FIRST things first: No, Colin Byrne did not spend $130,000 on a brand new Land Cruiser Sahara and then proceed to cut it up, chuck in a blown big-block and fit some airbags. In fact, the build story on this car is very similar to many others that have graced these pages over the years, starting off with a vehicle that was a little bit worse for wear and bringing it back to life.
First published in the March 2021 issue of Street Machine. Photos: Jordan Leist
What’s not immediately obvious is how much work was done to get this burly 200 Series looking as good as it does, and a big part of that was figuring out how to get the Cruiser to squat down so low over those massive 24x12 and 24x15 wheels that the rocker panels sat on the ground. More on that later!
For those of you who may not have heard of him, Colin campaigned his SEWERSIDE Holden Shuttle burnout van for 13 years before retiring it a couple of years ago. “We were down at the Perth Motorplex when it first opened in 2000 and I thought: You know what, it’s going to be more fun if we are part of this down here instead of watching it,” Colin recalls. “Someone said: ‘Why don’t you see if you can put a V8 in that old van that’s out the back?’ Seven motors later, we retired it.”
Initially the old plumber’s van had a 253 and Trimatic in it before progressing to a few 308s, then stroker 308s, then finally LS. In the end, the van was pumping out 600hp thanks to an LS3 with a carb and diet of methanol.
“The van was my first skid car, but as kids we were always sliding around paddocks and working on motors and that sort of stuff, as every kid dreams of doing,” Colin says. “Mum and Dad had a semi-rural property; we were allowed to ride motorbikes and play with cars whenever we could, which was good for the mechanical background it gave us. I did a heap of cars up along the way – lots of Holdens and Fords. You know, all the stuff you wish you still had.”
So how do you go about turning the favoured form of transport for well-heeled citizens who might want to climb over steep kerbs every now and then into a slammed, 1200hp burnout car without upsetting too many coastal elites? First off, you pick up a fire-damaged write-off from an auction house, sell off all the bits you don’t need to a Toyota wrecker and make most of your money back. At the end of the day, Colin had a few thousand bucks invested as a starting point to his project – a lot less than people are paying for rusted-out Aussie classics these days. But don’t worry, Colin has some classics in the shed as well, so he’s still one of us.
“I bought the Cruiser and it sat in the corner for 12 months while we decided what we were going to do,” Colin explains. “We tried different front ends under it but could not get the height (or lack of) that we were chasing, so we had to go for a custom chassis.” What they ended up using is based around a ’97 HiLux Xtra Cab chassis, although there’s not much left of it now.
Race On Custom did the chassis and suspension fabrication, and there was a fair amount of head-scratching and engineering that went into packaging the airbag and suspension components, which are not in the locations you’d expect to see them. Due to space constraints, largely created by the massive wheels and tyres, the front suspension has been custom-fabricated with the airbags mounted horizontally in an east-west direction. To help lift up the considerable weight of the front end, a set of AFCO coil-over shocks are mounted remotely next to the radiator.
In the rear, the airbags are mounted along the rocker panels with a lengthy pushrod actuating a cantilever. This wasn’t so much for packaging as it was for reliability and safety: “We wanted to make sure there was no potential airbag damage from blowing tyres, so we wanted to move the ’bags away from the rear, because most of the time these cars are on fire at the back end,” Colin explains. “There’s not one bit of wiring in the floor at the back; all of the wiring and air lines are installed up and across the roof, hiding under the headlining. This was all done thanks to lessons learned the hard way – in other words, setting fire to back ends during burnouts!”
Even with Colin’s lifetime of experience playing with cars, the Cruiser is still a pretty big step up in terms of size, build quality and power, thanks to the 540ci blown big-block that is based around a Merlin 9.8-inch four-bolt block and Scat crank. Oliver billet rods and SRP forged pistons complete the rock-solid bottom end, while up top are Dart Iron Eagle heads, a Mooneyham 8/71 blower and Enderle Bird Catcher hat running mechanical injection, tuned by Aaron Deery at ADR Engines. From there, a Reid-case Powerglide with a transbrake hooked to an AllFast converter with 4500rpm stall sends the power back to a Final Drive-supplied sheet-metal nine-inch with Strange 40-spline centre and 3.00 gears.
A clever trick that fooled many people is that Colin fitted current-model front and rear sheet metal to the 2009-model body, but it wasn’t quite a bolt-on proposition. In the course of fitting the big-block, the inner guards and firewall were cut out, so all of the bracketry and supports to mount the guards, grille and bumper were created in a partnership by Race On Custom and the team at Rowe & Sons Restoration. “A lot of the tedious custom work – engine plates, trans cooler brackets, power steering, oil puke tanks and even making the original Sahara shifter operate the ’Glide – was carried out in our own workshop with my good mate Shane Brown,” Colin says. “Shane is an employee of mine as well, and he shares a passion for cars. If he wasn’t here, the car wouldn’t have been finished.”
With everything mounted up, the car then headed to the team at Griffin Panel & Paint, who touched up a few areas on the body and prepped the new sheet metal before matching it all to the White Crystal Pearl paint the Cruiser wore from the factory. The whole lot copped a clear flowcoat for a factory-fresh look.
The interior is essentially stock, and that’s how Colin wanted it, although he’s cleverly hidden the Racepak dash behind what was the sat-nav screen, and the shift light is just above the screen where the digital clock normally is.
On its debut at Motorvation 35, KINGCRUZA made a huge impact, taking out People’s Choice, Top Competition, Top Engineered and making it into the Grand Champion Top Five, but what most impressed the punters was the skid Colin did as he left the award ceremony – those 405/25 Pirelli P Zeros were no match for 1200hp of big-block Chevy grunt!
COLIN knew that a big part of getting the Cruiser’s look right was to fit a set of wheels that would fill up the spacious wheelwells. For that, he turned to Ryan at Central Tyres, who got involved in measuring up for the wheels while the chassis was under construction. Using a specialised jig, Ryan was able to work out precisely how big Colin could go with his wheel and tyre combo, especially on the front end, where the steering was modified to allow more steering angle.
The end result was a set of US Mags Desperado 5 wheels that measure 24x12 with 8.5in backspace up front and 24x15 on the rear with 6in backspace. The massive 405/25 Pirelli P Zero Nero rear tyres were sourced from the US, while the fronts are locally sourced 305/35 Hankook Ventus.
LAND CRUISER SAHARA
Paint: Toyota White Crystal Pearl
Type: 540ci big-block Chevrolet
Blower: Mooneyham 8/71
Injection: Enderle Bird Catcher
Heads: Dart Iron Eagle
Cam: Crane solid-roller
Pistons: SRP forged
Conrods: Oliver billet
Exhaust: Custom headers, 2in primaries into twin 4in exhaust
Ignition: MSD Pro Mag
Trans: Reid Powerglide with transbrake and dual breathers
Converter: AllFast 4500rpm stall
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, 3.00 gears, Strange centre, 40-spline axles
Front: Custom-fabricated front end, airbags with AFCO coil-over assist
Rear: Airbags with AFCO adjustable shocks (r)
Steering: Power-assisted HiLux
Brakes: Wilwood 355mm rotors and six-spot calipers (f), Wilwood 300mm rotors and six-spot calipers (r)
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: US Mags Desperado 5; 24x12 (f), 24x15 (r)
Rubber: Hankook Ventus 305/35R24 (f), Pirelli P Zero Nero 405/25R24 (r)
Brothers Darren and Trev for ongoing support, along with all staff at Altona Group; Shane Brown for the push to build it and the expertise to carry it out; all my mates and crew who emptied the fridge every time they came to give me a hand; Matthew Purnell for sourcing parts; Lethal Industries for fab work; Race On Custom for fab work; Griffin Panel & Paint; Final Drive for diff, axles and tailshaft; Rowe & Sons Restoration; Central Tyres for rims and tyres; Rods Out Distributors for sourcing parts; AllFast Torque Converters
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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