Brandon Miller's 1983 Toyota Pickup- MoPower
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Written by: Brandon Miller

Edited by: Harry Wagner - 5/2003

I got my truck, an '83 Toyota long bed pickup back when I was 15. In the last 12 years I have slowly built it to where it is today, with the most dramatic modifications occuring in the past three years. It is not a tube rock buggy but it is a built Toyota that is still street legal...

Sledgehammer in Johnson Valley. Snow wheeling. Fordyce Trail. Mud drags at Prairie City. British Columbia, Canada.


Every two years I had to fight to get my little 22r to pass the California mandated emissions testing. The motor had been good to me even though I had rebuilt it many times due to blown head gaskets, a cracked piston, and a broken timing chain. After another failed attempt to smog I decided a motor swap was in order. I started watching the papers for maybe a wrecked Astro van or a Chevy pickup to get a 4.3L or 350 motor from. One morning I grabbed the paper and noticed an 88 Mustang for sale for $600. I gave the guy a call right away (I think I was first but he got flooded with calls). When I got there I ended up buying the car on the spot and drove my new Mustang GT 5.0 nearly an hour to get home. I kept the engine and all related items (wiring harness, exhaust manifolds, fuel relays, etc) and parted out the rest of the car to make my money back. Installation was fairly straight forward using NWOR motor mounts. I mounted the radiator in the back of the bed in order to alleviate any fan clearance issues. The Mustang had a separate engine harness so wiring consisted of tying in about 10 wires which I tied in to from the Toyota harness. While doing the wiring I took the opportunity to trace out the factory Toyota harness and remove all the engine related wires.

The Northwest Off-Road motor mounts. The Ford A/C compressor was retained. No room for the radiator in front. The motor fills the engine bay nicely.

Because the 5.0 is a Multiport Fuel Injected engine and the 22r was carbureted, I had to run all new fuel lines. I replaced my gas tank with one from an EFI Toyota with the fuel pump in the tank and plumbed it to the fuel rail with new lines from Summit Racing. I replaced the Toyota fuel pump with one from a Mustang and replaced the fuel sender with an Autometer unit. The in-tank fuel pump and sending unit make for a clean install.

The AN fitting fit right onto the stock tank. Mating the fuel line to the Ford rail. The modified Toyota sending unit. Remote oil filter (not used). 90 degree filter adapter (used).

After completing the fuel system routing I made my own exhaust by re-using some of the Mustang bends and catalytic converters and adding a pair of mufflers and new exhaust tubing from Summit Racing. The engine stays nice and cool with a Modine radiator and electric fan found at the local Pick-n-Pull. I used copper pipe to carry the fluid from the engine back to the radiator but may change to hose or steel pipe in the future.

Different shots of the exhaust system used.


The ram added to aid steering.

The first steering issue I encountered after the motor swap was that the Ford 5.0 did not clear my Toyota steering box. I ended up getting a Saginaw steering box from a Scout that is very similar to the Toyota box, except the pitman arm swings forward instead of back, allowing me to mount the box much further back on the frame. Additionally, this gave me plenty of clearance for engine mounted accessories. The next problem I encountered was the steering shaft hitting the exhaust manifolds so I had to space the box away from the frame. Steering with the new setup was horrible, so I had Matt at West Texas Off Road rebuild my box and tap it for hydraulic assist. Although these modifications did help it still was not anywhere near as easy to steer as it was with the Toyota setup so next I ditched the Ford pump in favor of a Saginaw pump. The difference is amazing! I still have not mounted the ram back on, but if the pump made this much difference I cant imagine what the hydraulic ram will do! From the Scout box I am running GM tie rod ends and a solid tie rod and drag link made by Grady at Extreme Off Road in Rancho Cordova. These components are connected to billet hi-steer steering arms from Sean at River City Differential.


After asking around, I decided that no Toyota transmission would hold up to the power and torque of the 5.0 engine. Because of this I chose to run an NP435, which bolts right up to the 5.0 motor. The first gear on the transmission is extremely low and although there is no overdrive it is a great 4x4 tranny. The Toyota transfer cases have proven themselves plenty stout so I decided to stick with my existing dual cases, though I did upgraded to 23 spline output shafts and the newer style Marlin Crawler adapter with larger bearings and improved oiling. Both driveshafts came from Jesse at High Angle Driveline.

The transmission took some work in order to fit.

Axles and Brakes

My first priority was to get the engine running and smogged but while I was working on the swap I came across a deal on front and rear axles from a 70s Ford F250 that I could not pass up. This year had a high pinon 8 lug Dana 44 with 1/2" axle tubes in front and a Dana 60 in the rear. The biggest problem with the Ford axle was that the differential was on the wrong side for my tranfer cases so I cut down the long side and retubed the short side. I found stock axle shafts at the Pick-n-Pull to make a 62" wide axle. Not wanting to go to 8 lug I swapped the front outers for ton 6 lug GM outers and had Welder Boy in Folsom cut off the rear Dana 60 ends and weld on Ford 9 ends. This allowed me to run a 6 lug rear axle with disc brakes that was the same width as the front. Sean at River City Differential put a spool in the rear and set up my 4.10 gears for me. With the axles completed, new meats were in order to get the ground clearance back that I used to have with Toyota axles and 35s. I chose 38x12.50 Super Swamper TSLs mounted on Eagle 589 alloy wheels.

The thick, heavy duty axle tubes. Cutting off the inner knuckles to narrow the axle. Setting up the front axle. The rear disc brakes. Homemade emergency brake cable.


I had been running Trailmaster springs for years but with the additional weight of the new engine I decided to try out the Rancho 44044 springs that had become so popular with the Toyota crowd. I made a new front crossmember and bolted them on. I am very happy with them so far. The rear suspension consists of a hybrid Toyota/Alcan/Mazda spring pack with a stock Toyota leaf upside down for a "buggy leaf". Due to the torque of the 5.0 I have the buggy leaves pinned up for road use.

The buggy leaf pinned for on-road use. The buggy leaf at work. Showing off with the truck in its current state.


After doing most of my 4wheeling with Jeeps and Land Cruisers I decided I was either going to sell the truck (nooooooo) or cut the top off. I dont think I could part with my truck so off the top came! I used a kit from AIM called "Ratical". I think the design of the kit was poor but it was handy having seals etc. I made my own custom half doors and after fixing dent after dent on the bed I came up with a flatbed design of my own. When designing the bed I sunk my existing toolbox into the bed in order to retain some storage space.

The flatbed is very functional.


The original bench was ditched for later model Toyota buckets with custom upholstery, but I may go with the plastic race seats soon. A Smittybilt in-cab cage was reinforced with a few extra bars for additional protection. The original dash was overlayed with a custom aluminum one with a host of Autometer gauges in order to keep an eye on that 5.0. Tunes come from a Kenwood Deck, 6x9s in the doors and a box with 2 8s behind the seats. The carpet was removed and replaced with Herculiner so now the interior can be hosed out if needed.

Various shots of the interior during the redesign.

On The Trail

My truck has yet to see a trailer and in addition to the nearby Rubicon, my truck has been driven to trails as far away as Moab, Colorado, Johnson Valley, and even Canada. A few "trail shots" are below...

Shots from wheeling in Moab.

Crawling up the Soup Bowl on the Rubicon.

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