Jeff Bathke's 2000 Toyota 4Runner
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By: Harry Wagner - 12/2002

Wheeling the 4Runner back when it still had that new car smell.

More and more late model Toyota 4Runners and Tacomas are finding their way onto trails around the country. What makes Jeff Bathke's 2000 4Runner unique is that is more significantly modified than most, and Jeff tests these modifications on some of the toughest trails in the nation. Jeff caught the wheeling bug after riding along with his friends, spotting and taking photos. As an avid hiker and outdoorsman living in Colorado who has scaled many 14,000 foot peaks, it wasn't long until he wanted his own off-highway capable vehicle. In fact, after he was caught ramping his Pontiac Grand Prix, he knew it was time for a new vehicle. [Editor: Thank goodness he stopped before he put an exo-cage on the Pontiac.]

Jeff was not brand loyal when he started shopping for a vehicle, but he did have a few requirements for his new rig. He wanted a vehicle that he could use for both daily driving requirements and on tough trails. The new rig had to be powerful, reliable, and have a reasonable amount of aftermarket support. Jeff says I used a tape measure to check some clearance specs, checked out feedback from many owner forums, considered basic availability of aftermarket mods, and compared engine specs - since I wanted it to handle and accelerate well on-road as well as slow off-roading in the rocks. The 3rd gen 4Runner's coil springs on all four corners was a huge plus in my mind for on-road ride as well as off-road performance. I knew a coil spring lift would be more expensive than torsion bars or leafs, but I'd really enjoy coils. Stock clearance of 18" to the rocker panels was hard to beat. Stock 31's needed only 2" of lift to get to my goal of 33's.

Rockcrawling through the Iron Chest Mine Trail in Colorado.
Following fellow Trailseeker Corbin up the Minesweeper trail.

Now Jeff The Marmot, as he is known, is an active contributing member of the Toyota community and can often be found helping others on the 4x4Wire 4Runner and SUV Forum. Jeff started purchasing aftermarket parts for his 4Runner before he even actually took possession of it! The All-Pro rock sliders were the first accessory purchased, in order to protect the new sheetmetal. Within two months the rig sported a 2 lift, 33 MT/Rs, and custom skid plates covering 7 feet of the undercarriage. A TRD supercharger was added to the 3.4L engine, which combined with the automatic transmission and 4.88 gears turns the 33s without hesitation.

Since the 4Runner came from the factory with a rear locker, Jeff left the differentials alone until just recently, when he added the just released ARB RD-90 Air Locker to the front differential. Other recent additions include the custom front and rear bumpers and the Warn HS9500 winch. Jeff is content with the current status of the 4Runner and his only future plans are to complete the fortification of his Toyota by armoring the gas tank.

cliffpre21.jpg cliff16.jpg cliff08.jpg
Jeff tackling Cliff Hanger trail in Moab.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all is that prior to purchasing his 4Runner, Jeff's technical prowess was limited to changing the oil in his Grand Prix. Upon purchasing the 4Runner however, he forced himself to learn all of the intimate details of his rig, to remain self-sufficient and be able to repair any breakage while off-road on the tough trails.

btr31.jpg btr10.jpg
White Knuckle Hill and Nose Dive (respectively) on Behind the Rocks trail in Moab.

Speaking of tough trails, this 4Runner has seen plenty of them. Jeff has traversed extreme trails such as Behind the Rocks in Moab, the Rubicon, and Colorado's Iron Chest, among others. Jeff mainly wheels with his friends in the Trailseekers, but he has also used the 4x4Wire SUV Forum to organize the 2001 and 2002 Colorado 4Runner Jamborees. Jeff enjoys wheeling his late model 4Runner so much that he wants to do all he can to get other owners out on the trail as well.

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