Step By Step
From the driver seat the truck feels as light and tight as a Nomex fire suit. The rollcage protects the occupants when strapped into the Beard Street Seats. Things were kept simple inside so that the driver can concentrate on the important stuff like trail obstacles and toggling the three shifters. That extra shifter in the rear gives away the Marlin Crawler transfer case setup and means a crawl ratio of about 100:1.
Stock Toyota straight axles have awesome ground clearance to step over most rocks when riding on 35-inch Boggers. This 85 housing currently holds a Detroit No-Spin and 4.88 gears like the rear. Front springs are 55-inch-long conglomerates made with Mazda and Toyota leaves bolted to rear Cherokee main leaves. Getting the ultimate flex from leaf springs usually means terrible axlewrap and this truck is no exception. James had to build a traction bar that runs parallel to the driver-side leaf spring in order to keep the pinion angle from going vertical.
The trucks frame was shortened 10 inches and has been augmented with steel tubing to form rock sliders and the rear exo-cage. The rear axle is from an 86 Toyota (it is 3 inches wider than an 85 housing) and is filled with 4.88s and a Detroit No-Spin. The rear leaf packs are based on Downey 2-inch lift springs and flex enough to make Jell-O envious. All that movement is held in check by a wishbone-shaped track bar that uses spherical rod ends to prevent binding.
Forget Bo and Luke DukeUncle Jessie could slide through this window! John built the doors to have super-low doorsills to increase visibility and provide a convenient place to hold a refreshing cold beverage. The doors are removable without the use of tools, and an aluminum door panel adds a clean look to the interior.
Check out the square-tube front driveshaft that John was running the day we saw him on the Hammers. Rather than carry two different-length spares, James can use this one made out of a Class III trailer hitch and a length of square tubing, should he pretzel one of the round-tube shafts on the trail. Trust us, this is only a temporary solution to get John to safety as the square tube is prone to monster vibrations at on-road speeds. Fabrication trickery continues with a tubular transfer case crossmember and skidplate combo to hold and protect the Marlin Crawler underneath.
Purchased six years ago as a lowered two-wheel-drive sport truck, John James 85 Toyota Xtracab now plays on boulders rather than living in fear of speed bumps. John quickly tired of riding around an inch off the street, and developed an interest in high-speed desert racing. The plan was to build the little Toyota as a two-wheel-drive prerunner, hence the Ivan Stewartlike front fenders. As time went on and John slowed down, the truck evolved into the four-wheel-drive rockcrawler you see here.
Give a man a tube bender, a welder, and enough time and he can build anything. John was ahead of the game when it came to working with steel as he is the owner of Performance Fabrication, which specializes in tubular creations. Nearly every piece of metal on this Toyota has been massaged. The frame was shortened 10 inches and the bed 20 inches, and the bedsides were replaced with fiberglass. The rollcage inside the cab ties into the rear exo-cage at the bed to strengthen the chassis and protect the body. It also provides a convenient place to mount tool-boxes and spare parts.
Its guys like John that make converting two-wheel drives to 4x4s look simple, and he claims that it was in fact the easiest part of building this Toy. We must assume that sales of Miller MIG welders increase every time people see this truck. The mumble of I could build that if I had a welder can often be heard from onlookers. We are all for custom creations and modifications that build in function and utility. Things that work well just have a way of looking cool to us. And every time we see a truck that left the factory with only half a drivetrain come out of the garage with a front axle, it makes up for 10 all-wheel-drive trucks that car manufacturers build now.