When we first saw this ’73 Ford Courier in the California desert we had a rush of emotions, including awe and a strange case of envy. We also had questions. We’re used to seeing old iron rigs on the trail, but who in their right mind wheels a vintage Ford Courier? Turns out that would be Nicholas McBride, a field engineer supervisor for Panasonic Avionics.
For those of you not old enough to remember, the Courier was a Mazda-built pickup truck that was available in the US from 1972 to 1982. It had design cues meant to mimic the Ford F-Series of the time and it came standard with a four-cylinder engine. Interestingly, our research indicates that the Courier wasn’t available in a four-wheel-drive version during its lifetime, though there were some aftermarket companies doing a limited number of conversions.
McBride’s Courier is not one of those aftermarket conversions. So, how did it become four-wheel drive? Simple. It’s mostly an amalgamation of Ford Courier and Toyota pickup. OK, maybe it’s not that simple. What we have here is a Courier body grafted onto a Toyota chassis with a significant number of modifications thrown in the mix. The bulk of the conversion work was begun in 2008 by a previous owner. McBride is the third owner of the rig, and when he acquired the truck it was not running. “I purchased it in the fall of 2011 and it was in the process of being parted out and did not run. I spent the winter/spring working out bugs and taking it on shakedown runs to get it on the trail,” he says. After many hours spent wrenching, McBride got the truck running and since then it has been over the Rubicon Trail, as well as to Johnson Valley and the Prairie City ORV Park.
So, how does this unique Courier handle the trail? McBride says, “It has been reliable and hasn’t had any major trail breakdowns! It wheels great.”
McBride’s Courier is a one-of-a-kind, unusual rig, but make no mistake, it’s more than a conversation piece. After seeing the rig in action on the trail, we have to say that we’re envious of McBride’s ride.
At A Glance
Vehicle: 1973 Ford Courier
Owner: Nicholas McBride
Stomping grounds: Orangevale, California
Build time: Ongoing
Engine: Toyota 22R-E I-4
Transmission: Marlin L52 5-spd manual
Transfer case(s): Dual Toyota, Marlin Crawler MC07 adapter, Trail-Gear gears in rear ’case
Low range ratio(s): 2.38:1, 4.70:1, 7.08:1
Crawl ratio(s): 49.5:1, 97.7:1, 147:1
Front axle/differential: ’84 Toyota, Trail-Gear Six Shooter knuckles with ARP studs, Sky’s Offroad Design Wide Axle Kit, Longfield Super Axles axleshafts and inner hub gears, Toyota IFS-model calipers, FJ Cruiser rotors/5.29 gears, ARB Air Locker.
Rear axle/differential: Late ‘80s Toyota, late ’90s Toyota V-6-application third member, Chevy Monte Carlo disc brakes/5.29 gears, welded spider gears
Front: 4-in-lift All-Pro Off-Road leaf springs, 14-in-travel Bilstein 5125 shocks
Rear: 5-in-lift Marlin Crawler leaf springs, 14-in-travel Bilstein 5125 shocks
Steering: PSC Motorsports pump and reservoir, Derale cooler, Sky’s Offroad Design flat pitman arm, Dave’z Off Road Performance drag link and tie rod, Sky’s Offroad Design high crossover steering arms
Tires: 38.5x14.50-16.5 LT Interco Super Swamper TSL/SX
Wheels: 16.5x8.25 Re-centered HMMWV six-lug double beadlock w/rock ring
Armor: Full rollcage/exocage, rock rails, T-case skidplate
Cool stuff: Warn M8000 winch, bed-mounted storage
Step By Step
The backbone of the truck is a ’83 Toyota pickup chassis that has been modified. This included lengthening the tail-end of the chassis, which allowed the rear axle to be relocated further rearward and longer springs to be used. The body of the truck sits on modified and/or relocated mounts. The exocage/rollcage is tied into the frame and it was designed with several custom features including hiding the tubing inside the front fenders as it travels to the front of the truck. The wheelwells have been radiused to allow the large 38.5x14.5-16.5 LT Interco Super Swamper TSL/SX tires to flex without contacting the body. The tires are mounted to a set of recentered HMMWV six-lug double beadlock wheels that have been fitted with rock rings. Other exterior features include a Warn 8,000-pound winch (on a custom winch mount assembly), custom rock rails that are tied into the exocage/rollcage, and the factory paint.
Up front, the suspension utilizes 46-inch-long All-Pro Off-Road 4-inch-lift leaf springs and a single Bilstein 14-inch-travel 5125 shock at each corner. The upper end of each shock is mounted to a custom shock hoop.
The front axle was sourced from an ’84 Toyota and it has been beefed for hard use with a truss and diff armor. It has Trail-Gear Six Shooter knuckles with ARP studs, a Sky’s Offroad Design Wide Axle Kit, Longfield Super Axles axleshafts and inner hub gears, 5.29 gears, and an ARB Air Locker. Braking is handled via Toyota IFS-model calipers and FJ Cruiser rotors. The high-steer setup includes a Dave’z Off Road Performance drag link and tie rod (with FJ-80 ends); Sky’s Offroad Design flat pitman arm; and Sky’s Offroad Design high crossover steering arms.
Out back is a custom axle that uses a late-’80s Toyota IFS-width rear housing and a late-’90s Toyota V-6-application third member. The axle has 5.29 gears, welded spider gears, and disc brakes utilizing Chevy Monte Carlo components. Suspending the rear of the truck are 56-inch-long Marlin Crawler 5-inch-lift springs and a pair of Bilstein 5125 14-inch-travel shocks reside at each wheel. Also visible in this photo is the JAZ 32-gallon fuel cell, which sits in a custom mount.
Under the hood is a 2.4L Toyota 22R-E four-cylinder engine. Previously, this engine had been propane powered, but all of the propane equipment was gone when McBride purchased the Courier. He chose to run a carburetor, so he installed a Weber 32/36 and all the needed components. A high-flow air cleaner and a header from Hedman Hedders improve the engines breathing. Electrical needs are handled by a custom Toyota/Ford wiring harness, Chevy one-wire alternator (on ToolBox Guy mount), and a Optima YellowTop battery. The engine is cooled by a custom Summit Racing aluminum radiator fitted with a Flex-a-lite 12-inch-diameter electric fan. Note how the radiator had to be fitted inside the core support and the radiator cap is accessed through a hole in the core support. Other underhood mods include a Wilwood clutch master cylinder and brake master cylinder; PSC power steering pump and reservoir; Derale power steering cooler; ARB air compressor; and Warn winch control unit.
Bolted to the modified Marlin L52 heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission is a pair of Toyota T-cases mated together with a Marlin Xtreme Duty MC07 adapter kit. The front T-case uses the stock 2.28:1 low range gears and the rear T-case has been fitted with Trail-Gear 4.7:1 low range gears. The rear T-case is also outfitted with a Trail-Gear twin-stick setup. The custom skidplate/transmission/T-case mount has been designed to allow more ground clearance than the stock setup. A custom rear CV-equipped driveshaft and a custom Trail-Gear long-spline front ‘shaft spin the axle’s internals.
Significant modifications were made to the interior of the Courier, including a new transmission tunnel; PRP seats with DJ Safety restraints; “cheap auto parts store brand” oil pressure and water temperature gauges; and an eBay-sourced steering wheel. Passengers are protected by a full rollcage that is tied into the frame. The PRP seats are mounted on a custom structure made from 1.5-inch HREW tubing that is also tied into the frame.
The cargo box of the Courier has been heavily modified and it houses items such as a Stanley storage bin (housing tools and recovery equipment), securely-mounted Hi-Lift jack, and spare tire. Also note that a portion of the cab and the cargo bed bulkhead has been removed, in part to allow the seats to be mounted further rearward.
The Warn M8000 winch is bolted to a custom mount that ties into the rollcage/exocage. This setup also offers a 2-inch hitch receiver.