Thoughts on a Townace European Camper

weezerbot

Glamping Society
Hi friends, my search for a van to live in and travel with continues... While conducting my weekly Craigslist search I came upon this:

https://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/cto/d/mesa-1992-toyota-town-ace-pop-top/6958761458.html

I was intrigued enough to go take a look tonight. Aside from the cool factor, this one checks off a lot of boxes for me like 4wd, diesel, kitchen, decent mileage in a good price point for us.

The most concerning thing for me is lack of storage. I'm on about a 20 month plan to sell everything and hit the road full time, so obviously we need to pack 2 peoples lives plus dog stuff. With that said I've lived/traveled in everything from an FJ with RTT, to a Astro Tiger, to sleeping in the back of a 4runner,to a Vanagon... So I know I can be comfortable in small spaces with little stuff... My significant other though has never done anything beyond backpacking and tent camping. I do have some ideas for adding storage on this thing, but I also don't want to cramp the space inside to the point that we want to kill each other.

My second concern is that there is some surface rust around the windshield. Nothing super bad but an added expense to fix correctly.

All the parts are there and everything seems to be in working order. This is the non-turbo diesel, which I understand can be quite the dog, but I'm willing to deal with that if it's a reliable engine with available parts... Which brings me to my third concern... Available parts? A quick Google search didn't produce much.

So I'm looking for thoughts, info and advice. Lately we'd really given up on finding a 4x4 or even AWD van and have been looking at building out a used 2wd Ford transit. More space and custom storage yes, but at a much higher price point... We are estimating around $40k for the purchase and build out. So, as you can see, it's hard to ignore something like this which we would have to do minimal work to before hitting the road. An extra $15000 buys a lot of diesel! 🚐
 
I think this van has 4x4 rather than 4wd. Yes our Toyota Hiace also says 4wd, but it is actually more 4x4, and I think this one will have (literally) the same transfercase as ours.
So that means there should be a 4x4/4wd button somewhere, and I already see the low-gearing stick.
Ours has the 2L engine, this is the 2C. These oldskool diesel engines are very reliable, especially without turbo. But it also means they are very noisy, and not very powerful.
That didn't stop ours from going over all kinds of terrain, because it has low-gearing. I've driven over all kinds of stuff including soft sand. It did great.
When back on tarmac and having a highway or other road with higher speeds going up the mountain, you will be annoyed by the lack of power and your speed is going down.
This TownAce has even a smaller engine, and I would like to know how much it weighs. Also, if you are going to add lots of stuff (as you are talking about storage) it won't be great.

You should have a realistic idea about how fast you want to drive on the highway and how long you want to drive, because the engine noise can become annoying.

This one is looking really nice, and the price is not even that strange if you look at the Japanese market for campervans.
But if you would just take a normal van, for example a 4x4 van from Toyota or Mitsubishi, from that time, the price is a lot less.
I would think that in the US you could get a (converted?) 4x4 van for less, and build something in there.
 

vintageracer

To Infinity and Beyond!
Add a SMALL high clearance trailer or a SMALL storage box added to the rear hitch/bumper and you are ready to go SLOW!
 

weezerbot

Glamping Society
Thank you both for the insight! I am all too familiar with the long distance travel in a slow and loud diesel... My vanagon was converted with a 1.6 diesel out of a 1990 jetta, and although it was a tin top with only myself and a small dog it could not get out of its own way, and no amount of sound deadening could quiet its roar. While doable, it was frustrating at times in hilly sections limping up to 45 mph. I did enjoy getting 24mpg though!

Funny you mention the box mounted to the rear, as the owner of this van has rigged up such a system. While that's fine for outdoor stuff I don't mind getting dirty, it wouldn't really work for us for other items.

After many storage dreams last night I think this one is probably not the right choice for us long term. Perhaps if it were just me, or it was a weekend only rig it could work but long term living it's just a bit small.

Unfortunately we have been on the hunt for an already converted 4x4 van here, but have yet to find the right one, at the right price point. If it's an econoline or express we would need a high top or the ability to put one on, but we are also picky with how much mileage is on the vehicle or taking on someone else's project. I guess the search for our unicorn continues!
 
Well, I don't know what a used factory 4x4 van like a Sprinter costs over there.
In Japan you can get campervans with 4wd, but they lack the 4x4 low-gearing. Can be converted though, transfer case is same size.

What options do you have to import? Must be older than 25 years if it is not sold in US right? So if you buy a Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 with an engine that has been sold in the US before, it is okay? Or did they sell without 4x4?
Because for a fee I can send you a van from here (Europe).
 
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Just to get an idea about size. This is the normal Toyota Hiace, so bigger than the TownAce, that you could get (with Left Hand Drive!) imported into the US because of age. This one started in 1990.
The vans are not so big, but if you have the long wheel base and a high roof, you get some space. They have a max weight close to 3000kg, rear axle is pretty strong, but I would stay away from 3000kg limit.
This is ours, with which we drove to Tokyo from Europe with our 2 small kids.
It has parttime 4x4 with low-gearing, so pretty capable. And it is a bit modified :) (the factory ones, are a bit closer to the ground, especially after 25 years)
It is from 1994, got it from Norway, so left hand drive.
Next to a T3 syncro, so you get an idea about size.
Mitsubishi vans are usually a bit smaller but not much.
With ours you also sit on the engine, that means you have almost 3 meters cargo space. In the space of the high roof, there is a bed.
But of course, it will never be the size of a longer wheel base Sprinter or Ford.

These vans could be of interest because of the 25 year limit, left hand drive (from Europe), its reliability and also partswise. Because the axle and suspension is similar to lets say a 4runner.
Leaf springs is easy (front is Torsion), and you can put in difflocks of a 4runner, Hilux or Prado. I have Landcruiser 60 series wheels on it.

 
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AbleGuy

[Back] Roads Scholar
Hi friends, my search for a van to live in and travel with continues... While conducting my weekly Craigslist search I came upon this:

https://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/cto/d/mesa-1992-toyota-town-ace-pop-top/6958761458.html

I was intrigued enough to go take a look tonight. Aside from the cool factor, this one checks off a lot of boxes for me like 4wd, diesel, kitchen, decent mileage in a good price point for us.
.......All the parts are there and everything seems to be in working order. This is the non-turbo diesel, which I understand can be quite the dog, but I'm willing to deal with that if it's a reliable engine with available parts... Which brings me to my third concern... Available parts? A quick Google search didn't produce much.

So I'm looking for thoughts, info and advice.

Seattle CL (I know, that’s a big drive from Phx) usually has a few RHD, not fully camperized 4x4 HiAce type vans for sale. I saw a nice one there last week, FWIW
 

Christian P.

Expedition Leader
Staff member
Without reading the whole thing...my personal opinion is that driving RHD on a camper like this gets old pretty fast if you intend to travel in the Americas.

I had a RHD LandCruiser that I drove from Australia to London. It was fine until I got to Europe...the visibility in the roundabouts is not great.
 

Christian P.

Expedition Leader
Staff member
Also another personal opinion....not knowing your significant other...but I believe having an enclosed bathroom is huge benefit if you travel as a couple. Women usually like a bit of privacy.
 

weezerbot

Glamping Society
Also another personal opinion....not knowing your significant other...but I believe having an enclosed bathroom is huge benefit if you travel as a couple. Women usually like a bit of privacy.
I will say, with confidence, we are both pretty low maintenance people. We agree we are fine with some kind of outdoor shower set up in a pinch, but aren't interested in taking up valuable indoor real estate with a dedicated bathroom. Even when I had the Tiger the bathroom was wasted space as we never used the shower and rarely the toilet... Mostly because we didn't want to deal with finding a dump station for the black water.... I'm leaning toward some kind of composting toilet for this adventure.
Just to get an idea about size. This is the normal Toyota Hiace, so bigger than the TownAce, that you could get (with Left Hand Drive!) imported into the US because of age. This one started in 1990.
The vans are not so big, but if you have the long wheel base and a high roof, you get some space. They have a max weight close to 3000kg, rear axle is pretty strong, but I would stay away from 3000kg limit.
This is ours, with which we drove to Tokyo from Europe with our 2 small kids.
It has parttime 4x4 with low-gearing, so pretty capable. And it is a bit modified :) (the factory ones, are a bit closer to the ground, especially after 25 years)
It is from 1994, got it from Norway, so left hand drive.
Next to a T3 syncro, so you get an idea about size.
Mitsubishi vans are usually a bit smaller but not much.
With ours you also sit on the engine, that means you have almost 3 meters cargo space. In the space of the high roof, there is a bed.
But of course, it will never be the size of a longer wheel base Sprinter or Ford.

These vans could be of interest because of the 25 year limit, left hand drive (from Europe), its reliability and also partswise. Because the axle and suspension is similar to lets say a 4runner.
Leaf springs is easy (front is Torsion), and you can put in difflocks of a 4runner, Hilux or Prado. I have Landcruiser 60 series wheels on it.

Now that's something I could get into and consider but I still think too small for our needs.

Right now I'm leaning toward one of the new AWD Transits (still awaiting some kind of price point) or just saying screw it and going with a 2wd sprinter or Transit. The newer quigley conversions are out of price range, and most of the older ones have far too many miles for my comfort. But I'm keeping my eye out for another Tiger conversion as well. I think the comfort of the living situation long term far outweighs the ability to go crazy places only once in a while.

For at least the first year we plan on keeping it to North America, maybe a little Baja, but I'm thinking of it as a year long shakedown run. After that we can make adjustments if needed before heading south and beyond... Considering this may even take into account changing vehicles, I'm open to all sorts of crazy off the wall ideas, just like these little Japanese vans.
 
This is just me, but its waaaay to small for two adults and a dog for any serious amount of time.
Well, we spent 7 months in the blue van, without a dog but with 2 small kids :D
You live outside a lot and it was set up so that on a rainy day you could still sit inside with 4 and have plenty of daylight. (And a diesel heater)

But you, anybody can have different requirements. Some people just buy a ready to go 8x8 truck :p
And I would want to have something bigger to if traveling for years on end.
However, the small vans have some advantages too. You can do some super narrow mountain tracks, or park anywhere where a normal car can in a city.
But I would consider TownAce or LiteAce to small. Hiace is already a very usable size, with a high roof or popup roof.
 
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Ambulando

New member
May I offer a wildcard to consider if you can't find a Townace within budget: The Toyota Previa. Get an AWD one and they are apparently quite capable. Similar size, dirt cheap (well they are in the UK), reliable and very stealthy, if that's a requirement. There's a few camper converted Previas running around with happy owners. Get one with the massive moon roof and enjoy some stargazing too.
 

Toyolo_VanLife

New member
I own one of these, it’s been a blast, it goes anywhere. The lack of power only is an issue on long mountain passes or once you climb above 8,500 ft of elevation. Other than that I can cruise at 70 mph at get about 24 mpg at my home elevation of 5,000 ft. Gas mileage improves the closer you are to sea level too. If you want more space get a hitch installed and have storeage off the back.
 
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