1987 Toyota 4Runner Goes from Junker to Jewel

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Toyota 4Runner

This classic Toyota 4Runner could have wound up in the scrap heap. But one of our own wasn’t about to let that happen!

Far too often, the general public is quick to write off an old car or truck. A little bit of body damage, maybe some unknown mechanical issues, and it’s off to the scrap heap. Granted, not everyone has the wherewithal to repair these kinds of problems. But turning a vintage Toyota 4Runner like this 1984 model into a glorified sardine can is a bit premature.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. All thanks to a good Samaritan and Yota Tech member who goes by the handle Mudd Duck 1. The Beaverton, Oregon resident picked up the old Toyota 4Runner a couple of years ago for the paltry sum of $500. At that time, the neglected ride sported front end damage, a shredded interior, and unknown transmission gremlins. But that obviously wasn’t enough to deter him from bringing the mighty ‘ute back to life. So he jumped right in and began to make it whole again.

Toyota 4Runner

The biggest problem, of course, was the mystery transmission issue. Which presented a bit of a problem for the OP to sort out.

“Once I got to working on it, I cleaned the snot out of the interior. Then I had to make the decision: do I rebuild the transmission seeing as how it’s already out, or install it and diagnose the problem myself? The problem with installing the transmission and diagnosing myself is that I could potentially be pulling it right back out in order to overhaul it. Another factor was not knowing for sure what kind of shape the engine was in.

Without a transmission, I was unable to run the engine due to the starter mounting to the bell housing. So I removed the bell housing from the transmission and installed it on the rear of the engine to facilitate installation of the starter. I was then able to support the rear of the engine with a floor jack, and after draining the old fuel, replacing the fuel filter, etc. I was able to run the engine and verify that it was in decent shape.”

And after a good look at things, it just seemed like a good idea to take the plunge.

“Upon closer inspection of the transmission (which had been stored outdoors w/o the shifters installed), I realized it was full of dirt and debris and would need to, at the very least, be cleaned out. In the end, I took a gamble and opted to rebuild it. A rebuild kit bought locally (seals, bearings and synchros) was $185, which I didn’t think was bad. I overhauled the transmission and installed it.” 

Toyota 4Runner

But as they often do, a new mystery problem emerged.

“However, while trying to back it out of the shop for the first time, there was a heck of a grinding, popping sound that turned out to be the rear end. I believe there was never an issue with the transmission – it was likely the rear end all along. After installing a used third member, I was able to take it for a spin and it actually drove out quite well.

I had a slight issue with the way it ran, which ultimately ended up being a bad air flow meter. The ultimate goal for this Toyota 4Runner will be to build a very capable overland expedition/camping type rig for the family. Although it will definitely do some wheeling on the weekends.”

The OP soon tracked down some replacement body panels and interior pieces to replace the damaged ones. And before long, the forgotten and neglected truck was starting to look whole again.

Toyota 4Runner

Toyota 4Runner

Roughly five months later, things were definitely looking up. Some of the interior parts were intact but faded and worn. So the OP was able to repair them and make them look like new with a fresh coat of paint.

Toyota 4Runner

Soon, it was time for some more mechanical work to get this old Toyota functioning like new once again.

“Never got around to posting last week, but I had a busy Saturday last weekend. My factory manual locking hubs did not function. Fortunately, I had an extra set I snagged from the wrecking yard at one time. I decided to swap them out. Figured this would be the time to repack the wheel bearings and replace the front brakes if necessary.

I took the 4Runner into work (heated shop), and in doing so, I also took it for its longest trip yet (about 20 miles round trip). I removed the front hubs and found that the wheel bearings were shot. The previous owners seem to have had this thing in some deep mud at one time or another. It had brand new brake pads on the front, but the passenger side rotor was grooved and appeared to have been down to metal-on-metal at one time. I opted to replace the inner and outer wheel bearings, rotors, pads and the hubs.”

Toyota 4Runner

Soon after, the interior was nearly complete and looking dramatically better than before. Toyota 4Runner

Ball joint spacers, new rear springs, and new shocks have since gone in. But we know this is only the beginning for this ’87 Toyota 4Runner and its resurrection. So be sure and follow along in the build thread, because it seems like the best is yet to come!

Brett Foote has been covering the automotive industry for over five years and is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto Group sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other popular sites.

He has been an automotive enthusiast since the day he came into this world and rode home from the hospital in a first-gen Mustang, and he's been wrenching on them nearly as long.

In addition to his expertise writing about cars, trucks, motorcycles, and every other type of automobile, Brett had spent several years running parts for local auto dealerships.

You can follow along with his builds and various automotive shenanigans on Instagram: @bfoote.

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