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3/4-Ton Turtle Toyota

Front Passenger Side
David Kennedy
| Contributor
Posted December 1, 2001

One Month, $1,000, and a Whole Lot of Parts in the Backyard

Step By Step

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  • Not too much Toyota left up front. A closed-knuckle Dana 44 converted to disc brakes turns the 35x12.50-15 Goodyear M/Ts on mismatched steel wheels with 4.56 gears and a Lock-Right. A Mitsubishi Montero power steering box now provides steering effort, and Ford 3/4-ton coil springs and radius arms were grafted onto the Toyota frame.

  • Flip the Toy over (that’s what the exo-cage is for, right?) and you’ll see that no sheetmetal was safe from the flat black paint. To get the Toy to crawl at a turtle’s pace, Joe combined an ’85 TH400 with a ’67 Jeep Dana 20 transfer case that’s fitted with 3.15:1 low-range gears from Tera-Low. Here you can see how the Ford radius arms were mounted to the transmission crossmember. Note the Cherry Bomb muffler that provides the ultimate in exhaust ground clearance.

  • This isn’t what we’d call your typical Toyota axle swap, but it works. That’s a full-width, full-floating, 12 1/4-inch Eaton axle that spins 4.57 gears. The axle came out of a ’68 GMC 3/4-ton and has had the spider gears welded up solid for better traction. Like the rest of the truck, the suspension was designed to ride low and flex big. Toyota rear leaves ride on cantilever shackles and are controlled by four Rancho shocks that angle inboard toward the center of the truck to fit under the flatbed.

  • Horsepower is up to 160 and torque to 260 lb-ft from a swapped-in 4.3L TBI Chevy V-6. Engine modifications were limited to a coat of flat black paint (we think that is still emissions-legal), and even the stock Chevy air cleaner housing was retained.

When your hometown is Moab, Utah, arguably the largest off-road Mecca in the world, you are bound to drive a 4x4 with a few unique features. It never fails. Every time we wheel there we see trucks with new ideas from all over the country. We see what works, what breaks, what’s scary, and what people just plain like to drive.

Like us, Joe West has been studying the scene in Moab for years. He runs his own repair shop there and has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to wheel Moab and how to do it as cheaply as possible. The secret to Joe’s ’84 Toyota has been to collect cheap parts and then find a way to make them work on his truck. Joe did the entire buildup himself and must have begged, borrowed, or stolen some of the parts on his rig, as he said he only laid out about a grand to build what you see here.

The buildup goals were simple: Build something fun that “looks good, runs good, and climbs like hell.” Joe went with the fat and low stance, keeping lift to a minimum and moving and cutting off anything that got in the way of the 35s. The factory bed lost out to a custom flatbed that mounts a nonmatching spare and all the trail tools Joe could ever need. An exo-cage was built to protect the Toy if it ever turned turtle, and the paint of choice was simple, flat black everything. Hey, turtles ain’t flashy.