The '89 Toyota truck spread across these pages rolled off the assembly line some 16 years ago. It lived a very gentle existence for the first half of its life as commuter and weekend-trip transportation. In 1996, the present owner, Mike Lewis, purchased the lightly used rig and began using it as his daily driver. An added camper was removed from the bed and Mike used the truck for some light-action wheeling running 31-inch tires in the desert near Phoenix.
For a number of years, the truck stayed mostly stock as Mike explored back roads and trails. The IFS served him well with a comfortable street and off-highway ride, getting him through most of what he demanded of it.
A few significant events happened and things started to change. On one trail outing, Mike bent the rear driveshaft on a boulder and was forced to drive the truck some considerable distance with it bent and vibrating badly. He was stuck for nearly a week commuting to work and back with this malady, and that's when something went awry. While driving down the highway, the tranny could take no more of the shaking and split its entire aluminum case in half. At this point, it was clear to Mike that he was going to need more clearance if he wanted to play in the rocks.
Other subsequent events also pushed the truck toward a makeover. As it would happen, twice within a period of several months the Toyota fell off a service lift in a repair garage, damaging the bed each time. It seemed that if the rocks weren't going to chew at the bed, something else would. The transformation began as the crinkled bed was removed to make way for a custom-designed and -fabricated tube bed. Mike's friend, Larry Zager, bent and crafted a good-looking and functional rear bed from 1-3/4-inch round tubing. This area still serves to haul cargo and camping gear but is much less vulnerable to rock rash than the sheetmetal was. The bed is painted to match the factory Metallic Red of the cab and sports aluminum diamond-plate panels. Rear lighting is provided by a big rig taillight panel that was modified as needed, and removable mudflaps help keep the truck legal on the road.
Further tube work was crafted inside and up front. Larry fabricated a front bumper that protects the front end and increases approach angle and clearance. Toyota cabs are well designed and strong, but Mike wanted added safety assurance in the event rubber should point skyward. A full inside cage was added. Tubing passes around and across the top inside of the cab and has been skillfully run forward through the dash area down to the floor.
Next on the upgrade list was the removal of the stock IFS and the swap to a front straight axle. Fellow club members from the Built-To-Grind Rockcrawlers pitched in to complete the transformation over a weekend. Plasma arc and grinding were used to strip a big pile of stock bracketry off the front of the frame and clean up the framerails. On went a custom front drop spring mount and shackle hangers. From there, they hung a set of All-Pro leaf springs with a trussed and armored front axle. Axle upgrades included 5.29 gears and Lock-Right locker, Long Enterprises heat-treated Birfields, Kong's high-steer crossover with 9/16-inch knuckle stud upgrade, and upgraded chrome-moly hub studs. Power is transmitted to the front axle via an All-Pro long-travel driveshaft, while Bilstein 7100 remote-reservoir shocks hang from Zager-fabricated hoops.
Rear suspension currently consists of a basic 4-inch spring and block lift damped with Rancho RS9000 adjustable shocks. While this setup offers reasonable performance, the light weight of the rear of the truck does not allow the suspension to flex significantly. A custom four-link suspension with Fox air shocks is in the works.
Motivation comes from a venerable 22R-E engine backed by a five-speed tranny. A Marlin Crawler 4.7:1 transfer case gearset can offer enough low gearing to keep the 37-inch Goodyear MT/Rs wrapped on Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels moving over rough terrain.
Creature comforts got some attention throughout the build of this rig as well. Inside is a set of 3R Racing seats and APC steering wheel. Lance at Creative Car Stereo filled the cab with tunes via a Pioneer CD system bellowing 600 watts of acoustical energy. Behind the seats, a custom enclosure houses 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofers.
The project continues on as most projects do. The truck is continually evolving to improve its performance and fun factor. Thanks go to friends Mark Mason, Tony Owens, and Mark Owsiany for all their help. Mike also feels a special bond with his truck since some of the upgrade parts he acquired from the parents of his good friend Steve Custer who died in an untimely auto accident. Now Mike feels that maybe Steve's spirit lives on as his "spotter in the sky."