From Stock Toyota 4Runner to Full Off-Road Dream Rig
Vision. It’d be easy to say in hindsight there was a clear, start-to-finish vision for Toyota 4Runner. But, like many project builds, getting from stock to upgraded was an ever-evolving path. For me, a professional filmmaker and pixel pusher, it was about treading the line between daily driver and overlanding. I wanted something that could serve as a utility vehicle for carrying precious cargo comfortably and safely into remote locations.
The project began with an inferno-colored 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro and the balance of its on-road performance and off-road handling. The 4Runner is based on the tough-as-nails, body-on-frame, Toyota Prado 150 platform with a manual transfer case and bombproof reliability because … Toyota. The TRD Pro from the factory was seemingly everything originally desired as a base platform, with factory skidplates, larger Nitto Terra Grappler A/T’s, larger Bilstein shocks, and aggressive, retro styling. That was all that was needed, or so I thought.
The entire upgrade process was a back-and-forth facilitated by 503 Motoring. Iain Gordon, 503 Motoring’s shop manager, served as the conduit, offering sensible design choices, suggestions, and alternative executions. As a shop that routinely handles supercars, the 4Runner provided an interesting change of pace for its staff, mostly patrons of pavement.
Upon delivery from Japan, I immediately began altering the 4Runner for more overland-specific use. I first added a Gobi Stealth model with a rear ladder to carry more gear and expand the vehicle’s capability. facing is a 40-inch Rigid E2 combination flood and spotlight LED lightbar, while work lights are a pair of top-mounted Rigid D2 white LED flood lights. An ARB 2,000mm awning was mounted to the driver side of the vehicle’s rack to ward off the ever-present Pacific Northwest rain and provide protection from the sun during trips to shinier climes.
The 4Runner stayed untouched for a total of three weeks before I decided it needed a winch. Given that WARN Industries is a local Oregon company, there was no debate about brand. I chose the ZEON 8-S, with synthetic line, to provide 8,000 pounds of pulling power. I was reticent to give up the styling of the OEM front end, which admittedly was what attracted me to the original vehicle in its base form. The solution was to use a hidden winch mounting system from Pelfreybilt, requiring the removal of the original aluminum crush bumper assembly, and installing the steel winch plate in its place. With this system, once the front bumper valence is trimmed, you have a winch that hides neatly behind the bumper.
Unfortunately, if you live in a two-plate state, finding a good solution for a license plate is a challenge. The solution came from Cascadia 4×4 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with its Flipster license plate system. It works with either the Hawse or roller fairleads by placing a bracket behind and over the fairlead, allowing the license plate to swing up and out of the way when winching. Sandwiched between that is the Factor55 Flatlink and Hawse Fairlead, both extremely low-profile solutions. The Flatlink replaces the traditional hook, making for a safer and more visually attractive option for using a winch. Great, it’s done, right? Not even close.
The vehicle looked good with its added carrying capacity and self-recovery abilities. But all that weight had a rather adverse affect on the stance of the vehicle. So, I decided the next goal would be to tackle the suspension and tires.
I opted for the Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 2 suspension and Nitto Trail Grappler 33-inch tires, while still maintaining the original factory TRD rims; I didn’t want to give up their strength and visual appeal. But, before I could get anything installed I had reverse buyer’s remorse, and changed the suspension from the Icon Stage 2 to the Stage 5. Which gained remote reservoirs on all shocks, upgraded lower trailing arms, and tubular upper control arms.
The Nitto Mud Terrain tires were selected from past experience, as they present a good balance between off-road performance. With minimal impact to on-road noise and handling. The Nitto’s have an exceptionally aggressive sidewall tread. Giving them a beefier side profile without resorting to the use of wheel spacers.
Toyota designs their vehicles to use a 265/70 as their largest factory equipped tire. As a result, some alteration was required here and there. Being that the factory spare (already undersized by comparison to the TRD Pro’s original 31.5-inch tire) would not be ideal in an emergency with the new 33-inch tires. The solution was a rather dramatic one, and would require the first major alteration of the vehicle’s body through the use of power tools and sparks, lots of sparks.
(Not) The best space for carrying spare tire
The simplest solution for carrying a spare tire is on the roof. Does this work for most people? Absolutely. However you’re most likely not changing a spare tire under ideal conditions to begin with, and trying to haul 85-plus pounds of wheel from your roof is a serious pain in the ass. Combined with raising the vehicle’s center of gravity, a roof-mounted spare was out of the question.
The solution instead was through the CBI Offroad rear steel bumper. To say this bumper is well built would be a comedic understatement; it’s absolutely a tank, made entirely of steel. God help whoever rear-ends that bumper. In preparation the rear springs were swapped with Old Man Emu 2898 440-pound springs to handle the increased constant rear load. The CBI rear bumper provides a tire carrier on a steel locking swing arm, while also allowing provisions for dual jerry cans, HiLift jack mount, and cutouts for rear bumper lights (because, why not more lumens!).
In the pursuit of self-sufficiency an ARB twin compressor was installed, allowing for in-the-field airing up of tires or for cleaning off camera gear or other equipment. The main battery was also swapped out with an Odyssey Group 31 battery, the weight of which is akin to that of a dying neutron star. However, the added capacity helps ensure power when you need it. The vehicle can also be powered from the Overland Solar panel array that can easily top off the battery while at a campsite.
The cruel fate of the bumper
The original intent was to keep the vehicle’s front end as stock looking as possible. However, after a trip to the Oregon desert… where many jackrabbits sacrificed themselves on the front bumper, I decided it was only a matter of time before the plastic front end would suffer a cruel fate. You’ve got a lot of options with the Toyota 4Runner in regards to front bumpers. Mostly it comes down to your particular tastes.
Since Toyota 4Runner lives downtown in a rather dense city, making the vehicle longer is undesirable. The CBI rear bumper already increases the overall length of the vehicle by 1 or 2 feet due to the jerry cans and rear tire. And a large front step bumper would be both heavy, and increase the vehicle’s length further. It’s a challenge to balance out what works great off-road. With what has to be practical on-road, especially in an urban landscape.
The solution, again, came from Pelfreybilt, which had just begun offering an aluminum frontend. Its frontend mimicked the general profile and shape of the OEM frontend. So it is a complete drop-in front replacement, no cutting required. Because it was aluminum it was also a staggeringly light 62 pounds. This meant when the steel winch plate was removed the net gain was only 6 pounds. Due to the addition of the Rigid Combo 30-inch single-row lightbar.
Getting one more off-road
The advantages of the bumper were better articulation off-road, quicker access to the winch’s mechanical controls, provisions for amber Rigid D2 foglights, and, of course, added defense against front impacts. As more and more OEM components fell by the wayside. They were replaced by additional components such as the ARB steel skidplates, which integrate perfectly with the Pelfreybilt frontend. Other components were either gusseted or additionally armored to protect from trail damage.
The next upgrade, while not for the squeamish, was an amazing opportunity as the vehicle was selected to serve as a test mule for the upcoming Safari/ARB ARMAX snorkel for the fifth-gen 4Runner. What you see on the vehicle is actually a 3D printed prototype. Which should inspire a bit of awe when you consider how big the printer must be to accommodate such a large end result. The ARMAX snorkel, besides providing cleaner air in the desert, and fording capabilities, also increases horsepower and benefits in increased engine efficiency, seeing a noticeable boost in miles per gallon.
Internally the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro (based on the Trail Edition Premium) comes incredibly well setup from the factory. So the goal was to make the vehicle as livable as possible, using a full drawer system from Goose Gear. This provides full-length lockable drawers in the rear and a mounting platform for the ARB 47-quart fridge mounted on the TemboTusk LoadSpotter fridge slide.
Some -in-case-of-emergency- stuff
Other major additions were fire extinguishers, medical kits from Dark Angel Medical. Cargo organizers from Blue Ridge Overland, and navigational aids. For navigation the vehicle uses its onboard GPS, Garmin Montana GPS. Plus an iPad with Bluetooth GPS module in a RAM mount for backcountry navigation. In addition, the vehicle is wired with a HAM radio for long-distance communication in the desert. Along with a C.B. and Delorme InReach.
Ultimately this is a snapshot of the vehicle as it currently stands. It would be a boldfaced lie to say it’s done. The vehicle has and continues to outperform our expectations. Not just in how it looks, but the terrain it can tackle safely. While treading dangerously close to serving as a background vehicle along the trails of Fury Road. It also still serves admirably as an obnoxiously fun daily driver.
Read more at: recoilweb.com