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1981 Toyota Pickup - Some Assembly Required

Posted in Features on March 1, 2003 Comment (0)
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While some folks might build up their 4x4 to a particular degree, run it 'til it breaks, then fix it, George Dobson of Ponca City, Oklahoma, takes a different slant on things. He subscribes to the work-in-progress theory, where everything is temporary and a 4x4 is never complete, no matter how many times he may "finish" the buildup. Having begun the construction of his '81 Toyota with three separate vehicles (good frame, good cab, good parts), George had an excellent foundation for such a buildup, which started out as simply a desire to go 'wheeling with his buddies. Soon enough, however, old parts made way for new parts, and before he knew it . . . well, lets just say the lid was off the box and parts were going everywhere. Not surprisingly, more than most of them landed in the right places.

Wanting his Toyota to be as user-friendly and capable as possible, George went about completing a number of tasks. As a result, the cab came off the frame and the rails were cut from the middle of the cab forward and replaced with sections of 2x4-inch square tubing. In the process of doing so, the wheelbase was stretched to 110 inches, the structure was strengthened, and the foundation upon which George would design the Toyota's suspension was created. Because he was on a tight budget, George was relying on quite a few take-off parts from friend's vehicles, making them work to his needs. A set of National Spring 4-inch TJ coils came his way and spawned the idea for the front four-link design. George constructed the links himself utilizing 1.75-inch DOM tubing with Currie Johnny Joints at the axle end and bushings to the frame. A full-width Dana 60 took up residence up front, positioned 6 inches forward from the stock location. Built by Wagoner Machine Shop (WMS) in Claremore, Oklahoma, the Dana 60 housing was shaved for increased ground clearance and the knuckles were rotated so the pinion angle could be raised. The axle was then stuffed with 35-spline inner and outer 'shafts, an ARB Air Locker, and 5.13 gears. Moving to the rear, a GM 14-bolt was acquired and set up with 5.13 gears and a Detroit Locker. A four-wheel disc brake kit and rear axle skidplate came from Sam's Off Road in Tulsa. Though George indicated that he'd soon be revamping the rear suspension configuration to a coil spring setup, the leaf-spring design appeared to work sufficiently on the trail. The spring mounts were lowered 3 inches to accommodate 3.5-inch lift springs with buggy leafs at the shackles. All told, the design offers 6.5 inches of lift. George also designed a telescoping and twisting traction bar that allows the axle to fully articulate while preventing spring wrap. The suspension was topped off with Rancho RS9000 shocks in each corner, with plenty of space beneath the fenders for the 42-inch TSL Swamper rubber mounted to 15x12-inch bead-locked Fast wheels. The hefty meats are directed by an AGR steering box protected by a custom skidplate.

Big horsepower came George's way in the form of an LT-1 350 MPI engine out of a '95 Z-28. Being that the stock mill was already long gone, the decision to drop some American muscle under the hood was an easy one, especially because the frame modifications were carried out with such a thought in mind. A TH400 transmission went in next, followed by a mess of transfer cases that included a Dana 300 and an NP203.In search of the ultimate low, George mated the 'cases utilizing a WMS-built adapter. The 203 went in upside down, necessitating much of the floor to be cut out. Three shifters were installed to operate the combo, which offers a Low range selection of 2:1, 2.6:1, or 5.2:1. To fill the hole created by the upside down NP203, George went about constructing a custom console with a B&M shifter mounted atop it to operate the TH400. The console was built into the remaining stock dash sections and outfitted with a selection of gauges and switches to operate such items as the ARB, an onboard air compressor, the electric engine and tranny cooler fans, and even a few fun extras such as oil slick and smoke screen. With the custom console in place, George had the entire interior coated with a spray-on liner, in addition to constructing an interior 'cage and installing stock seats and belts.

The exterior benefited from George's craftsmanship as well. George bent and welded the tubes for the exterior rollcage and the front bumper, which houses a Ramsey REP8000 winch. Headlights from a '93 Chevy pickup were affixed to the front fascia, and a custom bed was constructed using electrical junction boxes. An onboard welder and an air compressor were installed within the bed box and a tranny cooler and electric fan were mounted on the rooftop to the exterior 'cage.

As you can see, George knows a thing or two about vehicle design. And, true to his ever-changing attitude, he has since replaced the steering system with a full hydraulic set up. While some might call his Toyota a "work in progress", it's more accurately defined as "progress at work." He installs or builds the parts, uses the parts, then pulls them off to make room for the next design idea that pops into his head. So far, the rig has worked better and better with each new transformation. Maybe George will never stop building it. But if he does, one could certainly say that it was a job well done.

SPECIFICATIONS
Owner/hometown: George Dobson/
Ponca City, Oklahoma
Year/make/model: ’81 Toyota pickup
Engine: ’95 Chevy Z-28 LT1 350
Induction: MPI
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP203/Dana 300
Frontend: Dana 60, ARB Air Locker
Rearend: GM 12-Bolt, Detroit
Ring-and-pinion: 5.13
Suspension: Four-link front with
4-inch National Spring
coils, 3.5-inch rear
leaf-springs with buggy
leafs at the shackles
Wheels/tires: 42x15-inch TSL
Swamper/15x12-inch
Fast wheels

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