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Stormtrooper 4Runner: Modifications Explanations

Ross Ballot February 14, 2017 Project Cars 8 Comments

Off-road, the difference between a properly-outfitted rig and one lacking the equivalent modifications can be the difference between arriving at your destination in one piece and not getting there at all. And while every trail and every wheeling trip is different, it goes without saying that some adventures require a higher level of build than others, and the value of one’s equipment is only truly appreciated once it’s needed. Be it armor, recovery points, locking differentials, or even just the appropriate tires, every piece of hardware has a purpose and can contribute to making one’s trip not only successful, but worth remembering.

Now that we’re familiar with Project Stormtrooper 4Runner, let’s delve into the existing modifications, what makes it such a great platform for off-road adventures, and where the build will go in the future.

With aftermarket parts costing as much as they do, it made perfect sense to buy a rig that not only was prepared for off-road adventures, but which has already lived a life of its own before coming into mine. Having been battle tested all over the continental US and Canada by its previous owner, the Stormtrooper 4Runner has traversed some of the continent’s best trails for both sight-seeing and wheeling alike, and, with aid from its slew of modifications, should continue to do so with it in my care.

There is a lot of off-road and exploration-oriented equipment on the truck, much of which I would have added myself and some of which will only make it better for what I intend to use it for. Let’s dig deeper and explore what the Stormtrooper has been outfitted with, and what makes it so capable as a means of off-road transport.

Currently installed:

    • Toytec Superflex HD springs (rear) and Eibach springs (front) – provide lift and are designed to support the added weight from the other mods that follow; allow increased flex and contribute to a better ride quality both on-road and off.
    • Bilstein 5100 shocks – long length to match the lift; work with the springs to improve off-road ability and comfort.
    • 16” steel wheels & 255/85/16 BFG Mud-Terrain KM2s – steel wheels are beefy, sturdy, and easy to sledgehammer back into shape should they bend. The KM2s are an aggressive mud tire that is still totally streetable, here in a tall/skinny size that should do well in mud and snow. 

    • SPC upper control arms – keeps the front end aligned
    • Custom front bumper w/secondary DRLs and rectangular LEDs – the steel bumper serves as off-road protection against whatever may try to pry its way into the front end. Flush-mounted LEDs provide a pattern that’s as good for lighting up a nighttime trail as it is for making driving on a lonely back-road less worrisome in regards to hitting rogue animals. The round ambers in the bumper are secondary DRL markers and are wired in tandem with the factory set. 

    • Front skid plate – keeps things away from otherwise vulnerable front end items.
    • Snorkel – apparently no snorkel was available for the 4th-gen 4Runner when the previous owner was looking to add one, so a Toyota Hi-Lux piece was adapted. Its purpose is, in short, to make the engine less prone to hydro-locking in submerged situations by pulling air from the inlet up top rather than the airbox. This fits in the “better to have it and not need it than need it and it not have it” folder. 

    • Sleeping platform w/drawers and lighting – makes camping as easy as rolling out a sleeping bag. The supplementary LEDs use very little power to light up the cargo area, while the drawers simplify organization. 

    • CB radio – a vital communication tool when off-road as well as when traveling in convoy to the trailhead. The Uniden unit here is pretty solid, with a sleek install and a Firestik antenna mounted to the front bumper.
    • Projector headlight conversion – gives the truck a slightly more modern look and provides better light output.
    • Custom roof rack w/Smittybilt awning & LED camp lights – roof rack is helpful for carrying things that don’t fit in the truck itself or for items that simply don’t need to stay inside (like a high-lift jack). When rolled out, the awning creates an area of shade that’s perfect for lunch break on a hot summer trail run. Meanwhile, the side-mounted LEDs mounted are helpful during camping and nighttime off-roading (as well as for backing the truck off a trailer in the dark, as I already found out). 

    • Rock sliders – A crucial piece of protection for the body and frame, which also serve as a pivoting point on rocks and against trees. 

    • Deep-cycle battery – the previous owner ran a refrigerator all night while on camping trips, so the deep cycle battery, while not providing the highest number of cold cranking amps available, lasts an extremely long time without running itself dead.
    • High-clearance tucked exhaust w/Dynomax muffler – after the frame and axles, one of the first things that usually gets bashed up while on the trail is the exhaust. To fix that, the pipe has been bent and tucked out of harm’s way.
    • Sway bars removed – not technically a mod, but greatly improves suspension articulation.

As you can see, the it’s pretty damn well outfitted as-is. I don’t need to add a lot in the future, but as they say, a project is never truly finished. Here’s what may come:

  • Lockers
  • Suspension
  • Belly skid
  • Rear heavy-duty off-road bumper
  • Back-up camera
  • Winch
  • On-board air
  • Supplemental front lights
  • LED reverse lights
  • Bluetooth or aux-input

In its current state the Stormtrooper should go everywhere I point it. It’s a hell of a place to start with a vehicle purchased as-is, and I plan to take advantage of every piece of equipment on the truck. Now it’s time to get it out on the trail to find both its and my limits.

  • The snorkel is the rear wing of the offroad crowd – too many around for who’s actually needing/using those, despite of the downsides. (Or is 2ft of additional header length totally fine?). If you don’t go for immersive driving, I’d go back to stock unless the cost and work are out of proportion.

    LEDs at the roof rack – good idea!

    Sway bars removed – well, that must be an offroad thing, I’d probably keep them only until they limit my progress, but what do I know about not driving on roads.

    Backup camera and more light are certainly improvements. I am kind of torn about lockers (weight, located such that you can’t access them when the car’s loaded), but I don’t know your plans. What exactly is on-board air?

    • outback_ute

      A snorkel is also good for getting cleaner air when driving on unsealed roads. I don’t think the length of piping before the air cleaner affects anything.

      Sway bars restrict the amount of suspension travel available, but I’d also be a little concerned about the sway bar removal on a “one car to do it all”; combined with taller, floppy tyres and lifted suspension isn’t a great thing for the 90% of driving on normal roads where you may have to perform an evasive maneuver. Is there a disconnect kit available instead? Another point when removing sway bars is checking if brake lines are stretched when using the extra travel.

      The lockers are of the differential type; the sleeping platform drawers address the storage accessibility issue. On-board air compressor is handy, even better if you also plumb a line to the rear.

      Does the 4Runner have a spare tyre? A swing-away carrier mounted on your steel rear bumper would be the move (or strap it to the roof rack). While mentioning steel bumpers, it might be worth looking at the venting in the factory front bumper; that steel one combined with the front skid plate is probably restricting air flow to the radiator (although the grille has a decent amount of area).

      • “Obviously you’re not a golfer” – I would call the lockers locks, another pointer that I have no idea…
        I always had the impression that a good deal of engine optimization has to do with the shape and dimensions of the intake and exhaust piping. (I am still not convinced that most of the people who add a snorkel ever take advantage of it.)
        I guess when you are beyond the point of sacrificing road holding for rock crawling capabilities my pedestrian views are moot points.

      • Ross Ballot

        Exactly. There’s a lot of dirt and dust on the fire roads in the summer, so the snorkel should help by sucking clean air from higher up.

        Quick disconnect kits are available and I’ll be looking into them soon.

        The truck does have a full-size, matching spare. Somehow it fits underneath the truck…

        Airflow seems to be fine, temperature gauge didn’t move past normal operating temp. in any of the times I’ve driven the truck. Will pay close attention to it though.

    • Scoutdude

      The on board air and lockers often go together. The ARB air locker is a popular traction enhancing differential. It uses compressed air to lock the differential. So a compressor is needed if that is the diff of choice which means you might as well set it up with a tank and a way to use the system to air up tires ect.

    • Ross Ballot

      The snorkel was on the truck when I bought it, so I’m not going to take it off. It’s very much a piece of mind thing…can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up to the airbox in mud/water on my quad and had to shut the motor off in a panic so as to not suck water in. On the truck it’s just a nice way to make sure I don’t kill the engine.

      No sways certainly helps off-road. I’ll likely add some soon though, with quick disconnect ends.

      On-board air is, basically, a compressor system. In its most basic form, it makes airing up the tires easier after spending time on the trails.

      Lockers…not the “lockers” you’re thinking of. In this sense, lockers keep the wheels spinning at the same speed when they’re engaged. It’s another off-road thing…helps with climbing on loose surfaces, in mud, etc.

      • Andrew Pascarella

        The top of the snorkel can be flipped around to face the rear of the truck when driving on really dusty roads following another vehicle. This way you don’t ram air dirt down into the air filter.

        Locking diffs are a must have, at least a rear diff. Expensive, but I’ve seen a lot of jeeps with 35s, and open diffs get stuck where a “less capable” truck with lockers scoots right up and over or through an obstacle.

        • Thank you all for the patient explanations, great attitude!

          Now look at me, I might buy a VW T4 Syncro without locker this month…
          (Continuous front drive, rear is powered through visco clutch)

          I know one could retrofit the OEM diff lock for the rear, but I wonder if there are generic aftermarket suppliers. The OEM part is only available used, and overpriced…





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