Hi all. This RWD '94 has been my daily driver for 12 years now. We do everything together. It’s been my living space twice. It’s not a 4x4, it’s not a trailer queen, it’s not an overlanding beast, it’s my daily driver. I’m going to be converting the GFC and bed into a mobile office, so I can head out to the beach or the desert to do my CAD design work (I own and run a full service prototyping shop).
Normally I do not document projects like this online, for obvious reasons. But I know I’m one of a handful of old Toyotas with a GFC, and also I might be the only RWD out there. And also I might be one of a handful of folks here with different priorities regarding suspension, gas mileage, and other small truck issues. I’d love to find some of the other owner/users of these small trucks and share tips. If you have a small toyota or related truck, say hi.
Mods and projects index:
Install was done at Basil’s Garage in Vista, CA. They were thorough and professional and completed the job on time. I got some solid tips on how to best handle the camper. I enjoyed the company of the shop dog Fin. One small change that had to happen onsite: The '94 has a little “Taxicab-style” brake light on the cab. This light has to be removed for the GFC. I will be 3D printing a replacement cover.
This truck has always been my favorite tool.
I like the way the GFC looks, but I’m still gonna miss my light bar.
The install was painless and the first night, I got a spot on the beach near San Diego. The camp was absolutely beautiful and totally exceeded all my expectations. I got to have a bonfire and watch the crescent moon set on the Pacific.
The next morning, I felt like I was in a treehouse over the ocean. Had one of the best naps I’ve had in years.
The camp was absolutely beautiful but the drive back to LA county was a horrorshow. My truck has a 2" body lift, brand new bilstein shocks, stock springs, and brand new Toyo AT3 tires. Before the install, it was driving and handling the very best it had ever driven. After the install, between 60-65MPH the camper was shaking so hard that it was bumping into the cab. It felt squirrely, like it was being buffeted in a strong wind, even though there wasn’t much wind that day.
I had anticipated that the stock suspension would be inadequate. Because I don’t know a whole lot about suspension, I called around looking for beefier leaf springs. I had a conversation with Northwest Offroad. They’re a Southern California staple in Toyotas and have been for many years. The owner really clued me in, and told me his favorite solution for these little trucks - the Ride Rite 1130 kit from Firestone. Unfortunately, that kit hasn’t been made in probably a decade, so I had to make my own. Switch Suspension in Tucson sold me the bags, fittings, and fasteners, and I made a close copy of the 1130 kit in my prototyping shop. Here are some short clips on Instagram:
Here’s what they looked like before install:
After some testing I can say that these Ride Rite airbags pretty much solved the ride problems. The truck is heavier now so it rides a little different, but it’s no longer cab-slappingly scary.
On my first night camping, I tried to pay close attention to all the “little things” that would have been nicer. And most of them were pretty basic.
- The camper and tailgate needed a lock.
- I needed a place for garbage. Actual trash, the bed is fine for me.
- Need backup lights and interior lights.
There were many more but these became the top priority. Another forum member had mentioned the Reese Towpower locks . Thanks @PDX_Keith . I had bought another trailer lock and the body did not fit. The Reese fits. I got my Reese locks at Zoro.com. Fast shipping and the lowest price I could find.
@GFC , I admire your engineering. However in the case of camper locks, I think a different approach is required. The center pin on the cylinder lock seems inadequate for the high side loading forces it will experience in operation. No amount of lubricant is really going to fix that, so they’re kind of a mechanical failure in waiting. Said very briefly, one approach is to separate the function of locking from the function of pinning the hole closed. This Reese lock is one way to do that. The pin performs one function, the lock, another. At least in my shop, separating out functions like this can often make things dramatically more reliable.
For reference, this is how long I cut the pin on the Reese lock. I may make a custom pin on my lathe, but for now, this is just so others can follow along:
Another problem with these old Yotas is that (as far as I know) none of them had locking tailgates. I took a chance on a reproduction locking tailgate latch for a Hilux of the same era, and the fit was close enough that it worked. It’s not ideal though, there’s a gap at the bottom that will need to be filled. But now the tailgate locks, and that’s what matters.
One thing I really don’t like, is now with the hatch latches, the tailgate latch, and the camper lock, my keychain has become enormous. Maybe in time I’ll be able to match some of these cylinders.
EDIT: I realized I didn’t name this locking tailgate latch. It’s a Pop and Lock PL5050.
Super rad, I discovered that Zoro has the exact same lock 3 different times on their website (MFR # 7042100). Choose wisely.
Nice, @pnwmountaineer, I think I bought the $12 ones. Here in Southern California, Zoro is usually 1-day or next day shipping for me. So when I need something from Grainger, I find it on Zoro, and get it lightning fast, usually with good prices.
Another good quick camp last night. About an hour’s drive each way for 18 hours of relaxing. Not a bad trade at all.
I’m trying to set up my GFC for 1-3 day trips on a moment’s notice, even just afternoon getaways. A few observations from this trip:
- With the additional gear, I have my airbags at 12PSI (update: 16PSI) each. Made a huge difference. It’s sort of obvious in hindsight, but I was also able to level the tent with the airbags once on site. Cool. Didn’t think of that when I installed them.
- I had the passenger side panel pop open while driving up a mountain. Looks like I need to lock my panels at all times. Didn’t see that comin’.
- Because I have a small truck, the edges of the cabana panels are an eye hazard. I am going to post more detailed information about this. I’m about 5’11" and the sharp corner of the panel falls exactly at eye level. Banged my head on the locks at least ten times.
- Dirt in the truck bed is a much bigger problem than I first anticipated. Mostly brought in on my shoes.
- Paying close attention to what worked and didn’t while camping is by far the best way to get ideas about how to improve and accessorize this camper.
- I think there are a few reasons why the locks are such a hot topic, but the biggest one is that I simply find myself interacting with them ALL THE TIME. I’m trying to start by treating them as a “skill”. I wanna be a southco ninja. But when/if that fails, I am gonna be a badass engineer about it, and those locks had better look the f*** out.
- The GFC tent is so easy to open and close that I don’t think about it at all. It’s one of those things that is so good that it becomes invisible. I appreciate that so much, I feel like more than anything, that’s what I paid for.
I’ve had two camps in three weeks and I feel such enthusiasm for this machine and the coming year.
To anyone reading this thread: How do you find BLM/dispersed/non-reservation campgrounds in SoCal? Are you using an app? A book? It feels like there are just tons of blogposts/info/state sites, but very little real useful information. I’d really like to expand the number of places I can go with the GFC. Any tips or pointers for someone new to this?
I use “The Dyrt”, “FreeRoam”, and “iOverlander”. The USFS app is great as well. Where I am in Washington there’s a couple others specific to our state. I use CalTopo for ownership later overlays to see whose land I’m on as well.
I’ll check those out - thank you!
I made a shelf that mounts under the front portion of the bed. It’s covered in cargo net so that it can flex. This is where all the bedding goes. Super easy to stuff it in there, and it doesn’t block the rear window.
Continuing with my notes, many of these just for me. I drove 150 miles this weekend, and averaged 22MPG.
I’ve been working through making the Southco panel locks work better.
- First effort was simply lubricating the key and keyway (poor results)
- Second effort was polishing and blunting the front of the key (mild improvement)
- Third effort was softening the bitting of the key with a wire wheel (noticeable improvement)
- Fourth effort was some filing to open up the warding. Think chamfers at the front of each ward. This also helped.
Overall, though, I would call all of these efforts a failure. However, I still have a few good ideas to try.
Normally I don’t use the phone while driving, but now with the GFC, the phone is getting much more use and I’m trying out some of the apps recommended by @pnwmountaineer . I was getting really fed up with glare, cables, and volume control, so I made a custom phone mount to solve those problems. I’ll probably print up a matching mount that permanently mounts inside the camper.
I don’t know if this link will embed, but here’s a description of the prototype mount:
Inspired by @tbacon4758 here and @MikePrado here, I installed a bungee cord paper towel holder. This would have been so great to have on my last camp. Love the simplicity of it. Will probably add a roll of toilet paper, too. (EDIT: I added TP and it was a good move) (EDIT 2: this has become one of my favorite “utilities” onboard the GFC, highly recommended!!!)
Added a small thermometer/humidity meter. There’s a great spot for things like this right inside the strut. I may end up switching this to the left side and mounting my panel light controls here later.
GAIA GPS for me, with the USFS and public lands layers. GAIA now has an Overland layer which combines most of the manual toggling before into the bits you need: USFS, BLM, UMVM maps, and their base topo map. Then it’s about pointing the rig somewhere and exploring.
iOverlander can be okay in a pinch/necessity but I find those are very hit and miss and because of its popularity, busy or just super random.
I have OnX, but don’t like it as much — great for finding trails, and subsequently, camping, but I’ve long used GAIA and find it’s level of detail really good.
A lot of spots can be sort of gleaned or approximated from small hints in social posts or YouTube videos, then going to a satellite map or GAIA to poke around.
Thank you so much for this detailed answer, exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for. I’ll give GAIA a shot and explore the different layers.
First looks at a basic airflow analysis. I’m not an analyst myself, but this is software designed for non-analysts to explore trends and find initial direction. It’s interesting.