At this point, you probably already know that the Lexus GX is for the most part a 120-series Toyota Prado, and that makes it a pretty solid starting point for an off-road project. You may not know that I have one, so I’m going to walk you through my truck and what I’m doing with it.
Around this time last year, I decided I needed a dad-mobile. After imagining myself trying to keep the back seat of a CTS-V wagon free from Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies crumbs, I decided it should be something cheap and reliable that could get thoroughly toddlered without it causing me a lot of stress.
I also want to take my kids to one national park every year while they’re in that zone where they’re old enough that they can remember things, but young enough that they don’t curse my every breath. The goal was, “build a truck that could get me to a slightly better campsite than the other dads.”
I ended up on a one-way flight to Palm Beach, Florida, where I’d pick up a scruffy but rust-free GX470 that came with complete service records. I drove home to Detroit stopping only for gas, which was...harder than it used to be.
After a long researching and list-making process, I started turning wrenches. If you’ve lived the “multiple project cars” life, you know that nothing will bring one project to a halt like the introduction of a new, easier project. So while the 911 and the Willys gather dust, the GX has been gathering parts like the Katamari Damacy.
Let’s start with the lift. After a lot of agonizing, I went with a simple two-inch lift kit from Icon Vehicle Dynamics. I looked at some cheaper kits and some vastly more expensive adjustable setups, but ultimately went with Icon based on a recommendation from my friend Bryon. The kit was easy to install, the little pieces like fasteners and bushings were of high quality, and now that it’s settled the ride is almost as good as it was with the stock airbag system. Crucially, it also allowed me to install bigger tires.
I spent hours on forums comparing photos and referencing this excellent chart before finally ordering a set of five 32-inch BFG KO2s on 17-inch Method 701s from TireRack. I’ve been very happy so far; they’re good tires.
The only real downside to the big tires is that they’re big. The spare won’t fit in the stock spare location, so right now it’s ratchet-strapped to the passenger side of the rear cargo area. I bought an incredibly well-made carrier from Rigd supply that stuck into the trailer hitch and held the tire very steady, but it was too heavy for my petite wife to open and close easily. The Rigd carrier is in the garage now.
The GX isn’t huge inside, so traveling with two child seats and a big dog means I’m going to end up stowing some stuff on the roof. I probably could have built a halfway decent rack out of 80/20 aluminum extrusions, but that seemed like a pain in the ass so I ordered one from Prinsu. The rack itself is nice and sturdy, but the fasteners they provided were cheap junk. They also could have been a little more clear about the need to absolutely douse the mounting holes with caulk, lest you discover your seat belts end up wet and musty after every rain. Now that it’s installed, I’m sure it’ll be fine.
After I broke one of Andrew Collins’ rules by installing a rack, I knew I’d have to break another and install some lights. The bumpers got Baja Designs Squadron Pros in amber. They’re great, but a late-night run through some densely wooded trails convinced me that they might not be enough. I also mounted Baja Designs Rock Lights on the rack rails and a Lightforce ROK 40 flood light over the rear tailgate to provide scene lighting. All of it is controlled by an sPOD system that makes wiring — one of my most hated car tasks — incredibly simple.
The pandemic kept us from hitting our national park goal this year, but we have been able to do a little off-roading, including a trip to the Holly Oaks ORV park here in Michigan last weekend. We watched plenty of more serious-looking trucks struggle and fail on obstacles that didn’t even come close to slowing the GX. Is it a Wrangler Rubicon? No. But so far, I’ve been shocked at what the GX is capable of. I’ll probably add some better recovery points, and maybe a winch, if I plan on going somewhere really remote, but I don’t know that I’ll go nuts with lockers, etc. My brief was the better campsite, and I think the truck is probably done from that perspective.
I hope I’ll be able to actually use it for its intended purpose before too long.