"The Border Runner" build thread: '87 4runner built for epic PanAm journey

Ruined Adventures

Brenton Cooper
1987 Toyota 4Runner DLX - purchased with 237,000 miles
22RE 2.4L engine
While replacing the head gasket, the previous owner decided to rebuilt the motor at 203,000 miles
W56 5-speed transmission
4.10 geared differentials
Completely stock including the awful running boards, chrome trim and front valance. Interior was perfect and the paint still looked great!

Purchased in 2009 from the 2nd Owner for only $2,500​

It was impressive how detailed the records were between them and the original owner. Included was a hand-written book detailing all of the maintenance done by the original owner, then a fat stack of receipts from the 2nd owner. Everything was well detailed and whenever there was a strange sound or noticable problem, they didn't hesitate to take it in for diagnosis and repairs. My original intent with this vehicle was to have something that I could sleep in the back of and be able to go further into the backcountry. I worked a 24/48 schedule at the time and it was not uncommon for me to move shifts around so I could have 1-2 weeks per month off, which gave me a lot of freedom to explore.

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Version 1.0 with simple sleeping platform. Test run road trips (Pacific NW, Big Bend NP)​

After a few cross-country test runs in bare bones stock mode with a simple sleeping platform, we had a few ideas for what we wanted to change. We decided to focus on efficiency when camping, maintaining reliability, and increasing comfort while trying to keep weight down. While researching different ideas for 1st gen 4Runners we stumbled on Ramblewriter's journey to South America and at the risk of sounding cliché, the rest is history.

After we decided to embark on a PanAmerican journey of our own, our plans began to evolve for the 4Runner. Our plan was to try and sleep inside the vehicle as much as possible during our upcoming journey down the PanAmerican so we wanted to turn the 4Runner into a micro-RV. Many nights we figured we would want the ability to "stealth camp" when we can't find an official campsite or just to save the money for food and fuel instead.

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Version 2.2 While traveling we mixed up the storage/sleeping arrangements several times and had to make do with local resources​

When we finally headed south, the vehicle had about 260,000 miles. After 2 years across Mexico, Central America and South America we finally finished our travels and shipped the 4Runner from Buenos Aires back to the US via Miami with just over 292,000 on the odometer.

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Sud Lipez, Bolivia. End of the road south, Tierra del Fuego NP​

Storage Upgrades:
"Carwash Bucket" Door pockets recycled from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?...18202387.99232.286651054682587&type=3&theater
"The Anti-Sleeping Platform" rear storage solution (still enough room for "more")
Bungee net to hang gear from ceiling
Homebuilt steel safe for valuables that helps to level out the sleeping area
Locking ammo-can console with Tuffy cupholders
Library space for travel books
MV50 Air Compressor under hood
5 gallon Scepter water storage behind pass. seat

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Comfort upgrades:
5" thick twin sized gel-foam matress (37" wide)
Removable mosquito netting
Seats salvaged from an SR5 UPDATE: I've already worn thru my seat and I can feel every peice of metal I'm sitting on. I REALLY need to have them restuffed!

Regret #1: I butchered our perfect body panels to install Hockey Puck Locks as a visual deterrent
Locking fuel cap & tinted windows

Electrical Upgrades:
Dual Odyssey PC1200s in extended battery tray UPDATE: 200A continuous duty solenoid fried in Costa Rica, replaced with Guest 2111A manual switch...still going strong!
Added multiple 12v charging stations, 300W inverter for charging laptop while driving, and lots of efficient LED lighting
Fantastic Fan installed in hardtop
DLX gauge cluster replaced with full gauge cluster from SR5 for tach and tripometer
Viper Alarm installed by a stereo shop before departure UPDATE: rebuilt the Alternator in Guatemala after shoddy alarm installation caused an electrical short

Steering, Suspension, etc:
OME suspension with Zuk mod in rear
245/75r16 (E) Treadwright AT's on Tacoma steel wheels UPDATE: These tires have been wearing great! Not a single flat so far, though I do wish I had mud terrains while traveling in Central America during the wet season
Replaced all brakes, rotors, and drums UPDATE: rebuilt the calipers in Ecuador after the pistons were starting to leak
Replaced steering: tie rods, idler arm, pitman arm UPDATE: replaced the idler arm in Guatemala after the road to Semuc Champey annihilated it!
Replaced ball joints UPDATE: replaced the same ball joint two more times on RH side (found out the OME t-bar was torqued down too tight, allowing excessive travel)

Other Upgrades:
ARB 2500 awning sourced from a local 4x4 shop while we were in Panama https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?...18202387.99232.286651054682587&type=3&theater
BIG KUDOS TO ARB for sending us replacement poles when a freak hailstorm damaged ours. EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Modifications we made that might not have been necessary:
ugly Craigslist "defensa" bumper guard
Rear Swingout for mounting waffleboards, jerry cans, and additional cooking surface

Mishaps on the road:
Fuel pump in Panama
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Expedition Leader
OOOOOOh, I will be following this build with great intrest... You really piqued my intrest with the "removed the console" bit... I was gonna go the other way with a Tuffy console, but now that I went and looked at it, I think I may follow your lead seeing as I too sleep in the back of my 1st gen. SUBSCRIBED SIR!!!!! Keep it coming, I've always liked your rig mate, now I just have to remember what your screen name used to be to keep reference eh ;)



Edit: Are you planning on sleeping two in the back??? Cause if you haven't done it yet, I highly suggest looking at the width of your proposed bed. My fiance is a small gal (like 5'3 and maybe 125+ - vnot that she'll ever tell me such things :D ), and at 6' m200lbs I'm not a "husky" guy and we use every bit of the full width of the rear area to sleep comfortably. I'm wondering how you're gonna fit with 14" (as in 7" on each side) removed from that space... if it's just you I can understand that, but 2 abreast could be troublesome. When it's just me on rafting trips/travel, I sometimes set up my roll-a-cot in the back of my truck just cause I haven't buil the platform yet and I want to be able to store more stuff in back and still sleep...
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If it helps, I bought that sectioned sleeping/storage platform from that craigslist seller that had the kayline top without the frame. I have never even used it, but its an interesting idea.

You can check it out for an idea or use it. Its just sitting in my garage.


Road Warrior
Nice, so did you completely remove the rear interior panels of the truck? If so how much extra room did you gain on interior space? I imagine about 3-5 inches are hidden back there. Also, do you plan to remove the roll-bar? I am planning on taking mine out and creating a very short sleeping platform to raise up just above the wheel wheels, to allow for storage underneath and more sleeping room side-to-side, I tend to always roll over and end up jamming my knee up against the rollbar/wheel well currently.

Ruined Adventures

Brenton Cooper
Dave, thanks for the kind words. I actually bought a 10" Tuffy console on Craigslist for a great price. I swapped in bucket seats from a 300z and made custom brackets so I could squeeze the oversized Tuffy in there, but the seats just seemed a little too far apart. The steering wheel was a little off too. While the stock console was out, it just made sense to go without a console. It's so much easier going from the cab to the back while camping. I have plans for a very shallow console just to keep small items in and to flatten out that space between the seats. If anyone wants a 10" tuffy console, let me know. I am keeping the cupholders :)

Yes, it will be two of us sleeping in the back (and possibly a dog in the passenger seat at night). My lady is borderline midget :coffeedrink: at 4'9" and 100 lbs. I'm only 6' and 175, and we will both shed a couple pounds before the trip. She always ends up tangled up on top of me at night anyways, so the space between the wheel wells is do'able. We've tried it out and it works perfectly for us...although I can easily see how it would be uncomfortable if either of us were any bigger.

We tried a sleeping platform for a year. It was two sheets of plywood of equal size, each with 4 legs consisting of 10" pipe threaded into flanges...I liked it for as a weekend warrior because I could break it down and keep it in there 24/7, hardly using any room. We often struggled with storage though because not everything fit underneath and grabbing anything that wasn't loaded toward the back was a major pain to reach. She wanted more space for changing and headroom, and I want to be able to sit up completely when it's pouring outside. I think this will be our best compromise between living space and usable storage.

Austintaco, thanks for the offer. I don't suppose you have a picture of that sleeping setup you're talking about? I'm curious...I actually bought that Kayline top from her. I still have to weld the frame for it though...one more thing on the list.

Defrag - The panels are completely out, and they are up for sale if anyone needs them. Sounds about right on with the dimensions. A couple spots you can find a little more than 5". It's not much, but it definitely adds up and it's perfect for most the parts and small items I carry. My MV50 fits great wedged in there (I lengthened the battery clamps to reach). I ditched the rollbar and when the soft top frame is done it will be reinforced to serve for some rollover protection. We won't have anyone riding in the back though while we're driving. Just make sure you make some sort of access panels if you do a sleeping platform. It'd be really slick if you used mattress foam that were cut into sections to match the access panels.
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Subscribed. Get some pics up soon - I need motivation to keep working on mine. :sombrero:

Ruined Adventures

Brenton Cooper
:sombrero: Patience...I need to make more progress before I can share all the juicy photos with Expo. I've been working a ton lately & since the 4runner is my daily driver, that makes things difficult
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Aux lights like those could be useful for illuminating the sides of the roads. In Latin America, there are a lot more animals, people, drunks, etc that are walking/stumbling/sleeping/etc on the edge of the roads, especially in rural areas where municipal lighting is non-existent. I remember many times while living in Nicaragua desiring more illumination off to the roadsides, especially on Friday/Sat nights.

Do you know how old they are?


if you decide to go the hid route maybe consider ddm tuning. i have their HID's in my fogs(3000k) and headlights (4500k) and it cost 100 bucks CDN for both kits including shipping and tax.

now i have had one ballast burn out but at 30 bucks a kit it wouldnt be so bad to bring a spare ballast or 2 along on your trip.


are these bulbs any good or should I swap them with something different?

I say mount them, wire them up and see how they glow :-D

FYI, in case you are not familiar with this kind of electronics, you should buy/build a harness kind of like this one.. fused with a relay:



Road Warrior
We dont plan to do much night driving but good foglamps are always nice to have. Plus if they get stolen off the truck you wont care too much.

Ruined Adventures

Brenton Cooper
Sorry I've been really quiet on this thread lately...I gave up on the soft top ideas. It was becoming too complicated and it really distracted me from the more important tasks at hand. The time and money it would've taken to do all the fabrication just wasn't worth it. Moving on...

Installed the Old Man Emu suspension just before Christmas. You can read all about it on our latest post, where I also discuss the "Zuk coil mod" that I previously had, along with a comparison of the OME kit and the Zuk mod. As much as I'd like to enter all the info here, it seems a little pointless. I also posted the writeup on Yotatech. I put it there because I know that's where Toyota owners usually search for OME installs and the Zuk mod, plus it will be backed up on YT's servers in case our site ever goes down. Heaven forbid, right?


Also mounted 5 new 245/75r16 Warden AT's on 16" Tacoma steel wheels. Yes these are Treadwrights. Yes I've read the good and bad on their tires, including the Landcruiser that experienced a tire failure/rollover. I know that's been brought up frequently here on the Portal. After much debate I feel like this will not be an issue for us. We don't want to exceed 55 mph on this trip and chances are that our average speed in Latin America will be around 40-45 mph (gotta slow down for the topes!). We want to conserve fuel as much as we can, besides our 22RE 4runner doesn't exactly set land speed records. I'm not saying retreads are for everyone, I'm just saying they will be fine for our application.


Don't laugh too hard at the ugly tube bumper guard! It was $35 on craigslist and adds a little bit of radiator protection for minor fender benders. As tempted as I am to buy the ARB bumper that's been sitting on craigslist for $500, I really can't justify the cost or weight.

Speaking of weight, I took the 4runner to the scrapyard recently and put it on the scale...3800 lb. They paid me five bucks for my old leaf springs and they even guessed my weight! Subtract the weight of the Hannibal Rack, front bumper guard, fuel, and myself, and the 4runner's Curb Weight is around 3500 lb. (this is less than it should be because of the removed rear seats, cargo panels, and spare tire). Our GVW is 5080 lb, so we theoretically have 1500 lb of room for all of our gear, passengers, fuel, and water for this trip. I will hit the scales again after we load up and make sure that we're staying under the GVW. The max load for our tires is 3042 lb. (each), so distribute that weight evenly and we'll be well under the danger zone.

After closer inspection it looks like our tires have Goodyear Wrangler "carcasses" with the kevlar sidewalls, recapped with BFG AT style tread. The kevlar sidewalls along with the fact that these tires are 10-ply adds an extra 25 lbs to each tire! Ouch. Luckily the 16" tacoma wheels weighed the same as the original 15" steel that came on the 4runner. These are very beefy and appear well constructed after thorough examination. I feel confident that tire failure will not be a problem. The guy who mounted my tires had never seen anything like them, but he was impressed with how well they balanced. When I came back to mount the spare he grabbed the guy in the back and said "Hey check this out, these are those Treadwrights I was telling you about".


The rear storage/sleeping area is coming together nicely and we've been sleeping the past couple weeks in the back, just as a test run. One of my buddies from the fire academy helped me build the rear storage boxes out of 3/4" birch. I removed the factory cargo panels and these boxes are trimmed so that you can reach completely through and access all of the gear that is stached behind them. I will post more details on this setup once it's completely buttoned up. The top access hatch on the driver's side makes a nice countertop for setting the laptop or our backpacking stove on. This will be really nice when we're stuck inside on a rainy day.


The bed is the same dimensions as a twin mattress, but luckily Shannon is so tiny that it works out great for us. It's actually just as comfortable as our full size mattress in our bedroom! We cut up our old mattress pad and added a 2.5" gel foam pad, giving us 5" of pure heaven to sleep on. It feels like you're laying on the pillowy beard of Zeus himself. Sorry, Shannon wouldn't let me try the wine-glass/bouncy test.


This is obviously enough room for my tiny fiancé, but if you look past the beautiful woman you can tell that there's a gap between the storage bench and the bucket seats. This not only allows the front seats to recline, but I can sit directly behind the bucket seats and my feet can fully stretch out (perpendicular to the truck) while in a semi-reclined position. Just place a pillow behind your back and you're ready to fall asleep while watching my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix...what's that? No, I clearly said old episodes of the A-Team.
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Ruined Adventures

Brenton Cooper
By the way, here's a free upgrade for your overland vehicle:


Just carefully insert your tasty beverage at an angle like so...apply leverage in a downward fashion...and enjoy. Don't forget to catch the cap and Tread Lightly. Now give thanks to the Japanese engineers who surely designed this as a hidden treasure for us to enjoy...and yes, you have 2 of these on your tailgate and one at each door!

Big thanks to James of Home On The Highway who let me in on this secret...that's no longer a secret. I now get a grin everytime I open a beer...uhhh, I mean soda.
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