The Southwest is full of nasty, rock-strewn canyons that are perfectly suited to rock buggies and huge tires. What do you do though if you don't have the money, space, or interest in a tow rig, trailer, and purpose-built rock buggy? Well, if you are David Mankins, you build a Toyota Tacoma that you can drive to the trail, wheel with buggies, and then drive back home. Mankins lives in Bosque Farms, New Mexico, in the middle of some of the country's premier rockcrawling.
Like most trail rigs, Mankins' '95 Tacoma has evolved over time to suit harder and harder trails. In this particular case, Mankins also had to wait for the aftermarket to develop parts for his vehicle or develop them himself. That is precisely what he did with the front suspension on his truck. Tired of breaking CV axles, the stock IFS was removed in favor of a Dana 44 solid front axle suspended by Jeep Wagoneer leaf springs and Rancho RS5000 shocks on Ford shock mounts. Although there are now numerous kits on the market to perform this task, Mankins fabricated his own spring hangers and shackles over three years ago when the conversion was still relatively rare. Custom steering was used to fit the Dana 44, utilizing an earlier Toyota steering box and Shakerbuilt steering arms that are connected to a 1-inch DOM tie rod and drag link, both with 1-ton Chevy tie-rod ends. The front axle is loaded with 4.88 Precision Gear gears, Yukon axleshafts, Longfield U-joints, a Tera diff cover, and a Lock-Right locker for added trail prowess.
To match the front lift height, the rear of the truck was raised with Alcan leaf springs that are damped by another pair of Rancho shocks. Beneath the suspension, a narrowed Dana 60 is packed with 35-spline axleshafts, 4.88 Precision Gear ring-and-pinion, disc brakes, and a full spool. The low gears turn 37-inch Super Swamper Iroks mounted on 15x10 steel wheels.
Power to turn the big, heavy tires comes from the stock 3.4L V-6 that is still running strong after 130,000 hard miles. From there, the torque is routed through the stock R150F five-speed transmission to dual transfer cases mated with a Marlin Crawler adapter. The front transfer case is a geardriven model from an earlier pickup that has been fitted with 4.7:1 Low range gears, while the rear case is the stock Tacoma chaindrive unit. Final crawl ratio is 226:1 for precise control when creeping through the rocks.
Much of the stock sheetmetal was retained in order to keep the truck comfortable and street-legal, although rocks in Farmington, Socorro, and Las Cruces have made some slight body modifications. In order to limit further sheetmetal damage, Mankins bobbed 13 inches from the rear of the bed and dovetailed it 14 inches narrower than stock. Further insurance comes in the form of custom tubular bumpers, All-Pro Off-Road rock sliders, and an Off Road Solutions internal rollcage. The front bumper houses a Ramsey REP 8000 winch, while the rear features an integral swingout tire carrier.
Although it's not a tubular creation, David Mankins' Tacoma is capable of traversing many of the same trails as buggies and can still drive down the pavement without donating to the policeman's ball. The low weight, flexible suspension, deep gearing, and large tires on this Toyota allow it to go wherever Mankins wants, and do it in comfort.
Year/Make/Model: '95 Toyota Tacoma
Owner/Hometown: David Mankins/Bosque Farms, NM
Engine: 3.4L DOHC V-6
Aspiration: Stock EFI
Transmission: R150F Transfer Case: Marlin Crawler adapter w/4.7 gears to stock Tacoma case
Front Axle: Dana 44, Lock-Right
Rear Axle:Dana 60 w/35-spline shafts, spool, disc brakes
Front Suspension: Wagoneer leaf springs, Rancho shocks
Rear Suspension: Alcan leaf springs, Rancho shocks
Tires/Wheels: 37x14x15 Interco Super Swamper Irok bias-ply/15x10 black steel Pro Comp Rock Crawlers