This right here is the tale of two mates who have spent the last couple of years building their dream 4WDs. They aren’t just any 4WDs, either – and they’re certainly more than just a couple of tough Cruisers. What you’ve got here, is a real-life, no-bull, money-where-their-mouths-are test of the different options you’ve got available when you’re chasing more power and economy out of your old 4WD. Petrol 4WD owners take note – you need to read this article!
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”One’s a supercharged petrol, the other a turbocharged diesel. Here’s how two mates built their own versions of the ultimate all-rounder “[/blockquote]
Ya see, for Sydney-based mates Rob and Greg, these Cruisers are the result of extensive research and a whole lot of laying down the hard earned. A couple of years back both of the blokes were hunting for more power and economy – something most of us have chased after at one time or another. Rod owned a petrol six-cylinder 105 Series Cruiser, and Greg had its older brother, the petrol six-cylinder 80 Series. Sick of handing big whacks of money over at the servo every week for what was – let’s face it – not exactly the most crash-hot power and economy out there, the boys started down the research path to off-road nirvana.
That path lead two ways. Greg found what he was looking for in a supercharger for his motor, while Rod took a leap of faith, bought a diesel 105 Series and started swapping just about everything over. Two vastly different modification options, and two different results. Let’s take a look at what they boys have done to their 4WDs, plus everything you need to know about both options.
GREG’S 80 SERIES
“We’d recently started to go camping, and I purchased a camper trailer but the old Nimbus was struggling to tow it,” says sparky-come-comms cabler Greg. “After talking to Rod, and doing some research through 4WD Action, I decided a petrol 80 Series was the best option due to the lower purchase price and the availability of aftermarket parts.”
Rod found himself a sweet ’96 (post 95s have a few desirable changes including bigger front brakes, for those playing along at home) GXL 80 with just shy of 250,000km on the clock for $9,000. It had the typical peeling paint and a DIY spare wheel carrier, but that was about it.
Greg went to town on the 80, giving it the usual run-down of Cruiser bits and pieces to turn a solid basis into an excellent all-rounder. There’s a three-inch Kings and Ridepro lift under there with a couple of degrees of castor correction through matching castor bushes, a set of 285/75R16 BF-Goodrich KM2s, twin Air Locker goodness in the diffs, Powerful 4×4 barwork all around and a good spread of winch, lights and other 12v upgrades. In the rear, an Outback drawer system fills out the cargo area and carries everything from the massive Evakool 110L fridge to the recovery and camping gear. Righto, all the ‘tough tourer’ boxes ticked then, but under the bonnet is what makes this good honest 80 really special.
“It’s running a Sprintex supercharger kit,” says Greg. “It’s the full setup, with a Bullet water-to-air intercooler, and a Chiptorque Xede piggyback ECU. We fitted it up, and then I had Silverwater Automotive Services dyno tune it. I actually took a look at (ex-4WD Action editor) Glenn Wright’s Sprintex supercharged 80 back when he did it a couple of years ago and that’s what pushed in that direction. The power difference is huge – where it used to be foot to the floor to get up a hill, now it rarely has to drop back out of over-drive and it’s sailing up hills no worries. Reliability’s been great too – it’s not my daily driver, so sometimes it sits in the front yard for weeks but I’ve got a CTEK charging system and an 80W solar panel that keep the batteries topped up, so it always kicks over without a drama.”
Power’s one thing, but how you get it to the ground is another altogether. Behind the blown 1FZ is the factory 80 Series A442F four-speed auto, and while it’s a strong box, there are a couple of upgrades that make it even better. It’s now running a Wholesale Automatics upgraded valve body and torque converter, which give nice, crisper shifts and a whole lot of extra strength to deal with the power that’s being put through it.
Surprisingly, fuel economy seems to be even better than standard now that all the modifications have been made to the driveline. “It used to be dual-fuel,” explains Greg. “The mixer-style systems aren’t suitable to use with the supercharger, so I ditched the LPG entirely, because it would have been another $4,000 to upgrade to gas injection. It’s considerably better on unleaded now, though. On the day of the photoshoot, it got just under 18L/100km – very good for a truck that weight. That’s one of the selling points of the supercharger, that it’s good on fuel. I’m also running dual maps in the Xede ECU, which lets me use either 98, or 95 unleaded, but the biggest thing is you no longer have to constantly sink the boot in up hills at 3000rpm+, which is where all the fuel usage is.”
ROD’S 105 SERIES
At the same time Greg was making the call to power-up his tough old 80 Series, Rod was driving an FZJ105 4.5L petrol 105 Series. Now, these buses are pretty damned tough but they ain’t shy of the fuel. Take it from us – long-term readers will remember our old silver 4.5/auto 105 Series, that once got a staggering 147km out of a 90L tank (well, 86.5L when we filled up). For those playing along at home without a calculator that’s a brain-numbing 59L/100km! Okay, we were towing another project truck and were late – seriously late – but geez that’s not a number you want to repeat in a hurry. Err, where were we? Oh yeah….
So Rod spots this beaut, stock-standard, rare 1HZ automatic 105 Series Cruiser for sale for $17,000 with about 200,000km on the clock. By his own admission he loved his current petrol Cruiser, but was chasing a diesel, so before anyone know it there was a total of two 105s sitting in the back driveway. Over the course of the next week and a bit, all the parts came off the petrol, and were bolted onto the diesel.
“I reckon in the end, it cost me about four or five grand in changeover, after I sold the petrol Cruiser,” Rod explains. “Then I spent about $3,000 on a Denco turbo kit, $1,000 on the intercooler and a bit extra here or there. Call it $10,000 I was out of pocket, I reckon in the end. I’d never had a diesel before, so it was all a bit new for me. I fitted all new main bearings when I got the vehicle, all new belts, fluids, etc. It was also my first turbo fitting – I definitely learnt a lot and it took a bit of time with the two-piece exhaust manifold, but once I got it apart it all went great. It took a couple of dyno runs to get my EGTs to where I was happy with them, but now it’s sorted it runs like a dream, heaps of power.”
Similar to Greg, Rod’s spent a bit of time further beefing up the drivetrain to get it really humming. “After putting the turbo on and towing a two-tonne van, it wasn’t long before I realized I had to beef up the gearbox a bit. I fitted a Wholesale Automatics Nomad valve body and lockup torque converter, which sorted it. Also, I originally had a water-to-air intercooler fitted but didn’t feel like it was getting a good result, so I have now fitted a Cross Country top-mount intercooler, and I’m really happy with it now.”
On top of the considerably spec’d up engine and gearbox, the big 105 now has a whole heap of other good gear to get it further offroad. There’s a combination of Old Man Emu coils and Tough Dog shocks to give a good three-inch lift, along with the required castor correction to make it handle nicely. The 16×8 Eagle Alloys copped a set of 305/75R16 Cooper STTs, the diffs now sport solid spacers and Air Lockers at either end, and a combination CTEK/ABR Sidewinder 12v system keeps the batteries fully charged. We’re jealous.
MODIFICATION OPTION 1: ENGINE UPGRADE
WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE?
Any type of power upgrade that means you get to keep your same 4WD, but dramatically improve what’s happening under the bonnet. We’re talking anything from a turbocharger or a supercharger, to a V8 conversion – even a diesel engine conversion. It could also be as simple, if you own a common-rail diesel, as a plug and play diesel performance chip and a good quality free-flowing exhaust.
HOW HARD IS IT TO DO?
Okay, so the chip and exhaust is a piece of cake that can be done in an afternoon, but after that, it gets considerably more difficult. Not impossible, but it needs some experience, or a decent bank balance. It all depends on what you’re doing, and how long you’re prepared to be without your 4WD. If you can afford for it to be off the road for anywhere between a week (for a turbo) to a couple of months (engine conversion), and you’re mechanically capable and have a couple of similar mates, then it’s doable at home. If not, well – time to put off that new kitchen reno.
RIGHTO, SO WHAT DOES IT COST?
Whatever you’re thinking, double it. Turbo kits usually run around the $3,000 to $4,000 mark, add a grand or so for an intercooler, and about the same for an exhaust – all ‘plus fitting’. Engine conversions entirely depend on the engine you choose, both for the initial purchase price, and for the cost of the job itself. The more common the swap, the cheaper it’ll be. We’re talking about $12,000 to $15,000 for an LS1 5.7L V8, a couple of grand more for a newer LS2 6.0L V8, somewhere around the $17,000 – $20,000 mark for a turbo-diesel conversion and then onwards and upwards towards new dual-cab ute dollars for a V8 boosted diesel. Doing it right ain’t cheap…
BENEFITS OF DOING IT THIS WAY?
First off, you get to keep your current 4WD, and all of the modifications you’ve made to it. Important if you’ve got a bucketload of 12v gear or custom barwork installed, vital if you’ve done something like a ute chop.
In terms of serious upgrades, nothing beats an engine conversion. It’s literally like shoving a rocket up your old faithful truck’s arse. Power will be through the roof, fuel economy ‘should’ be better (once you stop grinning like a maniac and trying to chirp third gear that is) and the exhaust note will be a cracker. Third benefit is simply the wow factor. Say what you want, few things beat owning something turbocharged, supercharged or V8’d that stands out from the crowd. The cool factor’s there in droves!
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
A fair bit, especially if you try and cut corners in the name of saving a few bucks. Believe us. First and foremost, you’re now trying to send much more power through the driveline of a vehicle that may or may not be up to task. Not so much an issue in an old GQ you’re putting a 5.0L into, but definitely a problem if you’re trying to shoe-horn an LS2 into a HiLux. Diffs, gearboxes, transfer cases – get used to changing em if you can’t keep the right boot under control.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”Petrol 4WD owners take note – you need to read this article”[/blockquote]
Second is reliability. The more common the swap, the better it’ll be. If you’ve got the cash, do yourself a favour and buy the proper, engineered kit from a reputable company who specialise in these conversions. Don’t try and hack it together DIY style – it WILL cost you more in the long run. Running out of coin and motivation is a huge factor too. We’ve seen way too many 4WDs pulled off the road for a V8, that never made it back out of the shed because the bank balance plummeted and the owner just got over the never-ending pile of parts in the end. Go in with both eyes open.
And the biggest one – engineering and legalities. The bigger the modification, the more hoops you’ll have to jump through to prove it’s safe and roadworthy. With an engine swap, be ready for an engineer to request brake upgrades, suspension upgrades and swerve and brake tests that’ll push your pride and joy to the limits. Not impossible to sort out, but you can’t half-arse it.
MODIFICATION OPTION 2: VEHICLE UPGRADE
WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE?
Rod did the polar opposite of Greg – he bought another vehicle that as a buildup base ticked more boxes from the get-go, and then swapped as much gear over as possible. Your only option isn’t of course simply buying a diesel version of your current 4WD – it could be upgrading to a different vehicle together.
HOW HARD IS IT TO DO?
Well, provided the coin is there to actually do it, this is definitely the physically easier option. The hardest part is trying to find a vehicle that’s in good nick in a reasonable time-frame, because most of us will have to sell our old truck first, then buy the new one. Or at least hope the missus’ good jewelry will be safe at the pawn shop for a couple of weeks…
RIGHTO, SO WHAT DOES IT COST?
Varies wildly, from a couple of grand if you luck into a nice turbo-diesel GQ to replace your old petty, right up to $20,000 or $30,000+ to ditch the old ute and get yourself into a new dual-cab.
BENEFITS OF DOING IT THIS WAY?
By upgrading vehicles instead of engines, you’re not trying to force extra power down the throat of a 4WD that may not be built to handle it. If reliability is an ultimate concern, then there’s nothing more reliable than driving a vehicle with an engine that was designed for it!
If you’ve got other issues with your 4WD, like poor bodywork or modications, trading up trucks gives you the option of wiping the slate clean and starting again. Everyone’s modification skills improve as each install goes by, and the wiring you did three years ago is nothing like what you could do if you had your time again. There’s also no need to have your vehicle off the road for extended periods of time, or risk burning out when you find out the motor and box you spent the last month making fit now need a full rebuild and the fella you bought them off has disappeared off the face of the earth.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Not a huge amount – except a decent draining of the bank balance. The more different the new vehicle is to the old one, the deeper you’re gonna have to dig. No-one ever gets their money back on modifications, and unless you can pull most of the gear off your old truck for your new one, you’re going to have to shell out again. Not so much something that can go wrong, but dollars are only half of the modification equation. Time spent is something anyone rarely considers, and if you’ve gotta ditch the last three years of weekend DIY installs and start again – well, get ready to spend more time in the shed than around the campfire for the foreseeable future.
RUNDOWN – 80 SERIES
VEHICLE: 1996 Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series
ENGINE: 1FZ-FE 4.5L straight-six petrol
GEARBOX: Four-speed auto
4WD ACTIVATION: Full-time 4WD, centre diff lock
SUSPENSION: Three inch lift with King coils and Ridepro shocks
WHEELS AND TYRES: 285/75R16 BF-Goodrich KM2s on 16×8 Speedy Territory alloys
OTHER TOUGH GEAR: Intercooler Sprintex supercharger – Xede piggyback ECU – Wholesale Automatics upgraded valve body and lockup converter – CTEK and ABR Sidewinder battery system
RUNDOWN – 105 SERIES
VEHICLE: 1998 Toyota Landcruiser 105 Series
ENGINE: 1HZ six-cylinder diesel
GEARBOX: Four-speed auto
4WD ACTIVATION: Full-time, auto hubs
SUSPENSION: Three inch Old Man Emu and Tough Dog lift
WHEELS AND TYRES: 285/75R16 Cooper Discoverer STTs on 16x8in Eagle Alloys
OTHER TOUGH GEAR: Denco turbo – Cross Country intercooler – ARB barwork – CTEK and ABR Sidewinder 12v system – Air Lockers
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