You read that title right. We're talking about Toyota four-cylinders as an alternative powerplant for your next hot rod project. You've seen these cars out on the street and in parking lots around town. Maybe you've even got one in the driveway as your daily here-to-there car. Did you ever notice that those tough little four-cylinder engines under the hood are virtually indestructible?

The off-road crowd figured it out years ago and has been running various Toyotas in the sand and on the rocks. Drag racing fans have been watching Toyotas run for a few years already, not just on the import circuit but also in NHRA Funny Car. American-built Tundras have been competing in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series since 2004 and, as this is being written, Toyota is on the verge of announcing its likely entry into the Busch Series and Nextel Cup next year.

Before you start complaining about R&C merging with Compact Import Car Tuner magazine, that's not where this is going. We're just poking our nose into a world we're not very familiar with, in the hopes of turning up some interesting options for hot rodders willing to think differently. It's the same philosophy we used 40 years ago when we promoted the Volksrod T-roadster with an air-cooled VW engine. VWs never edged traditional mills out of the hobby, but some cool hot rods were built along the way. The same thing is happening with Toyotas, and we're kind of curious about it. Maybe you are too.

We talked about this topic at length with several builders at Toyota and Toyota Motorsports, as well as aftermarket folks at LC Engineering and Toysport, and a few hot rod builders who have already taken this route. Jim Shelton, who owns the Chevy-powered '32 roadster that won the Asphalt Ego-Rama in 2005 (and who managed a Toyota dealership for many years) pointed out the potential of these alternative powerplants, which are easy to find at the local salvage yard (where complete drivetrains can be pulled fresh from donor vehicles) and are supported by both the performance aftermarket and the corner auto parts chain store.

The more we scratched the surface, the more we discovered that there were numerous engine choices that would be great, but for basic, keep-it-simple swaps, most people we talked to recommended two basic engine types: the 2T and 3T series, and the 20R and 22R series. Since those engines are a good way to get into this whole thing, that's where we focused our attention.