Baja Taco
Photos and text by Scott Brady

as featured in 4WD ToyotaOwner, Sept/Oct 2005

Some vehicles are bought, with the owner delivering the vehicle at the shop and returning a week later to a transformed machine. Others are built, painstakingly over time, with the greatest attention to detail and care of their owners. Chris Marzonie’s 1998 Tacoma was built over an 8-year process, slowly refining the truck into an exceptional platform for remote and rugged expedition travel throughout the Southwest and Mexico.

Chris’ major goal when designing and modifying the truck were reliability and performance with the secondary goal of being able to camp and sleep out of the truck for months at a time. Typically, requirements that different require considerable compromise and excessive cost, but Chris’ truck meets those goals. The truck is capable of high speeds on Baja backroads or crawling along boulder strewn canyons, before setting-up camp at a remote beach for a few weeks.




Chris Mazonie’s Tacoma driving through the rugged and beautiful Laurel Canyon in the High Sierra’s of Central California.

Good articulation, larger tires, body protection, front ARB locker, and the factory TRD locker all allow Chris to use the Tacoma as a moderate rock crawling rig as well.  

Chris knew his truck had to be reliable for self-supported trips south of the border, so he focused on the available Toyota products and purchased a 1998 Tacoma SR5 with the 3.4L V6 and manual transmission. From this great foundation, he performed a few critical modifications in preparation for a 4-month expedition to Baja Mexico, exploring the entire length of the peninsula. Stage One included a complete sleeping platform and storage system in the bed, under an A.R.E. fiberglass shell. To the Shell, Chris mounted a Wilderness roof rack with a spare tire, jack and axe to the camper shell. A custom 14 gallon auxiliary fuel tank was installed between the frame rails to address the unreliable fuel availability on his long treks. With those key modifications addressed, Chris and his wife, Sharon, embarked on their 5,000 mile journey, visiting many of the abandoned Jesuit Missions and the numerous hot springs that can be found along the peninsula. The trip was a success, but the adventure further piqued Chris’ desire to explore Mexico, and further modify his truck.



Another criteria of the truck, was that it be able to safely traverse the challenging rock crawling trails found on many of Chris’ trips. He installed 32x11.5 Goodyear MTR tires on the factory Tacoma wheels. In addition to larger rubber, Chris knew that body protection and approach and departure angles needed to be addressed. At the front, a custom tube bumper with recovery point, and front skid plate were installed. Further down the truck, the sides are protected by custom rock sliders, which also allow step-up access to the roof rack from any point along the flanks. At the back of the vehicle, a custom rear bumper with quarter panel protection was bent and welded by Brittan Smith out of Chandler Arizona. Progress on the trail is monitored by the new Total Vision® Products vision system, with five, wide angle cameras located throughout the trucks chassis and bumpers. The 7” LCD screen mounted to the left of the steering wheel allows Chris to view the trail in front, under and behind his Tacoma.


A custom valved Sway –A-Way RaceRunner suspension helps control the heavy truck at high speeds, including the occasional launch.

Opening the sides of the A.R.E. shell provides excellent ventilation and access to the sleeping platform and camping supplies.

The final stage of modifications performed by Chris was to address the needs of remote, self-supported expedition travel. Chris installed a second Optima battery, which he monitors with the Xantrex Pathmaker Battery Management System. The batteries power a Norcold 60 liter fridge behind the drivers seat To allow extended distances between grocery stops. An ARB Safari Snorkel was fitted to the passenger fender to protect the truck during deep water crossings.

Chris’ eight years of effort and a thoughtful, reliable design, has totaled up to one of the best expedition Tacomas in North America. His truck proves that given enough time and a proper design, it is possible to own a vehicle that excels in many areas, with minimal compromises. Now that Chris’ truck is finished (are they ever?), look for frequent updates to, where his adventures throughout Mexico and the Western United States are logged





  • Owner/driver name: Chris Marzonie
  • Age: 36
  • Occupation: Fire Protection Design
  • Car (year, make, model): 1998 Toyota Tacoma
  • Class: N/A
  • Sponsors: Sway-A-Way, TotalVision® Products
  • Engine & Drivetrain
  • Engine make: Toyota
  • Type: 5VZ-FE V6
  • Displacement: 3.4 Litre, 3378 cc, 206.1 ci
  • Builder: Stock
  • Output: 190 hp (142 kW) @ 4800 RPM, 220 ft.lbf (298 Nm) torque @ 3600 RPM
  • Camshafts: One piece cast (Stock)
  • Connecting rods: Forged steel (Stock)
  • Crankshaft: Stock
  • Cylinder head: Aluminum DOHC (Stock)
  • Engine management: Stock
  • Exhaust system: Stock
  • Ignition/rev limiter: Stock
  • Ignition wires: Stock
  • Onjectors: Stock
  • Intake system: Cast alum. manifold (Stock), OEM Airbox & Safari Snorkel
  • Lines and fittings: Stock
  • Oil: Castrol GTX
  • Oil cooler: Stock
  • Oil filter: Stock
  • Oil pan: Stock
  • Pistons: Stock
  • Clutch: Stock
  • Differential lube: Castrol
  • Differential type/gears: (Stock) Front: Hi-pinion 7.5" IFS 4:10 gears w/ARB air locker and OEM type locker switch, Rear: 4-pinion 8" 4:10 gears w/Toyota electric locker
  • Flywheel: Stock
  • Shifter/shift kit: Manual shifting trans & transfer (Stock)
  • Transmission: Manual 5-speed
  • Transmission fluid: Stock
  • Other mods: NA
  • Interior/safety equipment
  • Belts: Stock
  • Gauges: Stock
  • Pdals: Stock
  • Roll cage/roll bar: NA
  • Seats: Stock
  • Steering wheel: Stock
  • Other safety/interior gear: Fire Extinguisher, Recovery equipment, Hi-Lift Jack
  • Suspension
  • Type, f/r: Front: Double wishbone IFS - Rear: Live axle
  • Alignment settings, f/r: Stock
  • Anti-roll bars, f/r: Removed
  • Bushings, f/r: Polyurethane
  • Shock absorbers, f/r: Front: 2.5" Diameter Sway-A-Way Racerunner coilover
  • Shocks - Rear: 2.5" diameter x 10" stroke Sway-A-Way Racerunner reservoir
  • Shocks on custom mounts.
  • Springs, f/r:  Front: 2.5" Diameter Sway-A-Way Racerunner coils - Rear: Alcan
  • Spring custom 9-leaf packs with Downey HD shackles
  • Strut bars, f/r: NA
  • Steering type/ratio: Stock
  • Other steering mods: NA
  • Brakes
  • Ducts: Stock
  • Fluid: Stock
  • Lines: Stock front, Extended rear
  • Pads/shoes, f/r: Stock
  • Type and size, f/r: Front: Disc - Rear: Drum (Stock)
  • Other brake mods: Relocated proportioning valve
  • Wheels and tires
  • Tire brand/size, f/r: Goodyear MT/R 32"x11.5"x15" Load Range "C"
  • Tire pressures, f/r: Front: 34-35 street, 17-22 off-road, Rear: same - Note: Staun deflators
  • Wheel brand/size, f/r: Toyota 15"x7" TRD Alloy
  • Body
  • Body construction/mods: ARE Mpulse fiberglass camper shell
  • Frame constructions/mods: Custom rear cross-members.
  • Paint/graphics: Stock
  • Weight: 5,040 lbs.
  • Additional Modifications:LightForce 240 Blitz 100w Halogen lamps
  • KC Daylighter 100w Halogen lamps
  • 50w rear auxiliary lamps
  • Osram CoPilot "K" 5w halogen map and camper lights
  • Optima Group 34 red-top starting battery
  • Optima Group 31 yellow-top auxiliary battery
  • Xantrex Pathmaker Battery management system
  • BlueSea auxiliary fuse terminals
  • Lev-O-Gage clinometers
  • QuickAir II on-board air compressor w/2 gallon tank and plumbing for tires/air locker
  • TotalVision® Products on-board camera system w/5 cameras and 7" color LCD screen
  • Norcold 60-liter Fridge/Freezer w/custom temperature monitoring
  • JVC MP3/CD player, Kenwood speakers
  • Radio Shack TRC-514 40 channel CB radio w/K-40 Superflex antenna
  • Yaesu FT-2600M 2-meter VHF radio w/Hustler 5/8 wave whip antenna
  • Magellan Meridian Platinum GPS receiver
  • Custom 14 gallon aluminum auxiliary fuel tank w/stainless steel skid plate & in-cab transfer switch & illuminated fuel level gauge.
  • Custom cab-high camper shell with cargo deck, toolbox, 12v power, and sleeping quarters
  • Garvin Wilderness roof rack on Yakima hardware w/Spare tire, Hi-Lift jack, axe, shovel
  • Various recovery gear
  • Nichols Auto Fab custom front bumper - High clearance with (2) 2" receiver tubes.
  • Custom "AZRain" steel skid plate
  • Custom rear bumper - High clearance with (1) 2" receiver tube, (2) D-ring mounts, 1/4 panel body protection
  • Custom rock sliders (round tube)