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Going The Distance: Carl Roach’s '86 Toyota 4Runner Turbodiesel

People often comment on how far the Jeep Wrangler platform has veered from its original no-frills roots. However, it’s not the only platform that has deviated wildly from its original offering. A great case for this can be made with the Toyota 4Runner. The very first 4Runner (1984) came with solid front and rear axles, a removable rear top, and was only offered as a two door. Unlike the Wrangler platform, which still bears a similar silhouette of the original, it’s hard to see how the transition from the first 4Runner translates to today’s offering.  

1986 sas Toyota 4Runner 35 Nitto Trail Grapplers 2L-T Diesel

While 1986 saw the 4Runner shift to an independent front suspension, much of the draw of the first generation 4Runner remained unchanged throughout its run from 1984 to 1989. Thanks to its compact size, excellent aftermarket support, and proven Toyota reliability, the first gen 4Runner remains an extremely popular vehicle for off-road enthusiasts across the U.S. And, luckily for us, we recently crossed paths with one such enthusiast, Carl Roach.

Roach’s 1986 4Runner is a case study in how using factory Toyota parts can make the classic open-air wheeler more trail worthy and fuel efficient. For starters, Roach did away with the original IFS and placed a Toyota solid-axle housing in its place. With both axles getting a helping of internal upgrades for increased durability and gear reduction, a set of 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers were installed to ensure traction wouldn’t be an issue. To make things even more unique, but keep on brand, he also tossed the original gasser engine for a 2L-T turbodiesel.

Though Roach, like all of us diehard gearheads, considers his 4Runner a work-in-progress, he was nice enough to let us poke around it for a bit and snap some photos to share with you.

Diesel Swap

The rattle under the hood is from a Toyota 2L-T inline four-cylinder diesel. While not extremely powerful by modern-diesel standards, these turbo-charged 2.4L engines are notoriously dependable and extremely fuel efficient. Though Roach states he has a few more things to wrap up under the hood, the hard part of the swap is behind him.

1986 sas Toyota 4Runner engine compartment 2L-T Diesel


To get his ’86 4Runner back to a more traditional solid-axle front end, Roach used a SAS-kit from Sky’s Offroad Design. Using leaf-springs to locate the ’85 Toyota housing, the axle was then upgraded with a fresh high-pinion 3rd member, E-Locker, 5.29 gears, and RCV Performance axleshafts. Since the SAS kit moves the wheelbase three inches forward, the steering gearbox was also relocated and paired with a high-steering system using FJ-80 rod ends and ARP Studs.

1986 sas kit solid axle front end Toyota 4Runner

Power Transfer

A convenient feature of the Toyota diesel swap is that you can retain the original W56 manual transmission. While he would eventually like to do a transfer case doubler, for now, the stock RF1A transfer case and 2.28:1 gearset remains in place. The original stock rear driveline remains, but the front driveline was built by Roach using a long-spline driveshaft builder kit.

1986 Toyota 4Runner transfer case detail

Rear Travel

Out back, you’ll find the original Toyota housing fit with a V6 third member, ARB Air Locker, 5.29 gears, and chromoly axleshafts from Yukon Gear and Axle. The stock suspension was replaced with a Low Range Offroad kit that utilizes a set of 63-inch Chevy rear springs, 1.5-inch rear block and 2.5-inch Fox shocks.

1986 sas Toyota 4Runner 35 Nitto Trail Grapplers rear end housing detail

Trail Grapplers

Getting traction to the ground are 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers. These heavy-duty mud-terrain radials were paired with a 17-inch Walker Evans beadlock wheel so Roach can safely drop into trail pressure without fear of losing a bead off-road. Roach states that he’s been very happy with these over the previous tires he was running and enjoys how quiet they are on the highway. For a tire that needs to battle rough trails and remain practical on the street, it’s hard to beat the Trail Grappler.

1986 Toyota 4Runner on 35" Nitto Trail Grappler tires

DIY Front

Making a home for recovery points and a Warn XP 9.5 winch is a front bumper from Northwest Trail Innovations. These weld-it-yourself builder bumpers are a great option for those looking to save a little money and have a hand in the build process of their rig.

front bumper detail of 1986 sas Toyota 4Runner 35 Nitto Trail Grapplers 2L-T Diesel

Trail Armor

One of the only things that remain the same from when he purchased the 4Runner six years ago are the Trail-Gear sliders. To add some additional protection, a rear bumper was eventually sourced from Trail-Gear as well. Aside from the forementioned sliders and 3rd members assembled by East Coast Gear Supply, the Raleigh, North Carolina, based Roach has built the entire rig himself.

rear driver side of 1986 sas Toyota 4Runner 35 Nitto Trail Grapplers

Supra Seats

The open-air feel of the classic 4Runner was a major draw to this generation Toyota. To add a little extra comfort for those longer drives to the trail, a pair of bucket seats from a ’86 Toyota Supra were bolted in place.

Supra seats in a 1986 sas Toyota 4Runner


If there was one thing we wish Toyota still offered, it would be a soft top version like the original. This replacement top you see here comes from Softopper and looks fantastic for being nearly six-years old.

driver side profile of 1986 sas Toyota 4Runner on 35 Nitto Trail Grapplers

  • Looking for a more modern adventure Toyota? Check out this Tacoma!
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