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Custom Rock-Crawling Toyota N70 Hilux review

By Dan Everett, 03 Nov 2019 Custom 4x4s

Custom rock-crawling Toyota N70 Hilux review feature

Long nights and loud grinders give birth to one hell of a rock crawler.

The concept of a “jack of all trades” is something most of us come across frequently, on the tracks or in our day-to-day lives. It’s the idea of a person or vehicle that’s competent at more than one thing.

The downside, and it’s a doozy, is it’s normally followed by the qualifier “master of none”. It makes sense, too. The skilled carpenter renowned for building log cabins probably isn’t the go-to for high-rise office fitouts, just like a 4x4 built for long-distance touring isn’t all that likely to be a gun rock crawler.

It’s no surprise then that 4x4s, much like tradies, work best when they specialise in one particular area, and that concept of specialisation is perfectly represented in Dilhan Otay’s clean-as-a-whistle custom Toyota N70 Hilux.

While the N70 Hilux can still hold its own as a daily driver and an outback tourer, Dilhan wanted one that would go above and beyond when the stubby lever was pushed into low range with endless rock steps to be negotiated. And he saw the 2006 N70 as the perfect platform; modern enough to be comfortable as a daily driver but simple enough that he could slice and dice it, turning it into the perfect rock crawler without having to face endless issues due to complicated electronics and safety systems.

Starting from the ground up, Dilhan and the boys at Kinselas Kustoms in Sydney’s south pared the Hilux back to near-bare chassis rails to give it a solid foundation. Up front, the independent suspension was relegated to the scrap heap and in its place now resides a full custom sheetmetal diff housing based on an 80 Series Land Cruiser’s front diff.

4x4 gear: Live-axle conversions

It’s pieced together by the guys at Buds Customs and not only offers significant strength improvements over an OEM housing, it also relocates the diff centre to the passenger side, allowing it to line up with the Hilux’s transfer case output.

It’s kept in place thanks to custom mounts from the Kinselas team, with an OEM LC80 radius arm on the passenger side teaming up with a Superior Engineering Superflex arm, allowing the front-end to flex its way through the rocks. An 80 Series steering box has been mounted up to the chassis with PSR chromoly steering arms, ensuring it’ll take any abuse Dilhan can throw its way.

While the welder was out to mount the steering box, custom mounts were made on both the frame and the axle for huge 12-inch travel Fox 2.0 coil-over shocks and their remote reservoirs. Matching Fox 2.5-inch body hydraulic bump stops were also grafted in, guaranteeing a smooth landing if the track needs a more aggressive approach.

Moving rearwards and the Hilux’s final drive has copped a significant upgrade, too. The standard rear centre was sent packing; although, it was removed with a grinder rather than a ratchet, allowing a Kinselas Kustoms hybrid axle to take its place. This axle utilises the diff centre and housing from an LC80, grafted to axle tubes and outers from a Hilux, giving a track increase and significant strength upgrade in the process.

There’s still a leaf spring pack holding the rear-end in place; although, Dilhan has used a set from an RG Colorado, as their increased length results in more articulation. A couple of LN106 leafs have been thrown in to stiffen the ride up, as well as extended shackles to let the big leafs work. An anti-wrap bar stops the dreaded axle wrap associated with soft leaf springs, and a set of 12-inch Fox remote res shocks have been custom-mounted up through the tub floor, helping with ride quality and articulation. 

The Hilux runs 4.11 diff ratios and, sharing the love, it has an ARB Air Locker up front and a TJM Pro Locker in the rear. They’re sent drive by the factory mechanical standard 1KD-FTV 3.0L common-rail turbo-diesel engine, which is fitted with a three-inch exhaust. There’s an Exedy Safari clutch and the Hilux runs the stock five-speed cog-swapper, before 35-inch Falken Wildpeaks put power to the ground through 17 x 9 KMC Machete beadlocked alloy wheels with a -38 offset.

The rest of the engine bay is relatively simple. Aside from the oh-so-sexy Radius Fabrications stainless steel snorkel poking in through the side, the bay looks near factory. On the passenger side, an auxiliary battery teams up with the cranking battery to not only ensure the Toyota will fire into life at any angle, but will provide plenty of juice to power the winch on hard tracks … and the fridge on long tracks.

Front and rear diff breathers poke their heads up next to the air box, with an ARB single-piston air compressor engaging front and rear air lockers, as well as providing a convenient port for airing the Falkens back up from single digits after a hard day’s wheeling.

Giving the Hilux its signature look is an über sleek low-profile Muzzbar from South East Queensland Fabrication. It houses a pair of LED driving lights to complement the Narva headlights, but hides something much more powerful behind it. Peering through the strategic cuts in the grille is one of the most widely revered and upgradable winches of all time, the Warn 8274, or high-mount as it’s more commonly known.

4x4 gear: Best 4x4 modifications for the outback

Like the rest of the rig it’s been purposefully customised to suit Dilhan’s needs. The brake shaft has been drilled, tapped and capped to replace the factory weak-link circlip, which can pop off under load, and it’s running an upgraded motor with a 6.4hp Warn unit taking over duties from the stock 4.6hp motor. The electrical feed has been upgraded too, with a Gigglepin-spec Albright solenoid providing juice through an in-cab and on-bar push-button arrangement. A Gigglepin freespool block has also been fitted.

Flowing down the Hilux’s flanks are custom scrub bars front and rear built off heavy-duty sliders along each side. In the rear they tie into a tube rear bar that takes full advantage of the improved ground clearance afforded after lopping off the factory tub’s low-hanging quarter panels. The tub is capped with a colour matched Flexiglass canopy, with a set of drawers inside holding Dilhan’s recovery gear and camping needs.

If you’re eyeing off the spare tyre carrier, it’s a trick unit built by Kinselas Kustoms that ties it into the canopy’s rear window. A gas-assisted frame supports the weight and significantly simplifies access to the rear-end. Inside the cabin is the same simple-does-it approach; a few basic gauges, a GME UHF and a half roll cage should things turn pear-shaped.

While Dilhan’s Hilux doesn’t have the shopping list of touring modifications, it’s more a reminder of the old days of car culture. He’s spent his money wisely, saved where he could, and together in the shed with his mates, Jono, Ben, Mitch and Brad, he’s pieced together a 4x4 that puts a smile on his dial every time he locks the hubs, and that sounds a lot more fulfilling than an inverter he didn’t really need.

Built not bought on Custom 4x4 reviews

Soft Landing

A hard rubber pad is the final limitation on suspension articulation. You know when you’ve hit them because every bone in your body will feel the hard jolt, but they help limit metal fatigue and stop axles smashing into frame rails. Some manufacturers offer progressive bump stops that have a small amount of give before they go bang. Hydraulic bump stops, like those fitted to the front of Dilhan’s Hilux, take things to the next level.

They’re essentially a miniature shock absorber inside. When the suspension compresses enough to touch the bump stops, hydraulic fluid is pushed through a series of ports that slow the fluid flow down, becoming progressively stiffer as they’re compressed. It’s a whole lot of work mounting them but it means there’s never a hard bang at full compression.

This is race technology that’s slowly filtering down to touring 4x4s, but mean rigs like Dilhan’s have an extra layer of protection from big hits and hard washouts.

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