These Pristine Old 4Runners Tell Me You Californians Don’t Know How Good You’ve Got It
From a Midwesterner's perspective, man, a world without rust is really something you can't take for granted.
On my last trounce through California, the Car Bibles crew took me on a leisurely drive from LA to the Bay Area, using the 101. Despite a lot of fog rolling off the Pacific Ocean, the drive was picturesque, stopping in places like Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and a few other ones I should have paid closer attention to. What I did pay attention to was how rust-free every car looked.
California’s climate (barring drought, earthquakes, and devastating wildfires) is very mild for cars. It’s sunny, but there’s no snow cover and associated road salt in any California large metropolitan city. Me, I’ve grown up in what’s affectionately referred to as the Rust Belt my entire life. Cars from say, pre-2005, will all eventually succumb to road-salt-based corrosion. Being at Radwood, specifically Radwood in California, or even just California in general, felt like stepping into a time portal. Which, I know, is the point. But many of the cars I saw at the show, and just driving around in general, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen without some sort of rust on the body.
The Toyota 4Runner in particular is a popular off-road SUV, for good reason. Bulletproof engine and transmission can easily take big and chunky tires with little to no modification, exceptional approach, and departure angles, there’s a reason why they’re now literally selling more used than new.
They’re also known for shitty corrosion protection. The 4Runner and its frame sister the Toyota Tacoma are notorious for exceptional chassis and frame rot, breaking these off-road beasts. Even as a kid in the 1990s and 2000s, the reputation of rusty Toyota (and Nissan) trucks outdid their assured powertrain longevity. What good are a motor and transmission, if the frame is about to split in half?
At Radwood NorCal, there are plenty of enthusiast gems — Lancia Delta Integrales, Ferraris, old Hondas, and even a Renault 5 Turbo — all great cars. Yet, this 1990s Toyota 4Runner stood out to me. Pretty much every 4Runner in California jumped out at me, in fact.
Sprayed down in a Seafoam jade-ish green, I’m not sure if this particular example was actually part of Radwood, or merely a support car for the Rad-era bike collections some contributors were operating out of. But it was lovely.
The frame looked black, not brown. No corrosion anywhere. The wheels were pristine, the paint, sparkling. The body panels had no corrosion anywhere, and it was like my brain didn’t know how to process that information. I wanted my brain to add a spot of corrosion somewhere, like, at the bottom of the door, or maybe a little quarter-sized spot where the rear bumper and quarter panel come together. But nope. Nada.
Same story for this one in Pismo Beach.
Or, this older, lifted one, in San Fransisco.
Even our editor Andrew Collins’ modded Mitsubishi Montero (not quite a 4Runner, but close) wouldn’t exist in the Snow Belt. All of these SUVs (and the Montero Sport) have made their way into the scrapyard.
Marveling over the rust-free pedestrian cars and trucks, I sent my roommate back in Ohio pictures of cool stuff I saw, so he could marvel and geek out with me.
“Cars become exponentially more reliable when you take rust and corrosion out of the equation. Hell, yesterday I fixed three problems on my car for free, all corrosion-related,” he said, in awe over pictures of a rust-free Toyota 4Runner.
He’s right, though. Rust, corrosion, and other issues are probably the biggest reason why good cars end up in that great graveyard in the sky. It’s why Ohioans and Michiganders bought the cars we did, even if they might’ve been technically inferior by any typical auto journalist. A rusty rocker panel or split brake line on an old LeSabre are not the same as a rotten engine cradle or totally dilapidated subframe. For a very long time, lots of those Japanese cars and trucks had reputations of disintegrating in ways that were unignorable, and not cost-effective to repair.
Things are different now. Most automakers have reached corrosion protection parity (although it seems like Mazda’s only just now shoring up the rear). Japanese and Korean cars by in large, do not have the reputations of yore, where structural rust sent them to early graves, forcing people to stay in their comparatively complete Cutlass Cieras and Ford LTDs.
Y’all Californians and other good-weather year-round locales don’t know how good you have it. If rust was not an issue, I would probably end up driving some 1990s era fun car until it wore out. Then, I’d either fix it, or find another car, and then do it again.