We have some bad news. Those of you rocking your imported Nissan Skylines and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions have been doing it all wrong. If you want to actually make friends and influence people, the JDM car to drive is a 1990 Daihatsu Hijet fire truck.
Todd Lappin already has a Skyline, but if Instagram accounts are any measure of success, it’s his tiny red kei-class emergency vehicle that gets all the attention. Strangers want to take photos with it, kids want to play with it, and it stands out at any car show. He imported it last year from a small Japanese ski resort town to San Francisco.
“The best analogy is walking down the street with a puppy,” Lappin told the San Francisco Chronicle, “in the way that everybody becomes their nicest, sweetest, best-behaved self. Doesn’t matter — men, women, young, old. They stop and laugh and have kind of a confused look on their faces.”
The truck is named Kiri, after its original home of Kirigamine, located in Nagano Prefecture. According to Lappin, the whole town’s population is only a couple hundred people. The fire department there was all volunteer, and the truck has only accumulated about 4,000 miles on it since new.
After it was decommissioned, Lappin bought it at auction for “almost nothing.” Vehicles are federally eligible for import if they 25 years old, a vestige of when Mercedes-Benz lobbied the U.S. government to restrict European imports of its cheaper models.
Because it was built to meet kei specifications, the truck has a 660cc engine churning out 63 horsepower. However, it was never meant for freeway cruising, just around-town hustling. Lappin told the SF Chronicle the Hijet tops out at around 60 mph on the highway, but “it sprints up San Francisco hills like you wouldn’t believe.”
The truck arrived stripped of its fire equipment, but Lappin reassembled what it needed to become a functioning firefighting tool again. The truck doesn’t carry its own water tank. Instead, its onboard pump allows the hose to be plopped into any water source, using an old-school wicker filter to strain out any debris.
When asked whether the truck could put out a fire, Lappin mentions that it will live in Somona part-time. Located about an hour north of the city, it’s an area that has seen its share of wildfires in recent years. “The answer to that is absolutely yes,” Lappin told the SF Chronicle, “And that’s a scenario we plan for.”
The truck has its own Instagram account, @teenytinyfiretruck, which documents Kiri’s adventures from a first-person perspective. Lappin takes the truck all over town, photographing it in front of San Francisco landmarks and various fire stations. Sometimes he blasts music or a fake “Godzilla sighting” warning from the its build-in bullhorn. People from all walks of life can be seen posing with the Daihatsu, grinning and throwing out peace signs.
Kiri has become something of a celebrity around town. Lappin is usually the one approaching fire houses to take photos with their trucks. The roles, though, were recently reversed. “A bunch of SFFD firefighters driving a ladder truck when out of their way to come see Kiri when they spotted it parked outside a coffee shop,” Lappin told Autoblog. “They drove around the block and pulled up with their lights on and jumped out, and were as excited as kids to see it.”
A Skyline GT-R might have more horsepower, but you’ll only meet other petrolheads with it. A kei fire truck is quite a bit slower, but it’ll generate many more smiles per mile.