Before building our Landcruiser I owned a variety of different cars/SUV’s.  I just sold my Hybrid Cadillac Escalade in preparation for this trip. This was my 3rd Escalade and being a hybrid, it was the best on gas so far. My first Toyota was a Sequoia, which wasn’t as robust as it should’ve been.  I’ve also had a many jeeps…6 of them to be exact.  The only one that remains is my beloved 82′ Jeep Scrambler (CJ-8), which is sitting at a friend’s farm patiently waiting for us back in Nashville, TN.

You learn a lot when you are trying to buy a vehicle that will become the center of your world for the next 18 months – your home, your kitchen, your transportation, your safety net, your dog’s home – its a lot of pressure.  We searched far and wide for the perfect partner for this journey and it has been educational.  And in the end, I think we made the right decision. We ended up deciding on a 1997 Toyota Landcruiser that spent most of it’s life in Colorado.


This is what we were told about our Landy when we bought her –

Repairs (all done by Toyota Dealer with Toyota parts):
* Factory Electric Differential Lockers
*All Seals Replaced, including just recently rear main seal, and the head gasket for preventive maintenance at 100k by original owner.
* Water Pump
* Power Steering Pump (including all lines)
* All Fluids Changed in July
* Drive Shafts Rebuilt and Re-balanced
* Sweep Seals Replaced on Front Axle
* New Front Locking Differential
* Spark Plugs and Wires
* New Brake Booster
* Master Cylinder
* Load Sensing Proportioning Valve
* EFI cleaning, Intake Manifold cleaning, Air Flow Sensor cleaned
* New EGR Valve, New EGR Modulator, EGR coolant Sensor
* All New Vacuum Lines
* New Thermostat, Coolant Temp Sensor
* O2 Sensors
* Oil changed and air filter changed regularly

When we flew down to Orlando to pick her up, she was FILTHY.  I should’ve known there might be hidden problems under all that dirt. We did everything we were supposed to do when you buy a vehicle – we ran the carfax, took it to Toyota for a full inspection (passed with flying colors), compared her to other similar Landcruisers, but she still had quite a few issues.  We were so excited and had already spent the time/money flying there, etc. that we decided we would just fix anything that it might need.  The main one being that she burned oil.  We didn’t notice this until we got back to Nashville.  Yes, it is normal for 80-series landcruisers to burn oil – but it is not normal for them to burn this much oil. The good news was that she wasn’t blowing massive amounts of blue smoke when we drove, just some white puffs when we started it and if we accelerated hard.  The problem: The engine’s valve stem seals. The fix: a top-end engine rebuild.

The winch line was also destroyed.  The guy who owned the car before us clearly didn’t know how to pull someone out properly and passed it off to us as a usable line.  Nope, not with the trip we are taking.  We replaced the steel cable with a synthetic Amsteel line from Southeast Overland.

Also she ran HOT.  Like so hot that you had to speed up when you walked past the front of the car so you didn’t get a burn.  The air conditioner would quit working sometimes while driving on the interstate because of the temperature. We took off the PO’s insulation in the engine bay, added the header wrap, snorkel and blue fan clutch mod and that combo really cooled it down. We’ve had no problems with the engine bay temperature or air conditioner since.

Other Additions:
* The whole truck is completely sound proofed with Dynamat: under the hood, carpets, doors.
*Center Locking Diff Switch, with pin mod.
* CX Racing Headers with High Flow Cats
* Borla exhaust system
* Front ARB bumper with Warn 10,000 lb. Winch
* Slee Rear Bumper with Factory Hitch, Rear Tire Carrier and Jerry Can Carrier
* Slee Transfer Case Skid Plate
* Old Man Equipment 2 ½ inch Lift Kit with Heavy Springs to accommodate extra weight or towing
* 33″ Nitto Terra Grappler A/T Tires
* Spidertrax 1.5″ – 6 on 5.5″ Wheel Spacers
* Baja Full Roof Carrier Rack, with light rack (we modified the roof rack so our rooftop tent didn’t sit up so high)
* 6 IPF Lights up front and 3 IPF Lights in rear
* ARB 80 Quart Fridge/Freezer (massive)
* IBS Dual Battery Management System
* ARB Safari Locking Double Drawer System in rear
* JVC Touch screen Dvd player deck
* Rear View Camera
* Rear Subwoofer and Amplifier
* Viper Alarm with Remote Start

Inside Back

We have also added:
* CVT Mt. Shasta Rooftop Tent and Annex with anti-condensation mat and security nuts – this thing is AWESOME.  If you haven’t seen how a rooftop tent works, look it up on youtube – its very cool.  We will be posting our own youtube video of the setup/takedown process soon.
*CVT Annex with custom re-enforced brackets
*Custom steel security bars on all of the windows.  Removable security bars on the front driver/passenger windows
*Custom steel shelf
*Custom addition to cargo barrier
*Hi-Lift Jack and accessories
*Spare-tire grill
*Expedition Portal Trash-a-roo
*Slee Rotopax Pivot carrier (modified for Slee jerry can basket)
*13.3lb Propane Tank mounted on a Powertank bracket
*VAAIR Air Compressor and auxiliary tank
*Custom kill switch
*Club anti-theft device (our worst nightmare is our car getting stolen early in the trip so we are taking multiple measures)
*We replaced both batteries and put in 2 matching Duralast 31Ms (2 unicorns)
*Wrapped the headers in DEI Titanium Exhaust wrap (made from lavarock)
*Installed an ARB Safari snorkel -Installation details are here
*LED interior lights
*V-Kool security film on all windows
*Blue fan clutch modification with 20K fluid
*Custom locking steel box in place of back seats
*Tuffy locking center console modified to fit the landcruiser
*Custom graphics on hood and side panels
*Recovery gear including Maxtrax, ARB tire repair kit, tree saver, etc.
…Plus a ton of other things that I can’t remember at the moment…I’ll add to the list when I remember.

We decided to get the landcruiser in tip-top shape mechanically before we left the states in order to minimize any problems we might encounter along the way.   I did a ton of research and got multiple quotes from different shops, but I settled on getting the work done by the legendary Robbie Antonson of Adventure Off Road in Boulder, CO (aka PowderPig on the forums). He wasn’t the cheapest or the most expensive, but I knew the quality of work would be spot on so we spent 3 weeks in Colorado getting all the work done.

Here is a list of what he did:

Toyota Head gasket kit
Aisin Water pump
Toyota Radiator
Toyota Thermostat
T-stat O ring
Toyota fan Shroud
Heater control valve
Upper radiator hose
Lower radiator hose
Mid rad hose
½ 90 bend hose
5/8 90 bend hose
½ silicone hose 6 inch’s
5/8 silicone hose 1 ft
Hose clamps 5/8 X 6
Hose clamps 2 ½ size , X 4
Air intake hose, filter to TB
Front Calipers X 2
Rear calipers X 2
Front 100 series ceramic pads
Rear 80 series ceramic pads
Parking brake shoes
Rear Rotors X 2
Rear inner axle seals X 2
Rear hub seals X 2
Paper gasket rear hub, X 2
Exhaust headers gaskets down pipe X 2
Rear t-case bearing
Front t-case bearing
T-case FIPG
Tranny rear seal, Toyota
T-case input seal
Rear t-case out seal
Front t-case out seal
Fuel filter
Oil filter
Shell Rotella 15w-40 X 9
Gear Lube 5 qts, Valvoline X 5
ATF (tranny, PS fluid) X 7
Green Coolant X 2
Brake fluid 1 qt
Grease, 3 lbs
Distributor cap
Distributor Rotor
Spark plug, Platinum X 6
Koyo Inner wheel bearing
Koyo Outer wheel bearing
Thrust washers X 2
Toyota hub seals X 2
Star lock washers X 2
Insert for bolt hole replacement X 2
Matusbai u-joint X 2
Brake lines, axle to knuckle X 2
Toyota knuckle stud washers X 8
Toyota steering gear box X 1

Cylinder head gasket
Extra battery
Remove&Replace radiator and shroud
Fuel pump Remove&Replace with box R&R
Rear axle service
T-case Remove&Replace
Reseal front and rear out puts
Remove&Replace steering gear box
Replace rear brake shoes
Remove&Replace power steering box
Install new calipers(2) front
Install new calipers(2) rear
Bleed brakes
Drill and tap for inserts
Replace wheel bearings on driver side
Adjust wheel bearing passenger side
Install 2 u-joints
Hose work, coolant and radiator
Install brake lines
Install 8 washers, torques bolts

Outsourced labor
Machine shop
Exhaust work

We also ended up having a whole new exhaust system with custom high-strength brackets installed from the headers back. This quality work was done at Boulder Muffler in Boulder, CO.
Now she purrs like a kitten.  She’s much more responsive going up hills, and now I can actually pass people on the interstate…that was not happening before.  I would recommend AOR and Boulder muffler to anyone that gets a new cruiser.  Robbie knows how to work on them with his eyes closed and knows exactly what wear and tear to look for in a higher mileage Toyota.  We have had ZERO problems so far and we’ve beat the hell out of the landcruiser on the washboard roads, potholes, topes, etc. in Baja.

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Landcruiser-SedonaLandcruiser-La Jolla

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Hi, our names are Karin and Sunny and we have sold everything to travel the world. In our former lives, Sunny was a criminal defense attorney and I was an IT engineer. Our dog and travel companion, Gracie, was a world-renowned expert in the art of lounging and now serves as our chief security officer. We are far happier in this life of travel than we ever were in our day to day grinds. What started as a never ending quest for vacations (we went to Miami 2x, Los Angeles 2x, San Francisco, San Diego 2x and Costa Rica 2x all in the last year!) has led us to sell our house, our other cars, our possessions to now embarking on an overland journey down the PanAmerican through the US, Mexico, Central and South America - Tierra del Fuego here we come!