Editor-In-Chief Phil Howell is on the injured list this month after a run-in with a beadlock wheel. He'll tell you all about it next month.
Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Kevin Blumer, a recent transplant from OFFROAD magazine. Many who know me are familiar with my passion for desert racing and all things prerunner. What they're not familiar with is the side of me that enjoys trail riding and the adventures that can be had using locked front hubs and 4-Lo. That side of me has been fairly dormant in the recent past, and I'm glad for the opportunity to bring it back into the light. I digress. Here's the real story:
I was in love. I'd spotted the '81 Toyota 4x4 pickup in a copy of the Truck Trader. The half-tone-dotted photograph showed a truck that was modified with oversize wheels and tires, and a quartet of KC HiLiTeS with the oh-socool covers still intact.
I made the call and scheduled a time to go check out the truck in person. naturally, the ideal time was after dark - one of the Deadly Sins of Used-vehicle Purchasing.
The truck loomed in the driveway in all its glory. The teenaged-kid owner appeared in the driveway and started telling me about the virtues of the audio system. I should've taken this as a warning sign that mechanical things were amiss under the hood, but I was too infatuated with the rest of the truck to care.
After a few minutes of the kid singing the truck's praises and me staring in open-mouthed salivation, he handed me the keys.
The 22R burbled to life. I grabbed the way-cool aluminum Hurst shifter handle and eased it into reverse. Interstate 5 was nearby, and I soon found myself hurtling across its washboard expansion cracks with a silly grin on my face.
The suspension was atrocious. Up front, the aftermarket leaf packs were blunt-cut and had no antifriction pads. I'd guess the front suspension moved 2 inches at most. Out back, things weren't much rosier. I didn't care because this truck was going to be mine!
I drove back to the owner's house and pulled into the driveway. A look under the hood, sans flashlight, revealed an aftermarket carburetor topped by a racing-style air cleaner, and an absolute lack of functional smog-control equipment. At that moment, I was too oblivious to care. This truck was going to be mine!
The asking price was $3,000, and I was happy to pay it. My college-kid income meant I'd have to get financed. The transaction was made. The kid went away with 3 grand. I went away with a smile on my face and a rolling pile of problems to drive.
That fateful experience happened over a decade, four engines, two transmissions, two clutches, one seat, and several harrowing smog checks ago.
The Toy's disastrous state of tune turned out to be a rolling classroom for me. In my quest to improve that truck, I've learned about suspension tuning, engine swapping, metal fabrication, and gears and lockers. If I met that kid today (I still remember his name), I'm not sure if I'd punch him or shake his hand and thank him for offering that truck for sale.
As I type, the Toy sits in a side yard with an empty engine bay. I have big plans for it. The plans will have to be implemented in stages, as I'm also busy with a major build on a Ford Ranger. The first stage is a transfer case rebuild which will be followed by a suspension makeover. After that, I'll be looking for powerplant options.
We'll call the '81 Toyota the Phoenix Project. Like the fabled firebird, the Phoenix Project is rising from its latest bed of ashes.
If we meet somewhere on the trail, feel free to call me a sucker. Just be advised that if you do, you're obligated to tell me a similar story of your own.