Launched in 1984, the Toyota 4Runner continues to have one of the biggest enthusiast followings to date. Originally offered with a removable hard top, solid front and rear axles, and two doors, the 4Runner was the one of the best off-road–ready platforms of its time. Despite the rugged SUVs early success, the much-desired solid front axle was discarded in favor of IFS for the ’86 model year. While the 4Runner remains a staple in the off-road world, enthusiasts have been looking to recreate the magic of the early platform for decades with the late-model offerings.
Casey McGoun’s ’98 Toyota 4Runner is a perfect example of combining this off-road legacy platform with modern wares. We first ran across McGoun’s 4Runner at East Coast Gear Supply in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the then 20-something employee was working part time in the shipping department. Like many of us have done, the full-time college student had been picking away at his 4Runner between school and work.
Over the years, McGoun had taken advantage of the 4Runner’s ever-growing aftermarket support and created a wheeler that could easily remain reliable for his commuting needs. Once his wheeling progressed to even harder terrain, McGoun made the smart decision of removing the independent front suspension in favor of a more durable solid front axle. While there are a few conversion kits offered in the aftermarket, McGoun (along with the help of some friends) decided to build a custom kit.
Using coilover shocks, along with a radius control-arm link suspension, McGoun was able to create a rig that could handle all of his needs. We got a chance to catch up with him and his 4Runner at the Flats Off-Road Park in Marion, North Carolina. McGoun was even nice enough to tote us around while our rig was disabled. Experiencing how well the rig performs both on- and off-road got us itching to build something similar! We’re definitely fans and glad to see another example of the 4Runner torch being carried in such a solid way.
Under the hood, the 4Runner’s 3.4L V-6 engine gets a bump in power thanks to a TRD supercharger. A Split Second piggyback ECU works with a URD 7th injector kit to allow the 5VZ-FE series engine to breath correctly. Freeing up even more flow is a set of OBX headers and TRD after-cat exhaust.
A TRD boost gauge, Innovative Motorsports Air/Fuel display, and UltraGauge OBD-II interface offer extra insight into the 4Runners performance. While the Toyota’s transfer case was kept stock, the A340F automatic transmission did get an IPT valve body upgrade and accumulator springs, along with a TRD cooler that’s fit with its own electric fan. For you astute 4Runner enthusiasts, you may notice that a nicer steering wheel was swapped in from a ’99 model.
McGoun might be a college-aged wheeler, but he’s got plenty of wheeling experience. Since there’s no trailer for this daily driver, he totes the spare parts and tools he needs to keep it going. The fancy ARB fridge/freeze is also a handy upgrade for those long weekends camping in the Carolina mountains.
A large undertaking for any experience level, McGoun removed the often problematic independent front suspension in favor of a more robust solid axle. The 60-inch WMS Dana 44 frontend was sourced from a Jeep Wagoneer. Inside, it’s packed with an ARB Air Locker, 4.88 gears, and a set of chromoly axleshafts. Providing lift is a set of 2 1/2-inch, 12-inch-travel Sway-A-Way coilover shocks. PAC springs with a primary rate of 200 in-lb and secondary rate of 300 in-lb provide the supple ride and performance.
To complete the custom steering setup, McGoun used Trail-Gear frame plates and steering box mount, in addition to notching out the frame so the flat pitman arm would clear. A Crane steering arm works with the Reid Racing steering knuckles to provide plenty of clearance for the 1.5-inch, 0.250-wall DOM steering links. To make the steering movement easier off-road, a tapped steering gearbox was purchased from Trail-Gear and plumbed to a 6-inch-stroke hydraulic-assist ram.
A fresh set of 4.88 gears, along with a Toyota E-Locker, provides the go force for the 35-inch-tall Goodyear MT/Rs. Since when we shot the feature, McGoun has added wheel spacers to help increase stability and provide the extra bit of component clearance he needed. Old Man Emu 850J coils work with OME 12-inch-travel shocks to give the SUV around 6 inches of lift. McGoun was really hoping to have the rig around 3 inches lower, which we think explains why his buddies call him Casey 3-inch, or C3 for short.
To improve the approach angle and increase nose protection, an Addicted Offroad front bumper was installed. The high-clearance setup holds a Smittybilt 8,000-pound winch, and tucked just behind the grill is a Derale power steering cooler. The radius arm setup provides plenty of articulation for the rig, so much so that McGoun decided to restrain the downwards travel with a set of limit straps from Trail-Gear.
This generation 4Runner has plenty of rear overhang from the factory. To offer more protection, a CBI Offroad rear bumper with a tire carrier was installed. This setup makes it easy to still access the cargo area, while doing a fine job of holding the spare 315/75R16 Goodyear MT/R.
We’ve spent some time wheeling with McGoun and were impressed with how well the 4Runner worked, even on some of the more difficult trails. Compared to a sea of JKs on 37s, this Desert Dune 4Runner stands apart from the pack. Even with the high-mileage powertrain, McGoun wasn’t afraid to use the skinny pedal to get the rig where he needed it to go.
At A Glance
Vehicle: ’98 Toyota 4Runner
Owner: Casey McGoun
Stomping grounds: Raleigh, North Carolina
Build Time: 2 Years
Engine: 3.4L, V-6, TRD Supercharger
Transmission: A340F automatic
Transfer case(s): Stock
Low range ratio(s): 2.56:1
Crawl ratio(s): 34.98:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 44/Yukon hubs, chromoly axleshafts, ARB Air Locker, 4.88 gears
Rear axle/differential: Toyota 8-in/TRD E-Locker, 4.88 gears
Front: Custom 2-in, 0.250-wall radius arms, Ballistic Fab joints, 2 1/2-in, 12-in-travel Sway-A-Way coilovers, PAC 200/300 springs
Rear: Custom control arms, Old Man Emu 850J springs, Old Man Emu 12-in-travel shocks
Steering: Trail-Gear tapped Toyota gearbox, Reid Racing knuckles, Crane high-steer arm, 2x6-in hydro-assist ram
Tires: 16x8 SCS F5 Alloy
Wheels: 315/75R16 Goodyear MT/R
Armor: Addicted Offroad front bumper, CBI rear bumper/tire carrier, Stubbs Welding HD-SKO sliders, modified First-Gen 4Runner interior rollbar
Cool Stuff: Satoshi grille, ARB 50qt. Fridge/Freeze, Smittybilt winch, Oliver’s Custom Drive Shafts