Trail's End - July 1997: A Look at Toyota’s Track Drive System

    Throwback Toyota 4Runner

    Ken BrubakerPhotographer, Writer

    At the 1997 Detroit Auto Show, Toyota displayed a ’97 4Runner that was fit with a track drive system. The system intrigued us so much that we made the trip to Toyota’s Toronto-area cold weather proving grounds to drive the vehicle and our review was published in the July ’97 issue of Four Wheeler.

    Toyota’s prototype track drive system was inspired by a concept car called the Mogul. This vehicle was designed by Toyota on behalf of the Japanese Forestry Service, and the vehicle was displayed at the 1995 Tokyo Auto Show. In the story, we quoted Toyota as saying that the company planned on releasing a production track drive system in Japan during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Toyota was a major sponsor of the 1998 Winter Olympics, and it was expected that the track system would be installed on official vehicles during the event.

    “…one thing’s for sure: the traction is astounding”

    The track system was made up of four separate tracks that bolted to the axles in place of the wheels. An adapter ring was bolted to the axle using the factory stud bolts and nuts. Then the 200-pound track unit bolted to the adapter. Estimated time to install the system was said to be 40 minutes for two people. Each track was approximately 76 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 26 inches tall. Each was wrapped by a steel-belted rubber belt manufactured by Goodyear, and the belt had an all-terrain-style tread pattern. The track system reduced the final drive ratio 0.62:1 over the stock P265/16 tires. It changed the outer dimensions a bit, too, adding about 2 inches in height and 21⁄2 inches in width. Toyota told us that the system allowed the vehicle to run though almost 31⁄2 feet of new snow, as well as climb a 20 degree incline covered by over 1½ feet of fresh powder.

    “Our first thought as we drove the vehicle was that it felt like someone had strapped 200-pound blocks to the wheels. You can definitely feel the extra weight in the steering wheel, as well as in the way the vehicle rides, but one thing’s for sure: the traction is astounding,” we wrote. We noted that the system wasn’t ideal for deep water crossings or mud driving because “it tends to lose traction and hydroplane in water over 2 feet deep.”

    When it came to paved roads, we wrote, “Our brief trek onto dry pavement proved what we already suspected, which is that you wouldn’t want to do it for considerable distances. The hard rubber belt transmits all of the road imperfections through the chassis and the system is only rated for top speeds up to 62 mph; safe and stable speeds top out around 50 mph.”

    Toyota’s track drive system may have never made it to the U.S. by 1998 as we predicted in the story, but it certainly was a unique and fascinating concept back in 1995 when aftermarket track systems were very rare. And over and above the incredible capability the system afforded in the snow, there’s no denying the mega-legit cool factor.

    Have you ever driven a tracked 4x4 truck or SUV? If so, drop a note to and tell us about your experience, what type of vehicle you drove, what type of track system was installed, and the conditions.