The rise of the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 took the wind out of the sails and the gas out of the tanks of gigantic motor homes in America. No longer was it sporting or even patriotic to be seen cruising the country in a shipping-container-sized motor home that got two miles per gallon. What America needed was something smaller and more efficient, and Toyota was there to provide it: the Chinook.
The original Chinook cost less than $5000 and got more than 20 miles per gallon. That price soon rose to around $8000 but the mileage remained the same. Sales skyrocketed. The uniquely ‘70s paint scheme with its matching stripes rocketing down the sides and shooting up at the end looked like patterns you’d see on skateboards and T-shirts of the day. Production rolled on all the way up to 1994, after which it was gone, but not forgotten.
In addition to a successful 24 Hours of LeMons mock Chinook that has been circulating around race tracks in that vaunted series for a couple years, it is now Toyota itself that has decided to pay tribute to the one-time most-efficient camper ever with the fabulous TacoZilla tribute truck at SEMA.
While the original Chinook of almost 50 years ago was a fiberglass shell hung on the steel Toyota mini pickup, the one-off concept TacoZilla is all-metal. Riding on a Tacoma pickup—the nickname for which is “Taco”—Toyota constructed a steel space frame for the camper portion of the Zilla and overlaid it with aluminum sheet metal. Inside is a fully functional camper with a spacious overcab bedroom, a working bathroom with shower and commode, and a kitchen and dining area that could keep you off the grid until the food runs out or your boss calls and tells you to get your ass back in to work.
“Marty Schwerter (of the Toyota Motorsports Technical Center) and the Toyota Motorsports Garage team wanted to create a camper that could go anywhere on the planet and be able to navigate the same steep trails a normal off-road Tacoma can tackle,” Toyota said.
To that end, the Taco sports a TRD two-inch lift and General Tire Grabber X3 tires measuring 285/70R-17 on TRD Pro wheels.
Inside is a fully insulated interior with teakwood “sauna-style” flooring, a full bathroom with hot-water shower, a fully operational kitchen with stove, sink and fridge, a dining table that converts to a backlit piece of wall art, all lit by a 4×4-foot skylight cut into the roof. All that’s missing is a lava lamp and some shag carpet.
The TacoZilla isn’t the only Toyota truck at the Toyota SEMA show stand.
The TRD Sport Trailer is what Toyota calls “an out-of-the-box overlanding multi-tool made from the truck bed of a Tacoma pickup.” An expensive and complicated-looking scissor lift apparatus raises a four-sleeper Yakima tent complete with awning at the push of a button on a remote. Other lifestyle items poke out from the trailer like tools on a Swiss army knife: a slide-out sink and stove, a 16-gallon freshwater tank and 15-gallon greywater holding tank, a refrigerator, and a shower-curtained combination shower and “dump station.”
The Sport Trailer was also built by TMTC.
Next to that was the TRD Desert Chase Tundra, based on the all-new-but-not-for-sale-yet Tundra. The Chase Truck is meant for desert racer support and carries a custom-mounted off-road jack, 15-pound CO2 bottle, fuel and water containers, two full-size spare tires, and an ARB Tred Pro Recovery Board. This is exactly what you hope to see rolling in your direction when you’re stuck in the desert.
There were also fully stock versions of all the TRD trucks and SUVs Toyota offers lined up along the back of the display, all creeping over real rocks. Kudos to whoever hauled those big, heavy suckers into the Las Vegas Convention Center.
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