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How To Build A Toyota Land Cruiser For Overlanding And Four-Wheeling

Travel, Camp, Off-Road. Repeat.

Building a rig for overlanding isn't just about the bits and pieces you add. You have to start first with the basics: which vehicle to build. In the case of Ben Gardner, it came down to Toyota. He had a '90 4Runner that was used for traveling and four-wheeling, but found it underpowered and it had a manual transmission. Since his off-roading adventures were becoming increasingly more technical, he wanted a solid axle, an automatic transmission, and something bigger. That answer came in the form of the 100 Series Land Cruiser, and he bought this '99 model from a friend. Not only did it tick many boxes, but it also had an electric locker and a "lack of electronics." It also already had a lift and aftermarket wheels and tires.

Where you're likely to find Ben Gardner and his '99 Toyota Land Cruiser: He currently loves being in the mountains in and around Colorado: Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton. But you might also come across him in the desert. He overlands to get out of the city, "away from people who need safe places and their parents' basements. It allows me to see the world as it was intended to be looked at—the painted skies of early morning sunrises and sunsets after a hard day's work. It allows me to clear my mind, not think about what this generation is becoming or worried about. It helps me to get ready for retirement, when I'm able to just hit the road for the rest of my life and wander freely!"

Then Ben got to work. We were lucky to get him to share some invaluable insight that could help with your own building process: "Take your time. Purchase the parts you want instead of ones that are less expensive or easier to get." For example, he originally bought a set of aftermarket bumpers simply because they were in stock and not with a four-month wait. He was also in a hurry to get the vehicle done for an event, so he had no choice but to buy what was available. "Then turning around a year later and buying the bumpers I actually wanted turned into a pain. Having to remove the old bumpers, install the new bumpers, spend money again on bumpers, and then try to sell the old bumpers was a pain." He also did pretty much everything himself. "I went to school for collision repair and that's how I got my start in customizing cars. I met a few friends who help me and guide me, and that's how I started doing my own thing. It's nice to be able to know exactly where things are or how they are wired/routed. Makes it a lot easier for trail fixes," said Ben. "I like to wrench on my vehicles because I take more pride in them. Plus, I get a sense of accomplishment on the weekends knowing I upgraded or fixed something."

On the one hand, Ben has made a lot of modifications. On the other hand, he hasn't. That's part of the beauty of this Land Cruiser: It's capable off-road, comfortable for overlanding, and at the ready for more improvements—or none at all.

Under the hood is the factory 4.7L V-8, which is hooked to the stock four-speed transmission (Ben would have happily embraced having the five-speed manual). The previous owner installed a TRD supercharger (there's also a TRD thermostat), bumping the Toy to approximately 330 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque. "The ARB/Safari snorkel with a Donaldson precleaner on top was added to try and keep dust out of the supercharger by drawing fresh air above the vehicle, instead of in the dusty wheelwell." There are also Doug Thorley headers and a stainless steel exhaust to move everything out. Those are twin Odyssey Extreme batteries.
Crawl beneath the TLC and you'll see the axles this Land Cruiser was born with from the factory: 8-inch front and 9.5-inch rear. "I wanted to keep this drivetrain as stock as possible," Ben explained. "My traveling through different states had me worried. If I'm in the middle-of-nowhere Utah and something breaks, I want to be sure I could run to Toyota or a parts store and be able to get the parts I need to fix them and get back on the road." But don't get too married to this combo: "The IFS is the weakness to the 100 Series Land Cruiser, in my opinion. One day, I would like to do a solid-axle swap and be able to have that suspension travel I'm lacking in the front due to the torsion bars."
Up front are Old Man Emu torsion bars and out back are the company's 2864 heavy-duty coils. Old Man Emu can also be found at all four corners in the form Nitrocharger shocks. "I needed the heavier springs because of the drawers, fridge, spare tire, and gear in the back of the vehicle," Ben said. "I also needed the extra bit of ground clearance for the more technical trails I like to play on." Stopping the Toy are EBC YellowStuff pads and dimpled/slotted rotors, while the skidplates are from Slee Off-Road with aluminum units up front and intermediate combined with a steel belly plate.
Tires: 285/75R17 Toyo Open Country M/Ts. Wheels: 17x8.5 cast aluminum alloy Hutchinson from Rock Monster Wheels with 5.81-inch backspacing. Ben pulled the spare from underneath the Land Cruiser and mounted it at the rear bumper instead.
"Having to cut a cross section out of the rear frame to add the rear bumper was probably the one thing that had me worried the most," admitted Ben. "But that's the only way it was going to tuck up nice and tight to the body and give me a better departure angle."
What can't Ben live without? "The Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform. That is the most used piece of equipment on the rig. It holds my fishing gear, kayak, lighting, solar panel, awning, and RotopaX for fuel, and is used to strap anything else big and bulky needed on my trips." His 4Runner had the same platform and all the accessories to go with it, so the Land Cruiser got the same treatment.
"I was always into camping and fishing as a kid. My aunts used to take me out all the time. Then when I started off-roading, I got back into camping again." Camp assists come in the form of a Rhino-Rack Tagalong tent and Sunseeker awning. You may have also noticed the window visors. Those are from Wellvisors. You may have also spotted Depo headlights were retrofitted by HIDprojectors and D-series Pro Floods by Rigid Industries. Pioneer and Golight also provide loads of lighting from their various locations. Power distribution comes by way of a 4x4 sPOD Source SE with switch panel, while charging is done by a Redarc system and Overland Solar 100-watt solar panel.
Ben had been coveting these Dissent Offroad bumpers as soon as he got the Land Cruiser ("added for extra ground clearance and to get the spare tire out from underneath the vehicle") and they're paired with other armor in the form of rock sliders from White Knuckle Off Road Products. BG Autoworks did the metalwork and the Raptor coating, which his 4Runner had also sported. "It held up so great and was pretty much indestructible. I had to do something to the faded paint that was on the Land Cruiser anyway." But: "The only thing I see myself drooling over that I wish I had was a normal paintjob. The Raptor liner is amazing—but a nice, shiny paintjob is stunning on these Land Cruisers." Powdercoating was by GenFab Motorsports. And that's a Warn Zeon 12-S Platinum winch.
"The ARB drawers and Grey Man Tactical MOLLE panels were added to help put gear where it needed to go." Other odds and ends you'll find back there include recovery equipment, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, shovel, and Hi-Lift jack. There's also a Trail Tailor tailgate storage lid.
The interior features Roadwire leather seats, a Land Cruiser Heaven leather-wrapped steering wheel, Cobra CB, and Kenwood speakers paired with a Pioneer stereo, the latter of which was put in by Jon Roy's Installs. To further organize the Toyota, Ben added Blue Ridge Overland Gear attic and sunvisor organizers, and a Wits' End center console organizer and mat.

At A Glance

General
Vehicle: '99 Toyota Land Cruiser
Owner: Ben Gardner
Stomping grounds: Las Vegas, Nevada
Build time: 2 years
DRIVETRAIN
Engine: 4.7L V-8
Transmission: Toyota A343F four-spd automatic
Transfer case: HF2A two-spd
Low range ratio: 2.49:1
Crawl ratio: 29:1
Front axle/differential: Toyota 8-in
Rear axle/differential: Toyota 9.5-in/electric locker
SUSPENSION
Front: Old Man Emu torsion bars and shocks
Rear: Old Man Emu heavy-duty coils and shocks
Tires/Wheels
Tires: 285/75R17 Toyo Open Country M/T
Wheels: 17x8.5 Rock Monster Wheels Hutchinson
Miscellaneous
Armor: White Knuckle Off Road Products rock sliders, Dissent Offroad bumpers, Slee Off-Road skidplates
Cool stuff: TRD supercharger, Doug Thorley headers, EBC brakes, Raptor liner-paint, Rigid Ind./Pioneer/Golight/Depo/HIDprojectors lights, Kenwood speakers, Pioneer stereo, Cobra CB, Roadwire leather seats, Land Cruiser Heaven leather steering wheel cover, Bubba Rope, Warn Epic recovery kit, Factor 55 Ultra hook/hitchlink, Hi-Lift Extreme 48-inch jack, Rhino Rack spade shovel, Titan exhaust air jack, 4-gallon RotopaX, ARB/Safari snorkel with Donaldson Filtration Solutions precleaner, ARB tree saver/Speedy Seal tire-repair kit/Elements fridge/drawers, Grey Man Tactical MOLLE panels, H3R performance fire extinguisher, Outer Limit Supply 6500 Series first aid kit, Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform/Sunseeker awning/Tagalong tent, Road Shower, Wellvisors window visors, 4x4 sPOD Source SE, Redarc charging system, Overland Solar panel, Viper alarm, Trail Tailor tailgate storage lid, Blue Ridge Overland Gear attic/sunvisor organizers, Wits' End center-console organizer/mat, DeLorme/Gaia GPS, Canyon Cooler

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