Toyota LandCruiser 79: Custom 4x4

Toyota LandCruiser 79: Custom 4x4

There's no denying the popularity of Toyota’s Land Cruiser 70 range among 4x4 enthusiasts.

The recent demise of Land Rover’s Defender and Nissan’s GU Patrol makes the 70’s position in the market even more unique; it’s now one of the few remaining real 4x4s you can still by, and is certainly the toughest. Its do-it-all ability, along with its bellowing V8 diesel engine, has won it many fans over its long history.

Yet the LC70 is far from perfect, and there are many points that keep it off the shopping list of some potential buyers. It’s a 35-year-old vehicle design, and with that age comes not only its rugged and bush-worthy underpinnings, but also design compromises in cabin ergonomics, features, safety and comfort.

Then there’s the fact that Toyota doesn’t offer the 70 with an automatic transmission and hasn’t since the 1980s, which leaves it off the radar of many older buyers and those who tow stuff.

Toyota Land Cruiser 79 rear drivingThe track width differential, which has the rear tyres following the fronts on a different line thanks to the narrower rear diff housing, causes all sorts of dramas with handling and ability. And while the 4.5-litre V8 is pretty good, it’s softly tuned and quite underpowered for its size and design, so tuners are having a field day with it.

In fact, tuners, engineering shops and accessories manufacturers are all going to town on the LandCruiser 70 Series, supplying just about everything you could want for it, and many of these mods go some way to rectifying the factory shortcomings. But what if there was a one-stop shop that could transform your 70, a workshop that could address some of the factory shortcomings and take your 70 Series to a whole new level? We’re happy to say there is such a place: Marks 4WD in Melbourne.

Marks 4WD has a history as long as the 70 itself, a history of converting and transforming 4x4 vehicles into the more powerful and capable vehicles off-road enthusiasts want.

Probably best-known for its V8 and V6 engine conversions in popular 4x4s, Marks has gone on to develop portal axles for Patrols and Land Cruisers, auto trans conversions for 70s, and a host of other products to improve a swag of different vehicles.

Toyota LandCruiser 79 frontThis LC79 double-cab is a showcase of the upgrades and products that Marks 4WD can do for the 70 Series ute, be it the double-cab like this one or the farmers’ favourite singlecab.

It was built so the company could get Commonwealth certification for the portal axle conversions – that includes running on 35-inch tyres. With this approval, you can now legally run the portals and 35s under your 79 in any Australian state.

STEP BY STEP
Leigh Hardman of Marks 4WD started with a brand new LC79 for this vehicle. To be eligible for second-stage manufacturer ‘type’ approval, modifications need to be completed before a vehicle is registered for the road. The same goes for GVM upgrades, chassis stretches and other major modifications, otherwise the vehicle needs to be individually inspected and approved by an engineer. Type approval certifies that the modification has been tested and approved, and if fitted correctly meets all the national considerations for roadworthiness.

The portal axles effectively give you a 150mm lift in ride height under the axles (as opposed to over the axles, as would be the case with an equivalent suspension or suspension and body lift).

Toyota LandCruiser 79 rock crawlingThis means you don’t have the problems of altered suspension geometry and handling issues that come with big suspension lifts – not to mention the legalities of such lifts.

The rear axle has been widened 50mm to match the front end track width and then the portal boxes at either end of the axle housings add another 100mm to the track width. LC200 style wheels with a +60 offset are used to bring the width back in a bit to a total of 80mm over stock.

The modified front axle also features heavy-duty, one-piece swivel hubs and air-operated free-wheeling hubs. These are activated at the push of a button in-cabin, and allow quick and easy shifting to 4WD without having to get out and manually lock in the hubs.

Upgraded brakes are part of the package and include slotted rotors, high-performance pads and braided stainless-steel brake lines. This truck also features the Marks 4WD hydraulic brake booster conversion, which transforms the vehicle’s stopping ability. Anyone who has driven a 70 will know how poor the standard brakes can be, but the stoppers on this truck are powerful and assuring, both on- and off-road. They provide a positive pedal feel, where the OE ones would get very spongy. A worthy modification for any 70 Series Cruiser.

Drum brakesSpeaking of stoppers, another 70 Series weakness is the OE park brake’s inability to hold the vehicle on a hill. Marks 4WD fixed this, too, fitting a drum-style brake on the back of the transfer case (Nissan-style), for sure-footed hill-holding. We confidently propped the 79 on a steep rocky track near Melbourne while we photographed it, something you would never entrust to the standard park brake.

The portal axle conversion also gives the 79 a GVM upgrade to 3780kg, so you’ll appreciate the better brakes with the heavier loads on board.

PERFECT MATCH
The next big change to this 79 is the six-speed auto conversion.

Marks has fitted dozens of these conversions since they debuted more than a year ago, and they make living with a 70 Series easier.

Toyota LandCruiser 79 engineThe transmission is a 6L90 unit from General Motors. It has been mated to the Toyota V8 engine block at one end and factory transfer case at the other with adapters designed and made at Marks 4WD – along with all the hardware and gear needed to make it work. This includes a shifter and custom-made console that looks factory in the Toyota cabin. The transmission is calibrated to suit the engine tune, be it standard or modified, for more grunt. And, in the case of this tuned 1VD, it’s a perfect match.

The 1VD-FTV engine benefits from a host of upgrades to improve its breathing and efficiency, starting with a flash tune to make the most of the added hardware. That hardware includes a Safari Armax four-inch snorkel that draws air into an airbox modified with larger openings. A fabricated four-inch intake tube then leads to the factory turbocharger. The pressurised charge is pushed through an Australian-made HPD intercooler that, with its billet tanks, is pure parts porn and improves the efficiency over the standard top-mount cooler.

Combustion gases exit through a Redback three-inch exhaust, accompanied by a V8 sound that bellows through the bush.

Toyota LandCruiser 79 climbingThe engine upgrades have been designed to make the most of the factory turbocharger and injectors, and they deliver a 70 per cent increase over factory performance.

DRIVE TIME
Regardless of its hulking height, the Marks 4WD 79 has an OE feel about it. Climb inside – and you do have to climb to get in it – and the auto shifter and bespoke console have factory feel, but turn the key and the V8 grumble lets you know there’s more on offer. The first squeeze of the brake pedal is the next indicator that things are not as Toyota engineered, as the pedal is firm and positive with none of the factory sponginess.

Slip into suburban traffic and the auto feels at home. It’s sweetly matched to the engine and gives smooth yet firm shifts through its six ratios. A towing mode holds gears longer for hauling, while a full manual mode lets you choose the shift points when you want them.

Toyota LandCruiser 79 interiorOn-road curves and bends pose an odd mix of 70 Series familiarity and new-found prowess. On the one hand this 79 doesn’t pitch and roll like a stock 70, or any other six-inch-lifted 4x4, yet midway through the bend you’re reminded of the Toyota’s slow steering, as you’re provoked to dial in more lock.

Leigh is still playing with the suspension on the car and at the moment it rides on stock front coils, Tough Dog shocks and rear leaves lifted just enough to level the stance.

The ride is a bit firm, but we know Leigh likes to load up his utes with firewood at this time of year, so the carrying capacity is retained. Lifting logs into the high tray could be an issue, though.

The extra height of the Cruiser comes into its own when you get off-road, so we threw it at a steep, rocky track to test its mettle. Like the freewheeling hubs, the factory front and rear lockers have been converted to air-actuation, so it’s simply a matter of priming the ARB air compressor and hitting the Hubs button on the Switch-Pro panel to put it in 4x4. It’s then a matter of actuating the transfer lever and factory locker dial to get everything locked and loaded – you can leave the transfer in 4WD-High when on-road and just disconnect the front hubs via the button.

Toyota LandCruiser 79 rear uphillWe expect any well-set-up 4x4 with front and rear lockers and 35s to take on this track without raising a sweat, but few would do it with the poise and ease of the Marks 79. There’s no lurching and pitching around on tall springs, and you’re never worried about touching down on any of the many rocks and boulders on the track. In fact, the diff housings and MCC sidesteps went untouched on the few passes up and down the hill for photography.

On forest tracks the Cruiser climbs, descends, turns and drives with a confidence that is unheard of in a standard vehicle, yet it still feels to have the quality of a factory 4x4. The car is the total package, delivering on- and off-road regardless of the terrain. With the auto transmission, better brakes and improved engine performance, it does it all with an ease that the standard LC79 never could.

Marks 4WD has fixed many of the problems of the standard 70 Series, but the one issue it can’t address is price. Many consider the dealer price of a 70 to be too high, and this conversion adds upwards of $55K to that purchase price, so it’s not cheap. However, you don’t have to take one with the lot (like this Cruiser).

At the end of the day the mods work, and if you have the money they are worth it. Irrespective of price, there are few, if any, new 4x4s that deliver the same ability as the Marks 79 – perhaps a heavily modified Jeep Wrangler would match it off-road, but it wouldn’t have the driveability or the load-carrying capacity of the Land Cruiser.

Toyota Land Cruiser 79 uphill drivingThe car is a showcase of Aussie engineering and ingenuity and the results speak volumes on the rough tracks the 79 was made to conquer. Leigh’s plan for this car includes a metal canopy/camper box on the back and a long road trip to show it to as many customers and shops as possible

SPECS
Engine: Owner-modified V8 turbo-diesel
Capacity: 4.5-litres
Max-power: 172kW
Max torque: 680Nm at the tyres
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Crawl ratio: 39.07:1
4x4 System: Part time 4x4 with low range
Construction: Double-cab ute on ladder chassis
On-test fuel consumption: 16.13L/100km

Check out our video of Marks 4WD LC79 driving in the High Country.

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