Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 ute review

This portal-axled Cruiser is chock-full of the best modifications to make it the ultimate mobile base camp for its adventurous owner.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 review

WE ALL WANT to escape our everyday lives and explore this mighty country. A weekend adventure is often within reach but, really, readers of this magazine would all like to go off-grid for far longer, something that owner Joe Spelta does as often as he can. In fact, Joe’s escapes can be up to a couple of months if he really wants, thanks to his adventurous spirit and his mega tricked-out Land Cruiser 79 Series ute.

Built up from a wish list created by Joe’s son Mark, this is a rig that makes any destination possible and delivers its ageless adventurer there and back again comfortably – and reliably – every single time he heads out to explore. Yep, it’s probably every Aussie off-road tourer’s ultimate dream turned tough, unstoppable reality.

From dream to reality 

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 rear tray canopy

ALL GOOD things start with an excellent idea and, for Joe’s dreams of exploring the many remote and spectacular parts of his Far North Queensland backyard, that idea was a tough touring vehicle built specifically for his needs.

This meant a rig that was only used for adventure and was always ready to go on the next one, no matter how short the notice. After all, as Mark says, when you’re retired and still living life large, you don’t want to waste time messing around for a week sorting out a list of gear to take; it simply needs to be already there and ready for either a weekend or, in Joe’s case, a couple of months, as Mark explains.

“He goes whenever he wants; he’s retired,” he says. “He’s owned a business all his life so he’s finally retired and he just goes touring up the Cape whenever he needs to; he loads up and gets going. He just wanted something that was fully take-able and comfortable and easy to get through anything.”

The father-son duo laugh when I ask if any other vehicle was considered.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 owners

“No,” says Joe. “It was always going to be a Toyota. We have owned others in the past and it’s just knowing how tough they are – it was a clear choice.”

Land Cruiser 79 Series are, indeed, bloody tough, but that didn’t stop Mark scheming up a list of off-road touring enhancements to ensure that on those occasions when he didn’t accompany Joe he knew his dad would be able to safely and comfortably tackle the solo remote adventures he loves so much. And so it began.

No holds barred build

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 build

WHEN you’re creating a vehicle for what can often be solo adventures it needs to be incredibly reliable and bombproof, especially in terms of off-road capability and ease of use when in remote areas. To this point – and after plenty of research – Mark and Joe went for probably the ultimate modification: the fitment of portal axles courtesy of Marks 4WD Adaptors.

“We really read up on it [the conversion] and did our research. Just having that extra clearance and widened track; it’s a huge change to this vehicle … we just loved it and thought, yep, we’ll go with that on this one.”

The Cruiser now rides on a 140mm wider track, and the portal axles combine with a two-inch lift (courtesy of Ironman 4x4 Foam Cell Pro dampers and matching springs) and those beefy 35-inch ProComp Xtreme MT2 tyres wrapped around a set of satin-black 17 x 8-inch Moto Metal Rims, to give Joe plenty of clearance.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 suspension

Making it an even easier drive for Joe, Mark added a GM six-speed automatic gearbox conversion (also from the team at Marks 4WD Adaptors) to the Cruiser – another super-smart mod and one that works well with the axle/suspension/tyre combo for the really rugged stuff, while ensuring a relaxed overall driving experience for his old man.

“Mark, he was a bit of a driving force behind me once we started putting it all together, and we thought, bugger it, we might as well go the whole hog,” Joe says. “Those portal axles and the auto; it’s changed the whole vehicle, along with the suspension seat (a Stratos model) and the 35s. I did a Cape trip at the end of last year and when I got back I could’ve just turned around and gone again; it was that comfortable.”

Up for any challenge

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 engine

BEING built specifically for Joe, Mark ensured the Cruiser was highly personalised for his dad’s remote-area needs. On top of the rugged drivetrain and suspension, the Cruiser’s 4.5TDV8 engine (fed by an ARB 180-litre fuel tank) has copped a more-than-slight output boost, courtesy of an ECU remap by Power Torque (Victoria), matched with a GSL four-inch stainless steel exhaust (that includes a CAT and resonator). Additional powerplant mods include a Provent catch-can, MV fuel filter and Safari snorkel. So, yeah, it’s not short on grunt.

Ensuring wildlife encounters are confined to Joe spotting them through his binoculars when he’s exploring, the Cruiser is fitted with an Ironman 4x4 Premium Deluxe bullbar and Big Tube side-steps and rails – all of which have been colour-coded in that schmick silver paint.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 front winch

Again, due to Joe’s penchant for solo travel, the Cruiser has an EFS 13,000-pound winch (with synthetic rope) fitted both front and rear, just in case this nigh-unstoppable bruiser does stop. Recovery is further covered by the ARB hydraulic ‘Jack’ stored in the rig.

If the tyres need letting down for more traction; well, that’s a doddle, too, thanks to the fitment of one of ARB’s monster dual air compressors (with air tank). Atop the bullbar is a set of seven-inch LED spotties, with more illumination from a 135-watt single-row LED lightbar that is affixed to a Rhino-Rack Pioneer platform rack (along with a set of MaxTrax recovery aids and the satellite TV dish). In a clever nod to practicality, there’s also two side-mounted 30W LED lightbars – one above each door.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 roof rack

Powering all this is a mini power station of electrical accessories including three 110amp deep-cycle batteries and one crank-start battery. There’s also a host of excellent Redarc gear here – a 1000W inverter, 40amp DC-DC charger and battery management system – to keep an eye on all that current running to and fro.

Add in a number of 240V charge-points and external Anderson plugs for when Joe uses a solar charging setup and it’s not hard to laugh in understanding when Mark jokes that his dad “doesn’t need a generator!” With this much electrical grunt, a few months away would be a comfortable experience for sure. Speaking of comfort…

A man and his mobile castle 

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 off road tracks

THE CRUISER’S task of delivering Joe to and back home from his many trips also expands to ensuring he is incredibly comfortable while out exploring in the Cruiser (and the quad he tows in a trailer behind it).

For the ‘comfort’ part of this mighty build, you just have to sit and stare at the amazing amount of thought and detail that has gone into designing the custom rear tray and canopy – it has everything Joe needs for as long as he wants to escape civilisation.

The tray/canopy combo (with central locking) is the product of the team at Norweld Cairns, and this three-door Deluxe jobbie is full of trick features specified by Mark and Joe. Open up the doors of the canopy (gas strut-assisted, of course) and on the driver’s side of the canopy is Joe’s bed – like everything else in the Cruiser, it’s always set up and ready for use – with the power accessories nestled against the front wall of the canopy behind his pillow.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 rear tray bed

Above the Redarc equipment and the row of batteries is a full-width shelf with mesh door that holds an ARB first-aid kit, blankets and other gear. Opposite Joe’s bed is the big 95-litre Waeco CFX fridge/freezer, with plenty of room above it for easy opening of the lid for access.

Move to the rear of the canopy and there is a double shelf setup that houses ropes and other recovery gear and, again, it is very easy to access. And that black silhouette against these shelves? That’s an AXIS HD TV/DVD combo that gets its signal fed from a VAST satellite TV receiver (housed in the canopy) via a SatKing ProMax automatic motorised satellite TV dish.

Not a bad way to keep an eye on the footy scores, we reckon. There’s even more storage under-tray as well – a huge slide-out drawer carries plenty of gear, as do the four under-tray toolboxes. Joe will never go thirsty, either, with the 70-litre water tank.

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 storage drawer

The canopy is a genuine home on wheels, with a few additional benefits for the one-night camps, too, in the form of those sizeable doors, with Joe often not bothering to set up the ARB Batwing awning (he also has sidewalls for it) as the doors give plenty of shade on their own and are a lot quicker just to close up and continue on the next day. That ease and speed of set-up is why he also went for the bed in the canopy, to limit time wasted setting up tents and the like.

The interior is no-fuss as well, but with the essentials needed for a hassle-free trip. Joe gets his music via an Alpine CD/MP3 seven-inch touchscreen multimedia system that also features two rear-view cameras. There’s a centre roof console and an Oricom Compact Dual UHF unit to keep an ear out for other tourers, plus that super comfortable Stratos Suspension driver’s seat.

To focus on fun

Custom portal-axled Toyota Land Cruiser 79 off-road

WHEN all you have to do to escape the rat race and head out on an off-road adventure is, to quote Joe, “pack some beer and food in, and then I’m gone” you know you’ve succeeded in terms of building a vehicle that exactly fits your needs.

The very clever build that Mark came up with for his dad now means that the ‘not-so-old fella’ gets to concentrate on just enjoying some of the wild places a rig like this can take you. It was a lengthy process but, again, this dynamic duo has proven that it’s better to take your time and do it properly and finish with exactly what you need. And if exactly what you need is an incredibly rugged and smart modified tourer that allows its owner to just get out there and enjoy the wild side of Australia, then this tough Cruiser more than fits the bill.


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