So, you have a truck riding on leaf springs front and rear, and you want to add a suspension kit, but you don't want to pay someone else to do it? Don't be scared. It's not as hard as you might think. All you need are the right parts, the correct tools, your buddies, and a clear plan of attack. Here's how two lift-kit rookies were able to raise an FJ-60 in a weekend (read this, and you should be able to do it in one Saturday).
Our project truck is an '85 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-60 that was bought with a suspension lift that included aftermarket shocks and add-a-leaves in the original spring packs. Its performance off-road is admirable, but a recent trip to Truckhaven Hills near the Salton Sea proved that the tires were rubbing too much, and the sagging suspension resulted in one "stuck" that required a yank from a nice guy in a Jeep. A consultation with Editor Rick Pw revealed the existing kit was hot poop about 20 years ago. Not bad, but it looked like nothing had been replaced in the suspension setup since the late '80's. The springs were flat from wear, allowing the 33-inch tires to rub in the wheelwells and leave cuts in the sidewalls. The ride suggested the shocks were no longer hot-just poop. Rick was kind enough to volunteer Tech Editor Fred Williams to help two Web guys install the Old Man Emu kit during a weekend at the Warehome while he worked on his '86 Toyota Project Clampy.
When shopping for a suspension kit designed for an FJ-60 Land Cruiser, it's almost impossible to ignore Old Man Emu parts. OME stands out because its kit is specially designed for the Cruiser. It includes greaseable shackles and is extensively tested off-road, keeping performance (and comfort) in mind. We chose a medium-duty setup because it allows a lot of camping gear to be carried in the back, but doesn't require modifications to the driveshafts or the steering system (our project truck already had stainless steel braided extended brake lines).
The Old Man Emu kit we ordered came with Nitrocharger shocks, greaseable anti-inversion shackles, polyurethane bushings, new U-bolts, and new leaf-spring packs. We chose a medium-duty kit because the Land Cruiser will be carrying lots of heavy camping gear along with a very large dog on most off-road trips. Before going to the Warehome we inspected all the parts received in the mail to make sure everything had arrived. Just like Santa, we checked our list twice, 'cause nothing is worse than giving the school bully a Red Ryder BB gun, or removing your daily driver's suspension and finding out you don't have the right parts to get it rolling again. Just think about how many times you get the wrong parts on your hamburger. That really sucks, but it doesn't leave you stranded. Make sure you have all the tools needed for the entire project, plus another working vehicle at your disposal-unless you enjoy walking four miles to the nearest auto shop, or running to get there before the doors close for the night.
A week earlier, we had sprayed down all the suspension connections with PB Blaster to make removal easier (WD-40 or JB-80 will also work). This is an especially good idea if you live where rust is a problem-or if your truck lived in the rust belt or near the ocean. Another spray of Blaster was applied before we started removing anything from the Cruiser.
Once installed and after a few weeks of daily driving, the springs had broken in and we went to Hungry Valley SRVA (aka Gorman) to get some off-road observations. Our friend Jon Santana brought along his '88 Range Rover and we traversed the practice area to try the Land Cruiser on various terrains including a rock trail, a water pit, dirt trenches, and some high-speed whoops. The OME suspension kit made for big improvements in the ride quality and predictability in off-camber maneuvers. Tire rubbing was eliminated except in extreme flex situations, but the truck owner has already ordered slimmer wheels that will tuck the tires into the fenderwells. He is also considering a front shackle extension to provide more lift over the front tires.
Go to www.4wheeloffroad.com for videos and more photos of this Old Man Emu suspension lift installation.
Once it was clear we were not diving into an empty swimming pool, we found a flat area on the asphalt (conveniently in the middle of Fred's driveway), where we'd have room to work on the front suspension and safely place our jackstands. We positioned the jackstands as close to the spring hangers as possible so they could be raised once the truck was lifted into the air. With the emergency brake applied, the floor jack was placed under the driver-side spring and the FJ was lifted. The jack was then used under the differential on the other side to raise the truck enough to place the other jackstand at the same setting to make the truck sit level. The floor jack was then positioned under the diff to keep some weight off the springs and help keep the truck steady.
Box wrenches made it easy to remove the once mighty nitrogen shocks that were probably installed around the time Back to the Future II was in movie theaters. We placed the mounting bolts in bags with "front shock bolts" labels to help keep the curse words to a minimum. A busted steering stabilizer shock was tossed in the trash pile. Next, we used the impact gun to remove the U-bolts from the bottoms of the leaf springs. The U-bolt mounts were kept in a safe place along with the stock rubber bushings found between the mount and the leaf pack. These will be needed when the new suspension is installed.
A coat of PB Blaster and an impact wrench made short work of the front U-bolts. Since the Land Cruiser has a front sway bar, the axle will still be connected to the truck when the leaf springs are removed, but it's a good idea to use a jack to help support the axle weight whenever possible. Before we removed the leaf springs, additional jackstands were placed under the axletubes. Detaching the springs will release the axle from your truck, so make sure it is secure and that none of your body parts are in danger of being squashed if it slams to the ground. On our project truck, the sway bar (which Fred hates), keeps the front axle from falling to the ground, but you should still keep your body out of the way at all times. After you remove all the old bushings, you will have a truck with NO front suspension. Good thing you checked your new kit for all the parts that are supposed to be included.
There is a major difference between the stock leaf springs (with an add-a-leaf) and the Old Man Emu rear spring pack. The OME medium heavy-duty leaves have a lot more arch, yet should provide a smoother ride. The rubber bushing on the new spring pack was snagged from the stock leaves. Another time bandit appeared when we realized the new rear leaves weren't identical. One had a code that ended in an "A" and the other was a "B." Not willing to proceed in the wrong direction, we scanned the Internet until we determined with this OME kit, the "A" always goes on the driver side for American Land Cruisers. OK, back to work.
Once the shackles and other mounting parts were assembled, we lightly greased the pivot points in the bushings to help ease our installation. With the leaves lifted into place, we hand-tightened the bolts in the shackles to allow for some wiggle room during the installation of the U-bolts and the shocks. Once the spring plates were attached, we could reinstall the shocks. After those were connected, we tightened all the bolts using a torque wrench to match the specifications required by OME. We got out the gun and filled the greaseable parts of the suspension for a nice, quiet ride for many years to come. It's not a bad idea to loosen the shackle bolts, then retorque them to spec once your truck is back on the ground.
After the suspension lift was installed, the rear tires were more than 7 inches from the fenders. The front tires gained a small amount of distance from the wheelwells and now have more than 6 inches of space. Visually, the change in ride height was immediately noticeable. The rear jumped up by about 311/42 inches, and the front gained almost an inch. There is now a slight rake to the truck's stance which will be helpful when the FJ-60 is full of camping gear and a 175-pound Mastiff. On-road performance is much smoother than before and more predictable. Plus, the front tires don't rub on the fenders or any of the steering components.
With the OME lift installed, we took the Land Cruiser to Hungry Valley SRVA for some test runs. In addition to lots of added travel for the rear wheels, the front tires were much less likely to strike the truck body. High-speed whoops are no longer a dash-rattling experience. The OME suspension soaks up many bumps that would have been transferred directly to passengers' spines with the old suspension setup. The Land Cruiser is much more fun off-road with the new suspension. For video of the FJ-60 in action, go to www.4wheeloffroad.com.