I don’t need a 4WD but I inherited this from my late father in 1993. He towed his caravan with it and really liked it. From the side it is good looking vehicle-classic 4WD lines enhanced by the raised white resin top. It looks very tall and narrow from the front or rear however- I presume this reflects the Japanese attitude to wide cars of that era.
My first impressions were that the diesel engine noise and harsh ride were unacceptable. I observed that later model Rockys had more sound deadening, so I removed the entire dashboard and stuck sound-deadening foam on the firewall- not a trivial job. I also put sound deadening foam under the bonnet. It made a noticeable improvement, although it is still a noisy vehicle.
I assumed that the harsh ride was because of the short-travel leaf springs, but removing the standard KYB shock absorbers revealed that they were responsible for much of the harshness. They may have protected the vehicle but they didn’t do much for the occupants. Fitting Konis made a big improvement, but of course it is still a primitive suspension. The manufacturers recommend low tyre pressures of 20-23 psi presumably to soften the ride. I run them at 25-28 psi, as without power-assistance for the steering, the effort is too heavy at lower tyre pressures.
Despite having a ladder frame chassis, there is quite a lot of body flexing, and the spare tyre mounted in the middle of the back door didn’t help. Later models have shifted the spare wheel closer to the hinges (they also had support struts fitted inside for the side pillar), so I had some modified brackets constructed to do this, and to lower it at the same time to improve rear vision. This worked fine although it meant moving the number plate to the opposite side. While I was at it I had a roll bar fitted (again like later models have) so that proper lap-sash seat belts could be fitted to the side positions in the back. I also had the rear squab raised and head rests fitted to offer at least some protection to the back passengers.
I note the complaints reported about the front seat frames on Rockys, but I guess mine has only had light use, so there have been no structural failures. The wire support frame underneath the front cushions did cut into them badly however, which was remedied by fitting carpet under them. Lumbar support was poor so a bit of extra padding was added there as well.
The gradual coolant leakage from the RHS of the head gasket has been a problem. I removed the head thinking it was a cylinder head gasket problem but it turns out that it was caused by corrosion around the water passage openings in both the head - these passages are quite close to the outside on the RHS of the engine. My father had owned the car for 9 years before he died, but had not done the 40k stipulated as the change interval. He obviously had not read the bit about 2 years/40k whichever occurs sooner. I presume the coolant had turned corrosive. I just bolted down a new gasket and used Bars Leaks to try to stop the leaks, but eventually decided it might be better to do without it. Loss has remained modest, but coolants without ethylene glycol anti-freeze seem to leak less. If the corroded metal can be replaced I will have the head and block fixed, but it will be a major job.
Fuel consumption and power improved noticeably after running an injector cleaner in the vehicle - I used BP Diesel GO which is added with every fill up, and it took several years for the full benefits to occur). Commuting gives 8.7 lt/100 km (32.3 mpg) and the best I have had on a trip was 7.7 lt/100 km (36.6 mpg). Pretty good for a heavy (1600 kg) vehicle with no aerodynamics, although of course terminal speeds don’t go much over 90 km/hr/. Performance is not a word that I would associate with diesel Rockys, but they do pull a load very well.
I am constantly surprised that there is no sign of deterioration in the radiator or heater hoses, which are original (24 years old). I fitted a coolant level alarm and bought spare hoses just in case. One design failing is the self-adjusting mechanism on the rear drum brakes- they simply don’t work. Adjusting them manually is not all that difficult once you work out how to do it, and it makes a noticeable improvement on the hand brake. I am also surprised that I have had no problems with the fuel pump seals following the introduction of low-sulfur diesel fuel.
All in all just a very faithful vehicle which will outlast me.