In the early 1980s, demand was starting to grow for trucklike vehicles with four-wheel drive and room for the whole family. This was made clear by the rise in popularity of vehicles like the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer. As a result, a number of third party companies emerged in the late 1970s offering third-generation Toyota Pickup chassis cabs converted to SUVlike vehicles with enclosed beds and rear seats. The popularity of these conversions likely led Toyota to introduce the 4Runner for 1984.
While the original 4Runner was based on the fourth-generation Toyota Pickup, each of the vehicle’s unofficial predecessors used the third-gen Pickup pictured here, which was on sale from 1978 to 1983.
Let’s take a look back at the three major third-party Toyota Pickup conversions that set the stage for the 4Runner: The Breaker-Breaker, the Trailblazer, and the Trekker.
While the least common among the conversions offered, "Breaker-Breaker" might be the single greatest vehicle name of all time. Built by Just Customs of Huntington Beach, California, the Breaker-Breaker featured a unique, removable, two-piece fiberglass roof design. The lower half formed a "belly-band" that served to attach the upper half to the vehicle and also acted as a wind-deflector for back seat passengers when the top was removed. Underneath the roof was what the company referred to as a "passenger compartment cage."
Overall, the Breaker-Breaker’s angled b-pillar gave it lines similar to those of the full-size Ford Bronco, although the Breaker-Breaker’s rear quarters were a bit more bulbous. It is unclear how many Breaker-Breakers were built, but it’s probably fair to say that there weren’t many. The Breaker-Breaker was built from the very early- to mid-1980s, using both third- and fourth-generation pickups as their base.
Next was the Trailblazer, built by the Griffith Company, which had headquarters in Santa Ana, California, and Jacksonville, Florida. A defining feature of the Trailblazer seems to be two overhead spotlights mounted above the cab.
About 400 were made. It’s hard to tell what set the Trailblazer apart from the competition, but it’s safe to say that it had some awesome press photography.
The most well-known of the three vehicles on this list, the Trekker, was built as a collaboration between Toyota and Winnebago. As with the Breaker-Breaker and the Trailblazer, information on the Trekker is scarce. The most likely story here is that it was actually commissioned by Toyota to test market demand for the vehicle that would ultimately become the 4Runner. Roughly 1,700 were built overall, with around 1,500 designated for the U.S. and 200 for Canada.
Given that it was designed with input from Toyota itself and built by an established coachbuilder like Winnebago, the Trekker was likely the most polished of the three vehicles on this list. Sales likely also benefitted from the fact that this was an official Toyota-sponsored vehicle, albeit one produced in relatively small numbers.
The Trekker was apparently well-received and confirmed for Toyota that the market was hungry for a trucklike vehicle with four-wheel drive and room for the whole family — so in 1984, the one and only Toyota 4Runner entered the world.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.
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