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Toyota Land Cruiser Buildup Tips

Part 8: Buildup Tips For '61-'87 Toyota Land Cruisers

Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

Toyota Land Cruisers have a reputation the world over for being tough, reliable vehicles. This reputation is well deserved, as witnessed by the multitudes of Land Cruisers found on trails throughout the country and beyond our borders. Though the Land Cruiser name started in Japan in 1950 and continues today with our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year 100-series, this edition of Weak Links will focus on the '61-'84 40-series, '69-'80 55-series, and '80-'87 60-series. These rigs are incredibly overbuilt, but just like any other vehicle, there is still room for improvement.

Weak Link: Transfer-case crossmember
Models Affected: All FJ-40s
What happens: Land Cruisers are tough, but like a dragon they have a soft underbelly. This can allow expensive drivetrain damage when playing in the rocks.
Sturdy Fix: BTB Products manufactures full belly skidplates out of 11/44- and 31/416-inch steel plate that runs from framerail to framerail. The skidplates provide a smooth surface to keep from getting hung up on obstacles and come pre-drilled for easy bolt-on installation.
Contact: BTB Products

Weak Link: Pinion gear
Models Affected: '69-'78 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: The stock 10-spline pinion is a notorious weak link in FJ-40s and FJ-55s. The rear is particularly vulnerable when the weight transfers to the back of the vehicle when climbing or when experiencing a heavy shock load, such as with axlewrap and wheelhopping.
Sturdy Fix: Toyota addressed this issue by changing the pinion spline count from 10 to 27 in 1979. Fine-spline gears can be swapped into the earlier third members, but the pinion flange has to be changed as well. Another option is to swap in the whole third member from a later-model Land Cruiser. Cruiser Outfitters offers both the gears and 27-spline pinion flanges that are drilled with two different bolt patterns to fit a variety of driveshaft flanges.
Contact: Cruiser Outfitters

That's the BrakesWeak Link: Drum brakes
Models Affected: '60-'75 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: Drum brakes came stock on the front of Land Cruisers through 1975. The brakes do a marginal job of stopping stock-sized tires when new, but wear and large tires can lead to an unsafe increase in stopping distances. New drums, shoes, and wheel cylinders are also more expensive than comparable disc rotors and pads.
Sturdy Fix: There are a number of disc-brake options, including factory Land Cruiser and Toyota pickup parts. The most comprehensive kit we have seen though is available from BTB Products, and includes cross-drilled ventilated rotors, four-piston alloy calipers, metallic brake pads, wheel studs, mounting brackets, and DOT-approved stainless-steel brake lines.
Contact: BTB Products

Weak Link: Birfield joints
Models Affected: '68-'87 FJ-40s, 55s, and 60s
What happens: Starting in 1968 and continuing until the end of their use of solid front axles, Land Cruisers used a closed-knuckle design with Birfield joints. For many years, the Birfields have been considered the weakest link in the Toyota drivetrain. They are messy to repair and prone to breakage, particularly during sharp turns or while backing up.
Sturdy Fix: Now, troublesome stock Birfields can be replaced with heat-treated Longfield joints from Longfield Super Axles. These upgraded Birfields have undergone a special process to make the part less brittle, and thus less prone to cracking under severe loads. Owners of '68-'78 vehicles should upgrade to the later Cruiser Birfields, as the '68-'75 drum-brake-equipped Land Cruisers used coarse-spline outers, and the '76-'78 rigs used a slightly smaller oddball Birfield.
Contact: Longfield Super Axles

Weak Link: Off camber stability
Models Affected: FJ-40s and FJ-55s
What happens: Land Cruisers are heavy
vehicles, and as you start to lift them higher, stability can suffer. The 40s suffer from a short wheelbase, and the 55s have a high center of gravity even before they are lifted.
Sturdy Fix: Offset wheels or wheel spacers are one option, but a better solution is to swap in axles from a 60- or 62-series Land Cruiser. These axles are 2.75 inches wider than the 40- and 55-series axles but are otherwise the same. The short-side axle is the same length, with all of the additional length coming on the long side. This makes it necessary to outboard the front spring hangers in order to retrofit the 60-series front axle. Classic Cruisers has a large selection of used parts, including axle assemblies.
Contact: Classic Cruisers

Weak Link: Gear reduction
Models Affected: All
What happens: Land Cruisers are particularly heavy and underpowered, so proper gearing is necessary to maintain these vehicles' trail prowess when larger tires are added.
Sturdy Fix 1: Land Cruisers underwent a number of transfer-case changes over the years, including spline counts, gear ratios, and idler shaft sizes. It is generally agreed that the "split" transfer case used in '86-'87 models was best due to the larger 38mm idler shaft and 2.26:1 low-range.
Sturdy Fix 2: Longer-wheelbase Land Cruisers can benefit from the added gear reduction of Marlin Crawler's Toy Box. This gear reduction unit is based off Marlin Crawler's successful Toyota pickup dual transfer-case system. It bolts between the factory transmission and transfer case, and can be ordered to fit a variety of other transmissions such as the SM465 and 700R4.
Sturdy Fix 3: For the ultimate in strength and gearing, Advance Adapters' Orion transfer case bolts in place of the factory transfer case and offers either a 3.00:1 or 4.00:1 low-range ratio. The Orion comes as a kit that includes brand-new cast-iron cases, new gears, a larger cluster pin, and new bearings and seals.
Contact: Classic Cruisers, Marlin Crawler, Advance Adapters

Weak Link: Manual steering.
Models Affected: '60-'78 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: Manual steering has no place on a vehicle used off-pavement. It makes it nearly impossible to turn aired-down oversized tires and can be downright dangerous to your thumbs if your tires suddenly follow ruts. The stock Toyota steering is also overly complicated and prone to excessive play due to the use of five tie-rod ends.
Sturdy Fix: Classic Cruisers' power-steering conversion replaces the stock push-pull steering with crossover steering using Toyota components. Unlike other kits using Saginaw boxes, this kit requires no cutting or welding and results in crossover steering for a longer drag link and less bumpsteer, as well as providing a tighter response due to the use of fewer rod ends.
Contact: Classic Cruisers

Weak Link: Starter
Models Affected: '68-'81 FJ-40s and FJ-55s
What happens: Traditional starters with external solenoids are very common on older vehicles. While these can work well when new, they draw a large amount of amperage through the electrical system.
Sturdy Fix: In 1982, Toyota changed to a gear-reduction starter on 2F motors. This new starter is a direct bolt-in for the earlier starters and is smaller, lighter, and offers more torque. Cool Cruisers of Texas stocks these starters, as well as a multitude of other OEM and reproduction parts.
Contact: Cool Cruisers of Texas

Weak Link: Head casting
Models Affected: '81-and-later FJ-40s and FJ-60s
What happens: The heads in the 2F motors use a thinner casting than earlier heads, which is prone to warping or cracking. Unfortunately, the fix is not as simple as just swapping on an earlier-style head, since the piston designs between the two motors are different.
Sturdy Fix: The earlier 2Fs used domed pistons and a larger combustion chamber, while the later engines used a flat-top piston and smaller combustion area. In order to restore the proper compression ratio, an early head can be shaved 0.070 inch and used with the later-model block and pistons.
Contact: Man-A-Fre

Weak Link: Suspension travel
Models Affected: All
What happens: The stock suspension places the leaf springs under the axles. While this provides a low center of gravity and limits spring wrap, it does so at the expense of articulation and ground clearance.
Sturdy Fix: Spring-over-axle suspensions are much more involved than just adding new spring perches to the top of the axles. One of the biggest issues is the relationship between caster and the front pinion angle. Rotate the axle for a better pinion angle and you lose caster, and vice versa. Proffitt's Cruisers has a spring-over kit that addresses this issue by including a front axlehousing with the knuckles cut and rotated for the proper pinion angle and caster. The kit also includes spring perches, a shackle reversal, and new spring bushings; a Saginaw steering conversion is highly recommended.
Contact: Proffitt's Cruisers

Weak Link: Tire clearance
Models Affected: All FJ-40s
What happens: Land Cruiser fenders are stronger than most of the sheetmetal used on modern vehicles, but they still crumple after repeated encounters with rocks. The stock fenders also limit the amount of available uptravel once larger tires or shackle reversals are added.
Sturdy Fix: Instead of replacing bashed fenders with expensive reproduction units, call Metal Tech for a pair of tube fenders. Constructed from 1.5-inch, 0.120-wall tube, the new fenders will take a licking and provide an extra 2.5 inches of tire clearance. Unlike a Jeep, there is a space above the front fenders on FJ-40s filled by the upper apron. The Metal Tech fenders require you to trim the apron and move the fender higher up the hoodline.
Contact: Metal Tech

Weak Link: Three- and four-speed transmissions
Models Affected: '80-'87 FJ-40s and FJ-60s
What happens: The four-speed H42 transmission used in FJ-40s and FJ-60s does not have an overdrive gear. This makes gearing a compromise between low gearing for the trail or higher gearing for highway speeds. Additionally, these transmissions have a meager 3.55:1 First gear ratio.
Sturdy Fix: Some overseas Land Cruisers came with the H55F five-speed manual transmission, which features a 4.80:1 First gear and a 0.85:1 overdrive Fifth gear. These transmissions can be swapped into U.S.-market Land Cruisers with a split transfer case using all Toyota parts for a factory fit and finish. Cool Cruisers of Texas stocks all the necessary parts and does not require a core deposit for their transmissions.
Contact: Cool Cruisers of Texas

Weak Link: Vacuum advance distributor
Models Affected: '60-'79 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: The stock distributor used points prior to 1977 and a vacuum advance until 1979. These parts are easy to fix and replace, but unfortunately they require fixing far too often. This can be a problem as the parts are expensive and hard to find compared to HEI parts.
Sturdy Fix: The Davis Unified Ignition from Performance Distributors is based on the popular Chevy HEI ignition and features a high-voltage coil and high-dwell module located inside the distributor. The distributor can be custom-tuned for your engine using specs such as cam duration and lift, compression ratio, vehicle weight, and octane of fuel. The combination of the custom advance curve and the high-output coil and module will give you instant throttle response, quicker starts and more horsepower. Installation only requires a one-wire hookup.
Contact: Performance Distributors

Weak Link: Rear shock mounts
Models Affected: '61-'74 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: The lower shock mounts on the rear axle are located on the axlehousing itself, limiting travel of the stock suspension.
Sturdy Fix: Starting in 1975, the lower shock mounts were relocated from the axlehousing to the U-bolt plate, providing an additional 2 inches of shock travel. Proffitt's Cruisers has U-bolt plates as part of their large used parts inventory.
Contact: Proffitt's Cruisers

Weak Link: Front shock mounts
Models Affected: All FJ-40s
What happens: The front shock towers on FJ-40s are stronger and higher than most comparable models, but there is still room for improvement. This is particularly true when the vehicle is outfitted with a spring-over or other high-articulation suspension.
Sturdy Fix: Based on the stock upper shock mounts, Man-A-Fre designed a new tower out of 31/48- and 51/48-inch steel plate that is 211/42 inches taller than stock, allowing the use of longer-travel shocks for more articulation.
Contact: Man-A-Fre

Weak Link: Transfer-case shifting options
Models Affected: All
What happens: Sometimes on high-traction surfaces like granite or slickrock it can be difficult to turn, particularly with manual steering or a front locker. The binding can also unnecessarily stress front-end components like Birfields and knuckles.
Sturdy Fix: Advance Adapters manufacturers a twin stick that allows the transfer case to be shifted between two- and four-wheel drive, and between high- and low-range independently. This offers the control of low-range without binding the front end when turning.
Contact: Advance Adapters

Weak Link: Body mounts
Models Affected: All FJ-40s
What happens: The stock body mounts are made of rubber, and even the newest FJ-40s are nearly 25 years old by now. This means that they are likely cracking and falling apart, leading to excess noise and misalignment between the body and frame.
Sturdy Fix: Polyurethane mounts, such as those offered by TPI, are firmer and longer-lasting than rubber mounts, since they resist degradation due to contaminants and are a higher durometer than rubber.
Contact: TPI 4x4

Weak Link: Stock carburetor
Models Affected: All
What happens: All F-series motors were carbureted until the introduction of the 3FE in the '88 FJ-62. While the carbs are simple and easy to work on, they also are inefficient, have trouble adapting to changes in altitude, and don't like off-camber or steep ascents and descents.
Sturdy Fix: Downey Off Road offers a throttle-body fuel-injection kit that solves all the above problems in a simple, easy-to-install package. The kit improves mileage and emissions and includes a new plenum, injectors, fuel pump, and all necessary wiring and hardware, as well as Downey's thorough instruction manual.
Contact: Downey Off Road

Weak Link: Coarse spline axles
Models Affected: '60-'67 FJ-40s
What happens: Early Land Cruisers had coarse 10-spline rear axleshafts with far less contact area than the later 30-spline axles.
Sturdy Fix: The later 30-spline axles are a bolt-in swap, although the side gears in the differential must also be changed. Classic Cruisers has a huge selection of used Land Cruiser parts, including all the parts necessary to upgrade your axles to the later pieces.
Contact: Classic Cruisers

Weak Link: Gas tank capacity
Models Affected: FJ-55s and FJ-60s
What happens: 24 gallons of fuel seems like a lot by modern standards, but it doesn't last long in a 4,200-pound vehicle that gets 13 miles per gallon. Land Cruiser wagons make great backcountry expedition vehicles, but their use can be severely limited by fuel range.
Sturdy Fix: Man-A-Fre offers a 49-gallon replacement fuel tank for the FJ-55 and a 38-gallon tank for the FJ-60. Both mount in place of the original fuel tank. The tanks are made of aluminized steel, are fully baffled and trapped, and reuse the OEM sending unit. Installation requires relocation of the spare tire in order to maintain clearance. Most wagon owners mount the spare on the rear bumper or cargo area.
Contact: Man-A-Fre

Weak Link: Tire clearance
Models Affected: All FJ-40s and FJ-55s
What happens: The FJ-40s and 55s use the same-length front springs. However, the 40-series springs have an offset spring pin, and the 55-series springs have a centered spring pin. Both vehicles can experience rubbing when larger tires are used, particularly with a shackle reversal.
Sturdy Fix: The front spring pack on the FJ-40 can be turned around to provide more tire clearance and increase the wheelbase, and the offset springs from the FJ-40 can be used on the 55-series to accomplish the same thing.
Contact: Do it yourself

Weak Link: Drum parking brake
Models Affected: '68-'80 FJ-40s and FJ-55s
What happens: Land Cruisers used a drum parking brake affixed to the back of the transfer case. While this provides good holding capabilities when the shoe is new and makes it easier to swap in rear disc brakes, it is also the most common location for an oil leak on vintage Land Cruisers.
Sturdy Fix: Man-A-Fre designed a disc-brake replacement for the transfer-case-mounted parking brake. The new brake retains the stock parking-brake cable and uses brake pads that are less expensive than the shoes they replace.
Contact: Man-A-Fre

Weak Link: Rear Hatch Struts
Models Affected: All FJ-60s
What happens: With time, the stock door stays that hold up the rear cargo hatch leak and quit functioning. This can be annoying when packing and unpacking cargo, and dangerous if you happen to hit your head on the heavy door.
Sturdy Fix: Direct-replacement door stays are available from Specter Off Road. The struts include all necessary hardware and are a far more elegant solution than an old broomstick.
Contact: Specter Off Road

Note: Toyota Land Cruiser owners are some of the most faithful and fanatical we have ever encountered. In an effort to minimize letter bombs being sent to Four Wheeler headquarters, we refrained from recommending any engine or axle swaps in this article.