- This 1980 Toyota Hilux Was Purchased Sight Unseen And Then Driven Over 2,400 Miles Across Seven States
This 1980 Toyota Hilux Was Purchased Sight Unseen And Then Driven Over 2,400 Miles Across Seven States
The adventure included 500 dirt miles and 100 miles in low range.
Here's an idea: Buy a classic 4x4 sight unseen, travel hundreds of miles to fetch it, modify it on site for trail duty, and then drive it over 2,400 miles home across seven states with 500 of those miles on dirt roads and 100 of them on the trail with the T-case in low range.
Sound fun? Of course it does, and that's exactly what Ryan Kennelly thought when he acquired a 1980 Toyota Hilux pickup. Ryan, who lives near San Diego, California, is no stranger to 4x4s. He's an engineering drivetrain manager at 4WP Engineering by trade, he has been a participant in 4-Wheel & Off-Road's Ultimate Adventure, and his classic 1972 Chevy Blazer has graced the cover of Four Wheeler and 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazines.
Read on for the backstory of the adventure, as told by Ryan.
"In today's modern society, it's easy to follow other people's adventures. To each person, 'adventure' means a different thing. For some, picking a new hair color may be painful, but for others literally leaving the atmosphere in a rocket fits the bill. For me, adventure comes in the form of a loosely planned seven-state, 2,400-mile road trip in a 40-plus-year-old vehicle I had never seen before, coupled with a hectic prep schedule that included modifications to run some epic off-road trails."
"I saw a friend on social media talking about a Toyota truck his mother wanted to buy. It turned out she wasn't tall enough to drive it. In the social media post I commented, 'I might want that truck.' Later that night I got a phone call that the 1980 Toyota 4x4 Hilux pickup could be had cheap. My fellow 4x4 friend Bob Dubois swooped up the truck for me, and a crazy idea was hatched. I quickly started doing homework on Toyota trucks of that era and found I really knew nothing about them. The more I studied, the more I grew excited about the challenge.
"I started gathering parts and having them sent straight to Bob's house. Bob would be hosting a trail run up the Morrison Jeep Trail in Wyoming for the Wasatch Cruisers club out of Salt Lake City. This trail is no joke. When I asked Bob if I should run the trail in the Toyota, he said he would advise anyone else against it! That's my kind of trail! So, I would need tires, at the bare minimum. I called my friends at Milestar Tires, and they shipped out five new 31x10.5R15LT Patagonia M/T tires. This would be all the traction I would need to get over the Morrison Jeep Trail. I assumed anything after that would only get easier. What good are tires without wheels? I contacted Kurt Williams at Cruiser Outfitters, and he had new old stock Toyota FJ40 rims on the shelf with OEM hubcaps. Kurt's team packaged up five rims and hubcaps and sent them to Bob's house so we could hit the ground running when I got there.
"Next thing that needed was a place to sleep. I contacted Softopper, and they sent me a near perfect fit soft camper shell for the 1980 Toyota Hilux shortbed pickup. If you've never used one before, they are very cool. It's basically a tent for your truck bed that will handle high speeds. That means in the crappiest of weather, you are still dry and safe.
"Last but not least, old vehicles have substandard lighting. I needed something that would cut through the darkest of night and keep that vintage look. Here I turned to Cibie. The company makes the best 7-inch H4 conversion headlights I've ever used. Armed with 85/100-watt bulbs, they were on par with modern LED lighting, and I never felt I needed more light on- or off-road. With more wattage, the factory Toyota wiring was no longer up to the task. So I found a relay pack that takes energy right from the battery to the headlights and the original Toyota harness only operated the relays. This helped maintain that ultra-modern bright light without the fear of burning up the OEM wiring."
Upgrades in 72 Hours
"Once all the parts arrived, Bob cataloged everything into the truck bed. When I arrived, we had 72 hours to fix a few problems, change all the fluids, and install all the new upgrades. This was no easy challenge but definitely part of the adventure. As we were putting the final details on the little Toyota pickup, the Wasatch Cruisers club started arriving to join us on the two-day trail ride up the Morrison Jeep Trail."
First Time in 4WD
"It's now the morning of the first trail, and on tap was a series of switchbacks that gain thousands of feet in elevation across rocky terrain. (At this point I hadn't locked the hubs and could only hope for the best.) We pulled up to the base of the trail, the Wasatch Cruisers put the Hilux between the two most capable rigs, and we started the climb. The trail is everything they said it was: loose, off camber, steep, and rocky. Each hairpin switchback was worthy of at least a three-point turn, and some made me feel like Austin Powers in the golf cart! Twenty-six switchbacks in all with no power steering, and the adventure is in full swing. The chatter on the radio was filled with laughs and memories of Hilux commercials from the '80s as we were nearly replicating the thrashing those old ads appeared to give.
"Six hours later, we made it to Fantan Lake, Wyoming, where we would have our first night on the trail. At 10,000 feet of elevation, the air was dry and cool. The fishing was fantastic, and the food was even better. After a good night's rest, we headed to the next lake. Seemingly only a few miles away, it was several hours of running over football-shaped rocks. There we had lunch and looked over our game plan. In order for me to complete my mission in 10 days, we were going to need to hit the highway and start gathering miles. So, we aired up the Milestar tires and headed due north. Smoke from the fires created an apocalyptic look as we crossed Yellowstone National Park. Just outside the park, a cabin awaited us. This was our next destination where we would camp for the night. Beat from trail miles and road miles, I was fast asleep.
"The next morning the Wasatch Cruisers would head south to Salt Lake while Bob and I hit the pavement early in the morning, headed for Montana. Bob was driving a 1992 HZJ73 Toyota Land Cruiser from Japan. This little truck would serve as a lifeboat to the Hilux if anything went wrong. Today would be my longest road day yet at 500 miles. Just short of our destination we decided to motel it at Flathead Lake, Montana. The motel was nothing to write home about, but it was right on the lake, it was cheap, and it had great water pressure and cold A/C. That night I'm pretty sure I time-traveled as the alarm startled me at 5:30 a.m.
"After breakfast on the shore of Flathead Lake, Bob and I headed north another 100 miles, almost to Canada. The destination was a secret off-grid cabin a friend of mine has been building for 20 years. This was a great place to regroup and hang with longtime friends. Never staying anywhere longer than 24 hours, the Hilux and 73 series needed dirt under the tires again. The locals gave us a hand-drawn map of dirt roads to Idaho. The route was full of wildlife. Deer, blue grouse, rabbits, eagles, and cattle were everywhere. Large animals make backcountry travel difficult, especially in two rigs. Spooking a deer or a cow into the path of the other vehicle can end in disaster. Carefully navigating the paper map and narrowly avoiding collisions with large game, we ticked off 80 miles of dirt and reached Idaho in three hours.
"Our next destination was Post Falls, where I'd pick up a co-driver, 'Red,' for more high-altitude camping on a secret lake. The fishing was poor, but the food was still great. The next day would be Bob's turnaround point. The Hilux was running great, and Bob had to get home to tend to his other vehicle projects. Red and I headed back to his place to look over the Hilux and fix a few things that popped up over the last 1,200 miles."
Master Cylinder Fail and Hunting for Cabins in the Dark
"It was around 4 p.m., and I need to be in Reno by 2 p.m. the next day. I said goodbye to Red and headed south on I-95. Crossing through the corner of Washington and Oregon, the scenery was epic. Rolling grass fields, huge farmhouses, and classic barns lined the highway. Late into the night farm equipment worked around the clock and made the late-night drive more interesting. Sleep was in short supply with the super tight schedule, and it was starting to catch up with me.
"At 2 a.m., with 300 miles to go, I found two tire tracks headed into the desert interior. This would be my camp for the next five hours. At 8:15 a.m. I was back behind the wheel and headed to Reno. At this point the master cylinder started failing. I still had brakes, but at stoplights the pedal would creep to the floor. I called up Harry Wagner in Reno, and he said, 'Bring the truck in, and we'll get the master cylinder changed out.' For those who don't know Harry, he's made a living writing wonderful articles in all your favorite off-road magazines. As a tech writer, Harry is more than qualified to help source and change the master cylinder on the Hilux.
"With the truck prepped for more adventures, Harry lined up a trail ride full of ghost towns, switchbacks, and summiting a 11,675-foot mountain. Entering the Sweetwater Range from Highway 395, the dirt roads leave 5,000 feet in elevation and quickly start climbing. As the sun set, we broke 10,000 feet. The view was breathtaking, but it was getting dark fast. This was the first time I really got to use the Cibie headlight upgrade off-road. The next three hours we worked our way over the summit and down into the valley in search of a hidden camp of cabins in the Sweetwater Range.
"The cabins eluded us, and we ended up lost. At 10 p.m. we found a great spot to camp and called it a night. The next morning, we backtracked to the summit to find where we missed our trail. Everything looks different at night. We finally found the cabins, and it was fun to imagine the life these early settlers lived with primitive tools and supplies. Twenty miles later, we reached the asphalt. Here Harry and I would air up tires, laugh about our poor navigation skills, and part ways. It was time for my adventure to come to an end."
Death Valley and a Blown Heater Hose
"I was still in Bridgeport, California, roughly 500 miles from my final destination. I hit the road again about noon, and the temperatures were rising. This would be the hottest section of the trip, so I had to keep a close eye on the gauges. If something were going to fail, the additional heat and 20-mph headwind would exacerbate any hidden problems. I crossed my fingers and skirted the edge of Death Valley with no issues.
"Time ticked away, and so did the miles. I finally reached civilization. Only 200 miles to go, but it wasn't time to relax yet. Forty miles from home, I noticed the engine temp slowly started rising. Since the temp gauge had stayed steady the entire trip, this was a red flag, so I pulled over quickly to find an antifreeze sprinkler under the hood. Upon closer inspection I saw a heater hose had sprung a leak. Luckily it was close to the clamp, so I shortened the hose, added more water, and set a course for home. In total, the little Toyota Hilux completed 2,400 miles. Those miles included 500 dirt miles and 100 miles on the trail in low range. The Toyota Hilux was the perfect adventure vehicle.
Reflections From the Trip
"As I reflect on this spur-of-the-moment adventure, I'm reminded that life is short. You need to live it. So, if you have a crazy dream of seeing what's at the end of a dirt road, buying that project car, or just changing your hair color, climb outside your comfort zone and live your life with no regrets."