I HAVE been a big proponent of apprenticeships ever since I failed my own spectacularly.
While their primary purpose is to teach the ins and outs of a specific trade, they more often than not equip you with a set of skills you’ll use almost every day of your life. From knowing when to shut your mouth and when to point out those more qualified are doing it wrong, to hands-on skills and the ability to make a few hundred bucks for a Saturday’s work.
But, without a doubt, the one skill that’s universal across every apprenticeship is learning how to achieve your goals with barely two cents to rub together. While the Hilux you’re looking at now might have had a few key upgrades when apprentice electrician Taylor Shaw got his hands on it, it’s that can-do attitude which turned it into the off-road beast it is today.
When Taylor first took the keys two years ago, the live-axle conversion had already been undertaken by a local fab shop – with a few loose ends left to tie up. The custom 4x4 shop had sliced and diced the OEM independent front end away from the chassis and grafted into place a custom live-axle housing based off an 80 Series Cruiser.
It runs an 80 Series diff centre, axles and steering knuckles, but the whole lot has been shoehorned into a one-off sheetmetal housing with the pumpkin flipped to the passenger side to suit the Hilux’s transfer case drop.
The arrangement is held in place with a set of off-the-shelf 80 Series radius arms and a Panhard rod, all going to custom-fabricated mounts on the ’Lux’s frame. While the hot-glue gun was out, an 80 Series steering box was added to the arrangement, with extensive plating to reinforce the chassis.
Links are great, but all the links in the world won’t keep your 4x4 off the bump stops. To that end, the ’Lux is running a set of 10-inch travel Fox coilovers with a 2.5-inch diameter body giving huge dampening ability. Sounds great, and it was, but it wasn’t finished.
When Taylor took the keys there were plenty of good bits added, but it was barely a roller and looked more like a farm truck than the rock-crushing weapon it is now. To finish off the front end, he knocked the ride height down from six inches over stock to four inches, helping lower the centre of gravity and freeing up some valuable down-travel in the process.
A one-off front driveshaft was fabbed up, with the final piece of the puzzle swapping out the stock rear ring and pinion gear to suit the 4.1:1 ratio. With the front-end sorted, Taylor turned his attention to the rear suspension.
It’s still sporting leaf springs, but they work leaps and bounds better than a stock set-up thanks to a little bit of know-how on Taylor’s behalf. After running a tape measure over the stock leaf pack, Taylor worked out that a set of leafs from an RG Colorado would bolt into the front hanger, keep the diff in the same position, then add a heap of length behind the rear axle.
When teamed with extended shackles, the arrangement gives the ’Lux a far more compliant ride that easily flexes its way through tough tracks right behind the slinky front-end. There are plans to fit a set of Fox rear shocks eventually, but for now a set of Tough Dog adjustables keep the rear axle under control.
After the rear suspension was dialled in, Taylor ditched the Farmer’s steel tray and installed a factory rear tub. With a set of OEM flares installed, he’s been able to shoehorn in a set of 35-inch Federal Couragia mud-terrains wrapped around 15-inch Dynamic D-Hole steel wheels.
Taylor’s not scared to punt the big ’Lux into silly situations, but he’s also cautious to not beat it into a pulp for the fun of it. To keep it in one piece after a weekend on the tracks, he’s gone from headlight to tail-light with a comprehensive barwork package.
The tip of the spear, and the piece that cops the most rocks straight to the face, is an Xrox tube bar that houses a set of LED spotlights and a 12,000lb winch.
Eagle-eyed readers may notice something a little different with the front bar – Taylor’s fired up the welder and bender and added in headlight protection with a set of hoops that show the Jeep boys there are better ways than plastic angry eyes.
The new hoops are tied into Taylor-made scrub bars that then tie into the sidestep-cum-rock sliders; although, after beating them like they owe him money, they’ll probably be getting a rework soon, too. You can’t crunch sheetmetal if there’s no sheetmetal to crunch, so the grinder was called for again in the rear.
Both quarter panels have been removed from the tub and replaced with a tube rear bar that incorporates the tow bar as well as protects what remains of the tub and tail-lights.
While the suspension and barwork package read like a how-to for a rock crawler, the set-up functions perfectly for two-up camping, with just the right amount of touring mods. Rather than running an expensive and vulnerable fibreglass rear canopy, Taylor knocked-up a simple frame then wrapped it in DIY canvas to keep the tub dry for any weather this side of Hurricane Harvey.
The back’s been kitted out with a set of simple sheetmetal storage drawers for all the vital tools and camping equipment, with enough room to shove a swag or two on top. A UHF also got the nod as a piece of must-have equipment and, with a 3-inch exhaust bolted straight to the back of the turbo, a few extra killer wasps have been freed up to help move the big tyres.
While the build might look and perform like a million bucks, it’s just more proof that thinking things through and rolling up your sleeves almost always results in a better build than opening the chequebook and smoking cigars. With a little less than two years of seat time into his ’Lux, we’re sure this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Taylor or his Toyota.
EVERYWHERE you look, custom 4x4s are popping up with coil-over front suspension arrangements – in extreme builds they’re in the rear, too. But what do they offer over a traditional spring-and-shock arrangement? Believe it or not, the biggest selling point for a coil-over in a custom application is normally packaging.
With a traditional spring and shock you need to make shock mounts at each end, as well as a complicated spring seat on the diff and chassis – it’s not fun when you’re pushed for space as it is. A coil-over significantly reduces the component footprint and allows for a few simple tabs top and bottom for mounting.
Of course, there’s a whole host of benefits on the performance front, too; although, they mainly come down to tuneability rather than any special voodoo magic. Spring rates are easily adjustable without affecting ride height, and with dual-rate coils you can fine-tune the rate to work perfectly for the application, even changing the rate part way through the stroke.
Likewise, if the shock valving is too stiff or soft you don’t need to bin the whole shock; just take it to a shock tuner and have them swap out the internal shims to suit your needs.