This may look like nothing more than a tidy old pickup truck, but a lot more lays beneath. We take a closer look at the Driftworks Toyota Hilux.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux open bonnet

It’s a phrase you hear a lot – ‘expect the unexpected’. And it’s nonsense really, isn’t it? It’s physically impossible, the human brain is not conditioned to expect something that is not expected. Sure, life loves to blindside us – let’s say, for example, that you’re biting into a tasty jam sandwich, and after a few microseconds your brain says ‘Hang on, this isn’t jam – it’s Marmite’. Or your boss calls you into his office and you think he’s going to offer you a payrise, and instead he tells you you’re fired for gross misconduct because of that incident with the intern in the postroom. But that’s not expecting the unexpected, is it? That’s just preparing for alternatives. Or not.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux lime green

This Toyota Hilux is another example of how life enjoys pulling the rug from under our feet. At first glance, it appears to be a sympathetically restored 1970s truck, enjoying a fresh set of rims and a lower stance. Tidy eh?

Driftworks Toyota Hilux aerial shot

But when you lift the bonnet, there’s a Mazda MX-5 engine in there! Weren’t prepared for that, were you? And the jigsaw thickens as we discover that this artful engineering project is way, way more than just an engine swap…

Driftworks Toyota Hilux logo close-up

The brainchild of Driftworks founder James Robinson, this glorious Eastern mashup actually has its roots planted in South Africa. How so? Well, he’d been looking for a new runabout, with a fairly open brief – it had to be retro, fun, unusual, and have space to throw a mountain bike or two in the back. Some oblique clicking around eBay one night yielded an improbable and yet strangely perfect candidate: a straight and solid 1972 Hilux, freshly imported from South Africa.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux wheels

An excellent base for a project, as you really don’t see many of these in the UK (those that did make it over generally got worked into the ground) and this one hadn’t had too hard a life; however there was much potential for improvement. The wheezy 1600 drivetrain could be hoiked out in order to tick the ‘fun’ box on the brief, and the lack of any kind of seals or a heater meant that a certain amount of refining and premiumising could take place. So the game was afoot.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux rear-profile

Having got the thing bought and brought it back to the workshop, James set about sizing up what he’d found himself with. In essence, the fundamentals comprised leaf springs, crap brakes, a column-shift gearbox, and a thoroughly vintage approach to motive power… so he had two options, really – make good with what was there, or pursue a radical alternative. And c’mon, it was always going to be option B, wasn’t it?

Driftworks Toyota Hilux DW decal

As the nature of his job might suggest, James is a unique thinker, and it wasn’t long before his supernaturally rewired brain cottoned onto the fact that the Mazda MX-5 has a similar-ish footprint to the first-gen Hilux, kinda, and that was all the impetus he needed to buy himself a 2001 NB donor and crack out the measuring tape. And the power tools, obviously. You need them.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux front-profile

The genius of this idea, of course, is that keeping as much of the MX-5 as possible under the skin means two important things: firstly, service and upgrade parts are readily available, and secondly, the aftermarket loves the MX-5. So having ripped up the little Mazda like some furious Tasmanian devil, James scooped up his new-wave engine, gearbox, suspension and subframes, and popped next door to DynoTorque to smoosh it all into a Hilux shape.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux engine close-up

DynoTorque have form with this kind of eccentric behaviour, and wasted no time unpeeling the Toyota’s body and dropping the cab over the Mazda’s front subframe. Surprisingly, the dimensions married up pretty well; naturally there was a fair amount of trimming and notching to get it sitting perfectly, along with a whole load of strengthening, but the only significant hurdle that was thrown up related to the suspension.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux engine components

See, the Hilux doesn’t have strut towers in the inner wings, they’re part of the subframe… which had been removed. But no bother, the fellas laser-cut their own custom mounts, artfully keeping it all where the Mazda would expect it to be while also ensuring it fitted neatly into the Hilux. It was much the same story at the rear too, junking the archaic architecture and fabricating a strong new framework into which to insert the modern hardware. It’s true craftsmanship, this.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux wheels close-up

As you’d expect, all of the componentry was replaced with new or upgraded items as they went through, and it had to be a Driftworks showcase, that goes without saying. Driftworks CSD coilovers were a no-brainer, along with the firm’s adjustable arms. And given James’ propensity to get things sideways, the lock angles on that Mazda steering rack are frankly unbelievable!

Driftworks Toyota Hilux road test

Fans of logic will have deduced that utilitarian pickup trucks tend to be a bit longer than lightweight two-seater sports cars, so it’ll come as no surprise to you to learn that the Hilux is quite a bit lengthier than the MX-5. But DynoTorque relished the challenge and jumped on it with aplomb, taking the opportunity to massively strengthen the chassis with reinforced cross-sections throughout as they stretched it to suit. Makes sense, really. They knew the abuse this truck would ultimately be receiving.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux interior wheel

Particularly given James’s enthusiasm for power! He was well aware that the MX-5’s engine had originally been designed to be strong enough for turbocharging, and that was all the excuse he needed to strap on a brawny Subaru TD04 unit on a G19 Engineering turbo kit, and get some real power flowing through those tidy little WORK Equip 40s.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux parked

This naughty little truck now pulses to the beat of 220bhp, which ain’t bad for something that weighs just 1,100kg and has very little mass over the back wheels! Stir in a Driftworks hydraulic handbrake and that’s a real recipe for tyre-slaying naughtiness.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux rear numberplate

We’ve made this all sound endearingly simple, but the fact of the matter is that absolutely nothing about this build was easy. When you’re creating something this offbeat, it fights you every step of the way, and the finished product is true testament to the engineering genius of DynoTorque and Driftworks.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux engine exposed

See, that’s the brilliance of this Hilux – the classically-styled Verde Guacamole paint, cunningly laid over all the truck’s original dents, lulls you into a false sense of security. But the more you look, the more details you uncover; the LED taillights, the 3D-printed badges hinting at what’s under the bonnet, the ammunition box housing the relocated battery… and then James fires it up and flexes his ankle, and you hear that turbo snorting and chuffing.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux clutch

Expect the unexpected? Sure, that’s crazy, but then so’s this truck. You’d better be on your guard, that’s all we’re saying. It may look unassuming, but if you look at it funny this little tuned Toyota Hilux will tear you apart.

Driftworks Toyota Hilux interior


1972 Hilux, repainted in Verde Guacamole (with all original dents retained), cream engine bay, new bed liner, battery mounted in ammunition box in rear, 3D-printed 1800T badges, LED taillights, original weight plate (with original scratches).

Mazda MX-5 (NB) 1.8-litre twin-cam VVC, custom intake manifold, Subaru TD04 turbo with G19 Engineering turbo kit (inc. manifold, downpipe and turbo mount), custom DynoTorque exhaust with Simons rear box, Motorsport Electronics ME221 ECU, custom foam-baffled fuel tank, Sytec Motorsport fuel pump, FPR and filter, MX-5 Torsen diff
220bhp @ 8.8psi.

7×15” +32 WORK Equip 40 wheels, 185/55 tyres, NB MX-5 front subframe, custom suspension mounts, Driftworks HSD coilovers, Driftworks adjustable front arms, Whiteline MX-5 anti-roll bars, MX-5 brakes, MX-5 steering rack with Destroy Or Die knuckles, Destroy Or Die camber-adjustable lower arms, double-wishbone rear suspension with Driftworks adjustable arms, Powerflex bushes.

Nardi steering wheel, OEM Hilux dials and bench seat, Driftworks hydraulic handbrake, flocked dash, CG locks for seatbelts, retrofit electric heater.

Words Dan Bevis Photos Dave Cox