Small pickups sold like crazy in North America through the 1970s and well into the 1980s, and the Detroit Big Three used the magic of badge engineering to get into that game without the expense of developing their own little trucks from scratch. GM had the Isuzu-sourced LUV, Chrysler had the Mitsubishi-made Plymouth Arrow/Dodge Ram 50, and the folks from Dearborn turned to their friends at the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company and applied the old Courier name to the Mazda Proceed pickup. These sturdy little trucks were available here for the 1972 through 1982 model years, but most rusted to nothingness and/or got worked to death decades ago and I’ve had a hard time finding them as I travel the Junkyard Highway around the country. On a recent trip to Arizona, though, I spotted this battered but unoxidized first-model-year flatbed Courier in Phoenix.
The company that became Mazda dropped the “Cork” part of its name in the 1920s, but the official company name remained Toyo Kogyo until the 1980s. North Americans could buy these trucks with Mazda badges all along (including some with Wankel engines, because the powerful hallucinogenic drugs of the era made a no-torque pickup seem like a fine idea), but nearly all of them were sold by Ford as Couriers. For the 1983 model year, Ford developed the Ranger and dropped the Courier. This also happened around the same time with GM and the LUV versus the S-10, but Chrysler continued selling Mitsubishi-built small pickups all the way through 1994 (though the Omnirizon-based front-wheel-drive Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp competed against the Dodge-badged Mitsubishi Mighty Maxes for a while during the 1980s).
The interior of this truck got toasted in comprehensive fashion by the fierce Arizona climate, but that didn’t stop this truck from putting in many decades of hard work.
Not only did this truck not have air conditioning (considered a sign of weakness by small-truck buyers in the early 1970s, even those in Arizona), the entire heater/vent-control panel has been blocked off with duct tape. The USB jack on the crappy aftermarket stereo below the dash tells us that this truck was still in service within the last decade or so.
The curse of the five-digit odometer is our inability to figure out how many total miles went onto workhorse vehicles such as this one. I think 516,987 miles is likely here.
Now that most pickups serve as commuter vehicles, one with a rattly and cramped cab with four-on-the-floor manual transmission seems as outdated today as a Model T pickup seemed in 1972. In theory, American buyers could get a Courier with an automatic transmission, but I have yet to see one in person.
This truck has a nicely-made flatbed setup and a fairly modern toolbox. Why is it here? Perhaps the lack of towing capacity doomed it, or maybe the engine finally blew up.
The engine must have looked good to some junkyard shopper, though, because it’s gone. It would have been a 1.8-liter Mazda VB rated at 74 horsepower; later Couriers could be had with a Ford 2.3-liter “Pinto” engine or a 59-horse Perkins diesel (if anyone sees a diesel American-market Courier in the wild, let us know).
The gutsy little Courier has got it all together.