For many of us, the pursuit of the ultimate four-wheel drive is a never-ending quest.
Through trials and tribulations we’ll make modification after modification in search of the perfect off-roader. Camping set-ups come and go, tyres get swapped and re-swapped, and suspension kits go in and out at a dizzying rate. All this comes at the expense of our bank accounts, time spent off-road, and in extreme cases, our sanity.
Victorian local Brian Richards has played this game longer than most. A back catalogue of six mild-to-wild 4x4s is testament to his perseverance in finding a unicorn – the perfect 4x4. He hasn’t found it yet, but this LC79 is about as close as humanly possible; at least this side of $160,000.
With retirement looming, multiple cross-country trips ahead of Brian and his wife, and an ageing 80 Series Land Cruiser parked in the garage, the choice to upgrade was an easy one – not that Brian is entirely convinced it’s an upgrade.
The 79 offered the reliability Brian needed, and the creature comforts his better half demanded, so Brian did what any sensible man would do; after a 10,000km-round trip to Arnhem Land, he cut his Land Cruiser in half.
“I have tall legs” Brian says. “The space in the single cab just kept giving me trouble. My legs constantly ached.”
The solution was to source a second cab, which Brian then took to Tinman Fabrication’s Les Camilleri, who proceeded to cut the back off Brian’s cab and graft on a new back wall 195mm closer to the tail-lights, just long enough that the tray could still pick up the front mounts.
The new room inside worked out perfectly, allowing Brian to install a pair of leather Recaro seats further back for additional back support and leg room. The added benefit was the cab now had two factory fuel fillers, one feeding into the main tank, the other into a 160L Long Ranger auxiliary tank.
The Richards family has spent the past 20 years heading bush at every opportunity. They’ve taken the kids in swags, struggled with a seemingly endless amount of tent poles, and piled into a roof-top tent. With the kids all grown up, Brian thought it was time for a grown-up camping set-up, too. There was no chance Brian could tow a caravan where he wanted to go, so a slide on camper made perfect sense.
“It’s like a caravan on the back of a ute. It has got a big queen-size bed, shower, toilet, hot water, and a kitchen. It was chosen by the wife, of course, but I’m getting to like it. It’s a great camper.”
If you have kids you’d need to set the annex up every night, but for two, it’s the perfect set-up.
“You can notice the change in centre of gravity, too,” Brian explains the effect on the Toyota. “She is quite tall, so you can’t take corners too fast, but you do get used to it. It’s built for touring, not for the tougher tracks.”
Despite the camper’s aluminium and fibreglass-composite construction, there’s no getting around the fact that adding a small house to the tray of any vehicle will negatively affect the weight. The solution was a gross vehicle mass (GVM) upgrade suspension kit. The 50mm lift kit from EFS allows Brian to carry the additional weight and makes room for the 33-inch BFG KM2 mud tyres.
“I’ve had an excellent run with BFGs over the years,” Brian says. “Two sets on my 80 Series. Over 20 years without a single puncture, and a set on my 100. I’ve just bought a new set for the 79 and am hoping for similar results.”
This is now a tourer, so it’s no surprise to find it’s fitted with all the fruit. Redarc dual-battery controller, ARB bar work, Warn winch, Department of the Interior roof console, GME UHF, EGT and boost gauges, and a Waeco eight-litre fridge between the seats are just some of the accessories. What savvy readers may notice, however, is the distinct lack of a clutch pedal and the auto shifter; something Toyota never offered.
About 10 years ago, Brian’s doctor informed him he’d need a knee reconstruction in, well, 10 years. Brian is doing his best to put that off and one of the ways he is doing that is by ditching the clutch pedal and making the Land Cruiser a whole lot more enjoyable for him to drive.
The conversion was done by the guys at Marks 4WD Adaptors and involved an upgrade to the 6L90E gearbox. The six-speed slush ’box is brand new, but is the same as is fitted to late-model Chevy Silverado trucks, so it’s rated to a massive 900Nm and more than up to the task of long-distance outback touring.
At the business end of the gearbox sits Toyota’s 1VD-FTV V8. Despite its modern tech, the 4.5L, 32-valve, double-overhead cam, common-rail-injected diesel monster has earned a reputation of poor fuel and oil consumption.
“I’ve got a friend with a late-model 200 Series and he’s using 10 litres of oil between services,” Brian says. “But I’ve never had any issues. There was a bit of work to make the cruise control work with the auto but, apart from that, mine has never used oil, has plenty of low-down grunt thanks to the Steinbauer chip, and is good on fuel.”
Brian prefers to take things a little slower these days, opting to explore the side tracks, rather than blast past them. The result is that he often sits on 90km/h, which nets him 11-13L/100km of fuel consumption.
“A while ago I was following my son back from a trip and he needed to get back for his daughter’s ballet, so we were sitting on 110km/h the whole way. It did it comfortably but fuel consumption sky rocketed to 22L/100km.”
By the time you read this, the Richards will be halfway to somewhere. Brian is not entirely sure where yet. The plan is to head north for six weeks, wherever the tracks take them. And, a shakedown run for a three-month stint in the Kimberley is planned for next year.
Knowing Brian, the next trip will result in more changes, more upgrades, and more adventure. After all, even the perfect 4x4 can always do with a few more tweaks.