The van currently searing your eyes with its yellow hue looks like any other old high-roof Toyota HiAce, but there’s so much going on underneath. This 1989 Toyota Picnic for sale on Craigslist is a rare German-built left-hand-drive Japanese camper van with a five-speed column-shift manual and a turbodiesel engine.
Our editor-in-chief Rory dropped this Toyota Picnic into the office Slack, and it was love at first sight. I mean, just take a look at the thing and tell me that you don’t adore it and its glorious school bus yellow.
The camper van is based on the third-generation of the Toyota HiAce. These spacious vans are work vehicles, family vehicles and totally rad homes on wheels. While we got the Toyota TownAce/LiteAce/MasterAce as the Toyota Van in America, the larger HiAce was never officially sold here.
If you see a HiAce in America, it’s most likely to be a right-hand-drive model imported from Japan. That’s one of the things that makes this one a little different. It’s left-hand-drive, making it a better fit for American roads than a right-hand-drive vehicle would be.
Sprouting out of the right side of the van’s steering column is another treat: a five-speed manual. Yep, you row this bad boy straight from the column! More cars should shift gears like this.
Located not too far from that shifter and between the seats is Toyota’s 2L 2.4-liter diesel four. That pumps out 82 hp and 123 lb⋅ft to the rear wheels. The seller describes it as fast off of the line, but that’s about it. He says that it’ll do 70 mph, but it really feels at home going 60-65 mph.
I spoke with the owner, and he started it right up with me on the phone. It sounds glorious, even transmitted through a crappy phone line.
He mentions that while the van is long and tall, it’s actually narrower than a 4Runner, so parking it is a breeze. He also says that it handles well for a van, with a suspension that soaks up bumps and plushy, comfortable seats. Of course, having the cab over the wheels is good for maneuvering in tight areas.
The camper portion of the van is just as rad as the rest.
There’s a kitchenette unit with a stove, sink and refrigerator. That’s attached to a whole wall of cabinets for plenty of storage next to a big bench seat that turns into a bed.
Up at top is even more sleeping arrangements in the form of a bed under a pop-up tent. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a shower or toilet, but there’s plenty of room to add a cassette toilet and an outdoor shower.
The ad accompanying the van mentions a number of times that it’s rare and that you will never see another. I was skeptical because Japan is full of Toyota HiAce camper vans waiting to get shipped off to America.
But sure enough, when I tried to figure out anything about the van, I got stuck at dead end after dead end. The only “Toyota Picnic” that I could find any information on was the 1990s Toyota MPV that Top Gear laughed at.
Thankfully, the van explains its own origins. According to a little plaque, the van was built by Karosseriewerke Weinsberg in Germany.
The company is a coachbuilder specializing in RVs for Europe. According to Coachbuilt, it started with building horse-drawn carriages before building bodies for everyone from Daimler-Benz to Ford. Karosseriewerke Weinsberg ended up in the hands of Fiat in 1938, where it would make goods for the WWII war effort. Eventually, it made its own cars based on existing European designs under the brand Weinsberg. Heinz Prechter, the founder of American Sunroof Corporation, acquired a controlling stake in Weinsberg in 1988 before fully taking over a year later.
Through all of this, the company built camper vans. I could not find any information on the Toyota, but here’s an ad for its Fiat 900 E Picnic.
Weinsberg still exists today, having survived a number of insolvency filings and owners, including another RV manufacturer, Tabbert Industrie AG.
It seems like this van is definitely pretty rare. I could not find another for sale, even diving into sites in various languages. The seller tells me that this particular van lived much of its life in Spain before reaching the States. There’s all of 68,850 miles on its odometer and it looks ready for a new owner to continue its adventures. It’s $25,000 on Craigslist near Houston, Texas.