Tonka T-Rex: A 1:1 Scale Real-Life Big Boy’s Toy

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Every one instantly recognizes Tonka as an iconic brand that brings a smile to a child’s face. Since 1947, boys and some girls have excavated sandboxes, hauled dinosaur populations, and played enthusiastically with their Tonka trucks. Now, a full-size Tonka truck is putting a grin on the faces of many an off-road enthusiast, as well.

The brand’s current keeper, Funrise Toys, recently decided to build a full-size truck to promote the toys. They approached well-known custom shop Galpin Auto Sports (GAS) with the idea of taking on the project. Like most American males, GAS General Manager Steve McCord is a lifelong Tonka fan, and his abundant enthusiasm for the project helped seal the deal.

The Kelderman link/airbag suspension system and PML diff covers were powder coated in the classic Tonka yellow and black scheme.

GAS has a decade-long reputation as one of the country’s premier customizing shop. Most enthusiasts know GAS through MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” but GAS has also built quite a few other customs and project vehicles and are the owners of an extensive car and truck collection. They also happen to be located in the same city as Funrise, Van Nuys, California.

“We were really excited to take on this project,” McCord said. “You couldn’t get a more fundamentally ‘feel-good’ iconic brand than Tonka. It was really a dream come true for us to build a vehicle that makes children’s dreams come to life.”

(Left) Fox shocks were murdered out, matching the airbags. Their reservoir clamps got the Tonka treatment. (Right) The way-negative-offset American Force wheels provided an out-of-the-box branding opportunity. They're wrapped by 40-inch Toyos.

The vehicle obviously had to be a truck. GAS is a subsidiary of Galpin Ford, so that synergy led to an Ford F-250 SD platform. Keeping with Tonka’s industrial pedigree, a Power Stroke diesel model was chosen.

Building A Full-Size Toy

A tall lift was a priority for this larger-than-life toy. But unlike many image vehicles that get trailered to appearances, Funrise and GAS wanted to retain road-worthiness. The suspension solution was an adjustable Kelderman air suspension. This new suspension system kit replaced the stock radius arms and leaf springs with four-links front and rear.

Keeping with the Tonka theme, the T-Rex looks like a big toy that's capable of serious work.

Keeping with the Tonka theme, the T-Rex looks like a big toy that’s capable of serious work.

The airbags allow for some ride-height adjustment. At minimum inflation, the truck sits about eight inches above stock. This height retains the highway handling and ride quality. For displays and shows, the bags can be inflated an extra two inches to give the truck that extra show “pop” and allow spectators a better view of the undercarriage. Fox 2.0 remote reservoir shocks were included to provide premium ride-damping.

GAS’s attention to detail is apparent on the undercarriage. Major suspension components were powdercoated in signature Tonka yellow prior to being installed. This even extended to the front and rear PML differential covers, which have cooling fins and extra oil capacity to keep heat under control.

The vinyl wrap masterfully integrates the Highway Products rack.

The Tonka T-Rex rides on 40×15.5R20 Open Country M/T Toyo tires. They are wrapped around 20×10-inch American Force Classic S28 wheels with -25mm offset, enough to fit logos on the rims’ outer lips.

To keep the T-Rex street-legal, GAS added Bushwacker Pocket-Style fender flares. These provide the necessary tread coverage over the negative-offset wheels.

The wrap reminds us that Tonka has entertained kids for generations.

The wrap reminds us that Tonka has entertained kids for generations.

Rendering artist Tim Nicholau created graphics that work in large and small scales:a toy version of the full-sized T-Rex will be released later in 2014. GAS executed the graphics scheme, which relies heavily on the well-known Tonka yellow and black, in a vinyl wrap. The graphics even extend on to the Highway Products utility rack, helping tie all the accessories together and avoid the dreaded Mr. Potato Head effect that often occurs when a truckload of accessories are bolted on a 4×4.

GAS also used Line-X spray-on bedliner for aesthetic cohesiveness, with the huge side benefit of functional protection. In addition to the bed itself, the Highway Products toolboxes were sprayed. Then the truck was framed with Fab-Fours bumpers and side bars, which were Line-X’d along with the Bushwacker flares and inner fender wells. The custom Tonka grille also got textured-urethane accents.

Warn accessories add an extra measure of functionality. Eight off-road lights are distributed between the front bumper and roof rack.

Electronic Buzz

(Left) Custom Katzkin leather upholstery is also Tonka-themed. (Right) JL Audio amps and speakers ensure that the T-Rex is as loud as it is big.

GAS has a reputation for cutting-edge electronics expertise. Much of this comes from gizmo-master Mad Mike, well known to enthusiasts as the foundation of “Pimp My Ride.” Mad Mike stays current on automotive electronics, as well as home-theater and computer technology.

For the Tonka T-Rex, Mad Mike chose upgrades that GAS’s typical customer might make. The infotainment system was “pimped” with a Kenwood HD unit. This includes sounds, navigation and a display hooked up to the system’s back-up camera.

Big trucks need loud sounds. Mad Mike stepped this up by backing the Kenwood head unit with JL Audio components. JL amps boost the signal, leading to four 5×7 speakers. Bass booms through a subwoofer in an Super Duty-specific JL Audio Stealth Box. Finally, A LoJack system was installed for security.

A Kenwood AV system supplies entertainment, navigation and even back-up camera images. The Banks IQ monitor shows powertrain vitals.

A Kenwood AV system supplies entertainment, navigation and even back-up camera images. The Banks IQ monitor shows powertrain vitals.

While Mad Mike was pulling wire, GAS’s upholstery artists reupholstered the interior. Katzkin provided custom leather covers, complete with embroidered Tonka logos. GAS arranged complementary carpet, floormats, door panels and headliner. Window tint helps tie the interior and exterior blacks together.

Powerful Motivation

The Tonka T-Rex needed extra power to offset its pounds of accessories. Banks Power, a name intimately associated with diesel performance, gave the Super Duty a full bolt-on and electronic make-over.

Banks Power hop-up parts liven up the 6.4L Power Stroke. These include a Ram-Air intake and the company's water/methanol injection system.

Airflow is improved with a Banks Ram-Air cold-air intake. On the back end, a Banks Monster Exhaust evacuates gasses quickly and efficiently.

Fueling is controlled by a Banks AutoMind programmer. It’s paired to a Banks IQ monitor, which allows adjusting power levels and also monitors vehicle vitals. Finally, Banks added its recently released Straight Shot water-methanol system. This helps improve incoming air/fuel density. The resulting lower EGTs allow the safe use of the additional fuel.

TonkaFTQ

Photos courtesy Funrise Toys and Evox.

The best news is that you’ll more than likely have the chance to see this truck in person, as Funrise is taking Tonka T-Rex on tour around the country to various events. Many of its appearances will be charity-related. Off Road Xtreme’s favorite accessory and a huge kid-pleaser, is the pull-style big-rig horn. Listen for it at truck shows!

For appearances and updates, go to www.facebook.com/tonka. Be sure to check out the time-lapse video of the build process, and the Gallery of photos below >>>

About the author

Tom Morr

Tom Morr has worked in automotive communications for more than 20 years. A former staff editor at several truck/4x4 enthusiast and trade magazines, Morr has covered events ranging from Baja races to Camel Trophy training to the Dakar Rally. He’s also produced books for Motorbooks International and serves as a consultant to aftermarket manufacturers while continuing to write for select publications such as Off Road Xtreme.
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