FOUR-WHEEL drives were much simpler 30 years ago. If you wanted to go off-road you picked a beefy truck with archaic suspension and set about rattling your teeth to pieces to get anywhere resembling remote. If you didn’t hate your wife and kids you’d have a second road-going car for daily duties, saving the punishment for weekend adventures.
These days things are a little more versatile, and it has led to the hunt for a 4x4 that’ll eat up the daily grind, make mincemeat of sand dunes and negotiate the back country – and do it all while being able to haul a load.
The problem, at least in Australia, is that most 4x4s tend to fall either side of the practical/capable line. Either leather-clad, low-profile-tyred urban warriors, or solid-axle cave-man-spec bush tourers. Chris Lopez found a solution: buy an American-built full-size Toyota Tundra. Of course, living in California might give him an advantage over us in that regards.
The behemoth you’re ogling right now is Toyota USA’s big-daddy pick-up. A six-metre-long, two-metre-wide hunk of freedom with more than a few tweaks that Chris has added since he signed on the dotted line three years ago. Starting as a showroom-fresh Platinum edition, Chris’s Tundra wasn’t his first foray into the brand. “I’ve always had Toyota’s growing up,” he told us. “I had an ’84 4Runner, an ’85 Pickup, an ’08 Tundra and then a ’13 Tundra, so when they came out with the new one with all the new body changes and interior it made me want to step up into one.”
While Chris’s Tundra, affectionately named the Blue Dream Tundra, has worn more than a few faces in the last three years, it’s currently in full battle spec and Chris couldn’t be happier with the final product. Starting from the business end the headlights have been swapped for blacked-out projector headlights from Spyder Auto, while the stock bulky plastic bumper has been ditched in favour of a pre-runner-styled tube unit from Texas-based N-Fab.
Those with eagle eyes may have noticed the slimline LED bar tucked inside the front bar. It’s a 40in unit from Rigid Industries and teams up with twin 10in bars behind the grille and another 50in unit up on top, all wearing that revered RI logo. Moving down the flanks and the Tundra’s guards have been radius-cut three inches higher with huge bolt-on fender flares as part of the Pro Comp suspension kit. For easy-to-order spare parts Chris has opted for N-Fab armour from front to back, with rock sliders and removable steps up both flanks, a matching rear bar, and a race-spec bed-mounted tyre carrier that can have one spare lying flat or two standing up with room for the Pro-Eagle trolley jack mounted between the two. While the Tundra currently wears the silver and blue livery of Chris’s major sponsor Pro Comp, it’s actually a near flawless 3M vinyl wrap from Daley Visual.
We mentioned this isn’t the first face Chris’s Tundra has worn. “Originally when I built my truck it had a 12in lift and 38in tyres,” he said. “It looked great, but that’s about all it did. It was too big to take off-road. I do a lot of camping out at Glamis Dunes with a buddy who has a second-gen Raptor and I like the way it rode, so when I saw Pro Comp coming out with its long-travel kit I jumped on the opportunity to work with them and test the kit. Mine is the final generation they ended up putting on the market and I love it. I can drive my truck every day on the street and it drives great, handles fantastic, and I can take it out camping in the desert and know it can take it.”
After a bit of back and forth the final solution Pro Comp came up with was a combination of replacement upper and lower control arms up front, longer CV shafts, and internal bypass shocks all around to give a huge 14in of travel in the front with another 12in in the rear. Up front the height is achieved with a complete replacement 2.75 body coil-over, while the rear is a combination of 2.5 body shocks with the stock Tundra leaf pack gaining a few Pro Comp leaves.
While the low-profile 20in rim and 38in tyre combo was great for pounding pavement, the Blue Dream Tundra now has a far more functional set of footwear perfect for the harsh Californian deserts. The tyres are 35x12.5in Pro Comp Xtreme MT2s, and they’re wrapped around matching Pro Comp Vapor Pro alloy beadlock wheels. With the Tundra wearing war paint and destined for a harder life in the dunes, Chris figured asking the stock Tundra brakes to hold up their end of the bargain might be pushing the friendship a little. For now, the factory calipers remain, but they’re biting down with R1 Concepts pads on to custom engraved and drilled R1 Concepts rotors for more stopping power and more resistance to brake fade.
Under the bonnet breathes Toyota’s 3UR-FE engine, the 5.7L 380hp big brother to the 300hp 4.6L 1UR-FE V8 found in Aussie-delivered LC200s. Chris’s unit gulps in fresh air through a functional ram-air replacement bonnet from RK Sport then sends exhaust gases roaring out through a pants-tighteningly loud twin Black Widow exhaust system. The bent-eight puts power down the line through the stock six-speed tranny, before the Auburn Gear limited slip rear sends drive to both wheels with a little help from Nitro Gear 4.88 diff ratios. With a petrol-powered donk and a street weight pushing three metric tons it’s no surprise the Tundra uses in the vicinity of 20.0L/100km, but Chris reckons it’s all worth it: “I don’t mind paying for gas. I just love having the power there when I put my foot down.”
Up until this point the Tundra may come across as a desert racer with a pretty smile, but that all fades away when you swing open one of the four oversized doors. From front to back the big Toyota is sporting a full custom re-trim thanks to the guys at Roadwire Leather Interior. With various shades of blue leather and matching stitching the interior utilises a combination of perforated and quilted leather to give the Tundra a classy feel. It also retains full functionality of the air-conditioned seats.
There are many 4x4s that claim to be do-it-all rigs, but not many of them can do the daily grind in climate-controlled leather seats and then huck some dunes, slide sideways around a fire trail and lift wheels through rutted hill climbs.
With such an imposing figure there’s sure to be plenty of naysayers with their jimmies suitably rustled, but it’s hard to deny if we had 4x4s like these on our shores (for the AU$65,000 they cost our flag-waving cousins) there’d be a long waiting period.
IFS is garbage, yeah? And a seven-inch-lifted Ranger is the pinnacle of IFS performance, right? Both wrong. So what is it about IFS that makes it such a minefield to negotiate? The long and the short of it all comes down to angles. As an independent 4x4 is lifted the CV angles get steeper and steeper until the CV joint is operating on an ineffective angle that will see it break incredibly easy. Keep those CVs nice and flat and they’re as strong as any solid axle. One solution to this is a huge bolt-in bracket lift, essentially taking the entire front suspension and spacing the body up and away from it. You get the lift required to run larger tyres, but the negative is a higher centre of gravity and no increase in ground clearance.
Long-travel IFS is a whole different ballgame. By physically running longer control arms and CV shafts you’re able to get more lift at less CV angle due to the suspension travelling at a wider arc. This gives the benefit of maintaining clearance under the diff, improving wheel travel, maintaining reasonable CV joint angles and providing the suspension more room to absorb large hits without taking too many knocks to the handling department. Sound perfect? There just might be a reason almost every elite off-road racer runs some form of long-travel IFS.