When your 4×4 journey has included a succession of Toyota vehicles you soon get to the point when the time comes to create your ultimate LandCruiser.
A build that takes in all the aspects that you’ve learnt over the years about what works on a 4-wheel drive and what doesn’t. The equipment that you like and dislike, and the gear you really want. Plus there’s always that new piece of kit that you just have to have.
So it was for Melbourne 4-wheel driver Luis Barrera. Luis had a 2011 LandCruiser 76 as his daily ride after owning a few of short-wheelbase LandCruisers overseas, but like many owners he saw the shortcomings of the modern 70 Series models.
“I already owned a 2011 76 Series and wanted to take it to the next level by fixing all the issues that Toyota overlooked when designing it,” Luis recalls.
One of those issues was the wheel-track discrepancy, where the rear axle on the VDJ 70s is considerably narrower than the front. It’s long been a source of frustration for owners and there are several aftermarket solutions available to correct it by widening the rear track to match the front.
Other things Luis found his old 76 lacking were the GVM capacity for a well-equipped tourer, the performance of the standard brakes, including the handbrake, and the legal tyre size limits.
“It just made sense to fix all of them at once,” says Luis, “and the way to do that was with a portal-axle kit from Marks 4WD Adaptors.”
The Marks portal kit is popular with 70 Series owners for just that reason; it addresses all the above issues and improves the vehicle in many ways. It widens the wheel track front and rear to not only have them matching but also the extra width gives added vehicle stability; it raises the ride height by four-inches, fixes the standard Toyota handbrake and allows you to legally run 35-inch tyres.
The catch is that the kit is costly and if you’re in Victoria as Luis is, the kit needs to be fitted before the car is first registered as part of the Second Stage Manufacturing (SSM) approval process.
So Luis went out and bought himself a new 2021 LandCruiser 76 which went straight to the Marks 4WD workshop before it was registered for the conversion.
By the time the Cruiser rolled out of the workshop on its new axles, wheels, tyres and suspension, it also had a brake upgrade with the Marks hydro-booster upgrade and slotted rotors front and rear. The tyres are now 35×12.5 Nitto Ridge Grapplers and they are covered under the rear by custom flares created by South-East Queensland Marks 4WD dealer, Mick Tighe Automotive.
The wheels bolt to the portal axles which are connected back to the chassis using JMACX billet arms and an ARB BP-51 suspension kit which gives a further 2-inches in height.
Marks also fitted the frontal protection with the fog lights in the ARB bullbar now serving as the main low-beam headlamps. This is done to lower the lights to meet the ADR specification with the higher ride height of the car.
Once the Cruiser was fitted with its EPIC 76 number plates, Luis was then able to get to work himself on building the truck he always wanted.
A Rhino-Rack platform mounts a pair of Stedi light bars at the front, a set of MaxTrax, shovel and axe, while there are more Stedi floodlights at the back and on the sides of the rack for camp lights.
To keep the lights and accessories powered, Luis has installed a sealed and brushless 200amp alternator to avoid issues with mud and water ingress. A pair of Redarc DC-DC chargers keep an 800CCA main battery and 200amp lithium battery charged with a Redarc solar panel and Enerdrive monitor helping out.
There’s a Redarc 2000W inverter to feed and that is used to power things like the induction cooktop, toaster and kettle as well as charging other accessories.
Luis built his own rear cargo set-up to suit his travel and camping needs. It includes drawers, a water bladder and a fridge slide that carries a 66-litre Snowmaster fridge and has an extension table for use when camping.
Up front, a roof console provides more storage and mounts a GME XRS UHF radio. Luis has upgraded the sound system for tunes by fitting a Pioneer head unit, Kicker and JL Audio amplifiers, a Kicker sub and Morel Virtus 3-way speakers.
To make the listening experience and general driving a whole lot more pleasant, sound deadening was applied to the floors, inside the doors and on the roof of the Cruiser to get rid of that commercial van tinniness they have.
Black Wolf seat covers protect the Toyota seats from dirt and grime, One Stone armrests sit atop the doors to give your elbows somewhere to rest, while Luis replaced the internal grab handles with cool looking paracord handles from Custom Cords.
DIY with help
Luis has handled most of the build himself, only going to the experts for a couple of key specialist items. This includes the original fit-out and SSM approval by Marks 4WD, and when it came time to squeeze a bit more out of the 1VD engine, he turned to the well-respected Power Torque Victoria for a dyno tune and tweak.
Steve “Boothy” Booth from Power Torque replaced the factory turbocharger with a G350 from Gturbo, fitted a new airbox from Patroldocta that gets its air from a Safari Armax snorkel, and replaced the standard clutch with a 1300Nm unit from NPC that will better cope with the new-found grunt.
The 4-inch stainless-steel exhaust system is from VDJ specialists GSL. On the dyno, Power Torque retuned the factory ECU and the Cruiser now puts out a healthy 801Nm and 207kW at the treads ‒ Epic!
With its added ground clearance, bigger tyres, tuned V8 engine, and overlanding fit-out, Luis has created what could be the perfect 76. Well, perfect for him at the very least.
“My 76 is my daily so I need a vehicle that can be driven around the suburbs yet also be very capable on trips,” says Luis. He also said it gets a lot of interest when doing the daily school run to pick up his daughter.
By only working with the best names in the business and the best brands, he’s also kept the build very simple and dependable. Rather than go to a heap of different shops with each of them working on the car, Luis says that only three people have worked on his Cruiser.
“I want the car to be as reliable as possible,” he told us. “So only three people have worked on the car ‒ Marks 4WD (drivetrain and suspension), Power Torque Vic (engine) and myself (electrics). Since that covers all systems, it will stay that way.”
That’s a sensible way to complete a major build and a good way to ensure many reliable miles ahead. Luis tells us that he likes travelling in the Victorian High Country, along the Murray River, Robe and Beachport, and even as far away as Fraser Island. “I am yet to start travelling more (thanks to COVID) but I am sure I will start adding locations more to the list.”
Keep and eye out for Luis and his Epic 76 out on the tracks or you can follow him on Instagram at @sirluisbarrera.
Keyword: Epic Toyota LandCruiser 76 Series