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Custom Toyota Land Cruiser HJ47 review

By Justin Walker | Photos: Nathan Duff, 20 Sep 2018 Custom 4x4s

Custom Toyota Land Cruiser HJ47 review

This classic HJ47 Cruiser proves age is just a number, as it keeps giving its all on Australia’s toughest tracks.

AS WE age and things begin to creak and groan, we start to slow down, take things a wee bit easier and get (more than) a bit lazy.

This tough HJ47 Land Cruiser turns that whole downward slide concept on its head, having clocked up 36 years of reliable service, taking owner Daniel Horne (and his dad before that) to some of Australia’s most iconic off-road destinations. And it’s still going strong. So, yeah, age – in the case of this rugged rig – is just a number.

KEEPIN’ IT IN THE FAMILY

WHEN I catch up with Dan he is at Birdsville, having just completed the big drive from his Brisbane homebase and about to tackle a Simpson Desert crossing. For many of us, even the thought of heading across the Simmo in an old 4x4 is scary, but for Daniel it’s not even an issue.

A diesel mechanic by trade, he’s prepared for any possible mishaps (even though the Cruiser has never missed a beat) and, having been driving this exact vehicle since he was 12 years of age (he’s now 22), Dan’s got more than enough confidence in the shiny silver beast to not think twice about a big trip such as this.

Add in the fact the Cruiser has been to Fraser Island numerous times and tackled the huge round trip from Brisbane down to the Victorian High Country and back, and you can understand his unshakeable faith in the big Tojo and his willingness to invest plenty of time (around six years) modifying it.

“My old man bought it back when I was 12,” Dan says. “I learnt to drive in it around the back paddock. Then, when I was about 15 or 16 we decided to give it a bit of a resto job – that’s when we got the paintjob and all that. Since then, I’ve put the canopy on, the lift in and the new motor and everything else in it.”

APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEPTIVE

THE CRUISER is nothing if not bright – and shiny – and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a relatively new paintjob on some super-straight panels. However, the panels are all fibreglass – from the ute tub to the roof, the doors, side guards and bonnet, everything is ’glassed.

Impressively, the panel work dates back from when Dan’s father first bought the Cruiser and is the work of a fibreglass company hailing from Noosa. For those (like this writer) who think being all fibreglass means the Cruiser weighs in a lot lighter than stock, you’d be in for a surprise.

“Actually, it is quite heavy,” Dan laughs. “And it’s a lot thicker than the steel equivalent panels. A lot of people think it’d be lighter, being fibreglass, but you look at things like the tub and the cabin and the fibreglass is eight to 10mm thick in places. So yeah, as fibreglass is not as strong as steel (on a weight-for-weight basis) it’s gotta have that structural integrity, so they’ve gone for the thicker gauge.”

Who’d a thunk it? In fact, one of the only metal items on the Cruiser is the canopy at the back (where Dan stores all his camping gear) that also has roof rails for when he fits his rooftop tent.

Other trick additions include under-tray lights, rear work lights and a front-facing LED light bar fitted to the top of the canopy. The bullbar up front is a fully custom job fabricated by Dan, as were the schmick rock sliders. The bar houses a Runva 11XP electric winch, fitted with synthetic rope.

STAYING TRUE

DAN’S MAIN objective with the Cruiser was to modify it without going too extreme; being a serious off-road tourer he was keen to ensure any tweaks done had to serve the purpose of keeping the big Toyota’s touring performance as efficient as possible, without sacrificing performance or comfort.

Speaking of which, old Toyotas aren’t renowned for their ride comfort, but Dan has managed to eke out a bit more cushioning in the vehicle, removing a couple of rear leaves and also adding airbags; a softer unladen ride thus doesn’t become a disadvantage when the Toyota is loaded up – Dan just adjusts the airbag pressure to keep the rear end level.

Old Man Emu springs combine with OME dampers at the rear and Rancho RS5000s up front, with extended shackles and castor wedges finishing off the suspension setup.

Rolling underneath all this are beefy 35-inch Maxxis Trepador Radial tyres, wrapped around Dynamic 15 x 10-inch wheels. Dan mentioned originally being keen on fitting some Nitto Trail Grappler tyres but couldn’t get them in the size needed at the time he was looking for new rubber, but he’s had no regrets about the Trepadors.

A NOT-SO-SUBTLE SHOVE

THE EXTERIOR is all HJ47, but underneath that unique fibreglass panel-work lurks plenty of its 60 Series descendant, adding a lot more oomph. The Cruiser’s powerplant mods, as you’d expect from a diesel mechanic owner, are well thought-out, with the final goal of a tourer in mind.

The original engine was swapped out for a 60 Series 12HT turbo-diesel donk. And yeah, as you can see, this engine has had a few mods done to it, with a water-to-air intercooler, K&N Pod air filter, G-Turbo Bad Boy high-flow turbocharger and MLS head gasket.

These gaskets differ in construction from the usual composite materials and are made using layers of embossed steel for a big lift in durability over the stock item – an essential with this worked-over engine (Dan had a slight ‘mishap’ running 26psi of boost through the stock gasket). Backing this is a 60 Series five-speed manual gearbox and Exedy heavy-duty clutch, while adding further tractive qualities is a front axle diff lock.

To reign in this additional urge (and there’s plenty), Dan fitted 60 Series front discs and rear drums.

BRINGIN’ IT IN

THE INTERIOR tweaks to the Cruiser again reflect Dan’s overall common-sense approach to a touring rig build. Chasing every ounce of comfort, a 60 Series bench seat has been fitted – and looks like it was stock – and he’s fitted the dashboard with myriad VDO gauges.

There’s an 80-channel UHF that takes care of comms and, smartly, he’s also installed a single DIN head unit for music that also includes a reversing camera. Probably the most fitting interior accessory is the awesome signed seal of approval from a fellow 40 Series owner, John Rooth. Yep, Dan is pretty stoked with that.

NEVER STOP DREAMING

IT’S TAKEN Dan around six years to get the mighty HJ47 to this point – he started when he was 16 – and you can’t fault his passion. The end result is an iconic four-wheel drive that, for most of us, would seem ‘too old’ to bother with. Dan has turned that perception on its head over the years and proved there’s still plenty of beach touring, desert exploration and mountain escapes ahead for this seemingly ageless Cruiser.

It’s an impressive rig, but as with all things perfect, there are still a few ‘little’ things Dan would like to do. He mentions ideas along the lines of a custom rear tray and even a Cummins 6BT engine transplant, so it looks like the Cruiser will be staying in the family for a while longer yet.

In fact, who’s to say you won’t be reading more about Daniel’s unstoppable silver monster again – maybe a few years down the track when it hits the big 4-0 and has been further modified – and no doubt has also conquered more of Australia’s toughest tracks.