Featured Tacomas

The Project Venture Toy Tacoma

Project truck articles in major publications are usually a good read, and there is certainly no lack of column inches devoted to tracking the labor and components used to build solid trail-going pickups. It’s a little more rare, however, to find follow-up pieces documenting just how well a specific truck performed after putting up hundreds of hard off-road miles, years after it was originally put together. 4WD and Sport Utility Magazine recently did just that in their June, 2011 issue with a look back at a 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck called the Project Venture Toy Tacoma.

The Project Venture Toy in its natural environment.

The Project Venture Toy story began back in 2008, when writer Jay Kopycinski selected a two-wheel drive Prerunner Tacoma as the basis for a project build that would allow magazine staff to use the pickup for camping and rock climbing duty while still providing reasonable highway performance that would allow them to get from point A to point B with little drama. Why a two-wheel drive truck? Kopycinski and crew already knew that they were going to swap out the Tacoma’s independent front suspension for a straight-axle unit and then installing their own transfer case to build a more capable four-wheel drive chariot.

A closer look at the truck's custom transfer case and crossmember.

What ended up emerging from the 4WD and Sport Utility Magazine garage was a formidable off-road pickup with a number of interesting custom touches. Inside, the truck features a roll cage and Mastercraft Baja RS seats in order to protect driver and passenger and keep everyone locked in place no matter how horizontal or vertical the truck gets. The truck’s stock fender flares and bumpers were pulled in order to accommodate aftermarket units, as well as to provide room for 37-inch Mickey Thompson tires on Mickey Thompson Classic II rims with OMF beadlocks. A Ramsey Patriot Profile 9,000 lb winch sits on the new front bumper, and Stubbs Welding tubing sliders help to protect the truck’s rocker panels.

The Venture Toy's suspension is also completely custom, necessitated by the solid front axle swap and the installation of Dana axles front and rear.

Another look at the Tacoma's trick suspension.

Mechanically, the truck features an Inchworm Rock Walkin’ Gear Prerunner adapter that allows the two-wheel drive truck to connect to a Toyota gear reduction box and an Atlas II transfer case. This sends power from the stock 3.4-liter V6 through the truck’s four-speed automatic transmission to both the front and rear axles, which were each replaced with solid Dana 60s featuring ARB Air Lockers and 5.13 gears. In terms of suspension, the Tacoma rides on an All-Pro Off-Road Taco Supreme solid axle swap kit, which replaces all of the independent front end components and makes use of Walker Evans coilovers that offer 12 inches of travel. Stopping power is assisted by a Frankenstein Chevrolet / Toyota custom built master cylinder and Crown Performance stainless steel lines, while the front steering geometry and hardware are almost completely custom and constructed using a variety of different Toyota and non-Toyota parts.

So far, the Project Venture Toy Tacoma has been able to take whatever the magazine's staff have dealt out.

The Project Venture Toy Tacoma was not easy to build – particularly when it came to the changes to the truck’s sheet metal and flooring that were required to accommodate the new transfer case, as well as the issues surrounding the solid axle swap up front – but after extensive real-world use, the truck has lived up to its potential. A minor leaky axle has been the only real issue since the build was completed, and during that time the truck has slammed on and off the rocks, tackled snowy conditions and even provided as much as 14-mpg on the highway. Overall, the Toy Tacoma project has been a success, providing yet more proof of how solid an off-roading platform is offered by the Toyota Tacoma.