irish travelling community, who at the time were quickly moving away from road-side camps and horse-drawn caravans, the HiAce was tailor-made. The van was stylish, fashionable, comfortable and powerful. It was spacious enough to accommodate a large family and versatile enough to travel the country. The van empowered the travelling man to ply his trade, transport his family and move his home – all in one fell swoop.

Not plain sailing

It has to be said that the Toyota HiAce had early problems; it wasn’t all plain sailing. They rusted like tin cans. Very often, after a few short years, their poor-quality bodies parted company with their Swiss watch engines. It would have been quite common for a HiAce van to pass you on the road with its broken wings flapping in the wind – in the same way a man’s open jacket might flap behind him as he cycled frantically – late for mass again.

Strangely, despite the fact that the HiAce had such issues, it didn’t seem to matter and so it went on to secure its place in Irish motoring folklore.

The HiAce, almost unnoticed, departed our roads in 2014. Regardless, it still remains a best seller today in the massive population centres of Asia and Africa where, with better bodies and even better engines, it moves the masses from one impoverished location to another providing comfort for the passenger and an essential income for the driver.

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