Toyota Round Table: The Complete Text

Here is the unedited version of over two hours of talk between Jon Bundrant, Marv Spector, Jim Sickles and Marlin Czajkowski. This article was published in the July/Aug 2008 issue.


            When Jon told us that he wanted to try and gather three of the most “landmark” figures in Toyota off-road, spanning over three decades of the industry, into one place for a “round table” discussion, we have to be honest; we thought he might be a little nuts. Not that we didn’t think they would love to get together and talk shop, it was simply the logistics of gathering Jon, and these three figures of his choosing to one location and somehow make it work around their schedules, which turned out to be even busier then we had initially expected. Somehow, and this should say the world of his diligence, he managed to pull it off, and let us tell you, sitting in a room with these four, was a fountain of knowledge and stories enough to span ten lifetimes, which we are sure you will enjoy as much as we did. Sometimes it had direction, and sometimes it was all for a laugh, but every last second of it was worth the wait. Thanks again for this one Jon.

4WDTO “To get the ball rolling, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourselves and the companies you started.”

Jon “It all started out when I was 19 years-old and I bought my first Landcruiser from El Monte used car sales. Believe it or not, I worked at Kern foods in the City of Industry and I would get my check on Friday and I would go to Downey Off-Road on Saturday. One week I would buy a Dove lock and the next week I would buy an overhead console…I pretty much tricked out my whole Landcruiser off of Jim. My start is actually the reason I have all three of you sitting here because you were the people who had the biggest part in me starting a business. After Jim, I remember going to Marv’s house, where he had a 40’ container in his backyard, and after going to Azusa Canyon and breaking Berfields, I would go there on Sunday and buy new ones. I remember back then you had an ad in the Recycler, before you were actually at a building. I remember I called from the ad and needed two drum brake berfields, and I need a spindle… (laughter) this was back in the day.”

Marv “I don’t remember you but the containers are still there and they still have Cruiser parts in them.”

Jon “Seeing that at your start, and buying stuff from Jim at his place was where my influence came from. I have always been a Toyota guy, as has Marlin and he has helped me a lot.”

Marlin “I remember you back when you used to work at a Ford dealership rebuilding automatic transmissions.”

Jon “Yep, I did that for ten or eleven years. I just got tired of that. I got tired of them telling me no, I couldn’t have the Friday after Thanksgiving off to go to the desert… (laughter). I got the old saying, ‘If I give it to you then I have to give it to everybody,’ more times then I care to remember. I had a 4Runner at the time and we made a few bumpers for it and those were probably the very first All Pro products. Then it was rock guards and I would go to places after joining the Beachin’ Toys Landcruiser club and someone would say ‘Where did you get that bumper, can you make me one?’ That’s how the whole things started. Marlin was then very instrumental with helping me get all of my knuckle kits and all of my import stuff. After that the internet craze took off, rock crawling took off and I pretty much built my business around it.”

Marv “My story is actually very simple. I started out with a few parts and was just known as the guy who would probably have the parts that you wanted. My mother in law owned Man-A-Fre and they would refer people to me and from there I finally had to get a building. In the end Man-A-Fre got more into the accessory lines and I got more into what I do now; stock replacement parts.”

4WDTO “You have really been successful just doing that and haven’t had to evolve the business too much.”

Marv “I do carry accessories, but to be quite honest with you, I would much rather deal with the stock stuff.”

4WDTO “Now Downey is by far the oldest company at the table, starting all the way back in 1970. Tell us about your history.”

Jim “I got my start in the automotive business, buying and selling, plus I already worked with Toyota so I already knew what the ropes down there were. A big benefit of that was, when I worked at Toyota and learned the parts system, I learned what parts weren’t available in America, how to import them and sell them as accessories here in America. A prime example of that were chrome plated FJ40 grills for $19 a piece, or the over the frame rail tail pipes that every other country got but the US. I used to sell all the club guys their parts, trannies and that whole deal; Heckethorne steering stabilizers, Warn Hubs, Con-Fer roof racks and auxiliary tanks, so we stuck with that. Advance Adapter then went into business about a mile away from us and they had V8 conversion kits, Con-Fer had V8 conversion kits and I had done a V8 conversion on my own. I saw one or two pieces that I liked from Advance and one or two that I liked from Can-Fer, but none of them had all the parts included. Over time I would find a better deal, or a much improved part and so we would just keep upgrading, starting with our steering, goodbye Advance, our own V8 adapter, goodbye Advance…Of course now we are the best of buddies, I build some of their stuff, they build some of my stuff, we have a beer at some of the trade shows and we actually help each other a lot. That has really been a good thing for us. So back to the start I have always been a Toyota guy, and then in 1979 when Toyota came out with the 4WD mini truck and then again in ’84 with the 4Runner, that just threw us out into big business and big popularity. I could sell 200 of something instead of 12, so we moved in house and got into CNC machining and that sort of thing. This was a big step for Landcruiser guys, because now they didn’t have to have poo-poo maybe it will fit junk, we had the parts tat would fit down to a thousandth of an inch. Really it was the mini truck and 4Runner population that allowed us to even afford those tools so we could build better Landcruiser stuff. That’s really about it. Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if we had stayed simply Landcruiser and didn’t get into the mini trucks. I remember thinking, that alone was a sinking ship, and how is Marv making a living (laughter). You know the city of Portland Oregon has four Landcruiser accessory companies and I was talking to one of them the other day and had to ask how any of them were affording a living. I think that is what has allowed companies like Marv and I to survive was the fact that we spread out. I still like to think of myself as a Landcruiser guy, I feel some of the nicest things that we have ever put out were ‘Cruiser parts, but without expanding, it was just too small a piece of the pie for us. When the rock crawling craze set in, I didn’t want to go there; I already had been there and didn’t want to go back. I remember in the old days people would be on the trail with 31x10.50’s and I showed up with 33’s and got laughed at. People would ask ‘What are you going to do with those huge pieces of crap?’ In those days we didn’t have anything that was set up for any real rock work and when we would be out wheeling, we would head away from the rocks and not at them. We would get pissed off at any sort of rock damage on our cars. I guess this is why during the 80’s and 90’s, I got into Baja racing and hauling ass. I wanted to go 175 miles in a day and not 12. This mentality has helped my stay less in the market that you two guys have (Marlin and Jon). I am not out at the crawling events like Jon and I am sure not out under someone’s car working on it like Marlin is always doing because that’s not my nitch. Its still there, on the periphery, but I am better known as the air cleaner guys, with smog legal headers and conversion parts and it creates a great balance with limited conflict.”

Marlin “I grew up in LA, born in Glendale and raised in Tujunga and on the weekends I would climb Mt. Lukens, which towers above Tujunga. We would hike after church and I would watch Jeeps go past me and I never liked them, I never wanted one.”

Marv “The four letter dirty word?”

Marlin “Ya. I didn’t want a Jeep, I wanted a little pickup. I wanted something that could do more then just drive with no room for stuff. So I grew up watching the Jeeps drive and playing with my toy trucks, making switch backs on rocks and hiking. I guess I just grew up wanting to go slow. To me, rock crawling is the best thing out there and going fast just isn’t for me. So growing up I also never wanted a Cruiser, though I owned two of them, one was a ’69 and I traded a ’70 Chavelle for it, which was dumb (laughter). It was a four barrel with four on the floor and I traded it for a 40 with a burned valve that wouldn’t go into 4WD and I couldn’t figure out how the vacuum worked. So I pedaled that and lost big money, then I won a 1967 FJ40 with a small block from a 1989, TLCA raffle at Little Rock, but I never really wanted one, I wanted a little pickup. Early on they started doing 4WD conversions on little Datsun pickups, there was a company, Trail…”

Jon “…Ho?” (laughter)

Marlin “No, Trail Blazer and they were putting divorced Model 20 transfer cases in them with Model 25, closed knuckle front ends. When I saw those, I liked the idea but still didn’t like them. Then when the Toyota pickups came out in one of ’79, I said ‘Wow! I have to have one.’ Remember what they said in the show room on the big banner?”

Jim “Son of the Landcruiser.”

Marlin “Son of the Landcruiser, right on Jim. I looked under the front end of that thing and it had the same knuckles…I had always worked on cars by the way. I had a dad, who was mechanical, but he was an Electrical Engineer and I would ask him how a temperature gauge worked and he would go on about how protons and neutrons reacted. He could not take me down to earth; he would always take me way out to space so I always had to figure these things out for myself. When I really got into the trucks, I saw how ill prepared they were to even compete with a Jeep and found the Landcruiser was equipped much better then the pickup. I wanted to get some respect, so when I bought my truck on September 17, 1973 in Quartz Hill, the day after my birthday, I immediately set out to make it slower. I spoke with Danny Morten and he was going to put an SM420 in it until I realized that would mean the heater would be gone and I wanted a heater. So I started out wanting the Toyota pickup because I loved the way the engine, transmission and transfer case were all one piece, there were no small jack shafts to a divorced, hanging transmission, and this got my respect from the very beginning and I wanted other people to respect the mini truck as I did. When I saw the first Icelandic crawler build by Benny’s auto service in Iceland, in the December of 1994 issue of Four Wheeler Magazine, I immediately called them and said I needed to get a hold of this. They put me in touch with the shop and they said they would sell it to me for $695. Fine, I will take it, because at the same time I was trying to get the Daihatsu transmission out of a fork lift that was a five speed, through Advance Adapter, because Mark’s Off-Road had made an adapter to go from this transmission to the Toyota transfer case. They called me back and told me they were going to be tough to get because the transmission was in limited supply and what I really wanted was a dual transfer case. I said I want one of those too! They said ‘there is one in California.’ Where? ‘Pasa Robles.’ What’s in Pasa Robles? ‘Advance Adapter.’ So I drove over there on a Saturday night and gave $650 cash to John Partridge on the side of the old shop. When I brought it all back, it took me a week to put it all together because the Icelandic instructions were terrible, but when I got it all in, I couldn’t believe how slow it would go, and that was 108 to 1.”

Marv “What are you doing these days?”

Marlin “Oh now I have a triple transfer that is 1334 to1 with an R452 Heino transmission, out of a Heino diesel, which I can’t get anymore. I need to find some more of those but you know what Marv I have never called you because you are so busy. (laughter)”

Marv “I have a container I am trying to fill in Japan right now, just send me the number and I will see what I can do.”

Marlin “(With a big grin) I would be happy to. So with me it was all about going slow like a Jeep, but I never wanted a Jeep, or a Landcruiser, it was all about building respect for the mini truck.”

4WDTO “Marv, how did you get the Cruiser bug, because you seem to have it worse then anybody?”

Marv “Well, like I said, I got my start with the Man-A-Fre company and progressed on from there. Then one day I got my hands on a master catalog and rather then watch TV I would sit there and wonder if any of these parts would fit a USA car.”

Jim “Did you know Landcruisers before you started at Man-A-Fre?”

Marv “Briefly, I owned a bike shop in the 70’s and then went to MAF.”

Jim “See, the first time I talked to you I thought you were a Landcruiser genius and figured you must go way back before MAF.”

Marv “No, you see, I had no education outside of high school and I said, whatever I do in life I had better do it better then everybody else and if I do that, I will be successful. With that, I was almost 30 years-old before I found my nitch, but when I found it, I knew that was it.”

Jim “I just don’t understand how you learned so much, so fast. There are like three Landcruiser gods on the planet, I mean walking encyclopedias; Greg Pfeifer(TKTKTKTK), you and Mark Algazy (TKTKTKTK) and here I am making a living off of Landcruisers and there were still little things I just never cared about. Like, I had a ’65 Landcruiser, FJ45 and Mark was over one day and looked at my radiator and started hyperventilating. He says, ‘You know what you have here?’”

Marv “Eight dollars worth of copper?” (laughter)

Jim “He saw some marking on the top of the radiator and said, ‘Toyota only made three of those radiators!’ and I thought that was just way over the top. You are very much the same way and I don’t know how you learned so much, so fast. You are my encyclopedia; I call you all the time for info.”

Marv “You know, a lot of the time, the Landcruiser thing may appear very complex, but if you know a good portion of the varieties, it is really very simple. If you go by the production dates, things will generally fit.”

4WDTO “Now we know your secret, but there is more to it them production dates because we have called you looking for parts and you will tell us there were nine different variations of the same part on the same model, depending on state of origin, barometric pressure averaged between the two poles and who happened to be putting the vehicle together on the assembly line that day, who’s name you probably also knew…We think you are holding out.”

Marv “Well, I just say, you don’t do anything for 30 years and not get good at it. If your not, you had better got out of that line of work.”

4WDTO “So why Toyotas for everyone, and not some other vehicle?”

Marv “Temporary insanity?” (laughter)

Jim “I had just gotten out of the Navy, drove an ambulance for a while and my buddy said they were hiring down at the Toyota dealer. It was a crash course for me. They had a program called ‘Critical Parts and Technical Research’ and how it worked was, before computers, they had this entire library full of every book every printed on every model of Toyota car. All of the dealers at the time were franchises and they didn’t know the filing system or how it worked, so if they had a question they would call down to Toyota and I would have to go into the library and figure out what they needed. It was a learning experience as far as the technical aspects, but also, in all of these volumes of books, that Toyota had not even imported, all of the pre ’60 stuff, we got to see all of that. So you learned all of that and you learned it fast. Then you would have dealers call and say they had called a dozen warehouses and no one had the part, meanwhile their customer is off the road and we would find them alternatives. I learned a lot about the importing this way. This was my start, before I got hired on as parts manager at Downey Toyota bought a brand new Landcruiser and the rest is history.”

Marlin “The reason for me was because they kept everything is succession, unlike Nissan who would go from an L20A, to a L16, LA18, L20B, then they dumped that and went to a NapZ which was an eight spark plug motor which had all these issues. Nissan was changing engines, engine sizes, designs…they were like Ford who would get all twisted up in various models, where as Toyota started out with the F which is a 237, then they want to the 2F which is a 248, but still the same motor and kept it in line. In the trucks they went with the 20R, then the 22… Toyota was more like the Chevy, who for years simply had the small block and the big block, of course now they are all over the board, but Toyota, back in the day, you could buy one header, for one of ’79 and it would fit everything if you were worried about smog. Toyota definitely had a way of keeping things together.”

Jon “For me when I bought my first Landcruiser, it was at a used car lot and I really didn’t know what I was looking at. There was a flat fender sitting right next to it and all I really knew was one was a Toyota and one was a Willies, but as I started to look at them, I knew I wanted to go 4 Wheeling and play and when I looked under the ‘Cruiser, here are these big axles and this huge transfer case and then I look under the Flat Fender and here is this tiny transfer case and Dana 25’s, a flathead motor, little ‘horseshoe’ shackles… Everything about the Landcruiser was better, from the frame down to the springs and it was an easy choice. Then I became and enthusiast and was never interested in anything else.”

4WDTO “There’s one for everyone, what was your first rig and what did you pay?”

Jim “My first Cruiser was a 1970 FJ40, off the lot and sticker was $3300, but I paid $2810 because I worked at the dealership.”

Jon “I bought a new one from Toyota Pamona, a 1982 FJ40, and it was $11,000. I with I still had that one. It was their second to last year I believe.”

Marv “That’s right, they still brought in a few stragglers but for the most pat. In ’83 they brought in about 500 and by ’84 they didn’t bring any more in.”

Marlin “Mine was my 1980 pickup and I paid $5400. The lady wanted $5800 but the lady dropped it down. I had to borrow $300 from my father in law because I only had a little over $5000. So the morning after looking at it I was at my father in laws house and the phone rang and it was for me. I said, ‘who knows I am here?” I get on the phone and the lady says, ‘Is this Marlin’ and I said ‘Yes this is,’ she said, ‘Did you come and look at a red truck yesterday?’ I said ‘Yes I did but I don’t have the money.’ She said, ‘You’re the only person who told me how it was built and how the driveline was all one piece and how it had the same front end as a Landcruiser and the bed is made in Long Beach. I want you to have this truck. Some guy wants to haul rocks with it, some other guy wants to teach his kids how to drive out in the desert and I decided I want you to have it.’ I actually got this old lady to lay down on the ground and look underneath it with me…I actually brought it back one time to show it too her and she started crying.”

Marv “My first car I bought from my general manager, it was a promo car off the lot. The problem was his wife was so small, with the lay down tailgate; she couldn’t put the groceries in the car. She would just load them all on the tailgate and then flip it up and deal with the mess later. That was a 1993 80-series. That’s actually the only new car I have ever had. The first Toyota I remember ever buying was when I owned the bicycle shop in 1971; it was a ’67 FJ40 that needed a valve job. I think I paid $500.” (laughter)

4WDTO “You are all landmark business owners in the Toyota world, how have you interacted over the years?”

Jim “Back when we got our start in the 70’s and 80’s, there was some serious competition between us and Advance Adapter, some serious mud slinging. I think we must have just pissed them off. I saw a lot of that back then, but I started to find out, that over the years, these guys have customers that probably aren’t going to buy from me, and I have customers that are probably never going to buy from them. I also have customers that buy from me and tell me how they pissed them off and I am sure they have customers that say the same about me, but I think the best example is us and Advance Adapter, where there was a point when out lawyers talked to each other back in the day, and then we ignored each other for ten or twelve years. Then something comes up where we realize, “I don’t need this thing and they could really use it and make a killing, I think I will give it to them.” It starts off like that, just feeling each other out and helping each other out a little bit, they buy from you, you buy from them…Now, I cant believe it, we are on the phone with each other all day long with Tech stuff, they are asking me, I am asking them… At the last Off-Road Expo, Mike Partidge (TKTKTK) just walked a customer in and said Jim has the part you need and left him with me. I just think over the years, you just realize you just belong together with some companies and can help business more that way. Had I taken collage courses back in the day, I probably would have been taught that; help each other and you will both do better. I do the same thing with Marv over at Specter and Man-a-Fre, I will call them and we will exchange information and we are not bothering each other.”

4WDTO “Being so large and working closely with each other, do you worry much about new start up companies?”

Jim “Always, because you never know if that new guy is going to come up and kick your ass.”

Marv “The internet also makes the industry very deceiving because you don’t know if it is just a guy working out of his garage or General Motors.”

4WDTO “How has the internet effected you, as far as competition and having to learn to benefit from it yourselves?”

Marv “It is a double edged sword for every one of us.”

Jim “That is a big understatement and I think the best example of what the internet has done to our company, is not so much our use of the internet, because our age group didn’t grow up working with computers, we had to learn all the stuff you grew up with and already know. So we have had to learn how to have a presence on the internet and milk it for its greatest potential. I think the biggest example of this would be a guy going onto IH8MUD and says ‘I am thinking about buying Downey’s rear disc brake brackets for $139, has anyone every used them?’ Then a dozen guys will jump on and say, ‘No don’t buy those, go over here for $49 and buy this guys bracket.” So I will go over there and check it out and it is a raw bracket with maybe some plain cut or laser cut holes in it, no drilled and capped holes in it that need to be there, no laser cut shims, no nuts, no bolts, no instructions and boom, $49.95. Then I figured here is the deal, if I sold what he sold, I could easily sell it for less money and up against them, I am seriously thinking about doing it. What pisses me off about the whole deal is here is a guy that probably has a day job, he whips out a bracket or two in his garage in the evening, pays someone to make him a website that makes him look like Montgomery Wards and he is in business. I have cried in the past about the internet hurting us established guys and my attorney says, ‘Why not just do what they do?’ The problem with that is this, I have all these really cool products that I have made, I don’t even have any competition on, that require a full CNC operation to be made, but I can’t afford the machine, or even making them, if I join the .coms in the garage.”

4WDTO “For Jon and Marlin, you guys are pups in the market compared to Jim and Marv, did you ever think your business would go far enough to be held in the same plain as theirs?”

Jon “Not at all, they have always been people that I have looked up to and had great respect for in the business. Before I was a company and just an enthusiast and a wheeler, these were the companies that I looked up to. Once I started, I had a relationship with Marlin that was really good, and really bad for a while. We didn’t talk for a long time because you get in these positions where you think he copied this, or he copied that and you start these wars, and a lot of them aren’t even started by us, they are started by people on the internet. They have loyalties to me or Marlin and they think they are helping and things get out of hand really fast. It’s to the point where you can’t even say anything because it will just make things ten times worse.”

Marv “You just have all these weenies that are sitting on the internet all day long because they have no life. They are web wheelers and you can’t play into their game, it aint even worth the hassle.”

4WDTO “Now Marv, you have the unique ability to be able to tell people no at Specter, because if you don’t have it, chances are, no one will.”

Marv “True but I really specialize in stock stuff and there is really not a lot of controversy surrounding it, where as you guys have custom this and that and there is controversy with other people doing the same, but its tuff to cause controversy when all I am doing is taking a stock part and just reselling it.”

Jim “People have called me and complained about Marv’s prices on things and I tell them, how many more transmission like this do you think he has, and how many more do you think he will be able to get before they are gone and there is no one to help you solve your problems?”

Marv “Very true and I also have thirty families to feed. If I were working alone out of a garage then that is one thing, but when you run a business and have employees that’s the price.”

Marlin “When I started Marlin Crawler, I didn’t have any money; I am just a worker and have always been a worker. When I was young and I asked my dad how something happened or worked, he couldn’t explain it to me, so I spent my time taking things apart, taking lawn mowers apart, a steering box, anything, I would take it apart and try to put it back together again. So when I went out wheeling, I would help anybody that needed help. I have rebuild alternators, fixed a York compressor and a roll bar, and over time developed quite a reputation for helping anybody with anything. Since I have a pickup, I started hauling all kinds of parts and I still do to this day. People will poke fun at me for it, but that’s there problem, not mine. Then when I got the first adapter from Iceland from Advance Adapter, the following year I went to the Sema show wearing an AA shirt and spent a week at SEMA, meeting a lot of AA customers, and some Toyota customers and John Partridge (TKTKTK) was laughing at me because he said, ‘Your just wasting your time and you need to calm down. You need to realize that the Jeep market is huge and the Toyota market only accounts for this much (sizing up about an inch with his fingers).’ Then I met a man from Iceland that had invented a crawler that was 6 ¼” instead 11 ½” and he said he didn’t want to give it to AA because Bennies Auto service invented it in the first place. So I went off to the side with him and made an agreement with him and unfortunately I didn’t know of any other plant where I could have the castings made, so I went right to Advance Adapters with the agreement and started producing that, but I could never keep it in stock. I was waiting at times for John to sell more MC-05’s so they could make more of my MC-07’s because I came up with a double bearing design and in the end Advance Adapter, to me, pulled the carpet on me. So it has been real rough for me at times, I have had times where I was ready to shut that business down. I actually had my truck sold once for $6000 and when the guy showed up to buy it; I couldn’t bear to part with it. But I have had some real hard time and Jon here knows. We have been at tremendous odds and after hiring an ex employee of Jon’s that he warned me against, I was actually in business for a while trying to put Jon out of business. I remember the day when I called up and said, Jon, this is Marlin and I am no longer out to put you out of business. He said, ‘Okay,” and I said okay (laughter), but I remember selling Jon the first 470 unit for his wife’s 4Runner. That was your wife’s 4Runner was it not?”

Jon “It was until I started putting dents in it. It was her daily driver.”

Marlin “I remember we were in my truck and Michael had just gotten his learners permit so he was driving. I had the flue and had been up until 2AM putting these gears together and was dry heaving into a bag and I arrived at the Hi-Desert Round Up, gave Jon his unit, then turned around and went home. I don’t think I went wheeling that weekend.”

Jon “I remember you slumped over the seat, sick as a dog.”

Marlin “Jon and I have been at odds in the past but not because of anything we have done. It has been a hard road, because I didn’t have any parents, I didn’t have a father in-law that had a million dollars or something like that where I could set out to change the world. I wish I had a CNC machine and knew how to operate it, I wish I was able to make that jump but I never did. It has been a hard time.”

4WDTO “As company owners, you have seen many ups and down over the years as Marlin just discussed. What have you learned, what alliances have you made and what advice might you have for the little guys?”

Jim “What happened with us is thorough out the 70’s and early 80’s, we were strictly Landcruisers and Toyota sold so few of those you didn’t have a good customer base. Then in the 80’s we made the move into the 4X trucks and 4runners and we were growing like a son of a gun, but no matter how fast we grew, we were still a small company. When Toyota first brought in the mini truck, Toyota gave me two of them six months before anyone else ever saw one and said, ‘We want a full line of aftermarket parts available for this truck before it hits.” We ended up with a full catalog of 4X accessories ready to go when that truck came out and we just grew crazy because there was just not a lot of competition then. Then in the 90’swe not only leveled off, we even dropped down a shade and that is when all of the existing companies that had been catering to Jeeps, realized Toyota was making such a presence that they needed to add them to their lines. So that kind of cut up my cake a little bit. Now, come the 00’s and the internet, and it is straight down hill. I mean, we are still doing great other then, I have now had to share my strictly Toyota piece of the pie with dozens of new companies. Back in the day I could count the competition on one hand and today, on my last count, there are at least 55-60 strictly Toyota companies out there today. So getting into the industry now is hard, most companies will start up and go nowhere, while others will use the internet to get themselves going and good for them, its just a smaller piece of the pie now.”

4WDTO “Have you ever felt the need to reinvent your company to stay with the times Marv?”

Marv “Well, if Downey sells someone a lift kit, it will be quality and probably the last lift kit they will ever have to buy, but in the mean time they may go through a couple of clutches. I think more people will keep coming back because of that and I think that is one reason why I did the stock thing. I knew people would always need the parts and I could always get them if I looked hard enough, so I knew they could rely on that and would keep coming back. I have always been really fortunate, I don’t have any kids, my wife and I are very frugal, my house is paid for, so when I started my business, I didn’t really have to draw a big salary. This allowed me for many, many years, to keep putting the money back into the business, which makes me somewhat recession proof. People will always need clutch master cylinders and while the exchange rate is killing, that will change with the times. My biggest concerns are the few small parts that just cant be found anymore for the F motors”

Jim “Do you ever go to the Sema show?”

Marv “I have been to the Sema show twice in the past 25 years and that’s because Toyota paid me to be there. I don’t like shows, I don’t like walking and I don’t like the crowds.”

4WDTO “You mentioned there are a few parts that are obsolete. What parts might people be concerned with not being able to acquire in the future.”

Marv “There are quite a few and I cant think of them off of the top of my head, but we are taking note and working with a few manufacturers to have them made for us in some of Toyota’s very same factories. But, this is why I travel all over the world, so I will have to do this as little as possible. I have a guy in Australia that I just bought 16 diesel half cuts from and I flew over there just to make sure that I got all of the little things that he wouldn’t know I wanted and my customers needed.”

4WDTO “For Marlin and Jon, there is a lot more competition and the concerns of people trying to piggyback off of your designs. For this reason we have seen you positively and often reinvent your lines to be first into a new market. Is that something you planned for originally or a move you evolved into your business plan?”

Jon “Until recently, I had never been involved in a brand new market, the trucks I was building for had been around for years, so there was never the same time concerns. Then when the FJ came out and we started developing, we knew we had to be on top of things and make the best parts available, because there were so many companies out there that would not only knock off your parts, given enough time to reverse engineer them and make them overseas, they would sell them for half what you do. So we had to reinvent ourselves in the sense that we not only wanted to have the best parts, we wanted to be first on the market, and that’s what we did with the FJ. We had the first bumpers, armor, links, and suspension and have plans for even more. You can’t just put your head down and die, you need to stay ahead of things and in the end, this has only made us stronger as a company.”

Marlin “We haven’t evolved so much as we have simply moved into new vehicles, so for us, change has been more of a natural progression, as it will continue to be. I was told by a big company that they would put me out of business in two years…”

Jon “They gave me six months.”

Marlin “…and many years later, I am still here. I look forward to bringing out new products, though the companies making poor quality knock offs do concern me, I have learned to just keep looking ahead.”

 4WDTO “Ever have any problems dealing with Toyota directly.”

Jim “ There are always issues where you wont see eye to eye, or they will come to you for help developing and part and reward you with a pat on the back, but there are always the problems that we bring upon ourselves. I remember one time I had the luxury of being able to borrow any vehicle that I needed from Toyota, to measure, compare, whatever, anything. There was a guy who worked at Toyota named Norm Adams and he was a gold mine of information for me, feeding me little inside tips and info on new products and development. He was pitting for a team that we sponsored, was running chase and didn’t have a vehicle. So behind my back, he any my engineer got a vehicle from Toyota in Downey’s name. The only problem was they had to go run this nasty rutted and rocky race course in the truck. They proceeded to smash the bottom up, dent it, crash it into the rocks and when they are done they come back home and turn the truck in that way. So later, when I got the call from Toyota, I was in the position where I couldn’t S%#@ on Norm Adams, so I had to take the hit. (laughter) I was never allowed to borrow a car again.”

4WDTO “Ever look at your business and wonder what you got yourself into.”

Marv “I think every business man loves their business, it’s just their employees. They would be happy to go to work every day, they just can’t handle the stress of the employees.”

Jon “Good employees are definitely hard to find, but worth it when you do.”

Marlin “The best advice I have is just from what I have seen, especially in Jon and All Pro and that is never to look over your shoulder, keep looking forward and he has been able to do that with new products for the Tacomas and FJs.”

Jim “I sometimes envy the people who get to go punch a time clock, work for a set amount of years and be done. You always think that you are just going to reinvest in your company and in the end, it will be your retirement, but over the years you realize that in a heartbeat, the things you have can be gone. Plan for the future.”

Tin Benders Toyota Jamboree

April 22-24, 2005

Johnson Valley, CA

aka The Hammers sponsored the event and it kicked butt!

If you know "Camo" from Pirate, this is his wife's Formula Toyota which she competes in.

Marlin of Marlin Crawler. THE man.

The beginning of a trail...

See what happened a few moments later (below)

It's old yeller but this ain't no dog!

Trail leader Mike soon had his rig righted and on the way

A Toyota reaches for the sky at Hammers

The plate says it all!

Everyone chipped in to help repair a broken hub and axle

That's sick and twisted.

Peter cranks his Runner over a nasty stretch

Formula Toyotas will be featured in 4WD Toyota Magazine. Want one? Go to

Tight squeeze with spotter help

A shove gets this FJ40 a little extra help

Repairing that torn driveshaft on the trail

Tony got this sick rig from Sky Manufacturing in Springfield, Oregon

Dan checks his Tacoma's position on Sledgehammer

This rig was built on the lakebed in three days by Ryan

Winches were required to get this Toyota off the rock

Near the top of Hammers this cool driver soon...

took the hard line..and made it!

Look for the full story and more photos in the premiere issue of 4WD Toyota Owner magazine!


"TOYOTA", "LAND CRUISER", "FJ CRUISER", "PRADO", "HIGHLANDER", "RAV4", "TRD", "TACOMA", "TUNDRA", "T100", "SEQUOIA", and "4RUNNER" are registered trademarks of Toyota Motor Corporation. TOYOTA is used in the title of this magazine solely to identify the subject of interest to the Magazine. Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and their affiliated companies are not responsible in any way for the contents of the Magazine, which are solely the responsibility of the publisher. The contents of the Magazine do not reflect the policy or opinions of Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. or any of Toyota's affiliated companies. The Magazine is not affiliated with, or endorsed, sponsored, or supported by, Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. or any of Toyota's affiliated companies.