The Hilux started production in March 1968 as the RN10 in short-wheelbase form with a 1.5 L engine, producing 77 PS (57 kW) in Japanese market spec, and in Japan it is available at Toyota Japan dealership retail chains called Toyota Store and Toyopet Store. The modification to the engine was enough for a claimed 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph) top speed. This was upgraded to a 1.6 L I4 engine in February 1971.
In April 1969, a long-wheelbase version was added to the range. The short-wheelbase version also continued in production for many more years. The long-wheelbase version was not sold on the North American market until 1972.
In spite of the name "Hilux", it was a luxury vehicle only when compared to the Stout. The Hilux was engineered and assembled by Hino Motors to replace the earlier vehicle that the Hilux was derived from, called the Briska in the niche beneath the larger Stout - it replaced the Stout fully in some markets. For the North American market, the only body style was a regular cab short bed and all were rear-wheel drive. It used a typical truck setup of A-arms and coil springs in front and a live axle with leaf springs in back. A four-speed manual transmission was standard.
- 1968-1971 - 1.5 L (1,490 cc) 2R I4
- 1971-1972 - 1.6 L (1,587 cc) 12R I4
North American markets:
- 1969 - 1.9 L (1,897 cc) 3R I4, 63 kW (86 PS; 84 hp)
- 1970-1971 - 1.9 L (1,858 cc) 8R SOHC I4, 72 kW (98 PS; 97 hp)
- 1972 - 2.0 L (1,968 cc) 18R SOHC I4, 81 kW (110 PS; 109 hp)
In May 1972, the 1973 model year Hilux was released as the RN20. A more comfortable interior was specified along with exterior updates. A 2.3 m (7.5 ft) "long bed" was an option for the first time in North America, although such a version had been available worldwide since April 1969.
The Hilux was radically redesigned in 1975 to be larger and with increased standard equipment. In North America the new version also meant the introduction of the considerably larger (2.2 L) 20R engine and the SR5 upscale trim package. A five-speed manual transmission became optional. In North America, the Hilux name was fully phased out in favor of "Truck" by that year, having been dropped from brochures and advertising starting in 1973.
- 1972-1978 - 1.6 L (1,587 cc) 12R I4
- 1974-1978 - 2.0 L (1,968 cc) 18R I4
North American markets:
- 1973-1974 - 2.0 L (1,968 cc) 18R SOHC I4, 81 kW (110 PS; 109 hp)
- 1975-1978 - 2.2 L (2,189 cc) 20R SOHC I4, 72 kW (98 PS; 97 hp)
The redesigned Hilux was introduced in August 1978, with a 4WD variant introduced in Jan 1979. The 4WD variant - not offered with any engines smaller than the two-litre "18R" - featured some common technology with the larger Toyota Land Cruiser. Production of the four-wheel drives stopped in July 1983, but some 2WD variations continued in parallel with the next generation. The L series diesel engine was offered on the 2WD variants from September 1979 and the 4WD variants in March 1983.
In North America the Hilux saw the use of four-wheel drive. It had a solid front axle and leaf suspension. The body saw a redesign that included single round headlights and a less complex body. This new 4WD setup featured a gear driven RF1A transfer case. This transfer case is unique in that its low-range reduction portion can be replicated, using what some refer to as a dual or triple transfer case. This results in a much lower overall gear ratio. It was the first Hilux available with an automatic transmission.
In 1981 a vehicle development agreement was established between Toyota, Winnebago Industries and two other aftermarket customizers. This was to allow Toyota to enter the SUV market in North America. The vehicles which resulted from this collaboration were the Trekker (Winnebago), Wolverine, and the Trailblazer (Griffith). All three used the Hilux 4×4 RV cab and chassis, and an all-fiberglass rear section (the Trailblazer had a steel bed with a fiberglass top). There were at least 1,500 Trekkers, 400 Trailblazers and an unknown number of Wolverines sold in North America. Research and development work on the Trekker led to the development of the 4Runner/Hilux Surf, which was released in 1984.
Toward the end of the SR5's production run (1983½ model year), Toyota introduced the luxury Mojave for the US market as a limited-production (3,500 units) model with options not available on any other Toyota pickup. List priced at US$8,308, it featured bucket seats, two-speaker multiplex radio, chrome front and rear bumpers, and no Toyota logo on either the grille or tailgate. Cruise control, power steering, and air conditioning were optional. It was powered by the SR5's standard 2.4 L (150 cu in) inline four.
- 1981-1983-1.8 L preflow, 4-speed manual (Australia)
- 1978-1980-2.2 L (2,189 cc) 20R SOHC I4, 67 kW (91 PS; 90 hp) at 4,800 rpm and 165 N·m (122 ft·lbf) of torque at 2,400 rpm
- 1981-1983-2.4 L (2,366 cc) 22R SOHC I4, 98 PS; 97 hp (72 kW) at 4,800 rpm and 175 N·m (129 ft·lbf) of torque at 2,800 rpm
- 1981-1983-2.2 L diesel I4, 46 kW (63 PS; 62 hp) at 4,200 rpm and 126 N·m (93 ft·lbf) of torque (SR5 long bed only in the US)
The August 1983 redesign (sold as model year 1984 vehicles in North America) introduced the Xtracab, two-row extended cab option. These "1984" models carried over the carbureted 22R engine while model year 1985 saw the introduction of the fuel injected 22R-E. Two diesel engines were also offered, the 2L and the turbocharged 2L-T. The diesels were discontinued in the U.S. after the 1986 model year, this was due to higher performance expectations from customers and the wide availability of inexpensive gasoline. The next year saw the introduction of a turbocharged option, the 22R-TE, perhaps due to increasing competition from Nissan who already offered a V6 truck at this time. The solid front axle was swapped out for an independent front suspension/torsion bar setup in the 4×4 model in 1986, and optional automatic front locking hubs and an electronic transfer case was added as well. A V6 engine was introduced in 1988. The Hilux-based 4Runner which made its entry in Australia, North America and the United Kingdom was based on this generation Hilux; in some other markets, such as Japan, it was called the Hilux Surf.
Toyota introduced a new generation of the Hilux in most markets in late 1988 but the fourth generation remained in production until 1997 in South Africa. Toyota says this was due to South African "content laws" which made it cheaper to continue to produce the fourth generation Hilux, rather than to retool the plant for the fifth generation.
In the original incarnation of the Transformers action cartoon series, Autobot Trailbreaker transformed into a Hilux with a camper shell.