Micro Machines

June 15th, 2011

Text by Travis Noack

Photos by Street Trucks Staff

The Hottest Mini-Trucks to Build

Mini-trucks have been popular for several years because they are affordable and get great fuel mileage. For many custom truck guys and gals the mini-truck movement has been going strong since their high school days, when import pickups with cranked down torsion bars, lowering blocks and Porsche alloys ruled the streets. When air shocks were introduced to the scene, mini-truck fanatics could not wait to get their tiny treasures even further in the weeds as they rolled with the sun shining into the cab through a sliding ragtop, cranking Rob Bass. It’s wild to see how the trends have evolved from machined 16-inch Suburban wheels and chrome Pathfinder wheels to body drops and billets. Those kids who were once rolling to river runs with just enough money for fuel, beer and a bag of chips are all grown up now and building minis that are flat on the ground with tons of body modifications and even some with V-8 power. There is another generation of truck kids right behind them, hungry to start on a project.

Whether you are a teenager embarking on your first build and looking to turn some heads on your local strip, or a mini-truck veteran ready to build an up-to-date or flashback project, we have put together a sampling of bite-sized options to whet your appetite. For even more information than this guide provides, California Mini Truck Dismantlers is a great source for technical information, parts and projects. Check them out at www.calminitruck.com (http://www NULL.calminitruck NULL.com) or call 909.622.1381.


Toyotas are one of the most sought after mini-trucks around. The most popular years to build are 1989-94 models. The torsion bar suspension is easy to remove to make way for an airbag setup. We have been spotting a few more 1984-88 model ‘Yotas on the scene lately. If you are considering a Toyota, be prepared to spend some money. A clean, stock Toyota brings in some decent change these days.


Nissan trucks have been going strong for years, and just like Toyotas, they feature that undeniable Japanese reliability and longevity, allowing you to focus your cash and attention on cosmetic updates rather than a ton of mechanics. If there were a weak link to mention, it would be wiring. Unlike Toyota trucks, which are five-lug, Nissans are six-lug, so if you want to open up your wheel choices, a Hardbody can accept a 1984-87 Toyota five-lug rearend, which is the narrowest direct swap. Up front you can install new bearings in the Nissan spindle to accept a five-lug rotor. You don’t often see Hardbody, 720 and Frontier trucks built, so rolling something different is a plus.


What we like most about the Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Mazda mini-truck offerings of yesterday is that they are [i]different[/i]. Mazda has always been the most popular of the bunch, but Mitsus and Isuzus have gained a lot of ground (check out our March 2011 cover truck). You don’t see these models peppering the show grounds like S-10s, and they accept different customizing styles well. The Mazda is the easiest to body drop because the rocker is already even with the frame. The downside with these trucks is that it can be a bear to find parts for them, and locating a decent replacement power train can be tough if you blow up the motor.

Chevrolet S-10/GMC Sonoma

The Chevy S-10 was introduced in 1982 and the first generation body style ran from 1982-93. The second-generation trucks were introduced in ’94 and were produced all the way until 2003. In 2004, Colorado and Canyon trucks were introduced and the S-10 was discontinued. If you are looking for a used S-10, the early four-cylinder and the 2.8L six-cylinder models leave a lot to be desired, so we advise staying away from those. You really can’t go wrong with a 4.3L V-6, which was the strongest and best running engine that ever came with the S-10. The later model 2.2L four-cylinder is a good power plant, and mated to a five-speed, they are fun to drive and fuel efficient. On the plus side, there are tons of parts available to customize S-10s. On the downside, they are not as reliable or long lasting as their foreign counterparts, and everyone and their mom has one.


Building a Ranger comes with its own set of challenges. The original I-beam suspension makes them difficult to lay out, entailing a mountain of fab work to get them low. If you are just looking for a mild drop, there are replacement dropped I-beams available. If you want to lay frame or body, be prepared to have a skilled fabricator tackle the job or get armed with solid fab skills yourself. The easiest solution to the challenging I-beam front suspension is to rob the front clip off of a Toyota and make mounts for the control arms. A well done Ranger will get you noticed on the show field because there are not many of them around.

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