When looking this year for my Cheap Truck Challenger, I considered many options. Last year I built a Chevy, before that a few Samurais. I knew Wagner was after a Ford, and Péwé wouldn’t stray far from the Jeep brand he holds dear. I decided that an import would be good to balance the two domestics, and I realized an SUV would be a good option since I wanted to build a camping rig I could sleep in.
My choices were wide open, so I narrowed them down to three: a two-door Dodge Raider (aka Mitsubishi Montero), a Daihatsu Rocky, or some model of Toyota. I have another Toyota, my ’86 pickup, so I was mostly looking at the Raider or Rocky, but when I came across this ’94 Land Cruiser that had been sitting in the driveway of its prior guardian for almost three years I couldn’t resist.
$1,900 bought me a high-mileage former luxury SUV
I have always dreamt of a Land Cruiser 80 Series as a project. These are the last of the solid-axle Land Cruisers offered in the U.S. There were actually two 80 Series Cruisers, the FJ80 (’91-’93) and the FZJ80 (’93-’97), the latter of which has a more powerful 24-valve, 4.5L I-6 engine. The 80 I found was an FZJ80, so it had the better engine. What it didn’t have was the more desirable full-floating rear axle and optional selectable front and rear locking differentials. It had racked up over 275,000 miles and came with an aftermarket sunroof that didn’t close completely (for three years!), cracked windows, and a smelly interior.
Outside, in addition to keying the entire body someone disgruntled with the prior owner had scratched a comment on the driver’s door that rhymes with “Truck you, Peter.” Thus I christened my Cruiser Peter the Beater. I drug home this 20-year old former lux-o-ute for a wallet-punching $1,900 and crossed my fingers that 275,000 miles was truly “just broken in” as every Cruiserhead told me.
1993 Toyota Land Cruiser purchase price... $1,900
- Nitro front axleshafts... $765
- Nitro front rebuild kit... $127
- Nitro front drive flanges... $100
- Warn VR8000... $500
- Warn mounting plate... $120
- Daystar winch isolator... $30
- Poly Performance tubing to build a bumper... $120
- Spray paint... $50
- Axle oil and grease... $20
- Daystar Cam Can and mount... $175
- Daystar shock armor... $15
- Draglink end... $54
Total upgrades... $2,076
Total build... $3,973
Step By Step
1. I was really excited about my Cheap Truck Challenger. Land Cruisers demand a high buy-in, but there is always one sitting somewhere that the owner just wants gone. I scoured the classifieds for months before I came across the right truck and I had cash ready to spend. $1,900 bought me a high-mileage former luxury SUV that had been parked three years because the owner went on a midlife-crisis vacation and never returned. It had been used hard, with plenty of dings, scratches, and what looked like a lifetime of daily coffee spills inside, but it ran and passed a stringent California smog test with just a fresh tank of gas.
2. I got the truck home and did as every new 4x4 owner should do: I went out wheeling to test it. I took along a good friend who owns a nice Land Cruiser as both an extraction vehicle should I get stuck, and to help me diagnose any problems it might have off the bat. The tires were good and so I opted to leave them alone for now. The front axle wasn’t so good. I could hear the Birfield CVs clicking like crazy, and my Cruiser mentor from Slee Off Road told me they would need replacing or I may soon suffer mortal carnage.
3. Peter went straight up on jackstands, and the front axle was torn apart. An internal diagnosis found that one of the closed knuckles had zero grease in it from some prior rebuild. Zero grease means one very upset CV joint and time for replacement.
4. A phone call to Nitro Gear & Axle and I had a set of chromoly front axleshafts en route. The new axles were a luxury expenditure since stock replacement shafts cost just $759 and these heavy-duty shafts up the ante to $765, but I considered this insurance for a future front locking differential and bigger tires.
5. In addition to the axleshafts I also added new hub bearings and seals from Nitro along with new drive flanges. The cost of all parts from Nitro was $992. An additional $20 went for oil and grease. The stock aluminum wheels weren’t in great shape, but the 265/75R16 (31.6 inches) Toyo Open Country A/T tires were practically new, so I decided to run them for now.
6. With about half my budget gone on just fixing my front axle I realized I had to make a critical decision on where to spend the rest. A locker or two would be awesome, but with the full-time transfer case I would need something selectable for optimal performance, so I scrapped that idea for a later budgetary increase. With open diffs and all-terrain tires my money was best spent on a winch, so I opted for the reliable and reasonable Warn VR8000 for $500.
7. Rather than buy a bumper I got the Warn mounting plate and welded it straight to the front framerails. I pushed it tight up against the radiator and power steering cooling lines to get as much approach angle as possible. I also moved the towhooks to the top of the framerails and bolted in the winch. Total cost for Warn parts, $620.
8. The winch bumper needed something more than just the winch and plate, so I got a few pieces of 1 3/4x0.120-wall tubing from Poly Performance. I bent the pieces with a buddy’s bender and welded them straight to the frame. The bumper isn’t the strongest, but I plan on adding more tubes and gussets to the frame when I have money to do so. I also added a Daystar winch isolator, which works as a line weight when winching. Tubing, $120; Isolator, $30
9. Peter the Beater was definitely stronger with new axleshafts and better prepared to go wheeling with a winch up front, but was still kind of bland-looking and had that derogatory comment on the driver’s door. So I threw down some cash at the local hardware store and gave it a makeover. First step: Scuff up the old paint from the beltline down. Paint and consumables, $50.
10. Once the vehicle was scuffed, I washed it down with Gunk truck wash. I also used Gunk engine degreaser to clean the engine and undercarriage before working on it. A clean truck is much nicer to wrench under versus dirt falling in your eyes, which then causes you to bang your head into the chassis. Ask me how I know.
11. I had spent $,1900 to buy old Peter and another $1,812 to get it decked out with a new RustOleum Satin Sunflower yellow with a Satin Eden green racing stripe. I painted just the bottom half of the truck since it was cheaper and easier than masking off all the windows.
A Few More Things
It is never as cheap as you think. I made it to Arizona for CTC, and once I met up with the crew from Daystar I added a few more upgrades. These may not have been performance mods per se, but they did add storage and protection, so that should be considered. First was a set of Daystar’s Cam Cans ($175) mounted inside the tailgate, one for water, another for storing anything from recovery gear to Oreo cookies. Then I tried out Daystar’s polyurethane shock and steering stabilizer armor ($15 a pair), which attaches to shock bodies and protects them from rock scratches and such. Finally, just as we were about to leave I found out one draglink end was wasted and really sloppy, so I replaced it with an auto parts unit ($54). These upgrades would push my total to $2,076.