The Toyota Liteace first arrived locally in the early ’80s in the form of the Townace available on the gray market. Those who fancied one but didn’t want the gray-market option, though, had to wait until the late ’80s, when Toyota officially released the Liteace.
Fortunately, for those who chose to wait, it turned out that the Liteace trumped the Townace by leaps and bounds, benefiting from almost a decade of advancements in automotive engineering. Small wonder then that it was an instant hit from the moment it appeared in dealer showrooms, until it was phased out during the second trimester of the ’90s, when Toyota deemed that it should be superseded by the much larger Hiace.
You can find Liteace units costing as little as P70,000 for the early 1989 basic models with an A/C system, to about P150,000 for mid-’90s GXL variants with dual-A/C modules and power amenities. For anyone who’s looking to acquire a Liteace, the things to watch out for include the cooling system’s integrity (overheating was a likely and common occurrence, as Liteaces were workhorses during their time); the state of the dual air-conditioning system (watch out for converted units, as poorly converted A/C systems contribute to engine overheat); and the sliding door’s ability to keep water out during rains (which indicates body damage at worst and the need to replace the sliding-door rollers at best).
Like any other preowned vehicle, a premium should be given for those examples that have received more TLC from their previous owners. More often than not, the premium is well worth it in terms of the savings on refurbishment costs you’d otherwise incur for worn-out units.
Despite being more than two decades old, the Liteace still holds up as far as exterior design cues go. It doesn’t look current, but neither does it look too dated, particularly if you’re looking at later models with the flush headlights. If you’ve acquired an early model with the framed sealed beam headlamps (like this example here), a quick swap to later- model headlamps resolves the cosmetic issue and in the process gives you better illumination at night. Also, except for units that have been banged up in fender-benders, rust will hardly be a concern.
The car’s interior is highly functional, highly utilitarian, and low-maintenance, featuring mostly large, flat surfaces devoid of poorly shaped crevices that may collect debris or dirt.
Vinyl and high-quality, long-lasting plastic covers make cleaning easy. The durable, flat- surfaced dashboard may also double as a parcel tray for small items. Lastly, the fabric seat surfaces aren’t much of a chore to keep in good shape, requiring no more than the occasional wiping-down to keep them looking new again.
The heart of this once-popular family mover is a timeless Toyota K-series overhead-valve engine with an 80.5mm bore and a 73mm stroke, displacing 1,486cc and fed by a single carburetor. Featuring an aluminum cylinder head on top of a cast-iron block, the 5K engine that powers the Liteace churns out only 64 ponies and 102Nm of twist that’s put to the ground through the drive wheels in the rear via a five-speed transmission.
In spite of being equipped with only a relatively low-power engine, the Liteace, fully laden, can still hit a terminal velocity of 145kph (as indicated by the speedometer) without unduly stressing its engine.
Starting up the Liteace takes a few more cranks than most modern cars; credit this to the carbureted engine. Once up and running, though, there’s not much else that’s different from any other vehicle as far as engine note goes. Taking off from a standstill is as good as can be for a low-power engine that’s geared to haul plenty of cargo—which is to say the first and second gears are a bit close together to get things going, while third to fifth are spaced a bit farther apart to maximize fuel economy.
Driving position is like sitting in an office chair: upright and all business, with a clear and commanding view of what’s up ahead and around, afforded by the large greenhouse that encompasses the entire upper area of the car. The steering wheel, however, is a little truck- or bus-like, lying less than 60 degrees from horizontal. While this isn’t much of a concern once under way, it means tight parking maneuvers may become a challenging task.
Ride comfort is fairly high as long as you’re not going over roads riddled with a multitude of potholes. Despite the vehicle’s short wheelbase, all eight occupants won’t have much to complain about, unless the air-conditioning gives up on them.
If there’s ever a poster boy for a vehicle that keeps on ticking despite taking on a licking, the Toyota Liteace would make a very good candidate should a well-maintained unit be available. This was one of the very first and original multipurpose vehicles around—even before the term was coined, and at current prices—it is quite a bargain. (Ferman Lao)
Engine: 1,486cc OHV 8V gasoline engine
Horsepower: 64hp @ 4,800rpm
Torque: 102Nm @ 3,200rpm
Economy: 6-8 km/L (city) 11-14km/L (highway
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Suspension: double wishbone (front); solid axle (rear)
Note: This article first appeared in Top Gear PH's May 2010 issue.