Industry Insider: Roger Brown of 4Crawler Offroad Short Cuts

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Interview by: Harry Wagner- 9/2003

Editor's Note: The following is the latest of our new feature focusing on the talented people who run shops specializing in Toyota 4x4 components. 4x4Wire's Harry Wagner recently had the opportunity to run the famous Dusy-Ershim Trail with Roger Brown from 4Crawler Offroad.

4x4Wire- How did you get involved in four wheeling?

Brown- Hard to say, we had a 4WD pickup when I was a kid, used to go out camping in the mountains. Also used to do a lot of backpacking, so always enjoyed getting out in the back country.

4x4Wire- How long have you been four wheeling?

Brown- With my current rig, about 7 years, I did just a little with my old FJ-55. When I got the 4Runner, I was set on getting it set up to get off-road. I had read about trails like the Rubicon, Fordyce and Dusy-Ershim and that sounded like the sort of wheeling I wanted to do.

Roger Brown, the man behind 4Crawler Offroad.
Roger is easy to spot on the trail.

4x4Wire- So that was your first trail rig then?

Brown- Right. Back in 1985, I purchased a '74 FJ-55 Toyota Landcruiser Station Wagon (aka Iron Pig) as my daily driver. I had sort of wanted a 4WD truck for going camping and skiing and this one had decent room for gear inside. I found there was almost nothing available (at the time) for it from the aftermarket, but started to slowly fix it up. First major problem was smog, and I ended up converting the engine to run on propane (LPG) to get an exemption. This change made a huge change in power and driveability over the stock intake. Over the years, I installed some add-a-leaves, lift shackles, swing-down rear tire carrier and some new tires. Just managed to lock the front hubs a few times, when the CA smog folks dropped the exemption for LPG and I ended up having to sell the vehicle out of state in 1990. Then, about 6 years later, I stumbled upon an '85 4Runner.

4x4Wire- How did you make the transition from enthusiast to businessman?

Brown- No one event happened to make the transition. I guess I've always had a DIY attitude, and as I started building up my truck, I found there were more and more things I wanted that were not available, or at least not available set up like I wanted. Also, after helping a few folks with various installs of existing aftermarket products, I found the quality of many of them was just not up to what I would want on my rig. So, I began to make items for my 4Runner, but always with an eye towards making them something someone like me might also want. For example, my Rock SliderZ were designed to be bolted on, if desired, as that is the type of install that seemed desireable to many folks, they could also be welded on, but that was not required. My body lift kits, likewise, were designed to be fully bolt-on installations, no welding required. So I began making items for others on the side, helping with installs to learn how to make things better, for example I weld tabs onto the pickup bed bolts for the body lift kits to duplicate the stock setup, eliminating the need to get a wrench up inside the bed rails to install the lift. Its a huge time and frustration saver. Anyway, after a few years working on this on the side, my day job disappeared and I decided that this would be a good time to give this a shot full time.

Ascending Chicken Rock on the Dusy.

4x4Wire- What sort of background do you have?

Brown- I have an electrical engineering background (power and transmission lines, not electronics) and did a fair amount of mechanical design work at various employers over the years for electrical equipment installations. I later took about 2 years of welding and 1 year of machining classes at my local adult education program, mainly to learn how to repair and fabricate items for my truck.

4x4Wire- How long has 4Crawler been in business?

Brown- A little over 2 years full-time and about 4 years counting part-time operation.

4x4Wire- How many people work for you? In what capacity?

Brown- Just myself, for now. I try to leverage the Internet to handle all of my marketing, sales and support.

The lightweight 4Runner performs great in the snow.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.
4Crawler's drivetrain lift and shaved axles really reduce drag in the snow.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.

4x4Wire- Do you do fabrication work and installations in addition to selling products?

Brown- I do some, but try to keep it to a minimum, mainly due to lack of facilities. Although most of my product line has developed from what started as a custom fabrication for one person (or myself), then perhaps with some small changes has become a product with a wider audience, so I'm always on the lookout for new projects like that.

4x4Wire- Do you sell other manufacturers' products or just 4Crawler products?

Brown- I do resell some other manufacturers' products in areas that complement my own products. For example, I offer poly body mount bushing kits for many of the vehicles I make body lifts for. I can drill out the bushings to match the size of hardware being used in the body lift kit, or I modify bushings for one vehicle type to fit another type, which is what I do for the FJ-60 and FJ-62 body mount bushing kits.

4x4Wire- Do you make products for other makes besides Toyotas?

Brown- Yes, after owning a semi-orphaned vehicle (FJ-55) I can sympathize with owner's of vehicles that get little, if any, aftermarket product support. Thus, if I can adapt an existing product to another application, I'll go ahead and do the design work to get the new product out. Case in point was my Kia Sportage body lift kit, within 2 weeks of being apporached by a Sportage owner, I had the needed specifications in hand, material purchased and had Kia lift kit #1 in the hands of the owner, installed and ready to wheel. Some of my products I don't even know what type of vehicle they will be used on, for example my leaf spring shims. I've done them for 4x4s, street rods, drag race trucks, you name it. If it has leaf springs and a solid axle, its likely to need shims at some point or another. I also make a line of products for water-cooled Volkswagens, including upgraded shift linkages, diesel tachometers and suspension kits

4Crawler's High Clearance Axle Kit.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.
4Crawler's Motor Mount Spacers.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.

4x4Wire- Any new product ideas you would like to share with us?

Brown- Always working on new things, mainly items I need for my truck and if they work out well, I may offer them as a standard product. A few projects I need to get done shortly are a full swing out tire carrier to go on my rear bumper. That's been a few years in the works, but once I get 35s on, I won't have the options to carry a spare inside or under the truck any more. I also hope to come out with a version of my long travel front shock setup, as I've had a number of requests for that and I need to make a few minor changes to my own setup.

4x4Wire- Tell us about your personal truck.

Brown- I have a 1985 4Runner SR5 that I bought used with 175K miles about 7 years ago. Been fixing it up ever since, however, I hope to get it to the point that I can just wheel it, but still have some projects to finish up before its done, at least for this incarnation. Actually, I have been running it as my daily driver all this year, so its pretty amazing that you can spend 3-4 days on a trail like the Dusy-Ershim in the High Sierra, then just unlock the hubs, put some air in the tires, throw on some mud flaps and have a rig you can drive to the grocery store the next morning. BTW: Hydraulic-assist steering is very nice for getting around in crowded parking lots! So all my build-up has been done with an eye towards having a streetable truck, not just street legal, but one you can hop in and drive 1000 miles in a day if need be. So, I've tended to keep the lift fairly mild, 33" tires so far, but I'll be adding 35s to the quiver shortly, and tried to keep things fairly reliable. I run a custom front spring pack made out of stock Toyota rear springs, and 56" Orbit Eye springs in back. I have a full list of modifications on my web page.

4x4Wire- Where do you see the sport heading?

Brown- Not really sure, seems to be a big trend to purpose-built buggies and trailered rigs, but also many folks doing mild build-ups in order to get into more rugged terrain than they could with a stock rig. I think its good more people are getting involved in the sport, helping to spread the word that done properly it is a safe and environmentally responsible activity.

Roger's 4Runner performed flawlessly on Dusy -Ershim OHV Route.

4x4Wire- How do you think competitions have affected four wheeling?

Brown- I think they have at least elevated the sport up into the public spotlight a bit, the average person has likely heard about or even seen some rock crawling on TV. However, I think the competitions are not really representative of what most folks do off-road. I've talked to folks who have the idea that off-roading is high speed racing (like the Baja 1000) or some sort of hammer-down mud bogging thing. When you explain that you travel along at 1-2 MPH, picking your way between car-sized rocks and trees, they have a hard time comprehending.

4x4Wire- Would you sponsor a competitor? Compete yourself?

Brown- Possibly, if it made sense from a business standpoint. With the trend toward rock buggies and what not, hardly anything I make would be applicable to the competing vehicle. I don't think I would compete myself, my rig is not set up for the kind of terrain the competitions are held on, nor for the sort of events that are held.

At the 2002 4Runner Jamboree.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.
Wenthworth Springs in the winter time.
Photo courtesy of 4Crawler.

4x4Wire- So how often do you get out of the shop to wheel?

Brown- I try to get out at least once a month, more if possible. My truck is set up more for longer "expeditions", so my ideal trips tend to be multiple days. Last two trips included a 2000 mile, solo trip (mostly 2WD) over rugged, remote country in Nevada and Oregon, followed by a 3 (turned into 4) day trip over the Dusy-Ershim trail in the High Sierra with my club.

4x4Wire- What clubs or associations are you a part of?

Brown- I am a member of the Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) and California Association of 4Wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4Wheel). I'm also vice president of the Gettin' Off 4WD Club, a Cal4Wheel affiliate club.

4x4Wire- I understand that you are the new Tech Editor of TLCA's Toyota Trails, correct?

Brown- Yes, (TLCA President) Tony Twiddy asked if I would be interested in filling the Truck Tech Editor position at TLCA after Jon Davis stepped down recently. Just getting up to speed on the system and working with publication deadlines, etc. Biggest thing now is reviving the Truck Tech Editor e-mail alias, its probably been unanswered for so long, folks have forgotten it exists, so fire any truck tech questions to

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