Mini Truck Trends | A history Lesson on Styles from Past to Present

LOVE ‘EM OR HATE ‘EM (SERIOUSLY THOUGH, HOW COULD ANYBODY HATE ‘EM?), mini-trucks will always be mainstays in the pages of this publication, as well as at shows across the globe. The reason? They’re just too damn cool to not be customized. The way we look at them, these compact trucks are the perfect blank slates for customizers to run wild. Over the years, we’ve seen styles and trends come and go. Some retro-inspired looks have made big comebacks over the recent years that prove that mini-truckin’ is, in fact, not dead.

Over the decades, some pretty influential mini-truck trends have set the bar of standards for years to come. Some styles, on the other hand, carry a similar feeling you get from revisiting old photos featuring your junior high school hairstyle—a bit cringe-inducing perhaps, but all good in the end. Some trends, such as loud, intricate paint/color schemes, are coming back in a real way, but you might not see that Truxarossa revival you’ve been praying for all these years. Sorry, guys. But in all honesty, age is a telling factor in the resurgence of certain styles. Hey, old-school guys dig old-school rides, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But even the younger crowd seems to be able to appreciate the trucks their dads were cruising around in pre-them.

The cool thing about mini-trucks is that the very genre itself is all about self-expression, and always has been. How else could you explain some of the stuff that customizers have gotten away with in the past? These “miniature” pickups were built to work hard, designed to haul, and made to serve as a tool for those needing payload capabilities in about half the size and cost of a full-size truck. And what did we do with them? Cut them up, dropped them on the ground and built them up into museum-worthy showpieces in some cases.

For the most part, mini-trucks that are heavily altered are done so for the pleasure of creating a custom-tailored vehicle for driving around town and showing off at events with other like-minded customizers. Each one has a humble beginning, and the art that comes next is as expressive and unique as the individual builder—that’s what makes this community so exciting to study.


With deep roots in fabrication and building from the ground up, the world of custom mini-trucks isn’t what other outside groups may see it as. Throughout the years, there has seemed to be a sort of disconnect from other segments of auto enthusiasts when looking at these things. A lot of work goes into altering and crafting one-off suspension systems for the sake of smacking pavement. Sometimes that may not be enough for traditionalist hot rod builders to recognize, but there are definitely a few from our crowd that will get a congratulatory handshake or something from the other side. But that is really beside the point.

The point here is that whatever started this whole mini-truck “thing” in the first place, whatever forces have kept it going this long, and what factors will see it though into the future has to be community based. There isn’t much help coming from automakers—that much you can bank on. The future of the mini-truck revival (if that’s even the right phrase for it) will be carried on the shoulders of those who are actively building them in one form or another, whatever make and model they may be.

So here’s to the LUVs, the S-10s and Blazers, the Rangers, Datsuns, Nissans, Mazdas, ‘Yotas and even the Dodges, too—keep cranking them out by any means necessary. That old saying about knowing where you’ve been in order to continue forward is applicable here, and without sounding like total saps, we started thinking back to some of the styles and trends that have come, gone, stuck around or on their way back from past. It definitely is a conversation worth having.

Which trends were you into back in the day, and which would you like to see return? There’s always so much going on in the mini-truck circuit, so it’s an interesting channel to stay tuned to.


One trend that can be classified as being “mini-truck” in style can be easily seen in the paint. One of this issue’s feature trucks, Josh Ellis’ ’85 Nissan 720 “The Look That Kills,” is a prime example of highly intricate and stylized paint work. What makes this truck so uniquely appealing is that the paint job isn’t a new work that is trying to capture the spirit of the old days—it actually is a time capsule from that period. The guys responsible for the paint are two names that most devout followers of custom trucks should be familiar with. Kyle “K-Daddy” Gann and Dion Guiliano of Kal Koncepts made a name for themselves with their trademark killer paint styles that have stood the test of time. The Nissan isn’t just another completed truck build—it really is a piece of history that has been preserved and carefully curated to compete with modern styles and practices.


Another great example of this style is Charles Armstrong’s Toyota build, “The Time Machine.” There’s so much more than its paint to discuss because it was really so far ahead of its time, but its combination of graphics and colors is what usually racked up “best of” awards at every show it rolled into. Thanks to William Freeman for the killer photo.


The barn-find farm style is a great look that really wasn’t something that was as widely embraced as it has been in more recent days. It really is a good look, particularly on pickups no matter their size. Whether the patina is authentic or imitated, there’s just something naturally appealing about a perfectly rusty surface. Sometimes, there’s no better painter around than ‘ol Mother Nature.


A truck’s bed is hardly used for hauling loads of building materials around, especially in the show circuit. From hydraulic tilt and “dancing” beds, it was just another area to trick out to rack up points from the judges. These types of modifications borrow inspiration from the lowrider scene as it not only shows off the ability to articulate the rear of the truck at will, but as a way to display highly detailed chassis work that would often go unseen underneath a bed that is bolted down.

Don’t forget about camper shells with blow throughs to really take advantage of any and all available space. The more audio goods with stylized presentation, the better.


Now, going back to the whole Truxarossa thing. While they aren’t everybody’s cup of coffee, they do represent the popularity of body kits and spoilers that added quick “remixes” to whatever make and model of truck they were bolted onto. This trend is one in particular that is highly unlikely to make a grand resurgence, but it is one to note when reflecting on mini-truck styling methods of the past.



Front end swaps have been a common sight among mini-trucks. With so many makes and models being somewhat interchangeable with very doable modifications, it isn’t out of the question to swap an Envoy front clip onto an S-10 or Blazer. Upgrading to newer front ends within the same model is a simple task and a great way to change things up a bit. More creative conversions are bold moves to make, as it becomes easier to spot the addition of say a Hummer grille on the front of a Hardbody. Some of the most unlikely combinations can pair well if executed the right way.


Classic interior cab space would generally consist of a lot of tweed, and for good reason—it’s durable, rather inexpensive and doesn’t look bad at all.

Clever dash swaps, custom leather-wrapped bench seating and one-off console solutions allow for the best in unique styling and placement for switches, gauges and audio gear. Painted panels go a long way whether it’s on the dash, on the doors or anywhere else in between.


Although there have always been more toned down mini-truck builds from the beginning, there is a class of them that are built to proper street rod specs. You know the ones—clean, classy, immaculate inside and out, featuring the latest and greatest components from air ride wares and premium billet wheels to a plush interior. Count on trucks in this class having impressive engine modifications as well, maybe even a killer engine swap.

The level of appeal is much higher on this streamlined, muted style— expect admiration from fellow mini-truckers, hot rod builders and soccer moms alike.



We’re talking about wheels here. Tandem rear axles and then some— man, what a concept. Shock and awe is the name of the game with this trend. Again, not too safe of a bet to see this one come back either, but looking back, there were a few trucks that pulled this look off successfully.


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