1989-92 Daihatsu Rocky – Rare and (Kind of) Awesome

1989-1992 Daihatsu Rocky. A gem of a cheap 4X4 – if you can find one!

The Daihatsu Rocky sold in the states for only a few years.

Starting its life span all the way back to 1989, the Daihatsu (F300) Rocky had a worldwide run of 13-years. In this states, it was sold alongside the Daihatsu Charade (terrible name) from 1989 to 1992. It was also called the Feroza and Sportack (among others) overseas. Sadly, Daihatsu simply couldn’t make the North American market work out.

That was a shame.

While it has recently switched to an all-new platform that’s front-drive bias, the original was a capable off-roader. Built as a proper body-on-frame setup, the measurements for the Rocky were outstanding. It was 151.4-inches long, 68.5-inches wide and it had a 85.6-inch wheelbase. In contrast, the same year Jeep Wrangler was 153-inches long, 72-inches wide and had a wheelbase of 93.4-inches.

It came with 225/70R15 tires on steel wheels.

The Daihatsu Rocky was much wider than the Sidekick and Samurai.

With only one engine available (in the United States), power came from 1.6-liter SOHC 94 to 103 horsepower four-cylinder that made 103 lbs-feet of torque. With a curb weight of between 2,700 – 3,100 + lbs (depending on equipment) it was fairly light on its toes. It competed favorably against the Wrangler with its four-cylinder option.

The only transmission available was a five-speed manual.

This was a proper little 4X4 with a solid rear axle, manual locking hubs and great balance. Yes, it has an independent, double-wishbone front suspension, but the articulation is pretty good considering. It helped sort the on-road driving dynamics as well.

I drove a diesel version overseas for a month and it was easily as capable as the (new back then) Suzuki Sidekick, with a better ride. Back in the states, I drove my college roommate’s Rocky a few times with the gas 4-banger. It was noticeably faster in traffic, but it was pokey in the city and not as well equipped as most of the competitors.

A soft top came standard on the base model SE. Like the Geo Tracker/Suzuki Sidekick, it was only a partial convertible. A two-section removable hardtop was optional on the SE and standard on the top-of-line SX.  Amenities were few, but it did have A/C, a four-speaker stereo system and power steering. Later, overseas models added modern additions, but we never saw those.

Failure based on timing and logistics

Daihatsu was well established worldwide for their small cars. They were one of Japan’s oldest autnakers dating back to 1908 and they maintained a solid reputation over the decades. They misjudged the U.S. market and came here three to seven years too late.

Honestly, Daihatsu built solid little cars. Their tiny three-cylinder Charade was a nice little city car that was better than the Yugo and most American small cars. The Rocky was more than competitive too. Unfortunately, Daihatsu entered a market with no partnerships, no dealer network and no brand recognition.

They had only three models (if you count the four-door sedan version of the Charade) and very little media. That, along with under-delivering on sales expectations, made the failure of Daihatsu inevitable in our market. By 1992, Daihatsu completely left our market.

A solid and cheap deal – if you can find one.

In 1990, the Daihatsu Rocky started at $10,987 for the base-model soft top. Prices could surpass $15,000 for top-of-the-line SX. Back then, dealers were knocking off a lot of dough to move these things. My roommate’s new SE base model was closer to $9,500 out the door… in 1991.

Today, they are kind of rare. Still, I have found a few good runners that were priced between $2,000 – $6,000. Obviously, parts take time to procure, but, given its long overseas lifetime, ordering components is quite doable.

This Daihatsu Rocky just popped up on Craigslist in Oakdale, CA. It’s clean as hell and listed at $4,999 with (just) 153,734 miles! That’s about 1/2 the price of a “cheap” side-by-side. (Image: Craigslist)

Many folks out there swap axles and do lifts, turning these little guys into serious rock buggies. Others collect a few to build a unique, and slick little driver that makes some folks scratch their heads.

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.