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Graduated 4Runner Build

Written by  Matt Hayward
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Graduated 4Runner Build | TCT MagazineIt was time for graduate school, which meant a more reliable and efficient vehicle than my worn out Silverado was needed.  After a brief search for a car, I realized I needed an SUV.  Having some prior experience with 4Runners, I set my sights on one.  

A 4th gen was chosen since they felt more robust than the older models and, after some interweb scouring, several were located nearby.  However, few were within mileage and price constraints.  About this time 5th gens were hitting the scene and my aunt, knowing that I was looking at 4Runners, devised a scheme in to get herself a new model and help me with a deal on her ‘03.  After a little more searching around, the decision was a no brainer and I was to be the proud new owner of a mint Limited with a stack of maintenance docs as thick as my textbooks.

The only caveat was that it was 2x4; at the time it wasn’t an issue because my last truck, the Silver Slut, had logged as many miles in the dirt as on pavement… and the abuse had taken its toll.  I didn’t want that to happen to the 4runner, so the lack of front driveline was viewed not as a hindrance, but as insurance it wouldn’t leave pavement (hah!).  Little did I know what thirst for adventure and obsession with the outdoors and photography the purchase would lead to.

Just because it was light on front mounted drivetrain components didn’t mean it had to remain stock. I didn’t want to get caught trying to unlock some coed’s SororRunner at the mall with my key, so I planned for a few changes to make mine stick out.  Before there was a 4Runner in my driveway, there was a Defiant Truck Products short tube light bar and Yakima MegaWarrior sitting in my garage, in addition to some components pilfered from the Silverado.

Graduated 4Runner Build | TCT Magazine    After spending some time behind the wheel and surfing the interweb (especially T4R.org) in search of advice, I came across the infamous FJ spring swap, a simple suspension change that would eliminate my biggest complaint about my new purchase.  It rode like a boat – caroming over bumps and leaning around corners.  After finding some lightly used coils (and a set of spidertrax spacers because they made the wheels stick out and look cool), I took a trip to my buddy’s shop and had the whole thing finished in a few hours.  And that was that, my 4Runner was perfect.
Well then I got a call from another friend who needed his Harley pulled to Southwestern Colorado.  Before he could say “free gas,” I was already at his parents’ place loading up the trailer.  I also picked up a DSLR for the trip, a purchase that would provide me with a new passion. Once the trailer was unhooked I was ready to explore the wilderness and had a capable SUV to carry my bike and myself wherever I wanted to go.  That is until I made my way to the Wheeler Geologic Area, the rustic dirt road suddenly turned to rocks, the smooth grade suddenly became undulating, and finally dirt turned to mud.  After it started raining, and I’d scrubbed the running boards more time than I was comfortable with, I decided to turn back.

This was the first time I’d ever retreated from a trail and I didn’t like the feeling, little did I know that feeling would lead to a series of modifying and re-modifying every aspect of the truck.  While it was still mostly stock (and 2WD!), the 4Runner did get me to several striking, remote places on my trip, igniting a fiery passion for capturing those moments and views for others to see.

Graduated 4Runner Build | TCT MagazineFor a period several suspension setups including Old Man Emu, SwayAway, and Radflo were combined with 275/70R17 ATs to support the truck but those were eventually ditched in favor of the original Bilstein 5100 and FJ Cruiser coil spring suspension that currently keeps the 32” BFG A/Ts, on gunmetal TRD BBS wheels, out of the fenders.  The milder setup yields better mileage and ride quality to allow for longer trips from home (and save for camera equipment).

A Gobi Stealth rack holds a Hi-Lift jack, two RockyMounts bike mounts, several LED bars, and whatever else circumstances dictate; access is via a Gobi hatch-mounted ladder.  Stubbs HD-SKO rock sliders were welded on to keep the rockers off the trail while Expeditioneers and BAMF skids protect the engine and lower control arms, respectively.  Other trail worthy mods include WabFab rear sway bar links, Timbren front bumps, aFe cold air intake, B&M tranny cooler, several front and rear LED bars, Diehard Platinum, and EBC slotted rotors and pads.  Creature comforts and other bling include a custom Kenwood, JL, and MB Quart sound system with Garmin navigation and backup camera, LightSource interior and exterior LED lighting, 5000K Morimoto Retroquik HID retrofit, red instrumentation lighting, blacked out front lamps, B-Quiet sound deadening, and the notorious Satoshi grille mod.  Future plans include front and rear bumpers, on-board air, HAM radio, and a 4x4 conversion when time and money permit.  

Thanks to the picturesque, often hard to access, locations the 4Runner takes me, my proclivity toward outdoor photography has become a passion that, like the 4Runner, will be with me throughout my days.

4Runner mountain scenery | TCT Magazine

All Photos!

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