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MAX Car 106: Introducing 'MPX,' the MAX Truck

By Jack McCornack

Tags: MPX truck, fuel economy, truck conversion, pickup truck, gas mileage, Oregon, Jack McCornack,


In response to public demand, it's time to make a MAX-ified pickup truck.

Maybe 'demand' is overstating the case; it's not like folks are telling me, “Put all the money in this bag and nobody gets hurt, and while you're at it, make a high mileage pickup.” It's more like, “Sure, MAX is cool, but...” followed by a description of their particular needs, followed by “...and gets a hundred miles per gallon.”

I used to explain why their particular needs were incompatible with 100 mpg, and why small and light and streamlined are essential ingredients if you want three-digit mileage on a beer budget, just like I used to explain why a walk-in closet and two bathrooms are incompatible with a 100-square-foot tiny house*. My father used to describe these folks as, “He wants to be an astronomer, but he doesn't want to work nights.”

Finding a Reasonable Mileage Target

But I've mellowed out somewhat. Unlike the 100-square-foot thing**, that 100-mpg thing is an arbitrary line in the sand, so now when people describe their vehicular needs, I ask, “What's a reasonable mileage target for that?” and we get to talking.

These needs commonly include space for an occasional third person, and occasional building supplies, and an occasional half ton of produce to the Farmer's Market, and an occasional ATV or riding mower, and (here in the Pacific Northwest at least) a way to keep the cargo dry—all of which can be achieved by a small pickup truck with bench seats and a removable canopy.

And for our mileage target? According to, the best mileage small pickup you can buy today is the Toyota Tacoma 2WD, with 21/25/23 mpg for city/highway/combined. I suspect we can double that, using the same principles we used with MAX—we can't go as far as the MAX car regarding weight, drag, and powerplant (not if we still want a practical pickup, which we do), but we can make significant improvements in all those areas, and I think 42/50/46 mpg is within reach.

Furthermore, I think we can do it on a beer budget — domestic beer, no less — $7,500 for the whole project, which is ¾ of what it took to make MAX. It should take a lot less time, too, and the bulk of the time and money savings comes from starting with the job half-done — starting with an existing vehicle instead of starting with a pile of steel tubing.

MOTHER's Pickup Experiment

So we've purchased a 1994 Toyota HiLux, with mumbledymumble miles on the odometer, and if you look carefully at the body, you'll note various paint shades from factory red to oxidation pink, depending on the history of the various body parts. I suspect this truck has had a difficult life, but it drives straight, and it stops with minimal drama when I push the brake pedal, and the shifter shifts with alacrity, so I think it's a decent base for this project.

Now what it needs is a good name. Until someone suggests a better one, we'll call it MPX for Mother's Pickup Experiment.

*I live in what used to be known as a cute little cabin, and is now known as a “tiny house”. It's about a hundred square feet inside but it's bigger on the outside because it has hewn log walls—see, I told you it was cute!

**In my neck of the woods, if you go over 100 square feet you need a building permit. My cabin is on wheels, so it's a trailer, not a building. BTW, log cabin construction is a poor choice for mileage, but I doubt I'll be driving it much.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out the 100-mpg Car page for all MOTHER's MAX stories, and to make your own MAX.

8/9/2014 11:40:41 AM

I had an 83 Plymouth scamp and it looked like a mini El Camino. It was rated to haul 1100 pounds but the 5 foot long bed was a handicap, got a about 28MPG. They only made 2000 so good luck finding one. Your article got me to wondering if I could put a VW diesel in it. My friend gets that kind of mileage on his antique diesel powered Rabbit. Problem is I am not very mechanical. If I do all that I want an air powered car, that is recharged by a compressor that runs on renewable energy. I want to break the fossil bone and be totally green.

7/5/2014 1:48:20 PM

I agree with the commentors so far in that the extra weight required for a pickup will reduce mileage more than you have calculated while maintaining a reasonable highway speed. But...considering your experience so far, you just might do it. I'll be watching with interest too. Good luck.

6/20/2014 8:48:43 AM

I'll be watching this one with interest... While I'd love to have a MAX-style car, it's not very practical for either my life (I'm an aspiring woodworker, and need to move lumber periodically) or for New England (a car with limited roof and heat is... not great for a lot of the year). A high-efficiency pickup, though? Frankly, if it'll break 45mpg, I'd make it my daily driver: that's better than my station wagon, and with more storage space to boot.

6/20/2014 8:01:03 AM

The pickup you are describing was already built. The VW diesel pickup would do all of what you are talking about and still can be found on the used market for not too much money. While not rated at 1,000 pounds of cargo, they did and will in fact haul 1,000 pounds of cargo, but slower than unloaded. Also the Izuzu diesels were close in their mileage and these also are still out in the used market. The best current production pickup for mileage is the full sized 2014 Dodge Ram 1500 2WD listed at 28 MPG highway, with the 3.0 liter diesel turbo. Both of these were very reliable trucks, worked well for their intended purpose and can be picked up cheaply on the used market. Sadly they are so slow, especially when loaded, few people wanted to put up with them after awhile of driving them.

6/15/2014 7:49:00 PM

Have you looked into the diesel import pickups from the 80s? nissan, toyota and mazda all made 1/4 ton pickups with 4-cylinder diesel engines that came pretty close to your mileage goals. Although I don't know about the half ton of produce from the farmers market, unless you're planning on beefing up some components.