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1994 Toyota Land Cruiser - Low Buck - Cheap Truck Challenge 2013

Peter The Beater, Bought & Built

Fred WilliamsPhotographer, Writer

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

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.

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.