Custom Toyota LC79 'Thug Truck' review

Custom 4x4 Toyota LC79 Thug Truck

There’s a new dawn of 4x4s in Australia.

No longer the old farm hacks with a swag or two strapped to the rusty checker plate tray, these days 4x4s are faster, more capable, more comfortable, and a whole lot meaner.

It’s that mean attitude oozing from the appropriately named Thug Truck that first caught our attention. A daily-driven beast of an LC79, sporting 37-inch tyres, a slinky rear coil conversion and an exhaust note that’d have revheads all over the country doing the old belt tuck whenever it barks into life.

While these pages are no strangers to the occasional LC79, they’re typically built with a spanner roll and socket set. This one’s built with a welder and a grinder. Where they’re built with practicality in mind, Thug Truck was built from the ground up to not only fit the part, but break a few noses along the way.

If an LC79 with a five-poster is a clean-cut country boy, Blake Oldham’s wild incarnation is a gruff, one per cent outlaw with a mum tattoo on its neck and a gold tooth glistening under the neon glow of the Kings Cross lights. 

While it might look far removed from its OEM delivery, Blake bought the 2014 Cruiser brand spanking new.

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“By the time I rolled off the lot with the ARB gear it was around 98K. I reckon I’ve doubled it since then,” Blake tells us with a laugh. It’s not hard to see why, either. While the LC79 might look like the mechanical version of a set of brass knuckles, it’s underneath where it really shines.

Where a set of ancient leaf-springs once had the rear of the Cruiser as stiff as a board, it’s now outfitted with a supple custom coil conversion. “I knew I had to do it on a trip up to McBrides Beach,” said Blake. “I had a front wheel a metre in the air and it just kept climbing, and the rear was practically flat. I’d spent too much on it to have it end up on its roof, so I knew something had to be done.”

Blake’s the kind of bloke to bring an AK to a knife fight, so he went straight to custom guru Steve Etcell of Automotive Etcellence in Sydney’s West.

With the LC79 on the hoist, Steve pieced together a custom triangulated four-link arrangement. The set-up uses rebuildable Johhny Joints at the end of each link, so can be fully engineered.

From here, CNC-cut brackets were fabricated to the diff and chassis to suit the new arrangement. Heavy-duty coils either side keep the rear end afloat, while adjustable remote reservoir King 2.0 shock absorbers are fitted to custom mounts to stop the big Cruiser axle tramping its way across the country. A set of progressive bump stops were also slotted in to help smooth out hard landings.

For now, body roll is kept in check by ramping up the bound and rebound rates on the King shocks with the manual clickers; a one-off swaybar will soon tame the rear end. Up front, the LC79 copped similar treatment; with factory coils right out of the box, the job was considerably easier.

The stock cast radius arms have been kicked out, spat on and binned. In their place are a set of super-flexy replacement offerings from the guys at Comp Rods. The heavy-duty offerings not only suit the lift but correct caster, without changing to flex-robbing caster correction bushes. A Tough Dog adjustable Panhard rod keeps the front axle tracking right, while a matching set of King shocks provide the smooth ride.

Cruiser tragics will no doubt spot the custom shock mounts, too, and while Steve had the welder out he converted the front shocks to an eye-eye setup to suit the big-dollar shocks.

The arrangement not only lets Thug Truck flex its way through gnarly bush tracks like Arnie reliving his glory days, but allows room for the 37-inch Hankook Dynapro MTs to stuff into the guards. These are wrapped around a set of oh-so-cool Method 311 Vex simulated beadlocks punching in at 17 x 8.5-inch.

4x4 Tyre test 2018

Eagle-eyed readers would’ve spotted the front and rear wheels have matching offsets, too. Thug Truck runs a trick axle-widening kit in the rear from Kinetic Engineering that perfectly matches the front and rear wheel track, allowing the big rig to push more easily through sand and soft terrain.

With tyres bigger than most Cruiser owners’ loan balances, Blake knew he’d need serious ponies under the bonnet to keep things motoring. The 4.5L single-turbo diesel V8 breathes in and out more easily thanks to a stainless-steel snorkel from AAA Exhausts. The 4.5TDV8 then huffs fresh, clean air through the AAA Exhausts airbox.

From here the job is handed off to the bent-eight, which Automotive Etcellence has dyno-tuned to put out a respectable 204rwhp and 680Nm, with a 3.5-inch turbo back exhaust helping dump spent gases and attract any red-blooded male within ear shot. Tucked in on either side of the donk is a Diesel Care pre-filter, with a Redarc BCDC charger  keeping the Optima Yellow Top and Optima Red Top batteries at capacity.

With the nose of Thug Truck barrelling down on you, the tip of the spear is a full suite of ARB bar work. The ARB Deluxe bar leads the way, with a set of ARB scrub bars and rock sliders protecting the flanks from wayward ’roos. Blake’s fitted the ARB bar out with some of the best kit on the market – a Runva 12,000lb winch wrapped in Dyneema rope takes pride of place behind the Factor 55 hitch and gold anodised fairlead.

Buyers' Guide: Bullbars

Up top, a monster double-row LED light bar from Aussie-based Lightforce provides ample light for any full throttle runs through back paddocks at night.

Bolted to the top of the bar are no less than four aerials. A range extender for both Blake’s phone and the factory radio fill two spots, while the twin GME aerials both run to his GME UHF. Blake runs the pair of aerials through a selector switch, allowing him to choose the right gain for maximum reach in varying terrain.

4x4 Communication Guide: UHF radio

On the inside the LC79 has had a serious overhaul. The standard torture devices Toyota pass off as bucket seats have been sent back to 1980 where they belong, replaced by a set of FPV GT deep bucket seats that’ve been custom tripped and stitched by the guys at InCharge Automotive, while a set of Hurricane adaptor plates fix the new seats to the stock Cruiser rails.

“They’re so much better on long trips,” he tells us. “They hold you a lot tighter so you don’t get thrown around on tight tracks, and the lumbar adjustment makes them easier on the back, too.”

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Cruiser Consoles are responsible for almost everything else in the interior, with Blake running its centre console, roof console and gear stick surround, as well as a set of ‘Mack’ door trims. Despite having the attitude of a pissed-off Serbian 10 Rakijas, the rear end of Thug Truck is all work.

Above the revamped rear suspension is a stout tray from the guys at Coldy’s. The heavy-duty offering sports twin dog cages up front; although, Blake’s been known to shoehorn a Waeco into one, with a few ice-cold Coronas tucked inside. There’s a 120-litre water tank hidden away underneath the tray, to round out the touring modifications. While Thug Truck is bound to ruffle a few feathers, there’s no denying it ticks all the boxes.

Capable, comfortable, and two loaded barrels worth of attitude.

Playing with Triangles

With so many factory coil rear offerings floating around you might be wondering why Thug Truck runs a triangulated four-link, rather than a typical parallel + Panhard affair.

“A triangulated four-link travels a lot nicer when you’re pushing big numbers,” said Steve Etcell, the man behind the welding mask. “As a five-link arrangement cycles, the Panhard pushes and pulls the diff side to side as it travels along the arc.”

It’s something we’ve even seen the factories try to fight recently with the Everest’s Watts-link rear attempting to Band-Aid the situation. By running the two upper link arms triangulated, the diff stays perfectly centred through a huge range of travel. Match that with the long arms and smart geometry, and rear steer is also kept to a minimum.

There’s a reason go-fast off-road racers all run triangulated four-links.

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