Project Car SOTU: Stormtrooper 4Runner


There must be some unwritten rule, something of a taboo, about not thinking positively about a project vehicle while in its presence. It’s almost like the car, or truck, knows when your brain inwardly speaks well of it and, as if it has a special sense, proceeds on its own accord to kick you in the shin just as you feel good about the progress you’ve made on your pride-and-joy. And so it was that just as I was thinking positive, upbeat, proud thoughts about my 4Runner, a tray of coffees dislodged itself and spilled their caffeinated goodness all over the rear passenger-area carpets. Lesson learned.
Aside from a trio of Dunkin Donuts’ finest beverages finding their way out of their holder and onto the back-seat footwell, all has been well in the land of Stormtrooper 4Runner. Mostly, at least. There are certainly some bugs to iron out, many of which will hopefully be dealt with in the not-too-distant future, but as a whole the Canadian ‘Toy has been performing admirably and has already proven itself invaluable in its time under my care.
Nothing major has been done to the truck since the last update, but certainly enough so to be deemed progress. Hit the jump to read what’s been happening in the world of Stormtrooper 4Runner.

It’s been wheeling, it’s been a post-surgery support vehicle, and it’s been subject to the nonsensical day-to-day life of commuting: the Stormtrooper 4Runner has done more thus far than I ever could have asked of it, and has done it with aplomb. Already proving to be everything I wanted of it and more, the white four-by-four is easily a hundred times better suited to my needs and wants than was the my ill-fated VehiCROSS.
Six months gone already with the 4Runner in my hands. Time sure does fly. That should mean big steps have been made, right? Well, not entirely. Rather, small steps have been made to tailor the 4R more to my usages and to keep it reliable so as to have a long life ahead of it. But those small steps have added up to make it more livable and to simply bring it to a better condition than it was in when I brought it home. So what’s been done? Where to start…

Most noticeably, I pulled off the roof rack/awning/lighting package…though more so out of necessity. It put the truck at risk of smacking low ceilings in parking garages which posed a serious threat seeing as I was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals for most of the months of March and April, both of which had parking garages of questionable height clearance. The added stress of worrying if the truck would fit wherever I needed to leave it deemed the roof rack more psychological strain than it was worth. And the awning? Wholly pointless for day-to-day life. Especially so considering it was going unused and robbing the truck of precious miles-per-gallon. So now, for the time being at least, the whole assembly resides on a storage rack, crying silently, awaiting future usage.
First on the list of things I replaced was the driver-side mirror, forgoing the dying glass with a massive fracture in it in favor a cheap replacement from Rock Auto. No more than five minutes to swap from old to new, the added visibility was welcomed with open arms. I mean, with open eyes. On the same front, the windshield developed a massive, massive crack running nearly the full length of the glass vertically directly in front of the passenger seat. A call to Safelite, an hour and half worth of service call later, and the new windscreen is good as new, aside from a very minor air leak that’s only noticeable at speed.

The cracked windshield

Just before the first wheeling trip I grabbed a D-ring trailer hitch from trusty ‘ol Amazon. While many bro-trucks tout these as did many with Truck Nutz back in the day, the heavy-duty towing accessory is in fact a near-necessity as a rear-facing recovery point. As you can imagine, this can be vitally important for off-roading. Luckily enough we didn’t have to test it out, but it’s nice to have, and it now takes a permanent residence in the 4Runner’s trunk area.
Slowly becoming a 4Runner parts hoarder, I’ve accrued a small collection of items that lay waiting to be installed on the truck but due to lack of time, and with a dosage of post-op restrictions, I’ve been unable to get the parts onto the truck. A set of SPC upper ball joints sit ready to remedy the worn out units that came with the SPC upper control arms which were installed long ago, though somebody else will undoubtedly have to do this fix for me. I will, however, install the new hood struts (also from Rock Auto) myself, seeing as the OEM arms are completely shot and offer no resistance whatsoever, leaving the hood to come crashing down should the piece of wood you used to prop it open slip. Ask me how I know.

Also on the probably-can’t-do-it-myself list (not now, at least) is installation of the sway bars that showed up recently, bought off a member of the 4Runner forum. These meaty sways are off a V8 4th-gen so they are a bit heavier-duty than what my V6 would have come from the factory with, and as such different end links and quick-disconnects must be sourced. I have yet to acquire these last items but will do so in the near future. An aside about sway bars: while they severely restrict suspension travel and articulation and thus are far from ideal for an off-road rig, sway bars are an important addition for the Stormtrooper 4Runner given the amount of highway and tight/twisty back-road driving the truck sees. But with quick disconnects it’ll be just as great off-road as it is in its current, sans-sways state; it’ll be like they’re not even there. An aside to an aside: forums might be dying out with the popularity of Facebook groups having taken off, but the 4Runner forum still goes strong, a great information database and resource for secondhand parts alike.
We’ve covered what’s been done, but there’s still much to do. The truck’s stereo is mostly dead, with only the front-most speakers working to spit 50% audio and 50% static-fuzz. While a working sound system is very much a nicety, the lack of discernible audio has become truly annoying on long drives. Similarly, the driver’s seat needs to be re-stuffed quite badly. In terms of adding more equipment to the truck, a little extra body armor wouldn’t be a bad thing; skid plates for the gas tank and most of the belly would surely help. Likewise, lighter wheels would be a nice addition to help reduce unsprung weight. Pipe dreams for now, perhaps, but it’s never too soon to think of the next steps. More crucial is the somewhat short-term replacement of the suspension, which is long since past its prime, but for now it remains in a functioning state…and that’s all that really can be asked of it.

So that’s where project Stormtrooper 4Runner stands. In its first six months it has showed me just how comfortable, enjoyable, and reliable (aside from not starting the first day I commuted in it, ironically) an already-beaten, twelve-year-old Toyota SUV can be. It’s proven itself invaluable during a time of need, serving as comfy and automatic-transmission-equipped transportation during my agonizing pre-and-post-op surgery months. From January through this week the Stormtrooper 4Runner and I have covered nearly nearly five-thousand miles together, and I love it more every day. But hang on a second…I’m going wheeling soon. It might be better not to speak, think, or write, too nicely of the truck, because it is a project after all. And yet, I can’t deny that I love the damn thing already. I love it more than my WRX, and, though it’s easy to say this in the six-month honeymoon period, I don’t see myself ever selling it. It’s just that good (…..just don’t tell it I said that).

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4 responses to “Project Car SOTU: Stormtrooper 4Runner”

  1. robbydegraff Avatar

    Ross I want your truck hahaha

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Haha, thanks Robby, I’ll take that as a compliment

  2. salguod Avatar

    If your speakers are good and it’s the head unit that’s the issue, a very nice Bluetooth HU can be had quite cheaply these days. I picked up a JVC with a built-in mic for hands free calling with installation kit for the BMW for about $100.

  3. caltemus Avatar

    The ‘project 4runner’ tag is wrong, and none of the series are tagged with ‘stormtrooper’, making it hard to find all of them