The events of my life over the past two years have been a whirlwind of activity. Before joining the staff of Off-Road magazine I was the proud owner of an '00 Toyota Tacoma laden with tubing from head to toe. It was my baby, my weekend getaway machine, and it was a sad day when it was finally driven out of my driveway and into another's. The day I finally stomached the decision to part with my pride and joy, I knew my next vehicle needed to be something that would be both useful for my off-road addiction and practical as a daily-driven vehicle on the streets of Southern California and beyond.
The most logical decision for me was to accept my infatuation with Toyota trucks and move up to the '05 Toyota Tundra 4.7L VVT-i V8 4WD pickup. This time around, I planned to leave the major tube work behind and go for a more practical approach to satiate my hunger for dirt. The process for my new project vehicle would invlove a rather tame buildup yet showcase a flurry of aftermarket goodies to keep me prerunning racecourses on the weekends and driving to work on the weekdays at a comfort level my previous truck could not achieve.
First things first: The power difference between my old truck and my new one is enormous. Out of the box, the '05 Tundra was pushing over 280 hp - plenty, but I wanted more. I visited my friends over at JBA Headers and quickly learned they were on the lookout for an '05 Tundra to test-fit their new Cat4ward ceramic titanium-coated headers. A few of the features of these headers include 3/8-inch-thick laser-cut flanges, stainless steel mandrel-bent tubing, JBA's patented Firecone high-flow collector, and a ceramic titanium coating that provides high-heat thermal protection and long-lasting good looks. The headers fit perfectly to the truck, so we also swapped out the stock exhaust system for a JBA Evol exhaust system.
Next up was improving the remaining portion of air flowing through the truck with a True Flow intake system. The factory airbox was left intact, keeping the air cooler while protecting the True Flow foam filter from debris and moisture. The factory air tube was removed and replaced with JBA's mandrel-bent steel intake tube, which just happened to almost perfectly match the color of my truck. With all of these new parts, the truck now produces an additional 24.8 hp and 26 lb-ft torque, which would make any automotive nut smile.
Next, I wanted a few key body modifications to add eye-catching looks as well as protection and security. ATS Design has been producing show-winning vehicles for a number of years, and it was this reputation that made the company's Tundra front grille a must-have for my buildup. The unit came painted to match the exterior of my truck and has a nicely powdercoated black grille centerpiece.
Knowing that I would see 2WD and 4WD action, I wanted to protect the side of my truck with a set of DeMello Offroad rock sliders. These sliders are extremely strong and come in both bolt-on and weld-on applications in either round or square tubing. Besides the incredible protection they offer, the sliders feature a great-looking, textured powdercoating and also double as side steps for shorter passengers.
For the bed of the truck, I went with a thick coating of Line-X spray-on bedliner with the company's new UV coating. As most of you already know, Line-X bedliner lasts as long as your truck does, and the new UV coating is said to protect the bedliner from fading due to the sun's harmful rays. So far, my truck's bedliner still looks brand-new.
Wanting to store and stow my camping and safety gear, I added a SnugTop SnugLid SL tonneau cover with remote-control power locking mechanism. The cover locks down and never rattles or suffers any damage even in rugged terrain. When I don't need the cover, it is easily removed and stored in the garage.
As an avid mountain biker, I recently found an exciting new product to help me get my regular mountain-bike fix more conveniently. Simple tie-downs work great for carrying one bike, but they take time to secure, and when your weekend includes a trek into the Big Bear mountains with three of your friends you need something with more ability. The Fat Boy! bike rack by Sierra Coast Cargo Racks securely holds up to four mountain bikes in a truck bed. Mine was installed in less than an hour and quickly loaded with four bikes to check the fit. The front tire of each bike slides into its own channel, and an oversize quick-release clamps the tire down, holding the bike in place. I was able to fit all four bikes with the tailgate closed - that's impressive. The rack can either be bolted to the floor of the truck bed, or you can purchase Sierra Coast's Rack Clamp which allows you to mount or remove your rack in seconds. The racks come in various sizes for different truck beds and have optional mounts for dirt bikes.
The suspension package I chose gives me enough room for a larger, more aggressive off-road tire and also increases performance in desert terrain. The Team West suspension package for the Tundra includes front Sway-A-Way 2.5-inch coilovers, Camburg Engineering upper control arms, Sway-A-Way 2.5x8-inch rear reservoir shocks, and Deaver Spring leaf springs. Bill West of Go West Motoring/Team West has been in the business of fine-tuning race suspension systems for a number of years. His experience has led him into assembling race-quality suspension packages for Toyota trucks. I knew it would be a sure bet running the proven setup he has on his own Tundra.
Over time, the front suspension has been put to the test and has always performed flawlessly. The beefy 2.5-inch coilovers are more than enough to soak up rocky terrain, and the geometry and strength of the Camburg Engineering upper control arms with uniballs keep the movement and alignment of the truck in proper form. Under the rear axle, the Deaver leaf springs have been very progressive and respond well combined with the 2.5x8-inch shocks: The truck seems to successfully traverse its way through just about anything.
With the new height of the truck came a new set of BFGoodrich 285/75R16 T/AKO tires and Pro Comp 8023-series black wheels. The 8023-series wheel is a "timeless design with a modern twist" that features a black powdercoated face with integrated diamond-cut StreetLock, clearcoat finish, and a lifetime structural warranty. Considering this truck is not a full-time dirt destroyer, I did not want to hassle with running a true beadlock wheel: This would give my truck race styling without having to lock down 32 bolts when a flat occurs. When the wheels arrived, they came with chrome center caps and lug nuts. On a nice black wheel, these weren't exactly my cup of tea, so I placed a call to Wheeler's Off-Road in Grant's Pass, Oregon, and ordered a set of black center caps and black lug nuts. These components keep everything matching on the wheel and give the truck's shoes an upgraded look.
If you know Tundras then you know the stock brakes are not the truck's best feature. My truck needed a little help and got everything it needed with a set of Baer DeceleRotors. These rotors are OEM replacements that feature cross-drilling, slotting, and a rust-inhibitive zinc coating. DeceleRotors are specifically made to fit whatever vehicle you might have; in fact, when you order yours, you will need to provide your VIN number to be sure they are a perfect fit.
We don't typically spend a lot of time talking about fancy audio systems and sparkling interior accoutrements, but I do need to mention a few found on my Tundra. When my day in the dirt is done, I really enjoy throwing on my favorite off-road DVD, and the Kenwood DDX-7017 head unit provides everything I could ask for in an audio/video entertainment head unit. It has one of the best-resolution 6.5-inch screens I have ever seen, is satellite-radio-ready, will play your MP3s with ease, and also controls my iPod with the addition of a Kenwood KCA-iP500 iPod interface unit that has been wired into the truck's center console. Keeping my favorite music in tune is a Kenwood KAC-9152D subwoofer amplifier, a Kenwood KAC-8452 4/3/2-channel amplifier, Infinity Reference 6002i-series 6.5-inch door speakers, and a Q-Logic subwoofer box mounted into the floor storage compartment under the rear seat and stuffed with two Image Dynamics ID8 V.3 8-inch subwoofers.
Above the rearview mirror is a custom-molded mount fabricated by Troy Johnson of The Fab School in Riverside, California. I asked him to create something that would hold my Lowrance GM Baja 480C navigation unit, and not only did it fit perfectly in the factory overhead console location, but it was painted to match the truck perfectly. The 480C unit has become very popular among desert racing fans and prerunners because of its ability to plot and mark a racecourse with extreme detail and also because it features a bright, 5-inch, 256-color TFT display screen. The unit can accommodate over 1,000 waypoints, 1,000 event markers, over 100 savable plot trails, 42 different graphic icons to mark your favorite spots, and it boasts a removable slot for a miniSD memory card to save your settings and data.
So is the truck complete? I think not. What's next, you ask? As you can see, the truck is going to remain low-key, but I see a small front bumper and possibly a rear bumper in the truck's near future as well as a few more horsepower upgrades and something to add to the overall appearance of the truck. You'll have to stay tuned and keep reading Off-Road to find out more about the truck. I hope that you liked reading about my current project, because I sure love driving it. See you in the dirt!