1991 JDM Landcruiser Build (1: the Acquisition)

Landcruisers have been plying the lesser civilized backwaters of the uncivilized world for decades. 

Alongside the Land Rover, many third world country’s citizenry were first introduced to the automobile via these robust wagons, often clad in white, and sporting UN on the sides, or a rocket launcher in the back. Calling them enduring, if not endearing, is by no means hyperbole. 

Nowadays, the ‘Cruisers and ‘Rovers of the first world have largely become luxury liners, coddling their passengers from the injustices of the drive thru line-ups and ill-placed potholes with equal alacrity.

But the rough and ready junkets of the wild continue to hold their own. As “overlanding” gains popularity, so too does the romance of a vehicle that can cover seemingly unlimited ground without falter failure. Defenders, G-Wagens, and older ‘Cruisers are now the movie posters for epic road trips. The famed “million mile” motor is an epithet often used for the Mercedes diesels and of course several of Toyota’s famed powerplants. Not coincidentally, the latter are found under the bonnets of Landcruisers.

Welcome Back

Yes, the rugged 4-wheel drive seems to be enjoying a resurgence on both sides of the market. Expedition Portal’s Scott Brady recently contended that we have entered the Golden Age of four wheel drives, and it’s hard to argue with him. 

Automakers like Ford and Land Rover have seen green (we are talking dollars here: Sorry “Eco-Boost”), and are bringing back such icons as the Bronco, and the Defender (some argue the latter is in name only). Jeep sells more vehicles than they can produce, and has even dabbled in the pickup market with the Gladiator. Meanwhile, Ram, Chevy and Ford have all upped their game with trail versions of all their pickup offerings. Toyota of course presses on with the venerable 4Runner and Tacoma, not to mention the luxo-Landies and the Tundra/Sequoia.

Tanya’s 100 Series in the Badlands of Southern Alberta

Everyone else (except, notably, Mitsubishi, who was early to the game but has seemingly lost their way in North America) seems to want to hop on the utility gravy train. Even Hyundai has released a big 4wd, and is apparently scheming to one up the Landcruiser.

It’s Not “USED”. It’s VINTAGE.

The preowned 4WD market has similarly gone upscale. Rusty, beaten Toyota pickups are now being joined by full sized Fords and vintage IH Scouts in capturing the king’s ransom on Bring-A-Trailer. Even the criminally-bargain-priced Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero is finally getting credit (which it sorely deserves) as it edges toward the healthy margins that its Delica cousin has been fetching for years.

Our 1999 Pajero SWB, and Wade’s Delica L400 on Lost Knife Trail, New Year’s Day, 2019

The Nouveau Auto de Jour needs to Project Adventure. Yes, it has to be tough, reputable, and reliable. But most importantly, it needs to evoke visions of mountains, river crossings, mountain bike adventures, rooftop tents, and weeks spent offgrid on the Road of Bones, even if a trip to Costco is the fiercest environment many will ever see. Of course, popularity commands a premium. Defenders and the more rugged ‘Cruiser variants now regularly sell in the 30’s, often netting more at 300 000 miles than they ever did new. 60 and 80 Series are highly sought after, and never mind the mighty G-Wagen, the 40 Series, or the Range Rover Classic. They are climbing past their original brand new stickers.

Our Prado 90, in Canmore, Alberta

Getting In On the Action

Clearly, we need to get in on the ground floor, while we still can. 

Admittedly, my fleet already has two 1999’s (both Landcruisers), which most would argue already qualify as “vintage” these days. But solid axles, no electronics, and a build like a tank is becoming en vogue, and fashionable means valuable.

Which is why this October past, I pulled the trigger on a 1991 HZJ77 Landcruiser, originally from the Japanese Domestic Market, and imported to Canada. I’ve sort of already let the cat out of the bag on this purchase in “They Still Make ‘Em Like They Used To” but I haven’t yet addressed it’s acquisition, and future aspirations.

I had been looking for months, and was disappointed to find that my concept of what was reasonable condition for what I wanted to spend, and actual reality, were separated by a chasm unbridgeable by even the most capable 4×4. After a few failed bids at JDM auctions, which readers will be intimately familiar with, I suddenly got wind of a local unit, which had been imported many years before.

But Was It Actually For Sale?

The owner wasn’t advertising, and had already begun a restoration. I got wind of it through a mutual acquaintance on yet another FB Group, so when I contacted the owner about possibly selling, it became more of an interview, than a showing. He had acquired the vehicle 5 years before from family friends, and was finally beginning to get it back in shape. As a side gig, the gentleman had restored more than a few ‘Cruisers in his time. Looking at his build portfolio, it was hard not to be a little awestruck with his finished products. I had gotten to this rig very early on in its restoration, so imagination had to be employed to see the end result.

The underside had been completely media blasted, and sealed with POR15, a famously effective coating which completely seals out rust. I saw pictures in process, and was impressed with how thorough the job had been. But that was as far as the resto had gone. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, and so the owner (caretaker if you will) ultimately decided he would let me take over and complete my own vision of what this truck could eventually be. 

The underside was pristine

Above the coated underside and frame, things looked really good inside. The interior needed a couple of plastic bits, but was largely intact, original, and ready for another 30 years. The paintwork however, was where things took a turn. The clearcoat on the horizontal surfaces was badly damaged, where it was still present. And things got worse as you went lower. Behind the factory fender flares and rear bumper endcaps, rust had taken its toll. The front fender edges were crispy. And the rear quarters were non-existent. Entire lower edges were missing.

So ummm… What’s the up side?

Well, the truck was virtually complete and even came with a brand new windshield and gasket, in a box. I also received Terrain Tamer steering parts, extra lights lenses, brand new headlights (also in box), brand new synthetic winch line (for the factory PTO winch), and many other bits including brand new batteries. The rig was also sitting on an Old Man Emu spring and shock lift.

However… even with the obvious paint and extensive body work this rig would need, the price was still shocking. It was less than a pristine unit, but still way more than one should expect to pay for a fixer-upper. With any other options way out of my price range, and going in with my eyes open, if not shielded by safety glasses (fine, rosy colored ones), I decided to go ahead.

Clearly I’ve begun an ambitious project, so if you are interested, I’ll be documenting the process, both in my build thread on the TGP Forum, and via a series here on JDM Journeys. Bear in mind that this will by no means be a professional resto. Jonathan Ward of ICON 4X4 is not going to be knocking on my door anytime soon. And I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of me. But when it’s done, I hope to do more than just *project* adventure… I plan to navigate the road less travelled to find adventure for this project!

Project Adventure Part 2: Obstacles

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