This Former Firefighting Old Japanese Minitruck Is Now an Ocracoke Island Surf Shop Runabout
If you’re searching for solitude as the summer’s enlightening embrace is upon us, you may end up sitting in a traffic jam of golf carts on Ocracoke Island. That’s the tourists; the locals prefer American-made, body-on-frame behemoths boasting burbly V8s and sand-appropriate tires. There’s no showing off, however; everything is practical, not many duck-duck-jeep fanatics took the ferry ride over from Hatteras—which is free, by the way. But there’s a bit of weirdness lurking amongst the dune grass just behind the dockside bar and grill, because if you look, there’s an old Japanese minitruck.
Ocracoke Island’s lone old Japanese minitruck
Rounding the penultimate bend on the Ocroaoke Island stretch of North Carolina Highway 12, right smack dab in front of the Ride the Wind Surf Shop, is an old Japanese minitruck standing proud and tall. Well, maybe not tall. But it sticks out like a beacon of boisterousness in a tiny town filled with large-displacement, low-compression small blocks, nonetheless.
The folks gearing up for a beachside bagel and bike rental at The Slushy Stand across the flooded street seem to stare. If you’ve had your light breakfast and dodge the oncoming golf carts to get a better look at the old Japanese minitruck, here’s what you’ll find. It’s a Daihatsu Hijet. Not any old Hijet, but a firetruck. Jez, Dick, and Jim forgot about this one on Top Gear, didn’t they?
What is a Daihatsu Hijet?
If you’ve never heard of Daihatsu, you’re not in trouble. They only sold two models in the U.S., the Charade hatchback and sedan and the Rocky SUV. Yet, their lifespan stateside began and ended with the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Interesting coincidences aside, the Daihatsu Hijet is one of the more popular picks for old Japanese minitruck ownership.
This one specifically is one of many emergency vehicle conversions. Many of the traditional flatbed versions have become modern statement pieces, like a more road-worthy and utilitarian golf cart. With a 660-cc three-cylinder engine, it has more get-up-and-go than a golf cart, but not much. At least there’s a four on the floor.
How did this old Japanese minitruck get to Ocracoke?
Once you’re done being a nine-year-old gawking at the adult version of the Toys “R” Us Jeep your parents used to push you in, you can go in and meet the owner. “Who’s Daihatsu Hijet out front?” asks an old Japanese minitruck enthusiast. All fingers point to Bob, owner of the Hijet and Ride the Wind Surf Shop.
The shop owner, whose choice of the old Japanese minitruck as an eccentric beach rig was made plain by his colorful, beaded eyeglass chain intertwined with gray yet sun-bleached shaggy hair, spoke proudly of the Hijet. But his reason for buying it wasn’t to call attention; it was borne out of tragedy.
Hurricane Dorian’s destruction
On September 6, 2019, Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Outer Banks as a Category 2 storm. This was after punishing the Bahamas with its worst natural disaster on record. On Ocracoke Island, people were trapped in their attics as the surge from the sea pounded the strip of sand less than three miles wide at its largest breadth, all barely three feet above sea level. Bob explained he lost three half-ton trucks he used to run the shop.
To keep his business running, he needed to replace his pickups. However, just after Hurriance Dorian came the global supply chain slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As prices on new and used pickup trucks skyrocketed, he settled on just two. But he ended up going with an old Japanese minitruck because it did what he needed it to, and it was much, much cheaper.
Ride the Wind Surf Shop beach truck
Bob said he got in touch with an importer of old Japanese minitrucks based in Western North Carolina. And in 2020, at the height of the automotive market turmoil, he became the proud owner of the Hijet.
It may look like a lawn ornament, but the minitruck does put in work. While it’s still dressed in its eastern firefighting garb, Bob plans to change that. He intends to have custom paint work done for a cool, more official shop truck soon. Until then, fight that golf cart traffic and stop in to take a peek.