By: Harry Wagner - July 2003
Photos courtesy of Bill Morgan.
The original Red Chili...
...may it rest in peace.
Bill Morgan has put a lot of work in to his 1987 4Runner, which he has affectionately named "Red Chili II". You may be wondering about the II at the end of that moniker, and as it suggests, there was at one time a "Red Chili I". The original Chili was a 1990 4Runner that Bill had outfitted with a 4" IFS lift, 33" BFG MT tires, and rear air locker. Red Chili I met an untimely end in the spring of 2002 though when it was totalled by Ford Explorer that ran a red light.
Fortunately Bill was not hurt and he decided to turn his misfortune into opportunity. Bill wanted another vehicle that he could comfortably drive for long distances from his Denver area home to trails in Moab and other distant locations. At the same time, the seat time that Bill spent in Red Chili I had whet his appetite for more difficult trails. To this end he purchased a bone stock 1987 4Runner that was lighter and less expensive than the original Chili, and also provided a platform with more potential. The Red Chili I provided some salvage parts that, thanks to Dr. Toyoda's stable designs, would retrofit nicely.
The Red Chili II as it was purchased.
The transformation 3 months later.
Sadly, shortly after purchase the headgasket failed and the block deck was corroded on the Red Chili II. To get back to running condition, Bill researched the options and chose a Jasper remanufactured 22RE longblock, which came complete with a 3 year 75,000 mile warranty. With the motor problems sorted out and a blank canvas before him, Bill relied on the experience of Mike Caskey at Off Road Solutions and Brian Ellinger of Front Range Off Road Fabrication to help achieve his goals. The fresh motor and the transmission were left stock to maintain Toyota reliability, but otherwise modifications began at a frantic pace. A Marlin Crawler adapter and 4.7:1 transfer case gear set were used to give Bill a 223:1 final crawl ratio. A Front Range Off Road crossmember and skidplate protect the built transfer cases and Rocky Mountain Drivelines built CV driveshafts to put the power to the ground. With the gear selection taken care of, Bill moved on to the suspension.
Bill drove to Cruise Moab, ran the trails, then drove the Chili home.
The stock IFS was removed and replaced with a Toyota solid front axle hung under 4" Alcan springs with Front Range Off Road Fabrication spring hangers and shackles. 5" longer than stock Alcan springs providing a 5" lift were bought from a friend and used out back to level out the 4Runner and provide a smooth, supple ride. Bill states that the Alcan springs are the key to allowing his rig to remain stable on the street while providing awesome articulation on the trail. To allow the springs to work to their full potential, 12" travel Rancho RS9000 shocks were used up front with Ford F-250 shock towers and 10" travel RS9000s were bolted up to an Off Road Solutions shock hoop in the rear. The adjustable RS9000s allowed Bill to firm up the Chili's ride on the road and remedy any need for a sway bar.
Bill's son Justin following his father's lead.
Though gears and suspension articulation will get a rig through most situations, locked differentials are necessary for the hard core trails that Bill had in mind when building the second Chili. Off Road Solutions assembled an FJ80 High Pinion third member with 5.29 gears and an ARB Air Locker and the 5.29 and ARB V6 third member from the original Chili was used out back to allow Bill the benefits of full spools without the quirky handling. This allows Bill to drive his Toyota in the winter on Denver's ice roads without the rear of the 4Runner trying to pass the front.
The FRORF modified FJ80 pitman arm.
Once the big tasks were taken care of, Bill turned his attention to details. All-Pro Off Road Hysteer was added to allow smooth steering. A modified FJ80 pitman arm from Front Range Off Road Fabrication was later added to allow adequate clearance between the pitman arm and tie rod with the front axle moved about 3" forward of the stock position. V6 brake calipers were used with vented rotors and a V6 master cylinder and brake booster in order to assure reliable stopping on twisty Rocky Mountain roads. SR5 bucket seats and an SR5 center console were added to the interior to make it more comfortable on long trips. 4crawler Off Road Rocksliderz and "Bill-customized" Rockstomper bumpers were bolted to the truck in order to keep the sheetmetal straight and fend off any more errant Explorers. 35" Goodyear MT/Rs keep the bumpers and sliderz off the ground and provide excellent traction with a smooth, quiet ride. And despite all of the upgrades, a Warn M9000 winch was added to the front of Red Chili II just in case Bill gets in over his head.
With the help of friends, Bill has achieved his goal of creating a comfortable, capable backcountry vehicle. Not one to sit back and admire his work, Bill has a list of future upgrades that include an R151F transmission, STC soft top, on board air and welder, and eventually a 3.4L motor from a Tacoma. As if that list was not long enough, much of Bill's free time is now spent helping his son Justin modify his 1988 Toyota pickup so that he can keep up with Dad on the trails.
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