FROM the very first time someone locked in the hubs, four-wheel driving has been something to be shared with friends and family.
Whether it’s helping cook a campfire roast or running a winch line while you’re axle-deep in mud, having someone you can rely on along for the ride is just part of the experience. It should come as no surprise then that four-wheel driving has become a passion that brothers-in-law, Michael and Jackson, have developed together.
It wasn’t that long ago the two Sydneysiders were spending their weekends cruising local tracks in a pair of killer Hiluxes, but, like most off-roaders, through peer pressure or practicality the pair started wanting more.
They were faced with the dilemma we’ve all come head to head with: do they double down and throw money into their current rigs to do something they were never designed to do, or do they start from scratch with a stronger foundation and a clear direction for their off-road nirvana?
Michael jumped ship first, with live axles (front and rear) and 4.5 litres of V8 grunt hiding beneath the classic lines of Toyota’s 76 Series Land Cruiser just too good to pass up. Of course, Jackson’s ’Lux was soon gone, and in its place was a snow-white VDJ76 just waiting to snowball.
Toyota’s current-gen 70 Series might be the most customisable vehicle on Australian shores; whether it be single- or dual-cab ute, troopy or four-door wagon, the aftermarket has exploded with upgrades and conversions all prime for turning a showroom-fresh rig into an off-road weapon. It’s that customisation that first brought the pair of 76s onto 4X4 Australia’s radar.
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Where most Land Cruisers have one million leaf springs holding the rear end with nonexistent flex, the pair before you have some of the most supple suspension we’ve seen either side of the black stump.
To give their chariots a ride more suitable for long-distance touring and hardcore weekends, the pair let the team at Automotive Etcellence slice and dice the sub-par rear suspension arrangement out. In its place (in both rides) now resides a hand-built long-arm coil conversion.
The set-up rides upon an aftermarket Dwiz housing that not only provides a significant strength upgrade but also corrects the notorious LC70 track width issue. A set of Dobinsons springs positioned above the new rear axle provides the pair with their new ride height, while heavy-duty arms hold the whole affair in place. Huge external reservoir King shocks keep the rear end in check through undulating terrain, with a pair of limiting straps ensuring the shocks are always working in their comfort zone.
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Both rides have also pushed far beyond the factory capabilities of their Cruisers up the front, with the duo binning the stock restrictive radius arms and replacing them with a set of oh-so-flexy replacements from Comp Rods.
Rather than run flex-limiting caster correction bushes, the solid steel replacement arms have accounted for the lifted geometry in the arm itself to allow maximum articulation. Both fellas have teamed the new arms up with replacement adjustable and heavy-duty Panhard rods, tie rods and drag links. Swaybar extension brackets help keep bodyroll in check without placing undue stress on the factory links.
Like the rear ends, both front set-ups ride on a set of lifted Dobinsons coil springs. They’re teamed up with a second pair of King 2.5-inch body shock absorbers, with the remote reservoir also having the optional compression adjuster to allow the ride quality to be dialled in – this effectively changes how quickly the shock’s piston allows fluid to pass back and forth.
When it came time to get the bite to match the V8 bark of the 1VD-FTV engine, the pair found success in very similar ways. Both rigs run snorkels, with Michael’s a stainless steel option and Jackson running a Safari unit. From here intake air is compressed to 22psi in Jackson’s and 20psi in Michael’s, before PDI front-mount intercoolers rein in intake temps and help keep that charge dense.
Michael’s running a trick set of custom pipework into the factory twin throttle bodies, while Jackson optioned up a single throttle body unit from PDI to simplify things. Michael’s brother at Barnett Racing Products fabricated stainless steel turbo-back exhaust systems for both rigs, with dyno tunes netting 225hp and just shy of 800Nm in Jackson’s beast, and 200hp and 713Nm in Michael’s. Both Cruisers needed to upgrade to 1300Nm-rated clutches from NPC Performance Clutches in Queensland, with matching catch cans to keep oil-soaked blow-by out of the system.
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With the two Cruisers riding on similar foundations, Jackson and Michael both started taking different directions when things became more visible. Michael opted for a set of ROH’s ‘Patriot’ wheels punching in at 16x8-inch, with a 0 offset for those following at home. They’re wrapped in a do-it-all tyre with 315/75R16 Cooper STT Pros on all corners. Jackson stepped things up with a slightly more aggressive combination for both wheels and tyres.
Protruding from each end of the Cruiser are huge KMC XD229 Machetes. The bona fide beadlock wheels punch in at 17x9-inch, with a massive -38mm offset giving the white Cruiser its aggressive stance. The mechanical beadlocks clinch down on 35x12.5R17 BFGoodrich KM3s, allowing Jackson to run single-digit pressures for insane levels of traction. He’s also paired the meaty tyres with a pair of factory lockers, so in the unlikely event he lifts a wheel the big rig will keep pushing forward.
On the outside the pair has kept the same-but-different approach throughout. Starting with Michael’s rig, the front end is adorned with the iconic ARB Commercial bar housing a pair of red-ringed ARB Intensity LED driving lights and the GME aerial whip. Moving rearwards and things are kept subtle to hide the modifications underneath, with a simple ARB Trade Rack up on the roof making a home for the ARB Touring roll-out awning.
Jackson’s kicked off like a punch in the face, with Bluetooth-operated replacement headlights from Power Vision Sound. With the tap of a screen the projector headlights change colour, which serves as a bold contrast to the blacked-out Intensity lights nestled between them.
Jackson also optioned to place his front-mount intercooler out in the open so the world can revel in its glory, with the whole lot protected by an ARB Deluxe bar and Warn winch. ARB scrub rails team up with a pair of rock sliders, to protect the flanks from wayward Prius drivers. Up top he’s also gone for the ARB Touring awning; although, this time mounted to a Rhino-Rack flat roof rack.
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Moving inside and it’s a blast from the past, with Michael’s Cruiser adorned with OEM Toyota brown carpet and vinyl. Up front he has up-specced the interior with a host of parts from Cruiser Consoles. The full-length centre console adds a usable centre console as well as two cupholders, 12V outlets and much needed storage pockets. There’s also a roof console up front that houses the GME TX3500 UHF.
Moving rearwards, the ARB storage drawer unit fills the rear end of the battle wagon and gives Michael plenty of room to store his work gear and hold the all-important Waeco full of Friday arvo beers.
Jumping behind the tiller of Jackson’s beast the first thing you come face-to-face with is the, well, tiller. The stock offering wasn’t going to cut the mustard for Jackson, so he reached out to Power Vision Sound again for one of the steering wheel conversions; meaning the 1980s spec 76 Cruiser now sports steering wheel controls in a far more modern hoop.
They’re wired up to the replacement head unit that not only provides satellite navigation but also feeds into the upgraded Alpine speakers. Jackson went the Cruiser Consoles route again to make the most of the interior space, while in the rear he’s gone for a storage drawer system from Drifta that incorporates a prep table and camp-light controls.
While two very similar blokes with two very similar rides have walked two very similar paths, the differences still shine through. It’s proof that modifying 4x4s is as much an extension of who we are, as a search for more practicality or capability. And while Michael and Jackson might have some of the most well-equipped Cruisers on the tracks, something tells us it won’t take long until the snowball kicks off again.
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What does 1VD-FTV mean?
CODES are everywhere we look. Nestled between the steel chassis rails of any late-model 70 Series is 4.5 litres of diesel-drinking fury known as the 1VD-FTV. And while that may not seem to give many clues, it tells us a fair amount about what’s going on under there.
Toyota’s engine codes are reasonably simple. The first number is the generation of engines, so a 1 means it’s the first of its kind, a 2 is the second and so on. The next letter or two designates the family of engine – so with VD the D typically means diesel, but don’t bet your house on it.
After the dash is where the useful information comes in. F means an economy focused overhead cam. T means turbo. V means common-rail diesel injection. For some reason Toyota doesn’t strictly adhere to these rules, but if you see an engine code with TT in the second half you know you’re in for a fun time.