Triple-locked Classic 80 Series Land Cruiser in the Black Hills

There’s only one thing to do when you get the off-road exploration itch.

Wes grew up in small town northeast Nebraska where the only off-road trails were two tracks through random corn fields. After college, he ended up moving to the Black Hills of South Dakota where he fell in love with the forest. With his outdoor hobbies, it only made sense for Wes to get a reliable 4×4 truck, so he picked himself up a Tacoma. Through his friends and exploration of the Black Hills trail system, Wes quickly got the off-road itch. A lift and 33s soon turned into a fully built, armored, and geared Tacoma on 35s after two short years. Wes’s passion for adventure and the great outdoors collided with his love of vehicles, and he soon realized you’re never “done” building your truck. Nor are you done building trucks, period. That Tacoma led him to the truck you see here, a classic 1996 80 Series Land Cruiser that looks better today than it ever has.

This nearly 30-year-old classic Land Cruiser has never looked better.

A New Career Brings a New Vehicle

Wes decided he wanted to turn his passion into his career and transitioned into a sales and marketing role for C4 Fabrication, a company based out of Sturgis, South Dakota, that manufactures off-road armor for Toyota vehicles. With three young kids, Wes saw an opportunity to get out of the medical field and do something he loved. That would hopefully allow him to enjoy more time at home or adventuring with his family.

With his career move, Wes decided it was time to part ways with his Tacoma and pick a rig up for cash. He knew he wanted another Toyota. He also knew he wanted more capability. His choice? A 1996 triple-locked 80 series Land Cruiser. “I’ve always loved Land Cruisers. From the moment I got my Tacoma, I couldn’t help but feel pulled toward building out a classic Toyota Land Cruiser. When the Tacoma sold, I knew that was my chance to find one.”

He also knew he wanted more capability. His choice? A 1996 triple-locked 80 series Land Cruiser.

Up front, Baja Designs  Squadrons are mounted on to the Dissent Off-road bumper.
Wes paired his front bumper with a Dissent Off-road dual swing out in the rear.

Searching For A Unicorn

Find one he did. Wes scoured the country for four months before he finally found an 80 that checked off all the boxes. He knew he wanted a 1FZ with under 200k original miles. He also wanted no rust, factory lockers, and if possible, some general baselining already done (head gasket, and so on). After months of searching, the unicorn 80 was finally found in California. Ever bought a classic Land Cruiser sight unseen? Neither had Wes. The owner sent countless videos and pictures, and he even arranged a time to meet one of Wes’s friends for a test drive before the deal was finalized. The 80 got put on a trailer and two weeks later, landed at a Flying J truck stop in South Dakota where Wes was eagerly waiting to pick it up.

Ever bought a classic Land Cruiser sight unseen? Neither had Wes. The owner sent countless videos and pictures, and he even arranged a time to meet one of Wes’s friends for a test drive before the deal was finalized.

The Air Up Gear Down drawer system stores all the essentials.

“The minute the 80 arrived I couldn’t stop smiling,” Wes shared. “Was it perfect? Not at all. It had a few scuffs and scrapes, but it was everything I was wanting in an 80 series. I think I had parts ordered before I got back home,” he laughed.

Wes made the mistake of building his Tacoma many guys do: three tire sizes, two different suspension setups, and armor in waves. “It’s good to be cautious and not overbuild, but looking back at the Tacoma, I knew what I wanted the Cruiser to be and what I wanted to use it for. I went right to a dialed suspension setup, 37s, and rebuilt the axles with all the best hardware. I wanted there to be no weak links. Everything gets upgraded with quality parts,” he explained.

I knew what I wanted the Cruiser to be and what I wanted to use it for. I went right to a dialed suspension setup, 37s, and rebuilt the axles with all the best hardware…

Never a dull moment in the Black Hills, a mountain goat joins the fun.

Striving To Be Unique

Wes’s Land Cruiser quickly took shape and he started taking to the hills to adventure. You may have seen Wes’s Land Cruiser on the internet, but for a reason Wes never expected. “I wanted to do some kind of custom decal or wrap on the Land Cruiser, but I wanted to keep it classic and timeless.” Wes said. “I worked with my buddy Jake at Lucid Wraps and we landed on a custom classic decal for the Land Cruiser with old-school Toyota colors.” The decal circled Instagram and Toyota forums. So why did Wes change the decal up? “I loved the classic Toyota colors but pretty soon there were a handful of 80s and other rigs with the exact same one. So, I had to switch it back up and do something unique to me. I tried to tie the gold factory logos into my wheel color, and we landed on a gray/bronze combo.”

The 1FZ engine proudly sits under the hood.

Subtle details make this 80 series Land Cruiser stand out in a group.

Like Wes mentioned before, you’re never really done building a truck. As Wes continues building his Cruiser, he finds himself getting pulled to more and more technical wheeling. “The hills have some great trails, and I’ve had the Cruiser all over Colorado and down to Moab. I can’t get enough. Each time I push the 80s limits farther I’ll find a weak link, and next thing you know, I have another project on my hands.”

As Wes continues building his Cruiser, he finds himself getting pulled to more and more technical wheeling.

The Land Cruiser Community

“A cruiser on 37s that is as heavy as mine definitely has its weak points. It drives like a dog and is underpowered. It’s also top heavy and can wander on road. I’ve done my best to mitigate a lot of those problems. Luckily Land Cruisers have great aftermarket support in the U.S. Even if you can’t find it, you can make something work. And likely, someone else has already done it and documented it on the Ih8mud forum. There’s a custom anti-rock in the rear now because I kept ripping out sway bar brackets from the rear axle. I found about three other guys with similar setups and I was able to ask them questions before I went down the rabbit hole.”

Wes goes on to say, “The Land Cruiser community is also great. I’ve got a handful of guys that know way more than I do that I’ll go to with questions. Some of my good buddies I’ve actually met through this hobby.”

So whats next for Wes? Well, he’s already thinking about 3-link and LS swap. It truly does never end does it?

Th impressive suspension setup allows Wes to off road where he chooses, challenging himself as he goes.

UPGRADES

1996 80 Series Land Cruiser

Engine: 1FZ, 4.5-liter, 24-valve inline 6

Suspension: Delta Vehicle Systems radius arms; Tom Woods front and rear driveshafts; Yukon 5.29 gears; Sumo 3:1 T case gears; Aisin manual hubs; Dobinsons USA MRR suspension; Dobinsons adjustable link and panhards; Dobinsons VT coils; Timbren Industries bump stops; Marlin Crawler HD steering; RCV 30 spline chromoly axles; Front sway disconnect; Rock Jock rear custom anti-rock

Wheels & Tires: Toyo Tires 37×12.5 MTs; KMC Tank Beadlocks 17×9 -38 offset

Exterior Accessories: Dissent Off-road front bumper, Dissent Off-road rear bumper; White Knuckle Off Road rock sliders; Rhino Rack USA Pioneer roof rack; Go Fast Camper Superlite tent; Baja Designs Lights; Dual Full throttle AGM group 27

Interior Accessories: Switch Pros official; Midland USA MXT275; Air Down Gear Up Drawer System; Scheelman USA Vario F seats; Power Tank on board air


Editor’s Note: A version of this story previously appeared in YOTA 2023.

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