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Backyard mechanics had been fitting the miniscule Toyota pickup with an array of homebuilt campers almost from the time the truck debuted in the U.S. in 1964. So it wasn’t surprising when in ’73 the company finally introduced an “RV” version — and created the world’s first micro mini-motorhome in the process.
The new Toyota-Chinook sported a chassis that was built specifically for RV use; the truck’s 101.7-inch wheelbase was initially stretched to 110 inches and equipped with a wider axle and stouter tires. The bigger platform took care of weight and handling issues — and Chinook International took care of the rest. The coach builder fitted the little chassis-mount camper with a sleek fiberglass shell that concealed an impressive number of comforts without presenting a cumbersome profile. Not quite 17 feet long and 77 inches high (closed), the Toyota-Chinook offered weekenders a two-burner gas stove, 2.3 cubic-foot icebox, a long 6-foot, 6-inch bed and a second bed above the cab once the spring-latched pop-up top was unlatched; open, the coach boasted six feet of headroom.
Granted, it had a few drawbacks — a portable toilet was optional, it ran on DC power exclusively and the sink “drain” consisted of an outside fitting to which owners attached a hose leading to a container — but it also was capable of traveling more than 250 miles on one fill-up of its 13.7-gallon gas tank.
More than two dozen nameplates were ultimately affixed to Toyota-chassis minis before the coach finally fell out of favor in the early ’90s, ranging from Coachmen and Dolphin to Keystone, Odyssey and Winnebago. Of course, even though the chassis’ weight rating was improved to 5,500 pounds, many of the later entries were really pushing the limit on GVWR. What looked underpowered and overweight quite often was.