Hino Briska

Hino Briska 1300, via the Benny Aviad archive

Hino Briska 1300, via the Benny Aviad archive

We can all agree that the world—and especially North America—needs more small trucks.

You may recognize Hino from the front of the box van that delivered your mattress, but before the company narrowed its focus to medium-duty trucks and busses, it is old enough to trace its roots back to the consolidation of two Tokyo electric utility companies at the turn of the 20th Century.

After the Second World War, when it manufactured armaments, by the '50s had done a deal to assemble Renaults delivered in kit form to their modest (and empty) production facilities. Its first model was the Contessa, a Renault 4CV by any other name. 

Hino's ambitions stretched past the Contessa, and in 1961 it launched the Briska, an adaptation of the Contessa. Few would say that the Contessa's rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout is ideal for a truck, so Hino reengineered the car into a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive truck.

It was introduced across Japan in March 1961, but behind its cheap and cheerful face lurked the unbridled power of an 893-cc 4-cylinder engine, which was a more powerful, Hino-developed version of the Contessa engine. Still, drivers could expect a maximum payload of 750 kg (1,653 lb). Even more interesting is that Hino also offered both a panel van and crew cab option. Upgraded through the '60s, the fastest Briska could touch 100 km/h (62 mph)…downhill…with a tail wind.

What interests me most with the Briska is that when new, it was designed to be a cheap, tough, and efficient workhorse, but over time the trucks were slowly wrecked and discarded, leaving a tiny number still around today. This means that although it doesn't cost as much to collect these sorts of vehicles, a lack of spare parts, English documentation, and other hurdles make ownership as difficult in some cases as caring for an endangered species.

In some parts of the world, the Briska is an actual endangered species, with few survivors: a limited number were built and sold by a division of Kaiser Motors…in Israel!

Also interesting is that before Toyota bought Hino, it partnered with a Toyota-branded version of the second-generation Briska before buying the company outright. It was called the Toyota Briska…and formed the basis for what Top Gear calls the "Unbreakable Toyota Hilux". Yes, the Toyota Hilux is in some respects a few generations removed from the Renault 4CV economy car.

Sadly, with few survivors left in private hands, this truck will remain a museum curiosity for years to come.