How do you build the best all-around 4x4 vehicle? There are so many different opinions of what exactly makes the best all-around wheeler. The criteria I was looking for in a four-wheel-drive toy changed somewhat the day my son, Dylan, was born. Trying to get a car seat in and out of my '89 Toyota 4Runner was a nightmare and something I am sure a lot of other enthusiasts can comprehend. After selling that vehicle (which took me two years to find), I was left to wandering the desert in search of what I consider my "Perfect Wheeler." I wanted something that was able to tackle the hardest trails but still have four doors and remain a nice daily driver. In reality, I wanted my cake and to eat it too. What I wanted was a Toyota Land Cruiser 80 Series.
This little beauty had it all: four doors, solid axles, coil springs, a great little engine, Toyota reliability, good looks, and world-renowned durability. In 1994, the Toyota Land Crusier 80 Series price tag was in the 45k range -- ouch. Now, some 11 years later, they are a downright steal at $8,500. If you are lucky enough, you can find them with factory lockers front and rear. In most cases the price is the same with or without lockers because the public at large has no idea what that little knob is to the left of the steering wheel. I was not so lucky as to find one with lockers, but I did find one in great shape at the right price with all the maintenance documented.
Now that I had my ride, what was I going to do to it? You see, I have this little affliction know as modifyitis. It is a very serious condition that must be monitored by professionals. Left unchecked, this disease can kill the infected person's bank account. Luckily, treatment is available over the counter at your friendly local 4x4 parts supplier.
In order to build my Perfect Wheeler, I needed a solid game plan. The first thing was the addition of body armor in the form of front and rear bumpers and rock sliders. Second was a suspension lift that would allow me to run 37-inch tires. Lastly, new gears, front and rear lockers, and stronger front axles. With these items in place, I figured my new ride would be navigable through most trails yet civilized enough to drive everyday.
The very first item that needed to be addressed was rocker protection. Although these vehicles can be purchased at a bargain, fixing a busted rocker panel can be very costly. Since this rig was destined to see lots of rocks, rocker protection was mandatory. For my build I selected a set of Ken Hanna rock sliders. Ken's sliders are designed and built to withstand the harshest rock-pounding abuse a 6,000-pound Land Crusier can inflict. Ken's sliders incorporate a catalytic converter protection plate to protect cats from being smashed by trail obstacles. The cat plate ties into the factory transfer case crossmember, while the rest of the sliders attach with two 1/2-inch U-bolts. For the driver side, there are three 1/2-inch U-bolts supplied to attach the slider to the frame. I really appreciated the fact that these sliders can be installed and removed with a simple socket wrench.