Swapping from an 80 Series Land Cruiser to an Isuzu Dmax

Going back over 4 years 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.

EDIT – if you want to know how the Dmax has gone after 6 years, have a read of this – Isuzu Dmax Review.

If you’re thinking about swapping from an old to new 4WD, we’ve got that covered too.

2016 Isuzu Dmax
The new Dmax, all set up for touring Australia
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, generally 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 going up in tyre size 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.

Leaking fuel pump
Our fuel pump started to leak quite badly

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.

1HDT head replacement
Replacing the head gasked and head on our 1HDT

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 air conditioner. 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 fan 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.

1HDT belts flipping over
The belts just kept flipping off, or upside down

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


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’d go as far as saying the 80 was probably overloaded without any gear in it at all, and just the accessories on it, which puts you in a bad place when it comes to 4WD insurance and liability if you have an accident.

I don’t believe there are many 4WD’s out there decked out for travelling for more than a week at a time without a trailer that are legal, and within their payloads. It’s just far too easy to overload them.

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 fuel 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 gauge 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 registration, 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.

I could see the beginnings of the steering box cracking, and no matter how well a vehicle is built it eventually gets to a stage where its uneconomical to repair.

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 entire 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. With two young kids in the back its made life much easier too, and as mentioned above I’d never go back to a manual (unless it was for a hardcore, play 4WD).

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. Of course, traction control vs diff locks is another story, but we’ve since had a rear diff lock installed.

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 Dmax turbo failure that was covered 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 72,000km, and although its had a few issues it’s done reasonably well. Not well enough to stand on the roof tops and shout praise, but I’m not unhappy with it so far. If you want to know more about what’s gone wrong, you can check it out here – Isuzu Dmax problems.

A large part of those kilometres 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, and 13 – 14L/100km towing our 2.3 tonne camper trailer, and clocking in at around 5.3 – 5.5 tonnes total. Not bad at all.

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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  1. Hi Hayden,

    Thanks for such a constructive and well articulated comment, and I fully agree. Things can and do go wrong when you least expect it, even if its not common and the vehicle has been well cared for.

    The hardest thing is picking a point at which you should move onto something else; like you say, you think its sorted and then something else appears and it gets old real fast. We could have saved a huge chunk of money by selling the vehicle earlier, but its not until you stand back and look at it objectively that this makes sense.

    I agree with the gauges; I have one ultra gauge now that displays everything, and alarms if anything goes too high. I think the more issues you have the more inclined you are to look at the gauges!

    Good call on the coolant temp alarm. I have that displayed on my monitor but would assume if the coolant was to drain out it probably wouldn’t change temperature much?

    Take care

  2. It’s hard to regain faith in a vehicle once it’s let you down a few times. As a mechanic I can tell you for sure it’s not always poor maintenance or age that causes something to fail, sometimes it’s just bad luck. Everyone always wants a finger to point at why there was a problem, often there is a reason but also sometimes “shit happens”. This certainly applies to new cars too. I had the same on my Landcruiser, it went through a whole bunch of major problems and for a long time it was never not broken. That’s fair, it’s an old car. You think “once these bits are sorted she’ll be good again” then the new part plays up or something else happens. Now it’s fairly well sorted but I’ve just lost faith and interest in it. Once upon a time I would have said it’s a forever car but now I don’t think I’ll be all that upset to see it go. More time on the tracks, less in the shed.

    On the topic of gauges I think it’s critical for them to have alarms. If you haven’t been experiencing problems you don’t tend to look at the gauges. Personally I’m not a fan of having a zillion gauges spread all over the dash. I run a Madman EMS2, it can read everything you want (2 vdo temp senders, 2 pressure, 1 egt, coolant level and voltage) with programable alarms all in a 2″ gauge.

    I think it’s worth fitting coolant temp alarms on modern cars too. I have had people say “eh it’s still under warranty” so yes your motor might get replaced for free but you might also be stranded 500kms from town 3 days into a 6 week trip away and need a new engine instead of of repairing a coolant leak.

  3. HI Nick,

    They are both great, but mating them together would not be that easy. The 80 is also much heavier and the turbo diesel motors are fantastic too. I’m not sure it would be worth the effort especially if you want to keep it engineered and legal.

    All the best

  4. Hey mate love the dmax and love the 80 what about a combo of the 2 4jj1 80 what are your thoughts on this and do think it would be hard too pull off.

  5. Hey Sam,

    You very welcome mate.

    Good to hear your 80 is in great condition. Steering sway can be related to a range of things, but I’d start with a good tyre shop in regards to the wear, and perhaps balancing of the wheels. There can be small amounts of wear in a number of components that contributes to the overall slop.

    The issues on our 80 were spread all over the vehicle, with some of them random, some of them related to age and some of them self imposed. I have no doubt that just getting the fuel pump rebuilt and not touching the turbo would have alleviated some of the problems.

    The motor was a factory turbo diesel, in a GX. Not sure if it ever came with stickers, but the motor was rebuilt prior to me getting it (at around 270k from memory). Not sure what let go (perhaps the big end bearings, as they were an issue in the 1HDT’s).

    It wasn’t kept near the coast, but it was used as a 4WD for lots of desert trips. I don’t really know exactly what it was used for, but suspect it did get used as a 4WD for a lot of its life as there was a fair bit of general wear and tear inside and out, and it wasn’t cleaned or well kept.

    I knew there would be issues when I bought it; at that stage it was already 22 odd years old, and I could feel considerable backlash in the driveline. This is wear accumulating from the gearbox, transfer case, center and front + rear diffs, uni joins, tail shafts and CV’s.

    Every bit of work done to it was done well. I’m a qualified mechanical fitter, and don’t take shortcuts, and only use trusted mechanics.

    They are a great vehicle, but no matter the build quality or design over time things wear out and need replacing, and I copped a huge chunk of that in the last part of ownership.

    Beyond that, it wasn’t legal in terms of weight, wouldn’t tow our camper trailer comfortably and with a new family on board I wanted more safety.

    Your 1HZ (if unopened and non turbo) is a brilliant motor. Lacking power, but essentially bulletproof if you look after it.

    All the best mate

  6. Hi Aaron, thank you so much for all the information you have provided on your experience with both vehicles, I appreciate all the effort you went to to share your experience and what you have learnt.

    It has helped me understand a lot, I am a third owner of 322k 1992 GXL 1hz, it is in amazing overall condition (motor is tight, all electrics work, gearbox is sound) starting to see some surfacing issues though underneath the vehicle, (steering sway, front left wheel excessive wear)
    What do I need to look out for ?

    I am really quite amazed at how many issues you mentioned you came up against with your 80, what section of the vehicle would you say you had the most trouble with , (driveline, engine, electrics etc)

    Was it an after fitted 1hdt? (I don’t see turbo written down the side)

    Was the vehicle kept near the coast and subject to harsh conditions?

    Being a qualified fitter did you foresee the severity of any of these issues you mentioned when inspecting the vehicle for purchase?

    And last but not least are you the type of person (being mechanically apt) that is hyper pedantic about how things are done etc. (Which may have some sway in your report)

    Thanks again for all the info.


  7. Hey Jack,

    Happy with the Dmax so far, and like you say, its nice to know the family are safer too.

    All the best mate

  8. With the family aboard you made the correct choice to get rid of the 80 .
    The Dmax with it’s ABS ,traction control , stability control , air bags , pre tensioners ,etc is a far better car for a daily drive and a touring vehicle . Safety first .

  9. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. I am extremely pleased with the change, and should have done it much earlier. You live and learn.

    The 80 had extremely good quality work done to it, both by myself and reputable mechanics. I am a qualified fitter and am well aware of the failings. I did rebuild/replace a lot of items, and still had more to go, but beyond that the vehicle was simply not fit for purpose anymore. It was too heavy, without towing anything rendering it unsuitable for our travel.

    I suspect the belt issue may actually have been the harmonic balancer, but I’ll never know


  10. Good to hear you’re happy with your purchase? To be fair I think your bad luck run with the 80 is more to do with poor maintenance and lack of upkeep to be blunt,
    Basically any car or 4wd is going to need new ‘everythings’ between 300-400k km
    If you hadve gone right through the 80
    When you bought it and bought an auto instead and not had some quationable people work on it with the belt/pulley issues I think your experience would have been very different, each to their own though you get what suits your needs the best

  11. Hey Merv,

    Cheers for the thoughts. I too dreaded the day I was to sell the 80, and to be honest there are times when I still miss it. The Dmax is certainly not as robust as the 80, especially if you flog it, but they are a solid vehicle all round. You can’t go wrong with an 80 either though, as long as its well maintained. They are amazing vehicles. At the end of the day there’s no perfect solution, so you just run what is best for your situation.

    So long as it keeps going and doesn’t give any headaches why bother upgrading?

    All the best

  12. Aaron,

    Nice write-up, I do not look forward to the time when I have to say goodbye to my 80. I think the DMAX is probaby the best choice when it comes to dual cabs, look at Graham from “4WDAction” he has proved time and time again how well they go up against the 80.

    When the 80 first came out, I always said I want to own one of them. Everyone said they were the new fandangle 4WD’s with all new technology. Happens to all new things that come out, it’s just change. I do feel though, like when I was a kid, owning an 80 is like those old guys getting around in the old 45’s when the 80 were released. I think its a lifestyle, my kids (3,4 and 9) all love it. We have heaps of fun in it. She is only the 1HZ so even more basic, I have spent a truck load on her and probably will continue too.

    We only just completed a desert trip for a month in April this year, its funny how when we pulled up, how many people commented “You don’t see electrical issues in these old trucks, wish I….”, we all laugh and have another beer or fill-up at the servo.

    Will stop my rambling now, glad you are happy with your choice and as you said, its “your choice” and seems like you have made a good one for you and your family.


  13. Hi Dan,

    Each to their own. It won’t be worth 20k +, but it will have probably saved that much in fuel by the time I sell it. These motors run a maximum of 17 PSI boost, which is 5 PSI less than what I had on the 80 series, and they are designed to run that boost (unlike the 10 odd PSI 80’s are designed for). The Dmax will will comfortably do 400,000km. These motors have limited electrics compared to others; not even remotely concerned there.

    I’ve seen lots of 80 series and GQ’s on tilt trays too.

    Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d bought the Dmax earlier. The 80’s are good, but they are old, require a lot of attention and frankly didn’t suit my requirements anymore.

    That said, I don’t have to justify my decision, and neither do you. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion 🙂


  14. Will you get 2ok+ for your dmax when it has done 400 000klms? that if it will get there.
    Double the boost on the dmax as you did on the 80 and see how long it lasts.
    Wait to you have a electrical problem out of warranty and you’ll wish you had the 80.
    Have seen a lot of dmaxs and hiluxs on tilt tray trucks coming from cape York all with electrical problems