4Runner Vehicle History

Sep. 01, 1997 By ORC STAFF
History of the 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner finds its origins a bit before 1983. There was no sport-utility market then. There was a full-size Blazer, Bronco, and Jeep Wagoneer, then the Jeep CJ-7. The International Scout II, the last thing that could be considered a "smaller" SUV, had died after 1980. The Toyota FJ-40 Land Cruiser was in its last year in the American market, but wasn't selling very well anyways.

At this time, GM was readying to introduce its 1983 S-Blazer/S-Jimmy, Jeep had the Cherokee ready to go, and Ford and Isuzu were preparing similar vehicles. These were all to be steel-bodied, one-pice units, based on two-and-four-wheel-drive mini-truck platforms.

About this time (1983), several commercial enterprises modified Toyota pickups with shells, and created some of the obvious precursors to the 4Runner. These went by the names of Trailblazer and Wolverine. It is unclear whether these were actually Toyota-sanctioned projects. Please email us if you have any more information or pictures of these vehicles.

Obviously, Toyota was up to something, too. There were spy photos and previews of a new truck concept in Four Wheeler Magazine in late 1983. A new truck body style was to make it debut for 1984, so this was an ideal time to introduce a little suprise.

The Toyota 4Runner was introduced in 1984 as a 1984 1/2 model. Instead of the all-steel construction, Toyota took a page from the full-size Blazer/Bronco book, making the new truck a very-short-bed with a plastic cap covering the back. The black was the only cap color availible. The truck had the carbureted version of Toyota's relatively new 22R inline-4-cylinder engine. Options included an SR-5 package, with a full gauge set, clinomometer and altimeter, a folding rear seat, nicer interior, and rear heater. My '84, was manufactured in July, 1984. It featured a utility bed, Standard trim level, and a dealer-installed pinstripe.

For 1984 to 1985, the 4Runner (and all Toyota trucks) were solid axles front and rear with leaf springs, a design that is easy to lift and work on, but delivers an often jarring ride. In 1985, the 22R-E, the electronically-controlled fuel injected version of the 22R, became the standard engine. The 22R-E is supposed to run slightly better and get slightly better gas mileage than the 22R.

In 1986, the 4Runner, and all 4WD Toy trucks, got independent front suspension. This is more difficult to work on and more expensive, but takes less space and rides much smoother. The rear springs, however, remained leaves. From mid-'86 to the end of 1987, there was an SR-5 Turbo model. This included, among other things, a turbocharged, EFI 22R. Some of these SR-5s are reported to have come with a digital dash package, nicer-than-normal-SR-5 interior, and beefed-up rear axle. The turbo model has been called a delay tactic, meant to give the aging 4-cylinder product line a bit more power, trying to compete with the V-6 models then coming to market. This is perhaps the best old-body-style 4Runner made. The engine provides added power where it's needed, and keeps weight and gasoline consumption down to reasonable levels.

The IFS introduced in 1986 was designed so that Toyota's new 3.0-liter V-6 engine would fit. In 1988, the re-tuning of the engine was complete, and the V-6 was made an option. These engines will NOT fit into the solid front axle trucks without great pains, but WILL fit quite easily into earlier ('86-'88) 4-cyl IFS trucks.

The V-6 is supposed to be a pretty good engine. It weighs a bit much, and is moderately thirsty. If you're used to driving something with good power/weight (full size Bronco or Blazer, for example) you may still want to swap in a GM V-6 or V-8.

In 1989 the small vent windows were eliminated.

Then, in 1990, Toyota did away with the cover-top design, and made the whole body, including. top, structural. The top no longer comes off. The suspension was changed to IFS up front, and a solid-axle with coil springs out back. This change allowed the creation of a stretched, four-door body style. The new body style is considerably larger inside, and the towing capacity is supposed to be greater. The coil springs offer a much smoother, nicer ride. The increased weight and more car-like handling of these trucks, however, emphasises the low output of the engine, especially with the four-cylinder.

In 1992, flush "aero" headlights were introduced. Many feel that this change made the new body style finally look like it was supposed to. Replacement bulbs are more expensive, though. The two-door model, due to hefty tarriffs and sluggish sales because of tarriffs, was not imported to the US after this year. In the 1992 model year, four-door 4Runners cost thousands of dollars less than two-doors. Predictably, the market plummetted.

A new, larger body style was introduced for the 1996 model year. This is the third generation of the 4Runner. Bigger versions of the 4- and 6-cylinder motors were debuted. The newest 4Runner has some nice off-road options too, such as a locking differential.

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