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Swapping from an 80 Series Land Cruiser to an Isuzu Dmax

Going back over a year ago now, I decided to sell my 80 Series Land Cruiser. This was a decision that was not done lightly after spending more time and money than I care to think about repairing, modifying and improving the vehicle. The 80 series was highly modified and was a very capable tourer. If you want to know more about it, here’s the photo’s of the build – 80 Series Land Cruiser built for touring Australia.

Before selling the 80, I’d been looking at a heap of different vehicles, and trying to find what would be suitable to replace it with. The Isuzu Dmax always appealed to me with a bulletproof motor, brilliant automatic transmission and a reputation that was extremely solid. The thing is though, it was a MASSIVE change from the 80 series, and this made the decision extremely difficult.

Changing 4WD's

Our old 80 Series Land Cruiser and new Isuzu Dmax

The two vehicles couldn’t be further from each other:

Solid axle to IFS, and a huge difference in clearance

The first, and most obvious change to me was that I’d be going from a solid front axle to independent suspension. There seems to be a lot of hate from the solid axle guys towards independent suspension; its harder to lift, not as strong and you’ll never get the same sort of flex.

However, it rides substantially better, has more clearance and is becoming the more common suspension option for 4WD’s these days across the world.

In terms of clearance overall, our 80 series ate the Dmax’s clearance for breakfast. I could comfortably crawl under the 80 anywhere, and almost sit up in spots. The Dmax doesn’t have that luxury; a fair bit of the gear hangs down much lower even after putting bigger tyres in and a suspension kit.

80 Series off road

The 80 series had had no shortage of clearance!

Dmax suspension

Independent front suspension on the Dmax

Coils to leaf springs

To me, coils are the best setup for 4WDing. They are comfortable, will carry loads well and flex fantastically. However, there’s only one (I think?!) dual cab on the market that runs coil springs on the rear, and that’s the Nissan Navara. Leaf springs are standard when it comes to the rear end on a dual cab ute.

They tend to carry weight much better, but at a cost of riding like a block of wood when you unload them.

OME suspension on a Dmax

OME GVM upgraded suspension on the Dmax

Old school mechanical motor to Common Rail Diesel

The old 1HDT motor in our 80 series has a legendary reputation. There’s a reason they still sell for the money that they do. They are completely mechanically driven, will run on average quality fuel and last a very long time. 4.2 litre turbo diesel (with a normal turbo!) that was basically a truck.

The new 4JJI motor in our Isuzu Dmax is at the other end of the scale; common rail diesel, susceptible to bad fuel (like all CRD motors), variable nozzle turbo, lots of sensors and wizardry to make the power and economy that it does out of a 3 litre engine. That said, they are one of the most reliable common rail diesel motors on the market; under stressed, have been around for many, many years and are well respected.

1HDT motor

The 1HDT motor in our old 80 Series Land Cruiser

Dmax motor

A much newer, cleaner motor in the Dmax; a 4JJ1

Wagon to Ute

My first 4WD was a ute – a Toyota Hilux. It was great, except I hated the well body on the rear. I had no issues going from a wagon to a ute – I think they are far more practical for touring with, as long as you have the right canopy on the rear.

Manual to Automatic

I was always a manual bloke. More control, more fun, better engine braking. Yada yada. You know what? I don’t think I’ll ever own a manual again. I am completely converted. The auto in the Dmax is fantastic. It has reasonable engine braking, shifts well and just makes driving a breeze. When you are 4WDing down a tight track, there’s no need to worry about keeping the RPM up, or changing gears before you hit the rock step, or all of the other things that go with a manual vehicle.

Because of this, you can watch where you are driving; guaranteed I miss far more sticks and rocks in the Dmax than I ever did in the Cruiser!

Why did we sell the 80 series Land Cruiser?

When I bought the Cruiser, I never intended to sell it when I did. I’d had it for about 5 years, and was expecting to keep it for much longer. All of the work that was done to the vehicle was for that purpose; to bring it up to scratch and to use it for years to come. However, there were lots of things that caused me to sell it off:

I’d lost faith in it

I suppose the final straw for me was when we destroyed a front wheel bearing coming out of Steep Point, and I was left stranded on the side of the road with friends and family, including our 11 month old boy and unsure of what to do next. The Cruiser ended up on a tow truck, for the first, and last time in my ownership!

I was tired of the issues, which had started to become a problem and were causing more than an inconvenience.

Now, I’ll be straight up here – the first 3 years that we owned the Land Cruiser we had zero problems. We did a heap of travel, and asides from your regular maintenance never had an issue.

However, as things often happen in runs, we had a spate of issues prior to the wheel bearing failure. Firstly, the alternator died on the way to Manjimup. No biggy; it could have been old as, and we picked one up in Bunbury, drove the rest of the day and fitted it at camp that afternoon.

From there, the fuel pump started leaking, so I had it refurbished, and at the same time decided to go to a much bigger turbo. This ran for about 5000km when it started to push coolant out of radiator and into the overflow, and wouldn’t suck it back. Eventually, it was diagnosed as a head gasket, which no doubt was caused by running substantially more boost (from about 10 PSI to 22PSI on the Gturbo).

The head was in reusable condition, but it did have the casting defects that are normal. However, given the higher boost, I opted for a brand new head and valves from Toyota. Close enough to 5 grand later, and out we drive. In between, I replaced the viscous fan hub, as I found out it was knackered, and that was another $400.

From there, the fuel pump started leaking again, was repaired again, and then it did it again. Gturbo subbed the work out to another company, who messed them around and frankly did an average job.

Then, on a trip to Carrarang station, we lost the pulley in front of the harmonic balancer which drives the airconditioner. Sarah was substantially pregnant with Oliver and sweltered on the drive from Shark Bay to Kalbarri in 42 degree temperatures.

A second hand pulley was fitted not long after, and the following year, in exactly the same place at the stromatolites near Hamelin Station stay, the pulley failed again. This time, the weather was better, so we headed into Steep Point. Arriving right at the start of the corrugations, I shifted down a gear to hear the horrible squealing of vee belts.

We pulled up, to find that one of the belts driving the viscous hub for cooling your radiator had destroyed itself, and the other one was pretty much dead. No biggy; replaced the belts (such an awkward job running a front mount safari intercooler!), and away we went.

Fan belt replacements

Replacing fan belts, again

During the stay at Steep Point, we headed into Useless Loop to collect my mother in law, and on the way there, the vee belts were flicked off. We put them back on, and had them come off a few more times. At Useless Loop, we spent several hours trying to find out why they were coming off; correct, quality gates belts, good tension, alternator not misaligned, everything tight – it just didn’t make sense.

Heading back to Steep Point, they came off again, 2 more times. Eventually, after replacing the belts for the 3rd time, and speaking to the great mechanic in Shark Bay (who also couldn’t find anything wrong), we swapped them to genuine belts and drove all the way back to Perth with no issues.

After the tow truck from the failed wheel bearing, and everything else that happened above, I was totally over it. I couldn’t explain the wheel bearing failure; I had changed them myself no more than 15,000km before hand, they were well maintained, play was regularly checked and the temperature too. The actual spigot had cracked, which I suspect allowed the bearings to come loose and destroy themselves. Even with spares, because the threads and nuts were damaged there was no option but to get a replacement part (good luck out there) or to put it on a tow truck.

We love to travel, but with a young kid on board I couldn’t handle the stress and risk of having more issues when we were in the middle of no where.

80 Series wheel bearing

The final straw that broke the camels back; stuck on the side of the road half way back from Steep Point

Weight

If my memory serves me correctly, our 80 Series had a payload of 690kg. By the time you add on all the gear that we had, plus pack your normal stuff, there was no way in the world it was going to be under that.

I don’t believe there are many 4WD’s out there travelling for more than a week at a time without a trailer that are legal, and within their payloads.

Fuel economy

When I got the cruiser, we were doing 13 – 14 litres per hundred. Not amazing, but certainly not bad. Add on all the gear, the bigger tyres and it was sitting around 16.5 – 18L/100km. Not great. Now, given it did have 140 odd litres of fuel on board it still had a good range, but it was not cheap at all to drive.

Filling the Dmax with fuel

Filling the new bus up in Kakadu

Not comfortable to drive

There were some things that I loved about the cruiser. The fact that I could pull out and overtake a triple road train in no time at all was one of them (after the Gturbo!). However, there were a few things that I really wasn’t so happy about. The first, was the various gauges that I had to keep an eye on. I had a battery voltage gauge on one side, EGT down the bottom, Boost next to it and a temperature gauge next to that. When you are constantly monitoring your gauges to ensure everything is ok, and they are spread everywhere, it doesn’t make for pleasant driving.

I was constantly scanning for something wrong, and it doesn’t give you much faith! Besides that, the car was pretty noisy, the stereo was rubbish, the windows would often stick and overall it just wasn’t comfortable, especially by today’s standards.

It made financial sense

Two to one

Prior to selling the 80, our family car was a small Toyota Yaris, which was getting a bit small. That had to go, and it made sense to replace both vehicles with one. The savings in rego, insurance and running costs easily pay for the extra fuel the Dmax uses over the Yaris.

80 series depreciation

Beyond that, I’d noticed a shift in the market regarding 80 series. They are by far the most expensive, old 4WD on the market by a long stretch. That’s a huge testament to their build quality. A clean, tidy Pajero, Prado or GQ Patrol of the same era would be lucky to sell for 3 – 12k. The 80’s were still selling (with the 1HDT or FT motor) for 15 – 35k.

However, the 200 series had been around for some time, and you could pick second hand ones up for low 40’s, which in turn was driving the price of the FTE 100 series down, and that works its way down. I suspect that the value of 80 series land cruises is going to go down because of this, but maybe it wont!

80 Series Land Cruiser for sale

The 80 series, on the market. It sold for 21k

Future repairs

With a 27 year old 4WD that’s done more than 400,000km, there’s always something needing attention. I had no history of the clutch, and although it was holding well still I suspected that would need doing soon too. The gearbox had the normal clunky shift down to second, so you’d rebuild that at the same time.

The power steering was weeping, like they all do, and I suspected there would be other repairs on the cards to. It’s all a gamble either way; I’d replaced or rebuilt so much of the driveline that you just never know, but I felt I’d spent enough keeping the 80 on the road.

Novated lease

I will mention that on this vehicle, I decided to go down the Novated lease path. This is an agreement between yourself, your employee and a lease company that packages the running costs of your vehicle into one payment each month. Some of this comes out of your pre-tax income, and some your post income. There are some savings to be had over paying cash or getting a personal loan, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We needed an auto

Sarah doesn’t have her manual license, and has no plans to get it either. That meant 100% of the driving was done by me. Ever driven more than 2400km in two days, being the only driver? It’s not a whole lot of fun.

In order to make things safer (especially if I hurt myself), an auto was a must so Sarah could drive it as well.

Turbo diesel manual 80 Series

Our old 80 series manual

Safety improvements

There’s no doubt newer vehicles are safer for their occupants. The 80 Series was built like a brick, which is good for conserving the vehicle in an accident but not good for the passengers. Crumple zones, air bags all round and traction control/ESC make it a far safer vehicle on and off road, and that’s a big priority with a young bub.

How does the new Dmax go?

So far, I’m wrapped with the Dmax. It’s certainly not the perfect 4WD, but it suits our requirements well. It has had a replacement turbo under warranty, but I believe this was just a random fault, potentially caused by a lot of idling time in the car yard. You can read more about that here – A new turbo for our brand new Dmax.

It’s completely legal in terms of weight, gets decent fuel economy, is capable (not nearly as good as the 80, but they are totally different cars), comfortable and functional.

I’d like a bit more power, but am not willing to sacrifice reliability to get it, so the engine stays standard for now.

If you want to see the full build, check it out here – Isuzu Dmax build for touring Australia

Drive your 4WD carefully

Having a ball at El Questro in the Dmax

It’s done 28,000km, and asides from the replacement turbo and an annoying transfer case leak, I’ve had no issues. A large part of that was a 3 month trip through the Kimberley and Northern Territory, which you can read about here – 3 months with a camper trailer, 4WD and toddler; the summary.

Around town, it usually achieves 10L/100km with a large chunk of weight still on board.

We will be doing a lap of Australia in the next few years, and the 80 just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. The Dmax will do it with ease though.

How was the 80 better?

More capable

There’s no denying that a twin locked 80 is more capable than an Isuzu Dmax with slightly bigger tyres and a bit of a lift. I accept that the Dmax won’t go as far, and to be honest, these days don’t push things as far anyway. The Dmax is our daily driver, and needs to be available for that purpose. I’m happy to compromise on capability for the other benefits.

More fun to drive

There’s nothing like putting your foot into a 4WD that gets up and boogies. Whether its on the sand, in the mud or even just overtaking a truck, our 80 was a lot of fun to drive. At the time of sale, our 80 series had nearly the same power and a lot more torque at the wheels than our Dmax does now at the engine.

80 series off road

You’d have a ball in the 80

It felt stronger

I’m 100% confident that the 80 series is a stronger vehicle. They are built like a brick, and I wasn’t concerned to hit a bump or hole with a bit more speed. I drive the Dmax with a fair bit more care, as I suspect it will break much easier! Perhaps this is due to the weight hanging on the rear, but everything feels a bit more fragile. Don’t get me wrong; they are a tough vehicle, but I think the 80 was stronger.

Sounded and looked nicer

With the Gturbo, 3 inch exhaust and a stack of mods, the 80 sounded fantastic, and looked great too. The turbo whistle, and grunty noise it had was great.

Traction and 4WD Tyres

The old 80 Series

Life goes on; I’ve made my decision and spent a fair bit of coin and time on the Dmax getting it how I wanted it to be. Would I take it back? Not a chance in the world. Do I miss the 80 occasionally? Yep, and I think I’d be mad if I didn’t.

Have you changed 4WD’s and gone in a totally different direction? Do you regret it?

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