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.”
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.
“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.
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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Hosted by James Raia and Bruce Aldrich, The Weekly Driver Podcast dives deep into the highways and byways of the automotive world. Each week, we put you in the driver’s seat, exploring unique, unusual, and often untold stories from across the industry’s spectrum.
Article Last Updated: August 8, 2023.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.