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Toyota LandCruiser 80 series: Custom 4x4

By Dean Mellor, 19 Oct 2016 Custom 4x4s

Toyota LandCruiser 80 series: Custom 4x4

This unique custom Cruiser proves new ain’t always better.

The launch of the 80 Series Land Cruiser was a big thing back in 1990. It was Toyota’s long-awaited answer to Nissan’s coil-sprung GQ Patrol that had taken the market by storm a couple of years earlier, and would soon become Australia’s biggest-selling four-wheel drive wagon.

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of 4x4 Australia.

It was also physically big, much bigger than the 60 Series Cruiser it superseded.
Dubbed the breadbox by some because of its rounded edges, the coil-sprung 80 Series was a huge leap forward in both design and technology, and with an expected model cycle of eight years, it had to be.

The 1994-model 80 Series gracing these pages belongs to Darren Vassie and, despite this Cruiser turning 20 this year and with 380,000km on the odo, it’s still a more than capable and comfortable four-wheel drive touring wagon. And that’s exactly what Darren wanted: a reliable family tourer that would have no troubles off road, and would easily deal with mud, sand and water crossings.

Check out the video of Darren Vassie's Conqueror 80 Series tearing up Fraser Island.

Custom landcruiser 80-series rear beachThis Cruiser is far from standard. Darren, a fabricator by trade, and also a mechanic, has customised it to perfectly suit his requirements. Almost. The 80 has a turbocharged 1HZ diesel and he wants to change to a V8. “I don’t know when the turbo was installed,” Darren admits. “I’ve had the car for four years and I bought it with the turbo on it.

“I had my own fabrication business, and I now work for Conquerer Australia doing off road camper trailers, so I can use the workshop whenever I want.” This is where he has custom fabricated all sorts of goodies for the Cruiser.

“I’ve done the 50mm body lift, so the chassis rails are still sitting pretty low, but the body’s up,” Darren said. There’s also a 100mm suspension lift and the Cruiser runs Tough Dog springs and Tough Dog adjustable foam cell shocks.

Custom landcruiser 80-series suspensionAdding to the impressive appearance of the Cruiser, and its off road capability, are massive 37 x 12.5 Mickey Thompson Baja Claws fitted to Dick Cepek 17 x 9 alloy rims. You might think that the big rubber would take the edge off performance, but Darren’s done plenty of work on the engine.

He said this includes “a custom airbox, and then all the custom pipework, intercooler, that’s all my work, and the intake manifold is all mine as well”. Oh, and he made his own 304-grade stainless-steel exhaust system. Is it loud? “It is, because there’s no muffler in it,” Darren laughs.

Custom landcruiser 80-series sideDarren has had the Cruiser on the dyno and it makes a respectable 105kW and 456Nm at the wheels, more than enough to handle the big Baja Claws. Nevertheless, he’s also lowered the overall gearing to 4.5:1 from the standard 4:1. “It’s as if it has the standard 32.5-inch tyres on it,” he said. ARB Air Lockers are fitted front and rear.

Despite all the engine mods, accessories and big tyres, Darren said the Cruiser still achieves a touring-friendly 15 litres per 100km fuel use. With his owner-made 150-litre stainless-steel long-range fuel tank, he has a total fuel capacity of 235 litres, he has a touring range of more than 1500km.

Custom landcruiser 80 series engineDarren also made his own 45-litre water tank, which sits under the rear, along with the custom barwork, including front and rear bumpers, sidesteps and roofrack.

Fitted in the front bar is an Ironman 12,000lb wireless winch, running synthetic rope. Situated neatly atop the bar is a Narva LED light bar, and Narva HID lights also grace the front of the roofrack. There’s a Foxwing awning on one side and a shovel-holder on the other.

Custom landcruiser 80 series with trailer rearDarren also made a boat-loader that is often fitted on the back. “It holds an EzyTopper,” he said. “It’s got a little 4000lb winch on it that pulls the boat up. Once it’s up on the angle, there are a couple of bolts to undo, then the winch rope holds it, then you let the winch rope out.

When the boat hits the ground, you push it right over [so it’s sitting on its keel] and that’s it. To put it back on, just position the ass of the boat to the car, pull the winch cable right over the boat, and the winch pulls the boat back over and up on the boat-loader.”

80-series drawer systemThere are plenty of custom mods on the inside of the Cruiser, too. “Everything is custom made. I’ve done all there is. The drawer system on the left is made out of steel frame – it’s got the fridge in it – and then the pantry drawer on the right is marine ply and the rest of it’s all steel mesh. It’s fully enclosed. There’s no cargo barrier, but the way I’ve made it, nothing can fly forward.”

Custom landcruiser 80-series sand seatsOne job Darren outsourced was the customising of the seats. “There are three TV screens. I’ve got an Axis head unit, which is a DVD player as well, and it feeds the two TVs in the back. They’re all custom-made headrests – of course, I didn’t do those – the seats have been reshaped and the lumbar support has been built up in them.” And sitting between the two front seats is an eight-litre Waeco cooler.

Darren reckons the total build cost of this vehicle is only about $20,000 to date. Not bad considering the amount of work done to it, but understandable considering he’s done 80 per cent of the work himself. However, as mentioned, it’s still not quite perfectly suited to his needs.

Custom landcruiser 80-series rear“I’m looking at going around Australia in three years time and building my own caravan. It’ll be a two and a half tonne caravan, so that’s why I want to do a V8 conversion.

“I’m looking at buying a rolled or a salvaged 76 [Series Land Cruiser], but I’m going to twin-turbo the motor. I’m an old drag racer. I build all my own exhaust manifolds, intake manifolds and do all my own intercooler systems and what not, so I’m looking at doing all that myself, and fitting it in the car myself. You can pick up a salvage [76 TDV8] for around 10 grand whereas you’re looking at around $25K for a 200 Series.

“I’ll be stripping the motor out of it. They’re coming out with aftermarket computer systems for diesels now, so I won’t use any of the original Toyota stuff. We’ll have a fully programmable computer in it, and that’s where we’ll get our power from. They reckon that 400hp (300kW) is going to be pretty easy with a twin three-inch exhaust system.

Custom landcruiser 80-series still“I’m going to put in twin four-inch snorkels and twin air cleaners, so it’ll look pretty cool.” It looks like this 80 Series has plenty of life in it yet.


Owner: Darren Vassie, Qld
Engine: 1HZ, 4.2L intercooled turbo-diesel
Driveline: Five-speed manual, dual-range 4WD, 4.5:1 final gearing
Power: 105kW
Torque: 456Nm
Suspension front: Live axle with coil springs, 4-inch lift, Tough Dog
springs and dampers
Suspension rear: Live axle with coil springs, 4-inch lift, Tough Dog
springs and dampers
Wheels: 17x 9-inch Dick Cepek DC2 Black
Tyres: 37 x 12.5R17 Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC
Exterior mods: Custom bar with 12,000lb Ironman winch, custom sidesteps, rear bar, roofrack, stainless-steel snorkel and bonnet scoop, Narva 5W light bar, Narva 55W HID driving lights, Foxwing awning, shovel holder.

Check out Darren's new blue dual-cab Toyota LandCruiser 80 series.