Safari Battle Cruiser

Besides maintaining and restoring my own automobiles, i have also been responsible for needed maintenance on vehicles belonging to friends and family. Familiarity and experience with cars such as Toyota, GM, Chevy, Cadillac, Jeep, Honda, Ford, and Subaru allow for an understanding of both good and poor vehicle design principals.

 A 1991 Toyota 4 Runner was given to me from a good friend in June of 2007. Since then the vehicle has been subjected to grueling tasks, including two trips across the country earning my appreciation and the title of “Safari Battle Cruiser”. During the course of five years, I have performed numerous modifications and general maintenance on this vehicle.

Cargo Box and Storage

Perhaps the hallmark feature of this truck is the custom cargo box. Adding a superior dimension of space utilization, the cargo box allows for the organization and access of tools, hardware, spare parts and even a place for lodging! Its very large drawer rolls out four feet and is supported by four very beefy sliding drawer rails making this drawer rated to carry more then one thousand pounds of cargo! The drawer is lined with rubber material that helps keep the heavy cargo in place. There is even extra room for a spare CV axle! Its top planks can be unfolded with the rear seats folded in the down position to create a comfortable twin bed size platform that supports a twin-size memory foam mattress while providing storage space underneath. The foam mat can be folded to fit on top of the box with the rear seats in the up position while remaining clear of the tail gate as not to obstruct the view. When folded, the mat can also fit under the wood planks of the bed if space is needed for moving things such as a kayak or lumber. The unit was sanded, corners rounded, stained and sealed with wood filler to cover screws, and then covered with a protective tan carpet. The box is secured by shackles and tensioning turn buckles that mount the box tightly to the body of the car. To the side of the box and above the wheel wells, cargo nets help secure additional cargo. It is also worth noting that there are three spare tires, one is on the roof rack, one is on the rear swing arm, and one is located under the trunk. The mechanism that lowers the spare under the car was added as well.

Roof Rack

A metal roof rack with meticulously redundant custom rubberized mounting hardware and four cross rails can carry very much weight when subjected to the rigorous beating that can often occur off-road. In addition to carrying cargo such as spare fluids, a spare tire, a shovel, and a high lift jack, the roof-rack is integrated with six lights, a cage to protect them, and a quality hand made wiring harness. Made with two extra brush guards, the light cage protects the lights from overhead branches. Because of its rubberized mounting hardware, the light-cage is capable of deflection in order to dampen an impact. The mounting hardware allows the user to easily place the cage back in the desired position. The wiring harness uses appropriate size wires, insulation, wire ties, redundant grounds, a rubber grommet that keeps water out of the car, and a disconnecting water proof hitch connector that allows the roof rack to be removed.


Following the wires of the roof-rack into the car, under the head liner, and behind the interior molding leads to an array of marine grade toggle switches with functioning on/off indicator lights. Below these switches are two dimmer switches. One was wired to green floor lights under each seat so that passengers, who are sitting on freshly upholstered seats, can locate items on the floor. The other dimmer switch dims the matching green light bulbs in the vehicles fourteen gauges, and instruments, along with the shift display, cigarette lighter/tray, glove box, climate controls, window switches and so on. In addition to the tachometer, speedometer (replaced), odometer, battery meter, oil pressure gauge, and water temperature gauge located in the vehicles instrument cluster, a transmission temperature gauge, a vacuum pressure gauge, an ambient air temperature gauge, a marine compass, a barometric altimeter, a roll meter, and a pitch meter was added and upholstered with matching UV resistant tan carpet along with the rest of the dash board and column bezel. These instruments provide valuable information especially in many off-road situations. They can be used to navigate, prevent roll over, drive efficiently, and to monitor the systems vitals providing indication of any necessary repairs such as a vacuum leak, or just to give the transmission a break to cool.


Suspension modifications and maintenance include, longer coil-springs, addition of adjustable air-bag helper springs with easy access air fill valves located at rear receiver, torsional spring adjustment, new ball joints and ball joint spacers, four new gas struts, new control arm bushings, new sway bar end links. For the steering, new tie-rod ends, new steering relay rod, a big steering stabilizer, a Craig caliber eyeball wheel alignment. For the brakes a rebuild and adjustment of the load sensing proportioning and by-pass-valve was needed due to the suspension lift, new drilled brake rotors and brake drums, brake pads with vented dust covers, brake shoes, and all brake hardware including brake cylinders, calipers, and emergency break linkages were replaced. Drivetrain alterations consist of new spindles, new CV axles, disconnecting hubs, and general oil changing maintenance of differentials and a transfer case. One particularly challenging chassis repair was to change the bearings and seals in the rear axle. In order to get the four tons of push and pull force necessary to remove and replace the bearings, a bearing press was constructed using nothing but a bottle jack, large pieces of scrap lumber, and some sheet metal joists. Other chassis modifications such as front and rear receivers which are custom mounted using six large bolts each, tow hooks, shackles, push bar, front and rear brush guards, and under armor add a few nice dimensions of rugged utility. Getting pulled out of a ditch, or attaching winches and trailers are feats which can be accomplished with ease.

Body, Detailing, and Accessories

Over the course of five years, this Toyota’s body was given careful attention. The entire nose of the car was rebuilt due to body damage and rust the previous owner had acquired. The inner body including the radiator support was cut off and replaced with a new one. New fenders were painted and installed, a new bumper, lower valance, clear marker and turn signal light covers were assembled and mounted. Using all new hardware and painting the inside surfaces will assist longevity. Body bending was implemented with ratchet straps to make slight adjustments. For the same reasons the running boards, rear bumper and bumper ends was replaced. Small gas struts were mounted with custom brackets to allow the hood to open and stay open by itself. Playing off the bold theme of this automobile, vent visors, a wind deflector for the sunroof, a bug deflector, a hood bra, a factory rear black dust spoiler, and an alloy rim detailing job is implemented. Finally, black body molding is placed around the doors, hood, tail gate, and bug deflector.


Transmission related work involves a “full service” pan drop, filter change, manual clean, transmission flush, and the addition of the transmission oil temperature sending unit in line with two conveniently placed flat tube oil coolers. One tucked behind the vent holes of the bumpers lower valance (where the license plate is), the other in the radiator. The cooling system is maintained by flushing without the thermostat, changing the radiator, and changing the water pump and water pump gasket in unison with the timing belt. When the timing belt is changed, all appropriate timing cover gaskets, shaft seals, pulley bearings, springs and belt tensioner, spark plugs, distributor cap, and rotor are replaced along with a timing calibration if necessary. Routine maintenance is always up to date, air filters, oil filters, hoses, hose clamps, and gaskets are serviced or replaced.