Feature Vehicle: TAV Toyota Tacoma

Every vehicle has a story, some born from necessity, some from vanity, and some even from tragedy. For Walt Wagner, owner of Tactical Application Vehicles (TAV) in New Mexico, it was the loss of his cousin, Vincent, in 2013 that inspired this project. When Vincent passed away, Walt offered to purchase his much-loved 2009 Tacoma from his cousin’s wife. After obtaining the truck, TAV started the process of honoring Walt’s family in a unique way, by bringing their elite unit experience, credibility, and functionality to existence as a best-practice vehicle build.

Vincent and Walt were first cousins and very close. According to Walt, “Vincent went into the US Army and wanted to be a Ranger, accomplishing that and then some at a very young age. By the time he got out of the army, he had several deployments overseas where he was a HALO-certified member of long-range surveillance detachment (LRSD). When Vincent showed up to his new LRSD unit with a beard (you’re not supposed to do that), they nicknamed him Goat. That name stuck with him even after he left the army and started working with me doing nuclear security. It was there he picked up the name Ranger Goat.” Vincent and Walt worked as federal agents for about four years before “Vincent had an opportunity to contract overseas as a shooter medic. That allowed him to put some money away for his wife and two little girls. After that, he decided to stay home where it was safe and pursue a nursing degree. One night, after wrestling around a little with his daughters and kissing them goodnight, he went to lay down. He passed away that night in his sleep.”

Walt has an extensive history in the military and law enforcement and this experience is evident in TAV’s builds. Walt explains that “with every one of the Toyotas we build, we focus on the mission’s needs first. The client’s long-term requirement for the vehicle gives us the foundation to build in the details, addressing everything from spring rates and shock valving to creature comforts in the living space on board. In the end, the client is behind the wheel of a highly capable, custom-tailored expedition vehicle suitable for daily tasks as well as multi-week adventures.”

FOUNDATION OF THE GOAT

Every overland vehicle is only as good as the base vehicle it is built upon, and there are few North American platforms as respected as the Toyota Tacoma TRD, this particular unit being a Sport 4-door long-bed. The stock 4.0L V6 was augmented with a Magnuson supercharger, the results of which significantly increased horsepower and torque, and added that classic gear spooling whine. It is typically best to leave an engine stock, but Walt has found this unit to be reliable with long-term use. The results are impressive, and with the 5.29:1 axle gearing, I watched Walt drift this truck the length of a football field on private property outside of Tucson, Arizona. Acceleration is strong, and the boost helps mitigate loss at higher elevations. To accommodate the increased power and 37-inch tires, the TAV team specified a 69-inch Currie F9 rear axle. The wider track width helps to offset the higher center of gravity, and the stronger housing ensures the Tacoma can bear a full payload. To match the rear, a Total Chaos 3.5+ inch, long-travel front suspension was installed, along with longer RCV axle shafts.

The Tacoma as shown is slightly over factory GVWR, which Walt attempted to remedy by installing a stronger rear axle with a larger ring and pinion, better bearings, a more robust housing, more powerful SOS, and 4-piston billet calipers with slotted StopTech rotors. The independent front was also improved with Total Chaos (wider) arms, and King shocks with 700+ pound coils. The axle shafts were swapped to custom RCV units, along with 5.29:1 axle gears. The front brakes were also significantly improved with an SOS performance big brake kit, featuring StopTech 6-piston billet calipers. The frame was also strengthened with an Archive Garage Hammer rear shackle hanger cross brace. The rear suspension is a combination of custom, TAV-spec Alcan leaf springs with a 800+ pound rating, augmented by a Firestone floating airbag kit, a Total Chaos rear shock relocation kit, and King remote reservoir shocks, along with 2-inch air bumps.

FOR REMOTE EXPLORATION

This Tacoma is not just a trail monster, but also an exploration platform. To support Walt’s overland excursions, he installed an Adventure Trailers Overland Habitat camper, and organized the interior with a series of Wolf Packs, a Yeti cooler, and a few Triple Aught Design duffels. Thoughtful details continue to the cab, with a Rammounted navigation iPad, sPod control panel to operate auxiliary lights, a simplex VHF radio, and a Sony head unit. This is easily a vehicle that can be lived out of for days or weeks at a time.

Overall, the project is an impressive reflection of TAV’s capabilities and Walt’s attention to detail. It was built to honor a beloved family member, while also remembering a fallen hero. The result is unconventional for most overland builds, but reflects what is possible when extreme technical terrain capability is a critical design consideration. I see it as a combination of overlander, rock-crawler, and high-speed desert sled, exhibiting a wide range of capability and preparedness for service—much like Walt and Vincent.

SPECIFICATIONS

2009 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4-door long bed

POWER
4.0L V6 with Magnuson supercharger
5-speed automatic

SUSPENSION AND DRIVE
5.29 Nitro Gear axle gearing
Ford Currie 9-inch rear axle with air locker
Front air locker and RCV axle shafts
Total Chaos 3.5+ inch travel control arms
King coilers with 700-pound coil spring, cooling fins, and valve adjuster
King triple bypass secondary shock with bypass tube adjuster knobs and cooling fins
TAV-spec Alcan leaf springs, 800+ pounds over stock capacity
Firestone floating airbag kit, modified
Total Chaos rear shock relocation kit
King 12 x 2.5-inch smooth body shock with remote reservoir and valve adjuster
King 2 x 2.5-inch air bump
Total Chaos air bump mount
Archive Garage Hammer shackle and Hammer shackle hanger with crossbar
U-bolt flip kit modified for air bump strike pad

WHEELS AND TIRES
17/8.5 VTX Rogue wheels
37/12.5R17 Toyo mud-terrain tires

RECOVERY AND ARMOR
Pelfreybilt front aluminum bumper
CBI Offroad rear bumper
RCI rock sliders
RCI aluminum IFS, transmission, transfer case, and fuel tank skid plates
Baja Designs LP9, white squadron pro, and 20-inch S8 light bar, amber
ComeUp winch 9.5 RS
Factor 55 Ultra hook and 1-inch hawse fairlead
MaxTrax recovery devices, four
Prinsu Design Studio short roof rack

ACCESSORIES AND UPGRADES
A/T Overland Habitat camper
Off-Grid Engineering dual battery kit
Dual Odyssey 34/78 PC1500 batteries
sPOD source switch panel
ARB compressor for lockers


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Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona