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  • Writer's pictureKen

Wonderful Small: Our 40-HP 1998 Honda Acty SDX

With North American truck brands constantly battling each other the most payload, towing capacity, interior room, luxury, and driver-assist electronics, finding a simple, small, reliable, and affordable small pick-up truck that's just the right size for urban light duty tasks seem few and far between, these days.

Sure, the new Ford F-350 has an available 430 horsepower out of its 7,300cc V-8 gas engine, 500 horsepower and 1,200 lbs/ft out of its diesel variant with a maximum available tow rating of 30,000 lbs and 40,000 lbs with a gooseneck tow hitch. But like other popular full-size trucks in this class, it measures over 22 feet long in its largest and most capable trim, weighs over 3 metric tonnes with a turn radius about 30 feet and, while its fuel economy ratings are concerningly absent from Ford's official product spec sheets, Fuelly guesses an average no better than 13mpg on a good day.

With Ford having discontinued North America's last true compact pickup truck, the [real] Ford Ranger in 2011, the small truck industry has been in a supply vacuum for longer than a decade now. Mid-size trucks have taken over the ground where compact trucks now lay unquestionably at rest: At least for the new truck market.

Enter the venerable Kei Truck: Specifically, in this instance, our 1998 Honda Acty SDX.

Kei trucks are mini trucks that belong to the Japanese Keijidōsha (light vehicle) class.

They have been in production in Japan since 1949, and come in various configurations, including pickup, dump, box, fire truck, delivery truck, and even fuel tankers. They are also available in rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions, depending on the terrain and weather conditions the user expects to drive them in. Kei trucks are powered by small engines that range from 550cc (pre-1989 regulations) to 660cc, and they can reach speeds of up to 70 mph. They have a payload capacity of around 350 kg (770 lbs), and can fit through tight spaces and narrow roads normally reserved for the smallest of hatchbacks or ATVs.

The Acty may have less than 10% of the engine displacement of a full-size truck, but still accomplishes most of what we expect from a pick-up truck.

The Honda Acty was introduced in 1977, and it has been in production ever since. The name Acty stands for “activity”, which reflects the versatility and functionality of this vehicle. The Honda Acty comes in two main variants: the truck and the van. The truck has a two-door cab and a flatbed with fold-down sides and tailgate, while the van has a four-door cab and a cargo area with sliding doors.

The Acty with panels folded down, in flatbed mode. An eagle soars strong and free above, symbolizing the freedom that JDM vehicles offer to our lifestyle,

The Honda Acty has undergone several changes and improvements over the years, but one of the first models that departed from the old carbureted engines in favour of moderm electronic fuel injection is the 1998 SDX we are featuring today. It was part of the third generation of the Acty, which ran from 1990 to 1999, with the chassis code: HA4. The SDX was one of the higher-end models alongside the Acty Street and the Acty Attack, that featured a fuel-injected 660cc engine, a five-speed manual transmission, Honda real-time all-wheel drive, as well as air conditioning and alloy wheels in some models. The 1997 and up models also featured a facelifted front fascia with that included wide rectangular turn signal lights directly below the updated headlight design.

The 1997-up "kouki" (late production year) headlights feature integrated turn signal lenses.

The fuel-injected SDX was a popular choice among users who wanted a more powerful, comfortable, and stylish Kei truck over the carbureted models of the late 80s and early 90s. 1996 was the last year for the Actys to have a carbureted option, as Honda switched to fuel injection for all models in that year.

A closer look at the bed shows the outline of the engine cover under the factory bed mat.

The 1998 SDX had a top speed of 120km/h (70 mph) and a fuel economy of around 38 mpg. It could carry up to 350 kg (770 lbs) of cargo on its flatbed, which measured 1.8 m (5.9 ft) long and 1.4 m (4.6 ft) wide.

The interior is spartan but offers basic comfort, as well as convenience, and great utility. A removable heating pad was added for the driver, who is known to complain of cold no matter how warm the cabin.

The truck we are featuring today only has 50,000 original kilometres, and is maintained by the current owner in original, collectible condition. Most kei trucks came in "Kei Truck White" as we unofficially coin the paint code, although some rare examples are known to come from factory in a blue colour. Our US-based JDM collector magnate, Kyle, has one such rare, blue Acty "Attack" edition featuring a locking rear differential, among his collection of over 40 JDM classics. Let us take this occasion to coin this shade "Kei Truck Blue".

"SUPER VAN" tires on 12 inch wheels with a tall sidewall aspect ration ensures decent ride comfort, traction, and excellent efficiency.

The Acty is unfortunately no longer in production today, discontinued in 2021 as new regulations made it harder for Honda to profit from these vehicles. However, the legacy of the Acty will live on in the used car market as one of the most iconic and beloved Kei trucks in Japan, and now more than ever, elsewhere in the world where these trucks are importable.

The sun has set on the Honda Acty model forever in April 2021. But an exponentially growing interest in importing used Acty trucks is keeping this amazing truck in the spotlight.

There is a growing demand for imported Kei trucks in the United States and Canada, where more and more people are discovering the benefits of these vehicles. Kei trucks are ideal for local delivery, farming, landscaping, hunting, camping, off-roading, and other recreational activities. They are also cheaper than regular trucks or ATVs, easier to maintain and repair, and more environmentally friendly due to their low displacement.

Night city driving in our Honda Acty in Vancouver, BC.

While the prospect of importing your very own Kei truck is an exciting one, navigating the convoluted processes of procurement, de-registration, in-land transport, shipping, compliance, registration and taxation is not as simple as viewing one in-person and buying one locally. There are several rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure legal compliance and safety standards. For example, US federal law does not allow the import of vehicles that are 25 years or newer as they are generally not registered to meet EPA and crash standards, and Canada will only allow vehicles older than 15 years old, for similar reasons. This means that only older models of Kei trucks can be imported into the US and Canada legally. Some states and provinces also have stricter rules than others regarding registration, inspection, insurance, and emissions.

The bed light on this Acty was converted to a third brake light to comply with federal safety standards, among other modifications.

If you have your heart set on importing a Kei truck, or any JDM into North America, it's important to do some research and consult with experienced importers who can guide you through the process. You will also need to obtain various documents from Japan that prove the vehicle’s age, origin, condition, and ownership. Some of these documents may need to be translated into English by a certified company.

It's time to embrace the many joys of small-vehicle ownership.

Importing a Kei truck or small JDM car may seem like a hassle at first glance, but many of our followers who have approached us for importing advice as well as our selection of ready-to-drive cars truly value their practicality and versatility over over-the-top power and heavy-duty towing capacity. We find our own collection of Kei trucks not only an absolute joy to drive, but also useful for hauling our camera and event equipment, JDM parts, engines, and of course, our stockpile of Japanese snacks and groceries.


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