Back in 1992 Mark and Sharon Makin began with an idea that soon became a business plan. They set up Ballina Truck Align in the industrial area of Ballina on the NSW Far North Coast. The aim then, as it remains today, was to service transport industry vehicles as the trucks moved in and out of Ballina along the Pacific Highway.
The business soon answered another call; that of the many recreational four-wheel drivers from the Big River Country who needed their rigs serviced. It was an easy step for Mark and Sharon to make, as both already had a deep affinity with the bush and had been taking their own Toyota FJ40 to some interesting places for some time.
Mark, an excellent mechanic, improved the FJ by shoehorning a 253 Holden motor into the engine bay. In short order though the couple tired of “Shorty’s” restricted space and bought a HiLux dual cab with a 2.8-litre diesel, which Mark later fitted a turbo to. After that came a 100 series 1HZ and once again Mark did his thing and fitted a turbo and intercooler. But, something was missing and the affection just never kicked in.
Then Toyota released the 79 Series Land Cruiser – with its 4.5-litre V8 intercooled turbodiesel – and Mark all but jumped for joy. Mark knew exactly what he wanted: The base model cab chassis dual cab 79. They also wanted a “box” built directly onto the chassis – not a drop-on canopy. And, it had to be done right.
So after an awful lot of hunting around Mark and Sharon found a Sunshine Coast based company called Metalink who’d construct a canopy to their liking. Mark liked Metalink’s engineering attitude and he placed the order in February 2013 before the truck had even been ordered.
The Cruiser was subsequently ordered in May 2013, and the couple took delivery on the 27th of July. As they waited for the canopy Mark used the time constructively; he stripped out the interior and made a start on the sound proofing. He also added a new vinyl floor, new Paratus seats, a console between the seats with cup holders, and another over the windscreen housing a UHF radio and a dash pod. Map pockets were also fitted to the rear doors. A Hema HN6 Navigation system, incorporating a reversing camera, was installed on the dash, as well as a tyre pressure monitor to help keep tabs on the BFGs.
The canopy was ready on the 24th of September – eight months after the order was placed. Mark then had to fit out the canopy and finish work on the Land Cruiser. But with a business to run, Mark had to knock off the remaining work on the weekends.
The windows were tinted and the trim around the side windows were painted black. Mark and Sharon also knew the finished vehicle would be heavier than what the compliance plate said, so a GVM upgrade had to be organised. This meant getting an engineer’s certificate to allow them another 600kg of latitude.
So, the original alloy wheels and original tyres were the first things to go. They were replaced by steel one-piece rims fitted with 285-75R16 BFG Mud Terrain tyres. This meant the suspension was next with the OEM gear going in favour of a complete Lovells kit – all in line with the GVM upgrade.
The bullbar of choice was a TJM steel in black powder coat that allowed plenty of room for the 12,000lb winch. Mark also fitted and wired a couple of HID driving lights and LED light bars. Then, just to be sure, he upgraded the standard headlights with HID inserts.
Mark’s a firm believer in clean air and didn’t care for the original two-piece snorkel, so he replaced it with a Safari one-piece unit. He’s confident it will do the job. He reasoned that the two-piece allows dust to enter, and that the Safari model looks better anyway.
On the inside a Bogaard turbo timer was fitted, as well as a digital Pyro gauge to keep track of exhaust temperatures – a massive Taipan intercooler and catch can managed to lower exhaust temperatures by 40 degrees. Fuel filtration was upgraded with a Diesel Care filter complete with a water alarm and a Redarc low coolant warning alarm.
For the canopy Mark knew precisely what he wanted and began with a Projecta 12V 25amp battery charger, a Projecta BCDC 25amp battery management system and a solar relay. The latter connected to a 120-watt solar panel on the roof. LED strips brighten the inside of the canopy.
The hardware in the canopy was very carefully planned out, with custom-made cupboards and a slide-out worktop. There’s even a separate slide-out drawer for Mark’s collection of fishing lures. There’s also a shelf in the canopy where a small tent resides should Mark and Sharon decide to forgo the comforts of their 14-foot Adventure Track offroad caravan. Also built into the canopy was an 80-litre water tank. And, the original fuel tank of 130 litres was supplemented by a 120-litre tank that came fitted with the canopy.
Overall management is handled by a Narva switch panel and a battery monitor by Vietron – there are also a couple of 12V power outlets. If all this sounds a bit much, remember that this vehicle is designed to handle long distance bush travel with minimum fuss. Plus there are two fridges; a 40-litre and an 85-litre.
An Old Town Saranac canoe sits on top of the canopy and its electric motor has its battery stored on a slide behind the 40-litre fridge – along with a generator to charge it and provide additional electric power.
Like all V8s the Toyota engine has a distinctive audio signature. Mark thought a three-inch custom-built exhaust would help that along and the result is very pleasing to the ears, and it also gets a modest gain in power.
As Mark handled all the work himself he could take his time and make sure it was done right. The Cruiser has become a great demonstration vehicle to show off what level of workmanship his clients can expect.
So what’s left to be done? You wouldn’t think much, but Mark has thoughts of putting a chip in the engine – some jobs will always be a work in progress. The Makin’s have every intention of getting good use out of the Land Cruiser; it’s a lot more than a show pony. Asked where they’d like to take it, Sharon says: “Anywhere we want I suppose.” That pretty much sums it up.
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