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Mazda’s Humble Pickup Hero, the B-Series, Deserves Your Respect

Before it was a rebadged Ford Ranger, Mazda's little truck was a classic workhorse.

There's an inflection point, somewhere, in the 1980s and 1990s Mazda B-Series truck's history, where it went from being a painfully forgettable (but definitely competent) compact pickup to something almost desirable. Toyota pickups of a similar vintage hit that point a few years before, which is to be expected given their reputation—and ubiquity. But the Mazda, a smaller and more niche product, like the Isuzu LUV/P'up/Pickup and the Mitsubishi Mighty Max/Ram 50, took a little longer to achieve its renaissance.

Remember, when this Mazda B2200 and its competitors were made, very inexpensive two-wheel-drive models were everyday workhorses for families, small businesses, and government fleets. You couldn't draw a starker contrast with the "compact" pickups of today, which are relatively expensive, much larger, and full of features that'd be considered downright luxurious in 1988. (And yes, they're much safer and more capable, and considerably more fuel efficient given their weight, so it's not all bad news.)

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Despite having few frills, these trucks managed to nail an understated style. The classic Casio F-91W digital watch comes to mind, an unapologetically cheap watch that's also had an unexpected second life as a retro fashion icon. The Mazda has that same aesthetic, something clean and crisp that comes from a focus on pure functionality. Look at the way the mid-body crease flows into the small stamped fender flares, under the taillights, and across the tailgate. Also note how the sills kick out slightly at the bottom. It's all very simple sheetmetal stamping, to give the body a bit of flair with as little tooling cost as possible, but it has a handsome effect. Even the basic polished steel wheels, in almost unbelievable condition here, are visually complex enough to add some pop. And the color, Bayside Blue, hits that perfect note for the period, more interesting than utility truck white but not something that overwhelms the truck's simple lines.

The interior has even more of a Casio watch feel than the exterior, with red instrumentation and chunky, blocky shapes. The ribbed rubber shift boot, at the time sort of a low-rent touch, now looks exotic, like something out of a Citroen concept car from the early 1980s. Rough-textured fabric and vinyl on the seats looks funky, too.

And the coolest part about a vintage compact truck, to our mind, is that you can appreciate its charms while still using it as a truck. Despite an underwhelming engine, a carbureted SOHC 2.2-liter inline-four making just 85 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, it could handle 1,400 pounds of payload and tow 1,000 lbs while returning decent (for the time) fuel economy of an EPA-rated 24 MPG. It wasn't going to do anything quickly, but as anyone who grew up around little trucks of this vintage will tell you, they can take quite a bit of abuse and offer a lot of utility given their tiny footprint and paltry specs.

This particular 1988 B2200 is one of the cleanest you'll see, showing just 128,000 miles, and it's available in a no-reserve auction at Bring a Trailer. Many trucks of this period simply have been entirely used up and junked by now, but occasionally you see trucks like this in the Pacific Northwest, where a lack of salt and gentle suburban duties can spare them the worst abuse. Someone clearly loved this truck, which was driven sparingly over the last three decades. But it's a truck, and nothing that'll ever make a seller rich at Barrett-Jackson one day, so its next owner should love it, but also use it.