2004 Toyota Tacoma - Soft-Shell Taco'Posted in Features on September 1, 2005 Comment (0)
Toyota pickups work great off-road. Pre-'95 Toyota pickups are very popular with the hard-core, off-highway mini-truck market, with many companies building fine products for the older pickups that allow owners to build their trucks into extreme rockcrawling or backcountry rigs. Pre-'95 Toyota pickups are getting hard to find, though, because most owners drive the wheels off of them before they're ready to part with their pickups - and, of course, Toyota's not making them anymore! The Tacoma, or Taco' as it's affectionately known by owners, was introduced in mid-1995 and wasn't changed until the '05 model year, making it a large resource for Toyota off-road project vehicles.
The Tacoma threw a few curves at the people who wanted to use them for hard off-road use. For the rockcrawlers who wanted to eighty-six the independent suspension in favor of a straight-axle conversion, the frame was a bit weaker up front and the rack-and-pinion steering wasn't strong enough to handle 37- to 44-inch tires. Companies have now started offering kits to convert Tacomas to straight-axle, addressing these and other issues. For those who want to keep their independent suspensions, there are long-travel kits to upgrade the Tacoma into a high-speed Baja basher.
These changes and upgrade kits are well and good for the hard-core off-roader, but what about those who want to upgrade their Tacoma a bit, making it trail worthy, but don't want to make the truck so radical that it might not pass a DMV inspection? All Pro Off-Road in Hemet, California, has the parts that can make these people happy.
All Pro is owned by rockcrawling champion Jon Bundrant. Jon took note of the fact that there were many Tacoma owners around who wanted to upgrade their trucks. He also figured out that the Tacos were the next big market for the Toyota aftermarket industry. After purchasing a new '04 Tacoma as his test mule, Jon went to work designing pieces that would make the Taco' a competent off-road vehicle and installing them on this, his own pickup.
From the factory, Tacomas have a cushy ride that, unfortunately, also affords plenty of body roll. Some aftermarket suspensions address this by making springs stiff. This gets rid of the body roll but makes your Taco' lose all its filling off-road. The All Pro suspension uses custom-valved Bilstein coilovers up front, along with 550-pound All Pro coils. Squeaks are eliminated by using the factory rubber bushings with steel inserts. The All Pro 4130 chromoly tubular upper A-arms are TIG-welded with a 1-inch uniball that provides maximum upper A-arm articulation without the binding associated with the factory ball joint.
All Pro Tacoma long-travel leaf springs offer plenty of flex but still provide stability. The packs are military-wrapped, shot-peened to reduce stress, precycled to reduce sag, and contain antiwrap leaves and Teflon spacers to reduce friction. The company's U-bolt flip kit and rear shock mounts allow more ground clearance than stock. Ten-inch-travel Bilstein shocks were installed in the back.
The new high-clearance front bumper carries a Warn 8,000-pound winch, but can also handle a 9.5ti if you really think you need it. The rock guard nerf bars kick out in the rear, which keeps the body away from biting rocks. In the back, an All Pro Extreme Duty rear bumper wraps around the back end for more rock protection. The transfer case is protected by an All Pro skidplate. Jon also bolted on the company's E-locker skidplate that protects that little jewel in the rocks. Diff armor was installed, along with a low-profile drain plug.
During the photo shoot, the Taco' exhibited superb manners on and off the road. The 285x75R16LT BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain TAs mounted on 16x8-inch Weld wheels with OMF bead locks worked well in providing flotation and clearance; the suspension soaked up bumps at high speeds and, while very stable (good-bye body roll), still provided plenty of articulation. Jon has built this truck to work well for 90 percent of Taco' owners who want to travel beyond the pavement. For you other 10 percent, watch for a Tacoma straight-axle conversion, hybrid Dana 60 frontend, and other modifications that will turn Jon's soft-shell Tacoma into a Taco' supreme.