In April of 2015 we traded for a tired little Tacoma. We had sold this 4 door V6 Tacoma new in 2002 and it then proceeded to roll to 315,000 miles before being traded in. The truck ran pretty good for 300,000 miles. It was hard to fault it on outward appearance only.
Underneath lurked the biggest problem with this truck. The Tacoma was nearly sway-back from a rusted frame. Salt from midwest winters had slowly eaten away at the frame over the last decade leaving it in a precarious condition. This truck, while in decent exterior condition was ready for the auto auction and an uncertain future.
As the Tacoma sat on the back row… The employee members or Fort’s Trail Team inquired with the sales manager about it. The truck was a V6, 4×4 with factory rear differential lock. After getting more info about what was needed, we decided that it could be an amazing project.
Could we take this old Tacoma with heaps of miles and bring it back to a fully safe and drivable condition?
After talking about the project with the owner of the dealership, Mike Fort, he came up with a bigger idea yet… Have this truck ready to go to FJ Summit in Ouray Colorado by July! We offered the two technicians who were involved with restoring the truck the opportunity to take it to FJ Summit and drive it to the tops of the Colorado Rockies on some of the most famous 4×4 trails in the nation.
They were all in. The techs came up with a name; Project “300” was born!
It would have been a lot easier project if money were no object and they were given a blank checkbook. We had to keep it reasonable! The goal was to get the truck running mechanically sound and make minor modifications that would help in Colorado. The ultimate goal was to bring it back to Illinois and show off what a 300,000 mile truck could do without a ton of modifications.
Step 1: Remove the body from the frame. This was the longest process. The purpose being to send the frame out to the local welding shop for frame repairs.
Step 2: Upgrade and fix anything that needs repaired for drivability. Valve covers, spark plugs, timing belt, control arms, brake lines, ebrake cables, headlight restoration.. You name it… We fixed it. The last thing you want at 13,000 feet is a breakdown.
Step 3: Make upgrades to the suspension and tires. While it would not out of the realm of possibility to do all of FJ Summit completely “stock”. We decided that an Icon Variable Lift setup with taller tires would make the trip into the mountains a lot easier.
Step 4: Drive the heck out of it before getting to Colorado. This was hard to do, as we finished the project with 2 weeks to spare! The drive alone was 1000 miles to Ouray.
We left with a truckload of youthful bravado on July 10th for the rockies from Central Illinois. The truck did well… Until North Platte Nebraska. We had a breakdown that required immediate attention. The crank pulley was lost on I80 and now the truck had no power from the alternator.
Now, we could go into a blame-game about who was supposed to check that.. But it would detour us from a great segue about Premier Toyota in North Platte. As our truck limped off the interstate, we were able to catch a technician working in the shop at 4:55 on a Saturday. He had a crank pulley in his box from an older Tacoma! There were a few complications, but the tech, Tim, stuck it out all night and helped the guys. The General Manager, Dave, heard the story, and he was on board as well. By Sunday afternoon, the road trip was back on.
“The little truck that could” blazed a trail to Leadville and run Mosquito pass without incident before heading to Ouray and FJ Summit 9.
After the “Platteville Incident”, as it is now called, and successful runs at Mosquito Pass and some other trail runs, 300 had built a small following on Facebook. It was becoming battle tested.
At FJ Summit, 300 was scheduled to run Imogene Pass, Black Bear Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch. Imogene was a great start to the “Summit”. Lots of driving and beautiful surroundings. Not a whole lot to get stressed about. Black Bear is a lot of hype for the most part. But it is dangerous if you are a rookie driver without spotters or have a vehicle with run-down equipment. This is not a place to have an axle go bad or lose a tie rod! 300 did amazing on a very soggy and muddy Black Bear.
The last official run at Summit was Poughkeepsie. This was pretty exciting, by trail rating it’s the toughest run at Summit. The final hurdle on this trail is a rock ledge called “The Wall”. Its such a formidable opponent that permanent winch points are installed to assist in the recovery you will likely need to get on top. We were in a group of 12 trucks Saturday morning… Of that group… Only 3 got up the “Wall”. 300 was not one of them. Dustin, the head technician on the 300 project was driving that day and to say he was distraught by this would be an understatement. The stars had seemed to line up at every moment for this truck. Every obstacle had been run down literally and figuratively to get this truck to Ouray! How could it fail now???
It was not a fail. 300 had accomplished its goal. A 300,000 mile truck with little hope for the future was brought back from the dead and given a new lease on life. At a total cost of just over $6,000.00, it had competed with trucks that cost 10x what it did to run at FJ Summit. It was just one more point proven to us that Toyota makes the most solid truck in the world.
300 now rests comfortably on our lot at Fort’s Toyota of Pekin (until its next trail event). The truck is a testament to the quality of product we see everyday at the store. We are happy to show it off! Please come out and take a look!
Eric Stahl, Fort’s Trail Team