Friday, December 21, 2012


I've moaned and groaned many times about the fact that the kind of vehicle I want is not available to me in America, although it's currently made in many places around the world. I'm talking about the old school Toyota Landcruiser SUV and pickup models, evolved from the FJ 60 series of the 1980's.

In pictures of conflicts around the world, a couple of die hard models of Toyotas are often seen. The FJ Cruiser and Pickup models, and the old late 80's Toyota 4x4 Hi-Lux series trucks, off of which I believe also the 4-Runner of those years were based.

Here, I can't afford to buy a new Toyota Landcruiser, and we make pretty good money. But spending $80k plus is not an option.

The FJ Cruiser, while a great ride, would be not unlike me buying a Vette or a Camaro as my next car. Either would guarantee a constant series of complains about no rear seats or inadequate rear seats and the difficulties of a coupe for back seat passengers. Although the FJ Cruiser has the half back doors, it's not the same as a 4 door. Also, the FJ Cruiser has inadequate rear storage area for my family and the trips and gear we take and tote.

So if the FJ Cruiser were longer (It's wide enough for my liking, wider than the 4-Runner), and had 4 real passenger doors, it would be a good choice.

If such a thing happened, it'd be nice to see a V8 version with some serious drive train and power train gear available for a real off road ride.

But how much could it cost, in terms of future profits, for Toyota to fit their currently produced international models like the FJ60 derivatives for the US market?

Some airbags, some emission stuff, some engine alterations to compensate for emissions stuff and maybe a few other minor changes for the US market and it would seem like you'd be ready to go, and I believe the talents at Toyota could arrange all these things in a few months if not weeks. How hard could it be?

Likewise, as always, the home team is not doing it for me in their 4wd SUV and truck department. Jeep comes close, but bad experiences with our long owned Wrangler some years ago scare me about spending tens of thousands of dollars for a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, which is the only kind of Jeep to have if you want some real off road capability.

Ford used to make the Bronco, and I believe in some years in the early 70's before the design changed in 1977 or 1978, that some hot rod versions were available.

Why isn't Ford making a very capable 4x4 off road vehicle perhaps a wee bit longer than the pre-1977 Bronco and put a Mustang GT engine in it with a serious transmission and some serious DANA drive trains and serious suspension (think like the old Bronco which is like the Wrangler, a real off road vehicle).

I know the car makers couldn't resist making upscale models to sell for tens of thousands of dollars more than a very functional and more base level model, and that would be great as long as they'd make the car to begin with and have a reasonably priced model for the working man and woman.

Likewise, I could afford but don't want to spend that kind of money on a Quigley 4x4 van conversion of a Ford or Chevy Van. That would be a very useful vehicle for my family. Why isn't Ford or Chevy or even Dodge making a real 4x4 built on a truck frame instead of having some kind of AWD system. There's a big market for these, as evidenced by the companies converting vans to 4x4, and I'd think a cheaper priced 4x4 van from the factory instead of a custom shop would be a good seller and might get folks like me in the saddle if you'd bring the price down 10 or 15 grand.

Chevy, of course, doesn't really have the illustrious history of a model like the Bronco of the old days, but I know some Blazer models back in the 70's were available with some heavy duty components and powerful engines.

Let's see that again, Chevy.

How hard could it be to built a sport utility vehicle sans the excessive luxury?

Instead of leather seats, how about dual batteries, heavy duty alternator/water pump/radiator/transmission cooling system and the like?

Instead of a knob on the dashboard, how about the old school shifting lever for 4x4 options on the floor, where it belongs?

The list could go on and on. But a real 4x4, something comparable to a Wrangler Unlimited but a bit longer like the FJ 60 or even like the venerable Land Rover Defender 90 model.

American car makers or Toyota for that matter could make a vehicle comparable to the Defender 90. Performance. Torque. Available in soft or hard top 4 door hatchback versions or a 4 door truck version. Spartan and heavy duty. Made more for off road than the road but is street legal and civilized enough to be a daily driver.

If I had the cash for a used vehicle costing as much as the used mid-90's Defender 90 models available that I'd be interested in, I'd be driving one. A more pristine and less likely for problems Defender 90 with low miles have sold for as high as $45k. Lesser models or higher miles trucks have gone for much less, but then you're also going to be paying money to fix your rid.

Except for the higher performance of the engine in the Defender 90, the old Landcruisers fit the bill for what I'm asking for. I think the market is huge for a Jeep like vehicle from other car makers as well.

Perhaps I don't understand the market trends or international business enough to understand why Toyota isn't selling a version of the new model of the FJ 60 in America, and likewise why Ford or Chevy or Dodge or other makers have not pursued making real sport utility vehicles.

In the 80's, Mitsubishi made the Montero 2 door hatchback model in 4x4, and it had a serious drive train. I drove one on several occasions off road and gave serious thought to buying one. The problem was, as with the shorter Wrangler, was that there is not much room in the back. Although a later model of the Montero came out in 4 door hatchback size, I don't think it was the off road capable vehicle that the 2 door jeep like version was.

The late 80's and early 90's Isuzu Trooper are also vehicles known for long lasting and hard core off road use. Later, the Trooper line got luxuried to death, and although still a good 4wd vehicle, it was not the off road capable truck like it's earlier versions were.

So why isn't Isuzu or Mitsubishi competing with Toyota and the FJ Cruiser market with a slightly longer version of some similar SUV's? Or competing with Jeep and building a Wrangler like vehicle?

 I know other car makers make rugged 4wd versions for sales in other countries, and again, why not up these rides to US standards and sell to us here in America? 

It's been so long since any of these car companies have made a real SUV for the outdoorsman that isn't a luxury ride. Decades, in some cases.

I really don't want to get in the vintage car or restoration situation. If I had more freely expendable income and had an extra two car garage to do the project, having a vintage ride would be great, as I could afford to fix as needed and would want to have a more recent car for when the vintage ride was down.

I've helped in restoring several vehicles with my dad in younger years, two ground up restorations of  Mustangs, and a semi-restoration (it was in pretty good shape to begin with) of a 1972 El Camino with a 454 4 barrel. The El Camino was not a great handling ride on anything other than straightaways and slight curves, but made it for it in brute force "smoke the tires if you punch it at 20 mph" type of power.

One of the Mustangs was a Mach One with a highly rebuilt 351 Cleveland engine. We added Gap and Rousch (sp?) heads for better oiling, bored .30 over and added new pistons and such and a 3/4 grind cam. Various Edelbrock manifold and Holley double pumper carb combos ranged from a 4 bbl to a mid-rise manifold sporting double 4 bbl setups.

It had a C6 instead of a 4 speed manual. It was a lot of engine. I was constantly having to tinker with the engine as it was a bit too radical and required constant attention. That was fun for a while but only for a while.

The other Mustang resto was a 1967 with a straight 6 engine and two speed automatic. It was a ground up as well and I did the engine and transmission and rehabbed basically the frame up build up. My dad handled the body work and got the painting done and did the interior. I'll take rebuilding a 1967 six cylinder engine over refitting a complete interior  of any classic car any day of the week. Getting the interior done right, even with prefab pieces, is no easy chore and one I'm not good at, especially headliners. Or fixing crank wind window assemblies. 

So I know   it's not only a lot of work but incredibly frustrating for me personally when bolts are frozen or seemingly unsolvable problems arise since although I have mechanical skills, I'm no master mechanic in all areas.

So I really don't have the gumption to restore a Landcruiser although I've nearly pulled the trigger many times. I looked with serious intent to buy some of the more pristine used models or restored models I could find and all had major flaws in the steering or electrical systems I couldn't accept because they were seemingly unfixable. Many lesser models were looked at and instantly rejected on other grounds.

I gave that up some time ago and went with several other SUV's. I've been very happy with the reliability of these rides, lots happier than with the problematical and leaky Wrangler we had for years. After the extended warranty expired, and pretty much right after, the Jeep began being leaky. By leaky, I mean fluids, not the top. The fabric top of our Jeep was great. But the engine leaked like a sieve when the extended warranty expired and it hit age 7. Mysterious leaks that only stopped when the car was taken in for service for the leak. Brake fluid leaks. Power steering fluid leaks. Oil leaks. Coolant leaks. It had them all and some in multiple locales. Starting and stopping and sometimes with no evidence of leaking but a recently filled device being way lower with no explanation or evidence of the fluid loss.

If I had the time, I'd look at modifying some vehicle the way I want it. But I don't have that kind of time. I could muster the money for such a project, but not if I had to pay custom shops to get what I want, only if I went the route of using a friend with a shop and paying less money to him for the big jobs and me doing more of the grunt work myself. But again, that's if I had the time and the extra space so I could do the work with climate control (a/c and heat).

I once thought about buying a 1950's model 4x4 truck and merging it with a more modern 4x4 drive train and engine, perhaps one from the 1970's or 1980's. I could do an interior restoration, but would have to contract out the mechanical work and the paint job. That to me would be an interesting combo, as the front end of some of these trucks was behemoth in size and coupled with a more powerful engine and a DANA set of running gear, one could have a formidable vehicle.

More in the next post about what an ideal vehicle would be for me.


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