The ’94 Toyota Land Cruiser we built for our Cheap Truck Challenge (“Low-Buck Land Cruiser,” Oct. ’13) was stock long enough. The truck really lacked good tires and locking differentials, and like any project one thing leads to another. We started with a lift to clear bigger tires, and while the truck was torn apart we built a new rear axle, added gears and lockers, and fancied up our stock rims with new color and rubber. Overboard? Definitely. Ready to wheel? Almost definitely.
The Cruiser, which we call Peter the Beater, was pretty ugly but did have a winch up front and some upgraded Nitro front axleshafts. We wanted more aggressive tires and thought 33s would be fine and optioned an Old Man Emu suspension to clear that size. But before we rounded up the 33s we came across some gnarly 35s from Maxxis that our 21⁄2- to 3-inch lift would clear just fine, so the next thing we knew we were cruising just a tad farther up from the “land.” Of course, not everything turned out perfect, but we learned a lot and hope you don’t stumble in the same pitfalls we encountered.
“Our initial test drive wasn’t perfect”
Step By Step
1. Peter the Beater worked awesome in stock form, but with one flat spare tire, a second tire with a plug in it, and no room for bigger rubber we knew a suspension upgrade was in the future. This is how a pretty little snowflake tumbles and grows into an avalanche. Step one, clean out the shop to make room to work. Next, put Peter on jackstands, yank old tires, and throw away old rubber. Send the wheels to get sandblasted and powdercoated some new funky green color (black rims are overdone). Finally, unpack the Old Man Emu (OME) suspension parts, which include springs, shocks, and some new suspension links.
2. The front suspension went quickly. We removed the stock track bar, shocks, and front coils and stuffed in the new OME 3-inch front competition coils. At this point we didn’t realize there were different coils for left and right.
3. OME has front and rear adjustable track bars for the 80 Series Land Cruisers. This helps center the axle under the vehicle after you add a lift. We used the stock track-bar mounting locations.
4. Installing the front shocks isn’t hard, but you will need two wrenches to hold the shock shaft and tighten down the top nut. We re-used the lower shock bolts, so don’t throw the old ones away.
5. The rear suspension would have gone easily, but remember that snowflake? It became a snowball when we opted to toss the rear semifloat axle for a full floater from a later-model FZJ80. And add gears. And add lockers. And … well, you get the point.
6. We scrounged a full-float axlehousing from Slee Off-Road since we wanted the additional strength and load capacity. We sent it out to get sandblasted so it was a clean work surface and brought it home, where we primered and painted it.
7. We figured why stop with just a lift? We pulled both third members from our old axles and sent them off to Nitro Gear & Axle to get new 4.88 gears and ARB Air Lockers.
8. We also ordered new brake calipers and parking brake part from Rock Auto for the rear axle. If we had left the axles alone we would have been wheeling by now, but instead we were busting knuckles wrestling tiny springs on the parking brake setup.
9. While waiting on the return of our diffs from Nitro we got a little bored. Idle hands lead to trouble. So we cut the back of the frame off to build a new rear bumper that didn’t stick out so far, but that story is for another day.
10. Enough screwing around! Let’s focus on the job at hand and get that rear axle under the rear of Peter. New 2-inch coils, stock lower links, new upper links, and new OME shocks all dropped in place without any trouble.
11. OK, maybe a little trouble. Our super bad-dude 20-volt Ingersoll Rand IQ rechargeable impact had so much torque it snapped the lower shock bolt right off. Luckily our bad-dude brother 20-volt IR IQ drill came along and drilled out the busted bolt so we could install the replacement by hand.
12. Our diffs arrived and we bolted them in as well as adding a set of Nitro Gear chromoly rear axleshafts and new bearings in the hubs. We swear we were just going to add better tires when this all started. We may need snow tires since this flurry has grown into a blizzard.
13. To make sure our axle was centered under the Cruiser, we put the weight of the vehicle on the springs and measured from the wheel mounting surface to the frame on both sides. We pulled it center with a ratchet strap and adjusted the OME track bar to length before bolting it in.
14. OME has adjustable upper links that we installed so we could set the correct pinion angle. We measured the transfer case output angle, which was 2.5 degrees down, and matched it with the pinion angle at 2.5 degrees up.
15. Our new RockAuto.com rotor and calipers were buttoned up and bled, so we didn’t have to worry about stopping power. The stock parking brake cable was shortened to work with the full-floater e-brakes.
16. All of the rear suspension link bolts were tightened after the truck was sitting on its own weight. This ensures that all the bushings are not binding when at ride height. We also retained the front and rear sway bars for optimal street driving.
17. Finally we got to that initial goal: new tires. We bolted on a set of 35/12.50-16 Maxxis Creepy Crawlers. These are very aggressive bias-ply tires, perfect for four-wheeling and a great test to see how bias-ply tires work on a daily driver. Stay tuned for feedback in a future issue. Those are the stock 16-inch rims now in a creamy dark green color and ready to wheel.
Final Results: Avalanche Redo
Peter the Beater is still a beater, but now it should be a bit more capable. However, our initial test drive wasn’t perfect. We somehow managed to spring a leak in both Air Lockers during installation, and now when we turn them on it pumps air out the axle vents. The fix should be easy but will require pulling both diffs back out. Lesson learned: Test the lockers before you silicone everything shut.
We also noticed a slight vibration and squirrely feel from the new tires, but we believe this is due to too high a tire pressure. Again, more fine tuning on the pros and cons of bias-ply tires is required, so check back on that.
As far as the suspension is concerned, we gained 21⁄2 inches under the differentials and about 31⁄2 inches of front suspension lift and 3 in back. However, the driver side of the truck is about 1⁄2 to 1 inch lower than the passenger side. We expect the springs to settle over time, but we need to swap the springs from side to side to see if it levels out the truck. We didn’t see any markings for left or right, nor were there any instructions with the coils, but we have since learned from Slee Offroad (the 80 Series Land Cruiser experts) that there are taller and shorter coils and the tall coils go on the driver side.
Oh, and that rear bumper? Yeah, that isn’t done yet either, though we do have two bare framerails sticking out the back.
We like working on the truck, but when we realized how much we screwed up and how we’ll need another long weekend to fix it all, we think about getting a different hobby, like inner-tubing down a river with a cooler and a bunch of lady friends in bikinis. But who wants to read about that?