Automobile

Toyota Tundra through the Years: The History of the Big T

Car and Driver

Some trucks’ histories are long enough that descriptions like primordial, of yore, or ancient come to mind—but not the Toyota Tundra. The Big T is now only entering its third generation after 22 years in production. To compare, the first Ford F-series trucks were produced in 1948. And yet, the Tundra has claimed its own corner of the huge U.S. truck market in a relatively short time, with U.S. buyers taking home 109,203 Tundras in 2020.

The Tundra’s story began with Toyota’s decision to build what it wanted to sell, somewhere it knew people would buy it. The United States is one of only a few countries where people drive pickups for pleasure. Toyota wanted a piece of that segment and built its full-size pickup in Indiana. Today’s new Tundra still offers what people loved about the first one: exceptional reliability with V-8 power in a package that imitates its SUVs. The new Tundra looks likely to be even more desirable than today’s model. Here’s how Toyota’s biggest pickup grew through the years.

All the 2022 Tundra Details

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1992: Keeping It T100

Introduced in 1992, the T100 was developed and made by Hino, a Toyota commercial-vehicle subsidiary. The T100 was an odd bird that was built in Tokyo and slapped with a 25 percent U.S. import tax, and it sold for more than the price of a V-8–powered Ford F-150. A more expensive, smaller, and less powerful truck is the Hamburger Helper of recipes for success. But that import tax wasn’t the T100’s greatest weakness; it was the fact that Chevy, Dodge, and Ford all offered V-8s. A 150-hp V-6 can’t compete with that, and it didn’t. In 1995 it was given a larger V-6 with 190 horsepower and 40 pound-feet more torque, but that was barely enough oomph for the average guy, which meant it wasn’t enough to put a dent in the Big Three’s sales.

1998: Troublemaker T150

During the 1998 Chicago auto show, Toyota debuted the T150, its answer to everything it got wrong with the T100. The T150 concept was bigger, better-looking, and marked Toyota’s V-8 entry into the full-size truck segment. The only problem: a rather familiar alphanumeric name. Ford wasn’t happy about it. Toyota agreed to change the name if Lincoln would drop the numbers for the LS6 and LS8 luxury sedans, likely preventing a Toyota T-150, Ford F-150, Lexus LS400, Lincoln LS6 comparison test from your favorite automotive publication.

1999: First Generation

Among the cattle, pygmy goats, and elephant ears at the 1998 Indiana State Fair debuted the very first Toyota Tundra. Produced at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Princeton, Indiana, the first-gen Tundra was the first full-size pickup built in North America from a Japanese automaker. Today, the Highlander, Sequoia, and Sienna are produced there, but Tundra production moved to Texas in 2008 and remains there today. Dimensionally, the Tundra was smaller than the full-size pickups around it—eight inches shorter than the 10th-generation Ford F-150, with a wheelbase more than a foot shorter than the Silverado.

2003: Stranger Things

The stepside pickup-truck bed was first introduced on the International Harvester Travelette in the 1950s. Then came Dodge, followed by Ford and Chevy, and Toyota introduced a Stepside option on AccessCab models in the 2003 model year. Early-2000s pickups with this stepside style looked different. It was a way to access stuff inside the truck bed without opening the tailgate, but really, its appeal was its sporty look. Toyota, like Chevy and Ford, used a weird version of their normal taillights for these beds.

2003: Hey, Arnold!

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t your favorite Terminator movie. Unless it’s the only Terminator movie you’ve seen. But during this scene, the Tundra takes a crane-size beating. Thus, a special edition Tundra T3 exists. It was a special package only available on Tundra SR5 Access Cab rear-drive V-8 models. It had some pretty cheesy Terminator 3 badging inside and out with a limited production of 850 models.

2004: More Power

The Tundra was only available in single- or extended-cab versions until the Tundra DoubleCab (crew cab) was offered in 2004. The base engine was a 190-hp 3.4-liter V-6 it borrowed from the outgoing T100 pickup, but the 245-hp 4.7-liter V-8 was the engine that made the Tundra appealing. The V-8 was a must-have in the pickup-truck segment. For 2005, the first-gen powertrain received a larger 236-hp 4.0-liter V-6 base engine, and output for the V-8 was cranked to 282 horsepower with the addition of Toyota’s VVTI-i variable valve timing. Unfortunately, a V-8 Tundra with a manual transmission wasn’t sold.

2004: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

The Toyota Tundra was enjoying the fruits of its labor here in the U.S. So why not have a little fun? Toyota Racing Development (TRD) put together this 650-hp V-8 Tundra race truck and joined the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. Toyota was the first and only Japanese automaker to participate in that level of NASCAR racing. Toyota had already won the Indy 500 in open-wheel racing, and they put some successful drivers in their trucks, including championship winners Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine, and Travis Kvapil. A Toyota team would go on to win the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2013 through 2017. Here’s all two hours of its first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race that happened at Daytona International Speedway under the lights, where Toyota finished second.

2008: Second Generation

To make the Tundra Texas-sized, Toyota moved production to San Antonio, Texas, where production of the newest truck remains today. It outgrew its 90 percent shell, with six body and bed configurations and overall length increasing by up to 10 inches. The suicide-door AccessCab extended cab was replaced by a double cab with front-hinged doors. More engine options were added as well, including the Tacoma’s 236-hp 4.0-liter V-6 for base Tundras, a 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8, and the trusty 276-hp 4.7-liter V-8 from the old truck. A new six-speed automatic was added, but only for the 5.7-liter. The new pickup also brought an end to manual-transmission Tundras.

2008: Tundra TRD Supercharged

Available for the 5.7-liter V-8 Tundra, a bolt-on Eaton Roots-type supercharger was sold as a performance accessory for $5875. The supercharger and its air-to-liquid intercooler increased power to 504 horsepower from 381 and torque to 550 pound-feet from 401. We drove an SR5 Toyota that added the TRD supercharger, a dual exhaust, and a 16-inch cross-drilled front rotor with six-piston caliper kit. When we cruised around California with it, a former staffer described the experience as “It’s like you’re always on snow.” Toyota also sold an Ivan “Ironman” Stewart Signature Series Tundra, which came with a TRD-supercharged V-8, brakes, and big Hella lamps on the front as a nod to the legendary Baja off-road champion.

2008: When Life Gives You LeMons

We put the new Tundra through our 40,000-mile long-term test. Of our 44,824 logbook miles, we towed for at least 22,000 of those. We went all in on the utility when speccing it, too. We started with an extended-cab SR5, cloth interior, and no navigation. Save for the most important part, its 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8, we were roughing it. It was a mostly undramatic experience, with the gauge cluster faulting into Christmas-tree mode only once. With normal driving we averaged 13 mpg in the city, barely under its EPA estimate. And towing only dropped that to 12 mpg. While chaperoning, we towed LeMons cars from Ann Arbor to as far east as Watkins Glen, New York, and towed out west to California.

2012: Space Shuttle Shuffle

This is might be the most unconventional payload that has ever been conventionally towed. Space Shuttle Endeavour needed a lift from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center. The usual armada of robotic vehicles that typically transport space shuttles was too heavy to cross the Manchester Bridge, so, as with any moving predicament, you call your friend with a pickup, and eventually everything works out in the end. The Tundra used was a CrewMax powered by a 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8 with four-wheel drive. Lots of planning such as removal of power lines, street lights, and traffic signals was required to accommodate the total mass of the shuttle plus transporter, which added up to 292,500 pounds. The tow only lasted for about five minutes but was surely the coolest part of the 12-mile journey.

2014: Refreshed

Polishing up the second-gen Tundra meant enhancing a few of its distinct features. A larger grille, chiseled fenders, and new taillights were the most obvious changes. The interior was also redesigned, with a completely new steering wheel, infotainment display, seats, and gauge cluster. The base 4.0-liter V-6 received an extra 34 horsepower, pushing output to 270, nearly matching the output of the updated 4.7-liter V-8 from the first Tundra.

2014: Baja 1000

In 2014, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro finished first in the Stock Full class after over 1200-miles of off-road racing across the Baja California Peninsula for the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. Toyota completed the race in 35 hours and 40 minutes, beating three other competitors in the class, including a Toyota Land Cruiser that was the only other vehicle to finish the race three hours behind the Tundra.

2016: One-Million-Mile Tundra

Victor Sheppard’s 2007 Tundra can attest to the model’s long-term reliability. Sheppard bought his pickup new, and he made enough trips from his home to North Dakota, Wyoming, and Virginia to average about 125,000 miles annually. An insane accomplishment. After nine years, the pickup still retained its original engine, transmission, and paint at one million miles. Toyota replaced Sheppard’s truck with a new 2016 Tundra and disassembled the engine, chassis, and body to study what the inside of a one-million-mile truck looked like, for scientific purposes. And glory.

2021: Third Generation

The 2022 Toyota Tundra enters its third generation with some pretty groundbreaking changes. Gone is the trusty 5.7-liter V-8. Its replacement, a 389-hp twin-turbo V-8 with 479 pound-feet of torque, is an improvement in power and torque over Old Reliable. A hybrid powertrain has also been added, with 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque. Both of these engines get a 10-speed automatic and a revised suspension. The old truck used rear leaf springs, but that’s been replaced by a coil-spring multilink that should offer a much more controlled ride. An available air-spring suspension has also been added, with electronically controlled dampers. The new Tundra can tow up to 12,000 pounds, which doesn’t beat Chevy, Ram, or Ford but is more than the Nissan Titan. The interior also receives an optional 14.0-inch infotainment system, the biggest screen available in a pickup today. The Tundra is all grown up.

Tundra Twerk

An honorable mention because the twerking bed hop on this Tundra mixed with Sage The Gemini’s Gas Pedal is too good not to mention.

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