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Koda's Tacoma: A Bargain-Priced Toyota Tacoma Opens the Door to Outdoor Opportunity

I used to spend my days riding motorcycles and tinkering with them until I crossed paths with a spirited husky pup named Koda. Little did I know, this chance encounter would completely reshape my world. Koda became my constant companion, leading us to embrace the great outdoors and embark on countless camping adventures together.

2003 Toyota Tacoma overlanding at night

Meeting Koda: A Turning Point

I met Koda as the runt of his litter. He was always sleepy, and I thought, 'A lazy husky? Perfect.' I was so wrong. After a few days, I realized he was actually sick. An expensive trip to the vet later, he started showing his true colors — his lively and talkative husky spirit. He was always bouncing off the walls and trying to escape the house at every chance. This was the first time I had a companion without shared responsibility, and it was quite challenging, but I believe that's what made us as close as we are now. I knew then that I had to spend more time with him to burn off some his excess energy, so he went with me just about everywhere, including work.

a siberian husky eating next to a Nitto Recon Grappler tire

Finding Koda's Tacoma

I had a small side hustle flipping motorcycles, and I knew getting a truck would be a great help for moving bikes around. After looking around on Facebook Marketplace, I found an old Tacoma listing that looked like a fake ad, but it ended up legit. The Toyota Tacoma was listed at $1,500 and had just one issue — a hole in the engine block. This didn't scare me off because I knew getting this vehicle at this price and throwing in a replacement engine from Japan would breathe new life into it for a relatively low cost. After everything was said and done, I was into this new truck, running with a low mileage engine, for just a few thousand dollars. Once we got the truck running, it was apparent that Koda absolutely loved it. He always stuck his head out the window everywhere we drove. Every time I left the truck, he would sit in the driver's seat and from a certain angle it would look like he was driving it. That's where our Instagram handle came from: Koda’s Tacoma.

Koda in a silver Toyota Tacoma built for overlanding

New Found Love for the Outdoors

Shortly after getting this truck, we were invited out to the desert with some friends, and it was the first time I experienced driving on dirt roads. I immediately experienced a distinct feeling of pure happiness driving off-road. I enjoyed the dust cloud we left behind the truck, the sound of rocks crunching under the tires while listening to AC/DC, and Koda hanging out the window with his tongue flapping around. I knew this was something I wanted to do all the time and it was something Koda and I could enjoy together. So that’s exactly what we did. Not long after that first trip, I decided to find a proper 4WD Tacoma because I knew I wanted to go farther and see as much as we could without being constrained by the 2WD Tacoma that we had. I sold the 2WD and diligently looked for another 1st generation Tacoma that was 4WD and hopefully had 4 doors. The 4-door 4WD first-generation Tacoma was pretty hard to find, but somehow, I found the perfect one. I drove down to San Diego and met an awesome person named Shane who was selling his overland-equipped 2003 4WD four-door Tacoma. After talking to Shane for hours about the truck, I was sold. 

silver Toyota Tacoma in the desert

Built for the Challenge

The truck was outfitted with tires, suspension, and armor, but I ended up changing almost everything about it except the armor. Once we got it off-road, it surprised me what obstacles it could tackle with ease. It came with a factory rear locker and usually that’s all I needed to get over anything. Since then, I’ve added many things to make it truly my own.

Overland ready 2003 toyota Tacoma on Nitto Recon Grappler tires

The Perfect Tiny Truck Upgrade

The most obvious change I made is the Go Fast Camper, which removed a lot of weight. We went through different roof top tents and racks and bed canopies, but ultimately, the GFC was the right answer. This camper was made in USA by an awesome group of people that I can now call friends. It’s not only incredibly stout, but it only weighs about 275 lbs and I can stand inside of it. That was a game changer for me. It transformed the tiny truck into a tiny camper that’s comfortable. 

tent and solar panels extended on overland ready toyota tacoma

Handling The Added Weight

The new suspension and components designed to handle the added weight of the vehicle changed how it responded in all situations to the point that it could be argued that it’s a safety upgrade. The truck currently sits at about 1600 lbs above stock, excluding passengers. I upgraded to Fox 2.5 DSC Coilovers in the front with a heavier spring rate and a custom-made leaf pack from Atlas Spring in the rear.

front springs of 2003 toyota tacoma

We also have 12” Bilstein shocks in the back that are triangulated but will be changing those soon with an Archive Garage outboard shock relocation. I also added a rear sway bar from Antirock Swaybar. This helped a lot with some of the weight being higher up. It felt a lot safer to drive the truck after we added this sway bar, and it feels better planted on and off-road. 

rear suspension of 2003 toyota tacoma for overlanding

The Wheels and Tires

Rolling resistance and unsprung weight matter a lot to me. I think that saving weight here, but maintaning quality is important for many reasons such as better handling, accelerating, and braking. For the wheels, I went with FN Wheels Five Star 16x8 with a -25 offset. These were the lightest wheels I could find that looked good on older Japanese style trucks. They only weigh about 18lbs each.

Nitto Recon Grappler tires on a 2003 Toyota Tacoma

Finding the perfect tire for our needs took a little while. Although I was in love with the look and capability of the Trail Grappler, I knew I had to be honest with myself and get something that was in tune with more of my daily street driving, yet had great tread when I am off-road. A perfect tall and skinny all terrain, the new 35x11.50R16 Nitto Recon Grappler. I prefer a skinnier tire versus a wider one for less rolling resistance and a bit of unsprung weight savings as well. I think the contact patch on a skinnier tire is more than adequate when aired down. Nitto’s Recon Grappler all-terrain has plenty of grip in most terrain and is extremely tough. I’ve taken it just about aeverywhere and dragged it against plenty of rocks without any issue. I love that this tire is quiet on the road, and after thousands and thousands of miles, the tires still look new. 

Tried and True Armor

Our truck has a full belly of steel skid plates, an additional diff skid, an ARB Front Bumper, Frame Sliders, and a completely custom low-profile rear swing out bumper. I have no intention of changing out any of these abused pieces of armor. We’ve bashed them against plenty of rocks and they are still hanging on there. The only thing I might change is adding a foot plate to the frame sliders to help Koda with some grip when he hops into the truck. 

front bumper and grille guard on a 2003 toyota tacoma

Powerful Odds and Ends

I added Solar Panels to the roof and the hood of the vehicle equaling 275 watts of solar electricity. These panels were connected to the in-vehicle DC Charger from Redarc. This allowed my vehicle to easily charge up both of my Group 34 Odyssey batteries simultaneously. I also have both batteries on a Blue Sea System Auto Charging Relay. This setup is ideal in case I manage to deplete the starter battery for some reason.

engine compartment of 2003 toyota tacoma

To Many More Adventures

There’s plenty more mods we could go over and I could tell you a lot more about our truck, but if the mods are only half the fun of this whole off-road thing. The other half is actually getting out there and using your vehicle to make more memories with those that you love. Me and Koda will be getting out there as often as we can, and we hope you’re doing the same. Follow us @kodastocoma to see what we’re up to.

Kodas tacoma license plate

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