The Toyota Pickup Truck Is So Dependable, a War Was Named After It

Chadian soldiers in a Toyota pickup truck 1 photo
Photo: Wikipedia user Beao
Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This is how one of James May's Cars of The People episodes started this January. If you haven't seen it yet, you probably should, because amongst other subjects it depicts one of the most interesting war facts about a civilian car ever.
Instead of granting people their wish, fate decided to minimize the importance of the horse and bring internal combustion into focus. Under the circumstances, the 20th century saw military logistics go through a mechanization process that would change the face of modern warfare forever.

But no one would have ever guessed that the Toyota pickup truck would come to play an important role in warfare history. This is the little-known story of how an army comprising 400 Toyota pickups outgunned, outsmarted, and outmaneuvered a superior force equipped with tanks and aircraft.

Commonly referred to as the Toyota pickup truck in North America, what the rest of the world calls the Hilux is the definition of utilitarian. It’s an ideal vehicle for hard-working people like farmers and builders because it’s as tough as nails and reliable. The launch of the Toyota Hilux in 1968 coincided with a never-before-seen form of conflict. In the Third World, the end of the swinging ‘60s is the era that gave us the rise of great unrest, an age that’s characterized by revolting against civil authority with the help of an AK-47.

Rebel armies sprouted like mushrooms throughout the countries that remained non-aligned with NATO or the Communist Bloc. As a means to an end for those rogue warriors, the Toyota Hilux became indispensable because there were lots of them lying around and their durability is just what a rebel force needs in the sand-filled wastelands of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The story of the Toyota War starts in 1972, the year when Libya gained the Aouzou Strip under obscure terms. The apple of discord was, as most of you have guessed by now, a strip of land in northern Chad which lies along the border with Libya.

Lured by the prospect of finding uranium deposits for the country’s atomic energy development program, Libya moved its troops and established an airbase just north of Aouzou, after which the Libyan army set up a civil administration there. Felix Malloum, the President of the Republic of Chad, brought the issue of the occupation before the UN and that’s how the situation became bloody hot for Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyan army.

To that end, the Chadian-Libyan conflict officially started in 1978. Four Libyan interventions in the Republic of Chad took place in 1978, 1979, 1980 to 1981, and 1983 to 1987. In all of these interventions, Gaddafi poured money into numerous factions participating in the war. This being autoevolution, we’ll skip past all that military mumbo jumbo to December 16, 1986, a Tuesday that saw the Libyan-Chadian war enter its closing phase - the Toyota War.

At the turn of 1968, Libyan forces numbered 8,000 soldiers, 300 tanks, 60 combat aircraft, Mi-24 helicopters, rocket launchers, and regular artillery pieces. This formidable force was marred by low morale among the troops and inadequate knowledge of the Aouzou Strip. The Libyans had to fight against the Chadian National Armed Forces, composed of 10,000 soldiers. You’ve heard that right - no aircraft, no helicopters, no tanks, nada! Chad’s only hope to drive the Libyans out of Aouzou was represented by 10,000 soldiers with limited anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and no means of transportation.

At the beginning of 1987, though, the tides of war were about to turn. As a former overseas territory of France, the French Air Force helped Chad by providing its 10,000-strong army with around 400 Toyota pickups.

Although there are no official records on why France decided to give Chad Toyota pickup trucks instead of proper war machines, we have a sneaking suspicion that they were cheaper than Humvees, more reliable than tanks, and easier to operate than aircraft. Oh, and the world-renowned reliability and durability of the Toyota pickup truck were enough to give someone an idea - why not install antiaircraft and MILAN anti-tank guided missiles in the truck bed?

That’s how the final phase of the Chadian-Libyan conflict came to be known as the Toyota War. The turning point of the conflict is the battle of Fada. On January 2, 1987, Hassan Djamous, Commander in Chief of the Chadian Army and cousin of the current Chadian President, deployed 3,000 of his men in the battle.

In the brutal engagement with 1,200 Libyan soldiers and 400 members of the Democratic Revolutionary Council militia, the Chadian army and its Toyota pickups made mincemeat of the Libyan stronghold in Fada. At the end of the day, the Libyan armored brigade in Fada had lost 784 soldiers, 92 T-55 battle tanks, and 33 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles.

Chadian losses, on the other hand, were minimal: 18 soldiers and 3 Toyota pickup trucks. January 3 and 4 saw the Libyan Air Force try to annihilate the Chadian soldiers and their trucks, but all bombing attempts failed thanks to the outstanding mobility of the Toyota Hilux. A month after this epic moment in military history, a ceasefire was agreed upon. As a conclusion to the war, the International Court of Justice ended the Libyan claim over the Aouzou Strip in 1994. Hip hip hooray for Chad!

Forget those images of ISIS terrorists shooting their AK-47s in the sky from the bed of Toyota pickup trucks. Forget the notion of terrorism for one single minute and concentrate on Chad’s victory over Libya. Hadn’t it been for the pickup trucks, things would have taken a turn for the worse for Chad and the free world alike. Most importantly, the battle of Fada is the first military victory to employ light trucks armed with weapons. This combination would later be dubbed “technicals.”

While there may be some resemblance to the raids conducted by the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group in World War II, the Toyota War is much more way-out than conventional warfare.

Thanks to his service in the Chadian army and his brilliant strategy to use Toyota pickup trucks to outmaneuver heavily armored Russian tanks, Commander Hassan Djamous proved that firepower alone doesn’t win a war. Brain and guts do. For his outstanding contribution to the Republic of Chad, the Hassan Djamous International Airport in N’Djamena is named after him.

The Toyota pickup truck is instrumental to people in the Western world, but never forget that this humble tool you haul and tow things with also has the power to shape the borders of the world we're living in.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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