chickens for tax

The Chicken Tax: Light Trucks, Big Tariffs, Small Diecast

Happy Tax Day, at least for most of you in the U.S.! Today is as good a day as any to look at a specific tax that affects imported trucks. It’s called the Chicken Tax. It’s not related to income tax, but…

In the mid-’60s, American poultry farmers had gotten so efficient at raising chickens that it became cheaper for some European markets to import meat instead of buying it domestically. So tariffs were slapped on U.S.-produced chicken to level the playing field. For whatever reason, in 1964, Lyndon Johnson retaliated by imposing a 25% tax on light trucks built not just in Europe, but from every country. That added a pretty hefty penalty on compact pickups.

I don’t want to bore you with the details, so enjoy this video that explains it better than I could. Also, the video has some nice diecast action!

Anyway, here are some vehicles that were affected, in diecast form, of course.

hot wheels chevy luv

Chevrolet LUV– The Isuzu-built LUV (Light Utility Vehicle) was Chevy’s first foray into the compact pickup market. They were priced low enough that even with the tariff, they were a bargain. Eventually, GM introduced the American-made S-10, and there was no LUV anymore.

Matchbox-Lesney-Ford-Transit-

Ford Courier Transit – The very British Ford Courier pickup was a versatile vehicle, but never made much of a splash in the U.S. market, partly due to prices.

hot wheels mazda pickup

Ford Ranger/Mazda Pickup – Another case of a modestly priced pickup that also carried the Ford banner, this was essentially a rebadged Mazda pickup. Ford eventually created a domestic replacement, and Mazda abandoned the U.S. truck market. 

light you up dihatsu hijet

Japanese Kei trucks – Tiny trucks like the Daihatsu HiJet should have been huge sellers, but that darn Chicken Tax did them in for the most part here. By the way, the bed on a HiJet is longer than most modern extra-cab, lifted, full-size brodozers you see in America.

AMT subaru brat kit

Subaru Brat – The compact uni-body Brat was a fun concept that sold well in America. The company cleverly got around the tax by installing backward-facing jumpseats in the bed, qualifying it as a car, instead of a truck. The seats were easily removable, but too much fun, so why would you bother?

Amazingly, the Chicken Tax is still in effect today. The most common way to skirt the issue is for companies to build auto plants here, so they become domestic trucks. Another way is to ship mostly (but not quite fully) assembled vehicles to North America for the last few bits to be installed.

Do you have diecast of any other light trucks that were affected by this tax? Don’t be chicken, let us know in the comments!


Ron Ruelle is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator who also writes about model cars. You can see his work at www.ronruelle.com

2 thoughts on “The Chicken Tax: Light Trucks, Big Tariffs, Small Diecast

  1. FWIW, it was really the popularity of VW that really kicked off the Chicken Tax – all of the “deck van” variants (single cab, DoKa), along with the cargo van couldn’t skirt the tariff – hence why the US only got the “station wagon” and camper versions once the tax was enacted in the mid-60s.

  2. Now that the fuel-injected generation of Kei trucks has reached the 25-year import restriction limit, there seems to be a lot more interest in them in the US. Some localities are out and out banning them for road use.

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