A Toyota Named Amelia
Tyler Geertsma knew he would have a workhorse on his hands when a family friend offered to sell him an 1985 Toyota last October. Being on a college student’s budget, it was an opportunity at the right price. Photos courtesy of Tyler.
The Toyota SR5 4X4: A Brief History
In 1979 the Motor Trend truck of the year was the 4×4 Chevrolet LUV. It was a small, but “capable” and very cost-effective trucklet. The LUV was essentially a Japanese truck, as Chevrolet outsourced its manufacturing to Isuzu, which Chevy partially owned.
At this time, Toyota was fairly new to the United States truck market, bringing the internationally known Hilux model, and its US sales lagged every other maker.
One decade later, as part of its surge into the US market, Toyota won over Motor Trend with its Xtracab SR5, which the magazine named its new truck of the year (Motor Trend did not issue truck-of-the-year awards between ’79 and ’88). But by then, the SR5 had already proven itself as an indestructible vehicle with the legendary 22R engine. Good gas mileage, a reliable engine, capable of running on nearly no oil, and retailing for just over $10,000. Perhaps because of the success of the LUV, Toyota had obviously retooled to match the market’s direction and created a winner.
And the results created a legacy that would last decades.
"My buddy and I drove about 1,200 miles on one-and-a-half cylinders."
New Life for an Old Classic
In true “it doesn’t matter what you drive” fashion, Tyler Geertsma knew he would have a workhorse on his hands when a family friend offered to sell him an 1985 Toyota last October. Being on a college student’s budget, it was an opportunity at the right price.
In Toyota years, despite being an ’85, Tyler had found a baby. It only had 74,000 miles on it. The original owner used it as a ranch truck in Tehachapi, CA, so it got short spurts of hard work and long rests in the barn.
He wasn’t looking for this year or model specifically, but a solid-axle Toyota was on his wish list. A 4×4 Toyota with low mileage would definitely fit the bill.
"They Just Drive"
The owner told him that it was in great shape and needed no major repairs. This, he later found, was not exactly true. After driving with a friend from Southern California, where he lives, to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and through Zion National Park all the way back to California, a funny idle hinted that something was wrong.
Tyler and his friend then spent hours chasing down vacuum leaks and fixing every problem they could find, but something was still off. They decided at that point to do some testing, and a compression test revealed the truck had been running on two dead cylinders and another on its way out.
“My buddy and I drove about 1,200 miles on one-and-a-half cylinders,” Tyler said. — That’s how reliable these trucks can be. They just drive.
Tyler’s previous rig was a ’97 Jeep TJ, but he wasn’t worried about giving it up in exchange for a truck a decade older.
“Honest to God, a solid axle Toyota is going to get me anywhere that Jeep got me,” he said.
But it was obvious Amelia—that’s what Tyler calls the Toyota, after Amelia Earhart because Amelia was “definitely a badass”—needed substantial work.
The Work Begins
First on the agenda was a long block from a company in Moreno Valley, CA called Qimura’s Engines, which Tyler chose because the company uses all LC Engineering parts.
From there, it was time to do the rest: LC Engineering long tube header, starter, alternator, belts and some paint for a vintage aesthetic.
Aside from the motor and a few other touches, Tyler’s concept was to keep the truck looking as original as possible, including the “OG” 1985 white steel wheels.
“It totally has a lot of charm,” he said. And luckily, Tyler’s best friend Austin and his father who are starting up their own fabrication company supplied a lot of tools and labor, which Tyler says he paid for in tacos and beer.
“I honestly was there just to hand them tools,” he said with a laugh. McMillin Fabrication is the name of the company, and they specialize in Toyotas in Suzuki’s.
"It continues to surpass my offroad expectations every time I go out."
Then it was time to find a replacement for the original camper shell. Tyler found possibly the last custom fabricator of the original aluminum shells in all of California. “He’s called USA Camper Shells in Montclair, California. He’s been building these things since the ’80s and still going strong.”
Since the finishing the engine work, Tyler said the truck has been a solid performer. “In all reality, other than the fact that I had no idea it would need a full restoration, it is basically what I expected,” he said. “It continues to surpass my offroad expectations every time I go out. That’s for sure.”
Despite the Toyota’s 22R putting out a whopping 118 horsepower (give or take), Tyler says he has never been stuck once. And not only that, he gets regular unsolicited offers to buy Amelia, mostly from the hipster crowd.
“Since mine is—in all reality—a hipster mobile, the most offers I get come at breweries. ‘Oh man, you wanna sell that truck?’”
For the record, no. He does not.
Continuing a Family Tradition
He originally gained his appreciation and love for the outdoors through his father, Ted, who passed away when Tyler was 12. “He was a mountain man to the bone, and loved exploring the mountains and deserts of California,” he said. As a diesel generator mechanic, Ted’s work took him to some pretty remote locations in the deserts and mountains of California, driving in his bright red F-150.
Tyler says his father’s memory is the reason Amelia is likely going to keep her original red paint job and the reason why he carries his father’s old boots wherever he goes.
Tyler said he joined Overland Bound because he really appreciates the community, and how it brings like minds together. You can see photos and videos of the rebuild and follow Tyler’s adventures on Instagram: @atoyotacalledamelia.
Owen Lystrup is a writer and content producer for Cisco Systems, Inc. by day. He’s an outdoors loving photographer and father of two in Denver, CO the other 16 hours of the day.