The Border Runner (Ruined Adventures' 4Runner)


It is no secret that here at LCE we LOVE 1st Gen. 4Runners, so when we heard about this one we had to find out more about it. We had the pleasure to meet both Brenton and Shannon back in May this year at the Overland Expo, after following their Pan-American adventures Online for the last couple years. They are amazing adventurous people, extremely kind and innovative, plus they love Toyotas as much as we do. We got to spend some time chatting with them about their adventures and their 4Runner modifications and accommodations. Who needs an RV when you have a sick 4runner like this one right here, not us!

Here is part of their story:

Brenton originally wanted a 1st Generation 4Runner so he and his then-girlfriend could have something they could camperize and travel the country in.  Eventually he found a clean, bone stock '87 4Runner DLX with a 22RE 5-speed in Austin, Texas.  

He set it up with a basic sleeping platform and they traveled most of the Western US in this basic form.  Shortly after getting engaged, Brenton and his girlfriend Shannon decided that there was more they wanted to see in the world and what better way to do it than in their 1st gen 4Runner.  They saved for two years with a plan to drive south across Mexico, Central America and South America.  

They ditched the old sleeping platform and redesigned the rear sleeping arrangements for as much headroom as possible.  With help from a friend, they built a rear swing-out for more cooking space and to store two fuel cans and some traction mats.  For the hot and humid weather in Central America, Brenton installed a Fantastic Fan vent in the roof of the hardtop.  He replaced the tired old suspension with an Old Man Emu kit and added dual Odyssey batteries under the hood.  After several months of travel during the rainy season, they eventually invested in an ARB 6' awning while they were in Panama.

After several years of travel in their 4Runner and roughly 60,000 miles it has seen many changes (and border crossings).  This vehicle is one massive souvenir that has a few stories to tell...from the bumper corner that blew away in Northern Peru to the tailgate dent from a tree in Chilean Patagonia.  Brenton and Shannon grew so attached to their dialed-in Toyota that they spent their last few dollars shipping it back to the US so they could continue to have adventures in their "mini-camper" some day.  They have some more simple modifications planned for this rig, but for the most part it is setup perfectly for a few days (or years) on and off the road.

If you'd like to see more of Brenton and Shannon's adventures, go to or find Ruined Adventures on Facebook and Instagram.




Why a 1st Gen 4Runner?(Written before the trip)

The Toyota 4runner, also known as the "Surf" outside of the US, is based on the Toyota Hilux platform.  The Toyota Hilux can be found in every corner of the world because of its simple and utilitarian design.  You may remember the tiny Toyota pickups on recent news footage from the Libyan conflict, with mounted heavy machine guns and rebels with RPG's in the back.  As a matter of fact, the Chad-Libya conflict has been dubbed the "Toyota War" because of their affinity for the nimble assault Toyotas.  This vehicle is even used by rebel forces from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.  The Hilux is driven by Australian Special Forces, ranchers in the Australian outback, farmers around the world, UN troops, and not to mention thousands of off-road enthusiasts.

If you're not believing how tough these are, you need to watch this incredible video by BBC's Top Gear: Killing a Toyota.  Ironically, this truck has the same drivetrain (except it's a diesel) and interchangeable parts as ours...hopefully we don't have to recreate any of these tests on our trip.  If you enjoyed that video, there's also a part 2 and part 3 with the same truck.

This vehicle has not left me stranded yet, knock on wood, and it's impressed me time and time again.  It's very easy to work on, and if I'm ever stumped there's vast online resources available that have helped me figure it out.  Chances are, if I'm having an issue with my vehicle, someone else has encountered it and found an easy solution to fix it.  With the proper tools and a factory service manual, nothing is impossible to fix on this 4runner.

Since the drivetrain and most parts are found on the Hilux and interchangeable, that means that we should have no problem finding replacement parts anywhere in the world.  Toyota has a great parts network and there are several dealerships along our route.  We have also made a few friends here in the US that specialize in parts for our vehicle, so worst case scenario we could have replacement parts shipped to us.  

Our particular 4runner was found right here in rust-free Austin, Texas before we even decided to do this crazy adventures.  We are only the third owners and this vehicle has been severely pampered (at least before we got our hands on it).

The original owner kept meticulous service records and the 2nd owner also did an amazing job of continuing with the regular maintenance.  Between the first two owners, everything that could go wrong or wear down with time has been replaced or rebuilt over the years.  At the slightest sign of any issue, they took the vehicle in to get it resolved immediately.  This baby was only sold to me because the 2nd owner wanted more room in the garage for their daily driver!  That's right...former garage queen.  All of this makes it even harder to drag the 4runner through 30,000 miles of topes, tumulos, and torrential downpours!  I love this vehicle and we will try to baby it, hopefully making the previous owners proud.  I feel like this Toyota is ready to shine...spin some wheels and see the world.  We're hoping to do just that over the next two years.

For this trip we are focusing on reliability, comfort, and security...all in that order.  Our motto is to plan for the worst, but expect the best so that will definitely play a part.  It's hard not to go overboard when you're preparing for 30,000 miles thru jungle, washed-out roads, and bad-guys but we're trying to stay practical.

Thanks to Brenton and Shannon for sharing their adventures and their 4Runner!

If you enjoy this kind of stories, here is a list of their fellow travelers they've met over the years: Fellow Travelers

Do you have a Toyota based aventure you want to share with us? Send it to




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