It is not too often a project has a plan from the get-go, that actually finishes the way it was planned. Projects seem to come and go, many steering off course and not turning out the way they were originally envisioned.
Off Road Xtreme found BBM Offroad owner, Chris Vandenbush’s 2001 Toyota Tacoma which was built with a purpose. Every car guy usually names his vehicle, and Rachel was the name given to this one. The pickup was originally purchased by the owner when he was just 19 years old.
Chris Vandenbush got into off-roading from being around desert racing for the last nine years, but he was riding around on dirt bikes before then. It was Chris’s friend, Johnny Alagna, who had the largest off-road influence on him.
The project did not start right away, but has taken the good part of the last four years to complete. When the build started, the final goal was clear: build a functional street legal prerunner. The motivation for the build came from being around desert race trucks.
The more you are around something, the more you want to have something like it, and the more you analyze how particular things are done. With starting his own off-road parts company, BBM Offroad, the urge to continue building the truck grew.
With the help of TMR Customs, Vandenbush was able to get the quality parts needed to take on the project of turning his pickup into a desert prerunner.
The most important part of the build, and what is the hardest thing to do on a project of this magnitude has to be doing it right the first time. Vandenbush did not want to have to come back and do things over.
The more time is spent on a project like this, the more money gets put in, and time is wasted having to go back to redo things. Taking on a project like this can have a huge learning curve, but the knowledge gained from being around the sport helped him accomplish building it all by himself.
The pickup maintains the factory 3.4-liter V6 and automatic transmission. It has few factory items left on it, with only the headlights and grille to remind us that it is still a Toyota.
The vehicle has the width of a full-size vehicle with a track width of 87-inches. The prerunner runs BBM Offroad’s own Tacoma long travel kit, pushing each tire out over seven inches per side. The front is bumped and strapped to 17 inches of wheel travel.
The rear has also been widened with the help of a custom Ford 9-inch housing, holding Currie Enterprises axles. Deaver leaf springs and BBM Offroad shackles help support the weight of the rear of the truck. The rear is bumped and strapped to 19 inches of wheel travel.
With the amount of wheel travel this Tacoma has, having a smooth comfortable ride is achieved with coilovers and bypass shocks. Up front Kuster 3.0 shocks and Sway-A-Way bump stops keep the front end in check. The rear has 2.5 Radflo triple bypass shocks and bump stops.
Vandenbush used Glassworks fiberglass to help open up the wheel wells and clear the 17-inch Method Double Standard wheels wrapped in 35-inch BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires. Modifications to the fiberglass needed to be done as there was rubbing and broken fiberglass after the first drive. Glass Tec made quick work of the damage and reworked the fiberglass to allow the tires to clear.
With the suspension complete, Vandenbush knew a full cage had to be done if he was going to try jumping or racing Rachel. He used over 300 feet of tubing to cage bumper to bumper, providing peace of mind in knowing that he would be safe inside.
Vandenbush knew stopping would be an issue with all the added weight of the cage, spare tires, and everything else. With that in mind he designed the front suspension to use Dana 44 hubs, and factory Toyota Tundra brakes. The rear still uses Tacoma disc brakes.
Frame plating was added to strengthen the weak points. A custom motor and transmission mount was added to work around the cage. It is not easy to fit three-inch shocks on a midsize pickup, but with the modifications and cage work, they fit in like they were supposed to.
Even the decals on the vehicle were designed and cut by Vandenbush. There is not much that was not touched when this prerunner was built. If Vandenbush could have built the cab, he would’ve done that as well. He did cut the roof off to fully weld the top of the cage since it is pushed to the outside of the interior to allow for maximum space.
When asked about building the Tacoma, Vandenbush said, “If you plan to build a truck, it’s definitely not a cheap hobby.” Vandenbush has over $40,000 in the truck, including the original purchase of $13,000.
Building a prerunner like this is half the fun, going out and enjoying the vehicle at the end, is what it is all about. We are sure the light at the end of the tunnel seemed very far away at some points, but either way, the truck turned out amazing.
One of the most interesting part of Rachel is the rear of the truck. Most prerunners and off-road vehicles do not have trunk space. That is not the case with Rachel, she has a trunk of her own. The rear hatch is underneath the two flat-laying spare tires and houses a jack and some ammo cans for holding tools.
Inside the cab are two Beard Super T1 race seats with five-point harnesses making sure passengers do not go anywhere while hauling across the desert. If Vandenbush has learned one thing about off-roading it is, “To keep the truck paint side up and keep all four wheels in the dirt.”
A project vehicle will always be a project vehicle, especially in off-road. New technology and parts come out all the time and the urge to add something is always there. It goes for this project as well. Plans for a V8 swap and possibly linking the rear of the pickup still float around in the back of Vandenbush’s head.
With a prerunner of this caliber, we had to see it in action. Moving through Barstow Main, Rachel looked just as good sitting still, if not better, and soaked up the desert terrain with ease.
Speed and durability are the name of the game in desert racing and this Taco has both of them. We did not witness anything that the truck could not handle. We stood back and watched in awe as it made passes back and forth on the desert race track.
After plenty of passes and the heat starting to kick in, it was time to finish the day with the pickup, but not without some air time, so we headed to the famous KFC jump in Barstow, California.
The black Tacoma drove to the jump like a panther in the jungle getting ready to make an attack. When the pickup hit the jump, it was clearly visible that the prerunner should have been made with wings. Vandenbush was able to get the wheels six feet off the ground.
The landing was smooth, just as we suspected. The Taco came down and drove off like nothing had happened. It truly shows that what Vandenbush has done with his truck has been done the right way, because obviously, if you want it done right, it looks like you really need to do it yourself.
Check out the full gallery of pictures below. Tell us what you think of this purpose-built Tacoma in the comments below!