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2003 Toyota 4Runner Project - 4 Runner Rundown

Posted in How To on December 1, 2008
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Many trail rigs run around a single theme. Our 2003 Toyota 4Runner project spans a wide spectrum. To pilot a 4Runner is to experience both the luxurious and the Spartan, as the 4Runner is adept at pampering its occupants inside while taming chaotic terrain outside. Heated leather seats meet coilover shocks and knobby tires. Although 2003 was a few years ago, we consider our 4Runner to be a current model because the 2003 4Runner shares the same platform with the '04-'08 model years. The 4 Runner shares its drive train and chassis parts with the Tacoma (4.0 V-6, front suspension) and the FJ Cruiser (4.0 V-6, front and rear suspension systems) which means that the 4Runner benefits from healthy aftermarket support.

If this 'Runner isn't a familiar sight in this magazine, that's because it's been a while since it's seen any exposure in our pages. A couple years ago, then-editor Kevin McNulty treated it to a mild buildup and drove it a little. About that same time, 4WD acquired an '07 four-door Jeep JK Wrangler. Senor McNulty became enamored with the JK, and the 4Runner ended up gathering dust in a corner of our office parking structure. When we, the current staff, took our respective seats, we decided it was time to dust off the 4Runner, treat it to some new off-road hardware, and get it back in the dirt.

This "round two" buildup was satisfyingly simple, yet yields impressive results.Products and services from Sway-a-Way, Desolate Motorsports, Mickey Thompson, and Downey Off-Road have all found their way onto the 'Runner.

To date, we've logged several thousand miles in the 'Runner, both on the pavement and in the dirt. We've shot frame after frame during product installations and driving adventures. We'll go into greater detail in the future with the tech and the travel stories. For now, we'll re-introduce our 4Runner. Getting re-acquainted has been a pleasure indeed.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

Buildup: Round Two
Although our 4Runner had already received a round of aftermarket parts, it had been returned to stock by the time the current staff was handed the keys. This gave us a blank canvas to work with. We decided to keep this buildup mild, but still wanted as much off-road performance as possible using bolt-on parts. The 'Runner functions as a daily driver as well as a trail rig, so we needed a quick, simple transformation, and good street manners in addition to our on-trail needs. Sway-A-Way's front and rear shocks and springs added two inches of lift height, and also added bump-handling abilities unmatched by the stock suspension, which was already impressive.

PhotosView Slideshow

Desolate Motorsports custom-fabricated a front bumper that vastly improves approach angle and flows well with the 'Runner's body lines. We're using Mickey Thompson's P285/75R16 Baja MTZ tires wrapped around Mickey Thompson 16X8 Classic II alloy wheels. We've had great success with the Classic II's in the past, but this time the wheels' backside profile didn't clear the 'Runner's four-piston front brake calipers.To fit the Classic II's, we needed a set of billet wheels spacers from Downey Off-Road. Wheel spacers aren't our favorite solution to wheel fitment problems, especially when used on the front wheels, but we can report that we've had zero troubles with the Downey wheel spacers after several thousand miles of street and dirt driving.

We'll highlight these products more extensively in future stories. This time, our goal was to show what we used to get the 4Runner ready for the dirt.

PhotosView Slideshow


Torrance, CA 90501
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Desolate Motorsports
Whittier, CA 90605
Downey Off-Road Manufacturing
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670

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