For years, going on a four-wheeling trip with our buddies had been as easy as throwing the rock-crawler on the trailer and stopping by the market for a few necessities. But, whether it was for a week in Moab, a long weekend on the Rubicon, or even just a day at the Hammers, it was always unfortunately without the family in tow.
Now that the kids have grown out of the toddler stage, we thought that it was time to build something a little more comfortable than the chopped up 4Runner, in hopes that the wife and kids would join in on the adventures. Holding onto 20-plus-years of Toyota 4x4 heritage, we opted for a 2004 Tacoma Double Cab TRD, mainly because it was a bit smaller than the ’05-and-newer models and would be a tad more nimble on the trails. Plus, it had just enough cargo space for a family of four and the necessary gear.
Of course, we needed to be careful, as this 4x4 would also serve as an extreme, long-distance commuter (the round trip for work is 110 miles). Instead of going straight for the hard-core solid axle conversion, we thought it might be a good idea to go with a 3-inch lift and 33-inch tires. This way we can check out if the family enjoys these adventures and stick with the IFS for now.
Choosing the right rims and tires to give the truck off-road performance and looks was an easy decision. We contacted Mickey Thompson and ordered a set of 17-inch M/T Classic Lock wheels and M/T Baja ATZ Radial tires in sizes that could technically be used without changing the gears: LT285/70R17 (33-inch). But, to get performance back into stock range we do recommend a ring-and-pinion swap to help save the transmission. We’ve ran this style wheel for years with a real beadlock ring without any problems on our rock-crawler, and can now confirm this street-legal combo works extremely well on and off-road.
After doing some research on the suspension options, we were able to find a few really nice IFS lifts, but some actually required new front fenders and new lower control arms that would cost quite a bit more in parts and labor when completed. We ended up choosing All-Pro Off-Road’s lift kit consisting of front 1- to 3-inch adjustable Bilstein coilover shocks with All-Pro upper control arms with a uniball joint and rear 3-inch All-Pro leaf springs with Bilstein shocks. These suspension parts from All-Pro not only had a great reputation, but also a reasonable cost. We headed out to All-Pro Off-Road in Hemet, California, where Jon Bundrant and his crew assisted us with the install. Follow along to see how we transformed the Tacoma Truckster.
After the install we really wanted to test the All-Pro suspension along with the Mickey Thompson tires and wheels, so we headed to several off-road areas, including the Pismo sand dunes. The Baja ATZs with Sidebiters provided great traction and the extra-wide footprint was even better for keeping the tires afloat when aired down below 15 psi and proved to a great tire in the sand. The AP suspension was smooth and shinned while soaking up the bumps in the rougher sections. We can still increase the height of the front suspension a bit, but at just under 2.5 inches of lift, we only needed to remove the front mud flaps and do some minor trimming of the inner fenderwell plastic to clear the 33s.