A Toyota with just enough sheetmetal left to dent.
As you might have noticed, '79-'95 Toyota pickups have experienced an explosion of popularity in the past several years. The aftermarket support for and shear number of these trucks found on the trail now rival Jeeps. Solid-axle swaps and crossover steering are the norm, along with Low-geared transfer cases and long, soft leaf springs. As Toyota Tacomas become older and easier to purchase, they too are showing up more and more often on the trail. One of the first people to recognize this trend and offer hard-core rockcrawling components for Tacomas was Brian Ellinger of Front Range Off Road Fabrication. Front Range began building components such as transfer-case crossmembers, full-floating axle conversions, and transfer-case twin-stick shifters for early Toyotas back in 1999. Now, the company produces all these products (and more) for Tacomas as well.
To prototype Tacoma products, Ellinger parked his '85 pickup and purchased a salvaged '99 Xtracab Tacoma in May 2003. He then used this vehicle as a platform to develop and show-case his new Tacoma products, gaining a formidable trail rig in the process. On a run through the Independence trail system in Penrose, Colorado, we had a chance to see just how well this vehicle works.
The drivetrain of the truck is mainly stock, consisting of a 5FZE 3.4L V-6 motor hooked to an Aisin R150F five-speed manual trans-mission. Behind the transmission, a Marlin Crawler adapter was used to mate a gear-driven Toyota transfer case to the stock case, where the gears are split with a Front Range Off Road twin-stick. Further product development is evident under the vehicle, where a whole combination is held in place and protected by a Front Range crossmember and skidplate.
From the transfer case, Ellinger ran the stock rear axle and a custom front axlehousing that would accept a Toyota 8-inch third member, but with the correct driver-side drop for the Tacoma transfer case. This was combined with the stock rear axle and allowed for the use of 5.29 gears. Previously, Tacoma owners were forced to use Dana 44 front axles, or switch to an earlier transfer case with a passenger-side drop. The most significant issue when running a Dana 44 in combination with a Toyota axle is that the lowest matching gearset is 4.88 -- not quite low enough for those running 35- or 37-inch tires. Note that the above is all in past tense. The 8-inch axle combination saw extreme trail use for approximately a year before Brian upped the ante. He developed an entirely new product line under the name Diamond Axles, which in addition to custom 8-inch axlehousings, now offers Ford 9-inch axlehousings.
PhotosView Photo Gallery
Ellinger's current axles consist of these fabricated 9-inch 'housings, both stuffed with Strange nodular third members containing 5.43 gears. The rear 'shafts are connected with a spool, while the front differential is an ARB Air Locker. The differentials transmit power through 35-spline chrome-moly axleshafts -- the front with Dedenbear Dana 60 outers and the rear with Diamond Axle full-floating ends. Why the need for such a stout running gear under a little Toyota? Those axles are tasked with turning 42-inch Swamper IROKs on Rockstomper bead-locked rims. Rockstomper also provides the hydraulic-assist ram, which is responsible for turning the massive meats with the help of a Saginaw pump and a Toyota steering box mounted using Front Range Off Road Fabrication bracketry. Each corner has 170 pounds of tire and wheel hanging off it and a 259:1 crawl ratio transferring torque through the axles. "The weak link is now the driveshaft yokes," Brian joked. "Ask me how I know."