It’s fun to watch a little vehicle accomplish feats that it shouldn’t be able to. This three-door, all-wheel-drive 1996 Toyota RAV4 conquering the 119-mile Mojave Road Trail between California and Nevada, is a great example.
This little rig belongs to Stephan Papadakis from Papadakis Racing. It features off-roading modifications like a set of coilovers, a custom front skid plate, and an engine swap to a Toyota 3S-GTE turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower. This one still has a five-speed manual gearbox without a low-range transfer case.
The Mojave Road Trail gives off-roaders diverse landscapes to experience, including stretches lined with Joshua trees, dry lake beds, sand dunes, and several rocky sections. It’s a great mix of surfaces for a day-long off-road drive.
Papadakis’ modified RAV4 performed like a champ in these rugged conditions. He was even able to get through the water on a flooded stretch of the trail. The biggest challenge he faced was climbing a steep hill with some deep divots. Papadakis needed to pick the right line because the Toyota has limited suspension articulation and no low-range gearing to help put the power down. It takes a few adjustments, but Papadakis eventually makes it to the top.
There’s another tricky section with lots of loose rocks towards the trail’s end. It’s here where an exhaust hanger breaks just before the end of the road, leaving the muffler and piping dragging on the dirt. The fix is simple enough; Papadaki uses a spare alternator belt and some zip ties to secure the pipe temporarily to the body. Considering all of the abuse this RAV4 was just put through, it’s a fairly minor issue.
If you want to see more of this custom RAV4 build, check out the video below that shows the trick suspension install.
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