Rear window replacement

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What’s impressive about this photo?

I can see through the window again! Last Thanksgiving I took the inaugural trip of the Phoenix camper. I used the tie down locations left in place from the Fleet camper, they turned out to be too close to the rear eyebolts of the new one and allowed the camper to slide forward. This resulted in a smashed rear window covered in gaffer tape for the past few months.

The other visible improvement is to the side window latch. The prior owner had used a lengthy piece of rusty wire to close the window shut. I finally replaced it with a genuine Toyota latch assembly. I rarely have passengers in back so I can’t see it getting much use, but at least now it’s less likely to stab whoever’s sitting next to it.

Bilstein 4600

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I installed a set of Bilstein 4600s this past weekend. With Amazon back ordered, I ended up finding the fronts locally at Four Wheel parts. The old shocks looked to be original, Toyota marked KYBs in back and Tokicos in front. Odd that they were different manufacturers, but both were stamped with Toyota part numbers.

Old vs New

It’s possible the previous owner had them replaced at a dealer, but given the condition they were in I’ll believe they’re 20 years old. The Bilsteins went in smoothly, though as warned in an Amazon review the mounting ears for the front shock had to be bent out slightly to fit the shock. The ride is much better already, though the real payoff will be when the camper goes back on. Carrying that much weight on blown shocks was more than a little unsettling.

Shiny new parts

Fleet is sold!

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Camper #1 is gone and Camper #2 is in storage. Which means it’s time to take care of some maintenance. The driver’s side door lock has been inoperable for as long as I’ve owned the truck. A couple weeks back the door handle snapped and I finally had motivation to pull the entire assembly. Replacement handles are cheap enough, locksmiths are not, but opening the driver’s door without acrobatics from the passenger’s side is priceless. Also got around to fixing a short in the passenger side brake light. No more nervous attempting-not-to-brake around cops!

Next up was installing a new radio I’ve had sitting on the shelf, a Pioneer MVH-X380BT.

The original had a dead tape deck, the new has bluetooth. The install was surprisingly easy, it mounted directly to the mount for the factory Toyota radio. Now with the backlog cleared out, I can shamelessly order more toys:

The lift kit has ball joint spacers for the front and an add-a-leaf for the rear. Toytec claims a 2″ lift, but with the extra weight from the camper I’m going to wait to see where the rear settles before adjusting the front height. The front shocks are back ordered, I haven’t decided yet if I’ll install them piecemeal. The existing shocks are shot, so it’s questionable if two good ones in the rear would be better than running soft ones all around.

Aisin Hubs

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I have 4wd again! As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Automatic Axle Disconnect (ADD) on the T100 was randomly disengaging while in 4wd. The ADD works by using solid hubs to connect the wheels to the front axles. The passenger side axle is permanently fixed to the differential, but the driver’s side goes through a vacuum actuated disconnect before it reaches it. Since the front diff is open, with even one side disconnected the front driveshaft is prevented from spinning. It’s reasonably robust, but the downside is if any part of the vacuum actuator system fails you’re stuck without 4wd. You also can’t use an auto-locker in the front since the passenger side is always turning. I decided to do away with the ADD system entirely by fixing the disconnect in the on position. This is relatively easily accomplished by removing the disconnect from the diff, sliding it left, and holding the arm in place with a hose clamp.

Left is on

Hose clamp in place

That leaves the front axles permanently locked to the front diff. To prevent the front axles and driveshaft from spinning while in 2wd I ordered rebuilt manual locking hubs from Wabfab last June. It took until November for the hubs to arrive, though at least the quality of the rebuild was decent. They’re from an older Toyota pickup and bolt on in place of the solid hubs.

Before and After

Before and After

I’ve had to use the 4wd several times since and it’s worked flawlessly. Locking the hubs in a snow storm is less than fun, but it’s been worth it for the peace of mind in knowing it will actually engage.

1981 FWC Fleet

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I had been looking for a lightweight trailer or slide-in camper for the T100, when an older Four Wheel Camper turned up on craigslist cheap. The downside was it needed repairs to just about everything. I convinced myself I needed another project and jumped in.

Now I have a camper

Now I have a camper

The first repairs on the list were to fix a soft floor near the door and a rotten cabover. The floor was intact enough that epoxy wood filler firmed it up, but the cabover was completely trashed. I cut that out and installed a fresh piece of plywood. Both lift panels were rotten as well, but the truck came with an intact replacement for the front panel. With that in place I had myself a somewhat functional camper shell.

Work begins

Work begins

I tore out all the paneling and insulation so I could start from scratch. The orignal camper design had storage on the left with a long bench on the right. I switched the plan to a front dinette and started building.

Progress

Progress

As all that was going on, I started actually getting to use the camper. I spent a surprisingly comfortable week at Burningman and several weekends in the Rockies.

Desert life

Desert life

On one of those weekend trips I ended up on an offshoot of the Switzerland trail behind Boulder. I was part way up a steep rocky hill when the 4wd cut out completely. The T100 has a vacuum actuated axle disconnect system for the front wheels when the system is in 2wd, bouncing over the rocks must have knocked a line loose or caused an actuator to fail. Whatever it was, it left me stuck backing down a trail and eventually sliding into a tree. Manual locking hubs jumped to the top of the upgrade list.

Back to the camper, next up was going to be adding a water tank and installing insulation and a heater. But before I got that far I decided the rear overhang was too much. The older Fleet campers are long enough that the tailgate has to stay down for the camper to fit in a short bed pickup. The T100 starts out with a terrible departure angle and the tailgate down only makes it worse. More importantly, I hated how it looked. I briefly debating getting a standard cab T100 with the longer bed, but instead saw a Phoenix camper on craigslist and moved on to camper #2.

Meet the new rig, a Toyota T100

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This update was a long time coming. I bought the T100 as a project last February, but it’s only now reached a point where it can be used off-pavement. To start from the beginning, the truck is a 1996 Toyota T100 extended cab. I bought it cheap with a bad headgasket and only 142k miles. For a Toyota pickup in Colorado, mileage that low is unheard of. Also I’m a sucker for column shift automatics and bench seats.

In addition to the headgasket, the truck arrived with more than a handful of problems. Along with the bent bumper, bald tires, non-existent brakes, and flaky electrics, the interior was absolutely filthy from an entire lifetime without having seen a vacuum. It was a claimed one owner vehicle, but it would have been nice if that owner had shown any appreciation for maintenance.

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From the Craigslist Ad

The bumper was first up to get fixed. Can’t put long hours into fixing a truck if it’s too ugly to look at. Then came the headgasket.

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Sad and leaky gaskets

Based on the dried crud covering the engine bay, the prior owner didn’t let something as trivial as a blown radiator stop him from driving the truck. The heads were thoroughly warped and the head gasket had been blown long enough ago that the leak between the coolant channel and cylinder was starting to corrode the block. Everything was salvageable though and I got it back together after about a month’s worth of weekends. I’d like to think it would have been faster if I had had luxuries such as a roof or electricity.

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All cleaned up

It wasn’t on the road long before I found my next project, a beat up 1981 FWC camper. More on that in a later post.

Goodbye Jeep

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I sold the Jeep! The size, comfort, and capability of a 4cyl Wrangler finally got to me and I’ve replaced it with a pickup. More info on that purchase to follow. Before it left I treated it to full doors and took it on a road trip to Vermont. The doors helped with the noise significantly, though the real payoff was in visibility. Trying clean ice and salt from fading vinyl isn’t an experience I’d like repeat.

All in all the road trip was tolerable, but sleeping in the front seats left me wanting a truck I can stretch out in. So it’s goodbye to the TJ 🙂

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Drive to the T-33A Crash site

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About 50 years ago, a T-33A trainer crashed in the mountains of Colorado. The wreckage was left in the woods and can still be visited by a short hike at the end of a 4×4 trail. It’s tucked away behind the Bunce School road between Lyons and Allenspark, CO. There are a number of trails in the area suitable for a stock-ish SUV, so this past weekend we finally went to check them out.

The trail itself can be seen in the video below. This is the first time I’ve tried a timelapse and I can’t claim its particularly watchable.

There were a few sections of rocks that were fun, but nothing particularly difficult. The trail ended at the hike, and maybe a 100 yards in we started seeing wreckage.

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It’s surprisingly well preserved, though some of the wreckage did show signs of being used for target practice. Overall it was a great drive, only marred by the dozens of rental UTVs passing through. Chances are we’ll be going back soon, Coney Flats is nearby and includes an elusive Colorado water crossing.

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New Top

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As much as I like the TJ around town, it is completely miserable on long distance drives. The combination of a noisy soft top, gutless engine, and terrible gas mileage makes for exhausting trips. I had been debating selling it and buying something more comfortable, but in the end a truck with more luxury features just means a truck with more things to break. And if nothing else, the Jeep is simple to fix. So I’m left with trying to make it more comfortable.

Starting in ’03, TJs came with a much thicker soft top material that is supposed to be as quiet as a hard top. Unfortunately my soft top was an aftermarket design, so I couldn’t just swap out the skin with a newer one. Luckily I was able to snag a stock soft top frame and a nearly new replacement skin off of craigslist.

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It’s spice colored instead of the orignal black, but so far I’m liking the contrast. I haven’t had it out on the highway yet, but just having windows that aren’t hazed over is already an upgrade. The next step is going to be replacing the front upper doors. The windows are either all the way open or all the way closed, and the windblast from fully open windows is exhausting after a few hours on the highway. The solution is either hard doors with roll up windows, or soft upper doors with glass sliders. The first would be quieter, but the second would make it easier to run just the lower half doors when the weather’s nice. It will probably come down to whatever turns up cheap on craigslist.

Another problem with the Jeep is the lack of secure storage. I usually travel with my laptop, which means either dragging it around or taking the risk of losing it if someone breaks in. I had been thinking of bolting in a locking tool box, but thanks to a freebie thrown in by the soft top seller, I ended up with a more elegant solution.

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The trunk is made of sheet metal and bolts directly to the tub, so with the tailgate locked it should be reasonably secure. It’s not perfect since it’s awkwardly positioned when the rear seat is removed, but you can’t beat the price.