Relax; you're not losing your mind. This is in fact the Super Street Network and pictured, with over 37 pieces of flair like a Chotckie's Employee of the Month, is what we've been referring to as the "Taco Project" over the last few months.
Whether you're on board or vehemently against it, the off-road, overlanding and general lifted truck movement has found a home in our community. Sure, you or someone you know has split time between a slammed project car and a modified truck or SUV for years, but for the majority, the influx of enthusiasts now tackling side projects intended for rugged terrains or, at the very least, intended to look that way, has dramatically increased as of late. To that end, we wanted to tinker with our own version to see what the hype was all about and get a feel for an extension of our industry that seems to have some legs.
In our eyes, one of the key factors to so many car builders taking the leap toward one of these builds was a result of RAYS' iconic TE37 being produced in sizing intended for use on trucks and SUVs. With such a stronghold on the import market, those who wanted to apply the same look to popular chassis like the Tacoma, Tundra, 4 Runner, etc., had multiple size and color options with their favorite wheel. The look spread like wildfire and our RAYS Tribute Meet last year saw dozens of examples on display.
Regardless of what sparked it, the movement is charging forward unlike anything we've seen in recent years, and the aftermarket support from brands you're very familiar with in the car realm are already well into production on parts to help nurture it. While those are being developed and introduced, there's already a massive amount of aftermarket support from brands that have been at the forefront of the off-road realm for decades, and we wanted to explore some of those, along with some names you're very familiar with.
To jump right into the process, we kicked things off with the mod most enthusiasts would agree is an ideal starting point for any build-up: suspension. We've worked with Eibach on more project cars than we can possibly remember, and since they've been deep in the trenches, perfecting and producing suspension goods for a number of off-road capable chassis for years, they were the ideal solution to get our Tacoma build off the ground, so to speak.
The Eibach crew suggested their PRO-TRUCK LIFT system (Stage 1), which combines their Pro-Truck lift springs up front with a matching set of Pro-Truck Sport Shocks that offer increased travel and overall performance.
In the rear, Eibach's PRO-TRUCK Rear Lift Blocks accompany new shocks and add an inch of clearance to establish an even ride height with the new height up front.
The new shocks are designed for the rigors of spirited off-road driving but keep the truck completely street-friendly. The rears only require the shocks to be replaced and Eibach's billet aluminum blocks are locked in place with a set of supplied U-bolts. These are prototype versions pictured.
Installation on the front half is similar to what you'd expect when swapping suspension on something you're most used to, like an FR-S or Integra, though disconnecting the ball joint to get ample separation without stressing any components is an added step you typically wouldn't face when lowering most cars.
The new altitude offered by the kit provides the clearance we were in search of, and like all Eibach gear you're more accustomed to in the car space, extensive testing is done on and off-road during R&D, so you don't sacrifice your ride quality. Their million-mile warranty insures the U.S.-made product you're installing is there for the long haul.
We all love the TE37 x Tacoma combo, but for this build we wanted to go with something brand new, and these Gram Lights 57Trans-X in a Dark Bronze/Machining finish fit the bill perfectly. The 10-spoke design uses sharp cuts and a rather buff profile, while the RAYS logo is actually etched into the wheel itself. Available in 18 to 20-inch sizing, we opted for a 18x9 set up all around.
Falken - @falkentire
Tire selection for an off-road capable set up is similar to choosing the right tires for your project car. What I mean is that you can absolutely do too much and end up with more frustration than enjoyment behind the wheel. Being that this is a weekend warrior, we wanted a tire that could hold its own off road, without causing an annoyance while on the local freeways and surface streets.
Falken Tire recommended their Wildpeak A/T3W, a tire that's been designed to handle all types of weather, won't break a sweat on the trails, yet offers a tame enough feel on pavement to maintain daily driver status without issue.
To fit our new wheels, we went with a 305/65-18 and headed to Tucker Tire to have them mounted and balanced just before our time with Eibach so that the new wheel and tire package could be installed right after the suspension was buttoned up.
In no time at all they had all four tires balanced and ready to install, and most importantly, not a scratch on any of our brand-new Gram Lights.
The upgrades drastically improved the look of the Tacoma, with a far more purposeful feel and, more importantly, the changes are functional for some weekend fun, yet don't negate the truck's street status.
Part of this project involved helping to R&D some new parts along the way, and our friends at Seibon, who'd already been hard at work on developing new parts for the Tacoma family, invited us to their facility to fit their lightweight carbon fiber replacement hood.
Designed for the 2018 to '19 Tacoma, Seibon's "TR-STYLE" hood is a direct replacement with absolutely no modification needed.
It's of course, lighter than the stock panel, and coated with a slick, high-gloss clear coat for a clean finish and protection from the elements.
How much lighter, you're wondering? The factory lid tips the scales at about 44 lbs. while the Seibon piece is only 27.4 lbs!
The integrated hood scoop is functional and even includes a removable rain guard for additional protection when necessary.
In addition to the new hood, Seibon also designed a set of carbon fiber fender flares, which are currently being finalized for production.
The new add-ons offer some much-needed additional width to the Tacoma's wheel wells to help cover those larger wheel and tire packages that everyone is after.
**Up to this point, the upgrades are familiar and simple enough to do in your driveway. Now comes something a bit more advanced and, for the savvy DIY'er, still able to be done at home, but for those not as comfortable with cutting into a brand new vehicle, the process might be better left to a professional.**
The crew at Relentless Fabrication design, build and produce their off-road goods in Sparks, Nev. and they've got plenty of available upgrades for the '16-and-up Tacoma. Swapping out the front and rear bumpers for something that allows greater clearance and an improvement in strength compared to the factory bumpers is common practice for the off-road segment, and there are a number of options available. Even Relentless themselves offers four different front bumpers to suit your needs and style.
For this project, we elected their "Stealth" front bumper, which gives the project increased approach angles and takes up less space in the front of the wheel wells to allow larger tire options, while also giving the Tacoma an aggressive look without going overboard.
Produced in CNC-cut steel and properly MIG welded, the Stealth bumper includes all of the necessary hardware for installation, reserves space for a winch, and carries adequate recovery points. Lighting was even addressed with a center cut portion to house a Baja Designs S8 light bar and there are fog light indentions as well.
In the rear, their High Clearance bumper was selected and is produced in the same manner as the front. Installation for both pieces does in fact require cutting the factory front bumper along with OEM flares and, in the rear, cutting some of the bed just below the taillights.
The wrap-around style offers some additional protection to the bed and just like the front, grants some significant angle for off-road duty. Some of the Relentless crew made their way to So Cal to show us the right way to do things. Admittedly, cutting into a brand-new Tacoma is a little nerve-wracking so their experience was a welcome addition.
When you order your rear bumper, Relentless also offers a swing-out tire carrier that gives you the ability to transport a spare - up to a 35-inch tire on a 4.5-inch BS wheel—and includes a Jerry can holder.
Once the bumpers were complete, a Relentless Fabrication Modular Bed Rack was next on the list. The result of a year-long stint of rugged R&D, the result is a true "do-it-all" rack system that's loaded with holes and mount patterns for just about any off-road additions you plan to add, from roof tents to traction boards, shovels to Rotopax, this sheet metal constructed rack covers every base.
Jutting up 12 inches above the Tacoma's bed rails, the laser cut and CNC brake-formed steel plates are designed for extreme duty but don't require any real modification to the bed. Instead, mounting points are based on the factory tie-down tracks and can be installed with hand tools, though a second set of hands goes a long way in getting this done.
Not unlike import car builds, aftermarket lighting is a popular area for off-road enthusiasts to address. San Diego's North County city of San Marcos is home to Baja Designs, a brand that's been around for well over two decades now and that pride themselves in U.S.-designed and produced lighting products.
What started as a highly successful jaunt into motorcycle and ATV Baja lighting solutions with an unrivaled championship winning resume, eventually led to vehicle applications, like the wildly popular S8 LED light bars. Above the windshield you'll find a 50-inch S8 (31,750 lumens) and tucked into the Relentless bumper retrofit is a 30-inch S8 (19,050 lumens) in the center, flanked by a set of Squadron Sport Amber wide cornering LEDs (3,150 lumens each). It might seem like overkill, but this set up is ideal, especially if you're chasing trails into the night where standard head and fog lights aren't going to cut it.
And while you're out there in the middle of nowhere, having the ability to pull yourself or someone else out of trouble is a must - that's where Superwinch comes in. The San Dimas, Calif. outfit has established themselves as the largest manufacturer and marketer of winch systems and accessories on the planet, so it's safe to say they know a thing or two about a proper system for our Taco Project. They set us up with their Tiger Shark 9500SR, which is also one of their most popular kits.
With a rated line pull of 9,500lbs and a 5.2HP motor controlled by a solid handheld remote, it's ready to put in work. Complete with 3-stage planetary gearing (218:1 ratio), automatic load holding brake design, ergonomic pull and turn freespool, and stainless steel tiebars all wrapped up with a weather-sealed solenoid so this unit can do its job regardless of the elements.
Horsepower wasn't a huge priority for our first jump into overland truck waters, but we did add a slight kick with new exhaust system. Typically, the first area tuners will attack in search of power is intake and exhaust and wanting to keep the engine bay stock at this point, the piping and muffler replacement made the most sense.
Magnaflow offers bolt-on and weld-on kits, along with universal applications to fit just about anything you can imagine. For the Tacoma, we reached out to Turn 14 for Magnaflow's 19291 high-flow system. Using the group's Turbo muffler and 3-inch piping, the system uses 409 stainless steel from the cat-back with smooth radius bends that far outflow the factory system.
A polished 4-inch finisher exits in the factory location, and though its high luster draws attention, it's not at all excessive and keeps in line with the truck's all-business feel.
Stay tuned for Part II, as we cover the rest of a long list of upgrades to our Taco Project!