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#239, SF man operates tiny firetruck as his daily driver

Todd Lappin is a self-described Japan geek. He visits the country often and says he speaks the language badly. He has also spent several years combining his interest in cars with his fondness for the Orient.

A former magazine editor who lives in San Francisco, Lappin has imported two vehicles from Japan, including his latest find, a 1990 Daihatsu HiJet Firetruck. It’s named “Kiri.”

Todd Lappin purchased his 1990 Japanese firetruck in 2020. All Images © James Raia/2022.
Todd Lappin purchased his 1990 Japanese firetruck in 2020. All Images © James Raia/2022.

Lappin, who showcased his truck at the recent The Little Car Show in Pacific Grove during Monterey Auto Week, is my guest this week on The Weekly Driver Podcast.

Lappin, who bought the truck two years ago, qualifies. While uncertain of its detailed service history, the vehicle’s new owner communicates with residents of the city where it lived largely unscathed.

“I have gotten to know a bunch of the people in the town where it’s from through social media, which is really cute,” said Lappin, an interface designer. “They thought they were done with this firetruck and then it shows up on Instagram having the party lifestyle in San Francisco.”

The firetruck’s legacy is unspectacular. When Lappin purchased it had been driven 2,500 miles in 30 years. It has right-hand drive, a three-cylinder, mid-engine and four-wheel drive. It has 12-inch wheels and uses regular-grade fuel.

Todd Lappin's petite firetruck had only 2,500 miles on its engine after 30 years of service.
Todd Lappin’s petite firetruck had only 2,500 miles on its engine after 30 years of service.

“It’s not actually slow until it is,” Lappin said. “You top out at about 50 miles per hour, but getting to 50, it’s actually pretty quick.

Unlike traditional firetrucks, the Daihatsu Hijet doesn’t have a water tank. Because Japan is a “wet” country, as Lappin explained, firefighters assume a water source is nearby when they respond to a fire.

The truck has a removable pump that’s brought to a water source and its hoses are utilized.

The firetruck served in Kirigamine, a city in Nagano Prefecture. Lappin compared it to a smaller version of Auburn. It had a 30-year tenure as part of the volunteer fire department but was rarely called into service. Relegated to the Japanese auction system it is retirement, Lapin purchased via a wholesale transaction.

Todd Lappin purchased in 1990 Japanese firetruck for about $10,000.
Todd Lappin purchased in 1990 Japanese firetruck for about $10,000.

Shipped to San Francisco, the firetruck arrived intact. With all costs involved, Lappin paid less than $10,000.

“I have always been a car person, too, and the two things started blending,” said Lappin, 55. “I imported a Nissan Skyline from Japan about five or six years ago, which I always say was my gateway drug to the firetruck.”

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The podcast is in its fourth year, and we’ve had a diverse collection of guests — famous athletes, vintage car collectors, manufacturer CEOs, automotive book authors, industry analysts, a movie stuntman and episodes from auto shows and car auctions.

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