No MRAP, no problem — this family truckster is operator AF
There was a time when cars (and many other things) were built to last as long as you maintained them. Unfortunately it seems as if planned obsolescence has become the manufacturing industry's purview and buyers are brainwashed into believing that "new" is synonymous with "better." Things are pretty disposable now. The general paradigm has gone from repair to replacement, depriving people of any willingness to fix what's broken or modify an aging piece of equipment.
So what does this outta sight/outta mind mentality say about people who never learned how to repair anything? Their lack of resourcefulness, coping skills, and self-reliance is as obvious as Quentin Tarantino's foot fetish. Think about how they'll react if things break down on a Great Depression-type scale once again. I'm talking all-out chaos with no power, no food, and no cell phones to post selfies every 10 minutes. Those same people will get desperate and look to strip the well prepared of everything they have. Time to start planning contingencies.
While many might think this 1994 Land Cruiser has passed its vehicular shelf life, owner Joe Galt is a dedicated prepper who doesn't subscribe to the instant gratification mindset. This passionate family man stays up to snuff on the latest survival trends, studies the works of James Wesley Rawles, and wanted to turn his aging family SUV into a viable bug-out rig. Whether it's bad weather, war, EMPs, or if the latest crop of Evergreen State College students ever get anywhere near a job on Capitol Hill, Joe has already planned his disaster response accordingly.
There are several reasons Galt felt a Land Cruiser of this ilk made for the perfect SHTF vehicle. It's vintage, yes, but as previously stated, sometimes you're better off that way. "The 1994 is a specific year I was looking for. I wanted the least amount of electronics possible," he says. "I also wanted it because it had front and rear floating axles, front and rear coil spring suspension, front and rear disc brakes, ABS, and factory electronic lockers, which is a combination of components that, to this day, I think there's very few produced today that have every one of those elements on it."
Galt has actually owned several Land Cruisers over the years. This FJ80 version was picked up at a used car lot in remarkably good shape, and became the family SUV for many years. After clocking a total of about 250,000 miles and becoming increasingly concerned about disaster events, Joe reached the point where he decided to breathe some new life into a platform that already had a lot going for it. He wanted something nimble, easy to work on, reliable, and the right size to carry both family and gear safely out of his hometown of Denver if something went awry.
"Whether it's winter storms, a volcanic ash event that could come from Yellowstone, or an EMP, I wanted to be prepared for anything that might make driving hard," Galt says. "The Land Cruiser fit that bill so well that, even in today's market, trying to find another vehicle like it is almost impossible. If I bought a new one, I could end up spending a hundred grand. As a kid I lived through the Mount St. Helens explosion and seeing what that did to people and communities was kind of devastating. It's an unlikely event, but it's an event that eventually will occur again."
The stock inline-six is a notoriously sluggish (and thirsty) powerplant. Switching to a Euro or Japanese diesel wasn't practical when it came to maintenance and parts accessibility. Joe went with the venerable Cummins in the form of a '93 5.9L 6BT from Reviva in Minneapolis. The motor was brand new with zero miles, completely remanufactured, and dimensionally similar to the original 4.5L 1FZE. It was adapted to the vehicle courtesy of Diesel Conversion Specialists in Montana. Bringing the specs to roughly 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque was a huge improvement. It all breathes through a Safari snorkel.
Next was pairing it with to the transmission. Here's where things get interesting. "In the '93 and '94 FZ platform, Toyota used the Aisin A442F transmission, which was designed for commercial use, and adapted to the Land Cruiser. Cummins has now adopted Aisin as its transmission producer, so there's a natural bearing between engine and trans, but using a conversion kit mates it very nicely to the stock transmission, transfer case, and entire driveline." The torque converter was rebuilt and provides flawless power and integration.
Suspension work was next on the list. Slee Off-Road, who specializes in aftermarket Toyota components, provided a 6-inch lift kit, rear springs, and a number of other suspension upgrades. Old Man Emu front heavy-duty coil springs and shocks were added to compensate for the increased weight of the Cummins. Tom Wood's double cardan driveshafts round out the underpinnings to account for the lift. ARB slotted brakes were added to improve the existing system.
A Uniden CB radio and portable Baofeng HAM radio keep communications in order, and much of the electronic work can be credited to 3D-Offroad. An Outback drawer system keeps extra supplies organized and locked up. Slee Off-Road skid plates and rock sliders help traverse rocky terrain without getting banged up. "I never go anywhere without my poncho, my Cabela's sleeping bag, and my Kelly Kettle," Galt says. "I also carry first aid, firearms, extra ammo, tow straps, tools, lubricants, spare parts, and a full complement of Western U.S. maps."
An auxiliary battery system stays disconnected and can be used in the event of an EMP. Part of the beauty of a vehicle of this age is that no electronics are needed (except the starter) to run the motor or transmission. It can all be run mechanically, which may be outdated, but is a superior design to modern systems if you're in a dire situation and need to make repairs in the field.
Overall, there's probably another $55,000 sunk into the vehicle, but that's still cheaper than a new Land Cruiser, and more practical. "You can go down the road at 90 mph with the 4.10 gears I have and it rides as nice as my ¾-ton Dodge Ram," Galt says. Although it weighs roughly 7,000 pounds (over a ton more than stock), the diesel manages about 15 to 19 mph versus the original 8 to 9 mph. It's already been on a 1,200-mile trip after its completion and gets a 400-mile workout on an average weekend. Just goes to show you that old doesn't mean obsolete.