Mark Mason likes rocks. Some might even call him a rock junkie, so much so that Mark has made 'wheeling his hobby as well as his business. As the owner of Kong's 4x4 Off-Road Center in Phoenix, Mark stays busy, but he also makes time to do a little 'wheeling of his own. And his vehicle of choice is his highly modified '87 Toyota 4Runner.
When Mark's SR5 4Runner left Japan, it was fully setup with all the goodies: A/C, cruise control, power windows, and an independent front suspension. Mark bought the vehicle in near stock configuration about four years ago and almost immediately went to work on it.
What you see here is part of the slow evolution this extreme Toyota has undergone. With trails becoming gradually harder, a trend toward lighter rigs has developed and one way to shed a few pounds is to trade sheetmetal for tubing. This results in less metal, better visibility, less weight, and greater occupant safety.
After having been on a lot of trails and rolled over once or twice, Mark's 4Runner needed a facelift. Out came the plasma cutter, torch, and Sawzall for some serious amputations. When the dust cleared, nearly everything behind the dash was gone, including the windshield. In its place came a lot of tube work spun out by Mark Owsiany at Kong's.
A full cab cage was built, and the entire rear area was encompassed in tube. The fabricators used 1-1/2-inch mild steel tubing for most of the cage work, and then they added mounts for a cooler and spare parts box.
To tackle tough terrain, Mark knew the IFS had to go. Most Toyota solid axle swaps follow a fairly predictable pattern and almost duplicate the front suspension design of the older straight-axle trucks. Mark deviated from that norm and took a different path. The 4Runner rides on a standard straight axle from those early years, but there are no leaf springs. Instead, the front of the 4Runner rides on a set of 4-inch Superlift springs from a Jeep TJ kit, which are bolted to custom coil buckets. Front axle movement is controlled by a five-link array that Mark designed and built himself. This setup provides pliable suspension travel and plenty of flex for crawling over boulders.
Out back, Mark used leaf springs to handle the suspension chores. Superlift springs from a 6-inch Dodge truck lift kit offer lots of articulation and work in tandem with dual shackles at the back to accommodate the 63-inch long springs. This setup makes for nearly 18 inches of rear travel. A custom U-bolt flip kit keeps things tucked up out of harms way.
A venerable 22RE four-cylinder provides the horsepower, while a stock Toyota five-speed backs into a JP Eater dual transfer case setup that allows 15 forward speeds and slightly better than a 5:1 transfer case ratio in Low-Low range. This is a relatively light setup and provides great crawling abilities.
Both Toyota axles are equipped with 5.29 gears. Locking action comes from an ARB air locker up front and a spool in the rear. The front axle is further strengthened with a Kong's crossover steering kit with sturdy 1/2-ton Chevy tie rod ends and a 1-1/2x.250-inch wall DOM tie rod and drag link. Long's Enterprises Super Axles provide strong Birfields for rough play. With the custom suspension pieces pushing the axles outward, the wheelbase ends up at about 110 inches.
Arizona Driveline custom-built the CV driveshafts using 0.280-inch wall tubing. The tires are 37x13.5x15LT Mickey Thompson Baja Claws in the special competition compound and are wrapped around Mickey Thompson Classic II aluminum wheels. Should trouble come and traction be lost, a Warn HS9500 winch with Masterpull rope sits ready on the front bumper.
Other goodies on Mark's rig include Renegade Magnum seats, a CO2 Powertank, PIAA driving lights, Dick Cepek rock lights, and an 8-gallon Jeg's fuel cell. The cell is mounted at the rear, between the framerails; it has been modified to use a stock Toyota EFI pump to keep it emissions-legal.
Mark's 4Runner has been stripped down for four-wheeling fun on Southwestern trails. We caught up with him at the recent Toyota 4Runner Jamboree in Johnson Valley, California, and got some shots of him in action. This rig was built for play, and Mark is not afraid to get out and use it.
|Owner/hometown:||Mark Mason/Phoenix, AZ|
|Year/make/model:||'87 Toyota /4Runner|
|Engine:||Toyota 22RE four-cylinder|
|Transfer case:||JP Eater dual transfer case|
|Frontend:||Early Toyota solid axle swap w/ARB air locker|
|Rearend:||Toyota w/ spool|
|Suspension:||Superlift 4-inch coil springs (front)/Superlift 6-inch Dodge leaf springs (rear)|
|Wheels/tires:||37x13.5x15LT Mickey Thompson Baja Claws/15x12 Mickey Thompson Classic IIs|