The Victorian High Country has been synonymous with the outlaw lifestyle for nearly 200 years. It’s a place where the only things more wild and outlandish than the geography are the people who call it home.
For centuries the mountains and valleys rang with the echoes of gunfire and pounding horse hooves, the long arm of the law in lockstep behind. It’s fitting then that after countless years, those same mountains and the valleys that connect them still roar with the sound of people who forge their own paths; although, now they’re a little louder and come sporting mud tyres.
Spread out in front of you is the prime example of that outlaw mentality. A vehicle built to be what the man who built it wanted it to be, not what a rulebook somewhere said it should be. And it’s bloody glorious.
Like any good story, this one starts a long time ago; about 10 years to be exact. Brett’s old man was trading in his near-dead LandCruiser HJ75 for a brand-new HDJ79, and he threw the keys to then 16-year-old Brett.
Leaf springs, half full of rust and every inch showing the hard yakka it’d been put through on the family farm, ever since Brett was just a baby. It’d serve as the perfect platform for Brett to learn the ropes, not only for driving on and off the road, but spinning spanners on old tin.
Custom 4x4: Restored '84 FJ45 ute
For the last 10 years Brett’s spent countless hours patching this, fixing that, keeping the tired old rig on the road. It’s been through countless engines, suspension setups and running repairs before it finally got too much. Brett called in the help of a few mates, put it on jack stands and got to work.
The plan was simple: Unbolt the original cab, remove everything underneath it, and replace it all with later model gear from an 80 Series LandCruiser, chassis and all. The new setup brings not only an increase in articulation from converting to coil springs, but also improves ride quality, beefs up the brakes and converts to a physically larger CV joint.
The only downside is a slightly smaller ring gear. Of course, Brett didn’t leave things there either; the housing is braced to protect against bending in hard landings, and it’s stuffed full of chromoly CVs from RCV, upgraded kingpin studs from ARP, beefier steering arms and heavy-duty hub nuts from USA-based Trailgear. The whole lot is sent to drive via an ARB Air Locker.
On the suspension front, RidePro coils now hold the frame three inches higher than stock with Superior Engineering’s remote reservoir shocks keeping things behaved. If Brett gets a little carried away through undulating terrain there’s a set of Profender hydraulic bump stops grafted in that’ll smooth things out.
Moving rearwards the rudimentary leaf spring rear-end has also been long forgotten, the LC80 chassis swap not only bringing coil springs to the party but also an elaborate five-link arrangement to provide a smooth ride and monster flex. The rear housing remains largely untouched; although, an ARB Air Locker drives both wheels, with ARP axle studs ensuring the axles stay attached to the hubs.
The rear suspension components mimic the front with three-inch Ridepro coils and Superior Engineering remote-reservoir shocks. Eagle-eyed readers may spot the wheelbase looks a little tighter than stock, too – the 80 Series is a full 300mm shorter than a stock 75, making Brett’s rig much nimbler in tight terrain.
Despite the original 1HZ having a turbo on it, it could best be described as somewhat lethargic, and swapping it out for another 1HZ+T wasn’t really going to get the blood pumping; so when Brett looked at his daily-driver VX SS Commodore, the 400hp LS1 nestled between its frame rails caught his eye. The choice was obvious and the V8 was slotted into its new home. It’s now sitting on a set of Brett-built engine mounts, with a Marks Adaptors kit helping it find a home.
Brett’s mated it to a gearbox and transfer case from a later model VDJ79, which is built from factory to handle a turbo-diesel V8 so should be plenty strong enough to cope with the LS1. From here a MAFless tune has the LS1 running perfectly, with a twin 2.5-inch to single three-inch exhaust giving the 75 its howl. The whole lot sucks in air through a four-inch stainless-steel snorkel.
MORE: LS engine swap guide
The wider LC80 axles increase the 75’s track by a huge 200mm, but that wasn’t enough for Brett. To help keep the 75’s body panels off the tight Victorian trees he opted to fit huge 15x10 Gecko steel wheels. Punching in at -44 offset, they bump the track width out even more. He’s then wrapped each corner in aggressive 35x12.5R15 Pit Bull Rocker mud tyres.
The hand-me-down tray that was fitted when Brett got the keys had more holes than Swiss cheese, so he fired up the welder again and set to work building something more suitable for the hard wheeling he had planned.
Made from a combination of box-tube and chequer-plate it houses a space-case full of recovery gear, as well as a recessed spare tyre to keep the centre of gravity down low without detracting from ground clearance.
From here Brett knocked together rock sliders that continue up through scrub bars into the wild comp-spec tube front bar. It not only gives the ’Cruiser an aggressive approach angle, but also houses a built Warn 8274 high-mount winch; it’s been braced, the freespool lever pinned, a GigglePin brake shaft fitted, and 24V is fed into the Road Runner motor thanks to a standalone 24V alternator. There’s also a Stedi light bar mounted up on the roof in a custom-built light rack.
If you haven’t noticed by now, Brett’s rig is basically a road-driven comp truck, and that’s all the more noticeable when you swing open the near-on 30-year-old doors. The old dash is gone, in its place a hand-built one wired with aftermarket gauges to help Brett keep an eye on the V8’s vitals. There’s a full internal roll cage should things go pear-shaped, and bucket seats sourced from a Nissan Pulsar to keep driver and navigator pinned in place with four-point harnesses.
Say what you want about time spent versus reward, but with the help of his mates Brett has handcrafted his own idea of a perfect 4x4. He’s forged his own path and done things his own way, and that’s something pre-4x4 outlaws could relate to.