Meet BOB – our Budget Overland Build

Adventure Afrika has invested in a 2004 model 100 Series Land Cruiser. This one is the luxury VX model with a 4.7-litre V8. Is it a good buy? A quick search reveals a few issues that might crop up with this vehicle which is built tough, but is not in the first flush of youth.

The Land Cruiser 100 Series was legendary in its own right, but marked a time when Toyota hedged its bets on solid axles front and rear. Introduced in 1998 on world markets after being largely signed off by 1994, it marked a departure from the 80 Series with the introduction of Independent Front Suspension (IFS), and, for the first time in a Land Cruiser, a mighty 4.7-litre V8, known as the 2UZ-FE.

To keep markets in Africa, Russia and Australia happy, the 105 Series was introduced in parallel, using a full drivetrain borrowing from the outgoing 80 Series. That meant a solid front axle and either a straight-six 1HD-FTE 4.2-litre diesel or 1FZ-FE 4.5-litre petrol. These hardier vehicles looked the same and were also collectively known as the 100 Series, but had the edge for the toughest 4×4 demands.

The Land Cruiser J100 aimed at mainstream users is the very vehicle featured here. It had a wider chassis than the 105 to accommodate the independent front suspension, plus featured rack and pinion steering to improve its on-road manners. While also available with the straight-six engines, the big drawcard on this series was the V8, which was designed to produce plenty of torque from low revs. Rated at 170kW at 4800rpm, the real deal was its torque delivery of 410Nm, with some 80% of that available from 1200rpm. This engine is a real slugger, ideally suited for heavy towing duties and effortless low-speed driving.

It features a 90 degree cast iron block which makes for a hardy but heavy (255kg) engine, coupled to double overhead camshafts encased in an aluminium block and driving four valves per cylinder. Sequential multi-port fuel injection means accurate fuel metering, but it was not until after 2007 that the engine was gifted with VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing), slightly higher compression and a split-chamber manifold. These changes increased low-speed torque and improved top-end power, but did not do much to lower the fuel consumption.

Known V8 issues

While the 100 Series are renowned for being durable and reliable, they are getting older and will present with mechanical wear depending on how they have been used and maintained over the years. To be expected with the 100 Series are issues with the independent front suspension, particularly the wishbones after repeated hits to the bump stops. Broken front differential centres were also experienced in the earliest models with a two-pinion design, fixed after 1999 with a four-pinion assembly.

It is said that with regular fluid changes and proper maintenance, the V8 can deliver up to 500 000 kilometres of service. However, a trawl through the forums shows three primary engine problems to be aware of.

  1. The serpentine timing belt should be rigorously replaced every 145 000-150 000km. Breakage here could be catastrophic as the pistons will connect with and bend valves.
  2. Cracking of the exhaust manifold, particularly at the flange. Listen for a ticking sound and the presence of exhaust fumes in the engine bay.
  3. Water pump leaking and potential failure. Best caught early and best to replace along with the timing belt. Look for visible leaks and loss of coolant.

Watch these things

As Land Cruisers are invariably subject to heavy-duty use, there are a couple of other underbody issues to look for, whether buying second-hand or to keep your current vehicle in trail-ready shape. This checklist comes from the Australian website GDL Automotive, and applies to both the 105 Series (with its solid front axle) as well as the 100 Series, which has a solid axle in the rear only.

  • Swivel front hubs to be checked, stripped and regreased (105 Series).
  • Check front Panhard rod mounts for cracks (105 Series).
  • Panhard rod bushes – check for splits front and rear (105), rear only (100 Series).
  • Bent drag links (105) and tie rod ends (100/105).
  • Problems with front and rear differentials, especially if oversize tyres are fitted. Look for cracks in the rear differential housing.
  • Splits in front radius arm bushes. Note that castor correction bushes on the radius arms will help reduce tyre wear if the suspension is lifted (105 Series).
  • Check for leaks in the transfer case seal.
  • Manual gearboxes will be hard to shift into first gear if selector forks are worn.
  • Handbrake shoes to be checked and replaced as mud and dust ingress causes binding and wear.

What problems did ours have?

BOB, as our Land Cruiser will be called, was bought privately and relatively clean upon first inspection. Apart from the usual signs of wear and tear after 17 years of use, it was in good overall shape.

However, one immediate problem was that the check engine light kept coming on, so we promptly took the Cruiser to our local Toyota dealership. We had also noticed the speedometer was not working. Turns out our electrical gremlins were related to a rat which had taken up residence in the centre console. The little critter had chomped down on four cables which affected the speedometer, check engine light and the radio antenna.

With that issue sorted, and the now-deceased rat removed to a happier burial ground, we turned to the second major problem. This was the fact that, according to the Toyota’s Book of Life, this car had missed its last five services. The most critical thing was that we could not tell when the timing belt was last replaced, and as highlighted earlier, this is a major service item on the vehicle. If it fails, engine damage is almost certain. So we asked the dealer to complete a full inspection and service, for which we had to cough up slightly more than we had hoped to (R12 000).

During the inspection, three additional problems were found – a major problem, a minor problem and a cosmetic problem. The cosmetic problem was a broken bracket on the right headlight, which meant it was not secure; it needed to be replaced. The minor problem related to the CV joints: it had old boots on both sides, which meant they also needed to be replaced. Finally, the major problem was that the steering rack’s rod ends had failed completely. On a big car like the Land Cruiser 100 Series, these take a lot of punishment, especially when the car is used off-road. Fortunately, the workshop crew at Halfway Toyota Honeydew were quickly able to get this stalwart happy and healthy again. At present, we are awaiting the final bill for the repairs, which is estimated at around R8 000, which means to get this beauty back to its former glory will leave us around R20 000 out of pocket. All things considered, not a bad trade-off as we did only pay R210 000 for it (scouring the web, we have seen some on the market for as high as R260 000).

What did we learn?

This entire project promises to be a useful learning curve since buying an old off-roader is always a “project in progress”. If you find one with zero issues, you are very lucky, or you paid a huge amount for it.

In the case of our Land Cruiser, we have learnt that not all dealerships are equal when it comes to the “classics”. Some workshop managers are simply overwhelmed by what they think could be a difficult task. Thus, the first lesson learnt: take it to a mechanic or commercial dealership with an affinity for and understanding of Land Cruisers. This is not an easy car to work on, which was evident to us during the major service.

In all, this vehicle is in good condition, and we are happy to report that after a good service and inspection from the Halfway Toyota Honeydew team, we have a grand old Land Cruiser 100 Series V8 that is ready for its make-over into a properly kitted overlander. We will be seeking out and fitting the best accessories and upgrades for this build, aimed to turn BOB into an even more capable vehicle ready to take on Africa’s challenges. Watch this space to share the journey!

Vehicle information:

Land Cruiser 100 Series VX

2004 model

Mileage: 269 000km

For more on our build and a video on , check out the suspension upgrade: https://4x4afrika.com/2021/11/11/smooth-operator/

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