The 1980s were a glorious times. Moustache’s and short shorts were the order of the day, Freddie Mercury was the epitome of masculinity, and 4x4 interiors had ash trays and cigarette lighters easily accessible by kids in the back seat. – just like Jesus intended. Toyota was also busy building what is arguably the best 4x4 ever, the J70. I say best, because over 30 years later, they’re still building the exact same vehicle, albeit with the occasional coil spring and an exhaust note that’ll melt hearts and tighten pants everywhere you blip the throttle. So, what’s a bloke to do when the best 4x4 you can buy also happens to be one of the most out-dated? Well, if you’re Jamie Drivas, you crack out the sketch pad and set to work building the 79 Toyota should have.
1. 1980’s Interior
The 79 is a lot of things, but a comfortable place to spend a month it ain’t. It’s loud, and it’s uncomfortable. Jamie fixes the first issue by completely gutting the interior and sound deadening it from head to toe. He’s then nixed the stock bucket seats and replaced them with side-hugging Recaros up front with the rear re-trimmed to match, and a whole bunch of colour coding ditching the farm-spec grey. It means Jamie’s not only strapped in tighter in off-camber tracks but has vastly more comfortable seats for the long haul.
2. Terrible ground clearance
Live axles aren’t known for heaps of ground clearance, even less so when there’s a foot of leaf springs under the rear axle – not exactly ideal for an off-road beast. The solution? Raise the whole vehicle, including the diffs. Front and rear portal boxes from Marks Adaptors add a huge 6in of clearance under both ends. By essentially redirecting the axle shafts through a gear box, he’s also able to counter the gearing issue of larger tyres. That’s the equivalent of running 46in tyres while still keeping it road legal…ish.
3. 1980’s ride quality
Leaf springs and radius arms have the ride quality of a… well… 1980’s 4x4. The big change Jamie’s made on this front is the complete coil rear-end conversion from Jmacx. The semi-bolt-in arrangement ditches the archaic leaf springs and replaces them with an LC200 style 5-link rear arrangement with coil springs either side for a softer ride, and airbags to cope with any additional loads. The sheet metal housing not only corrects the wheel track issue VDJ79s are renowned for but provides a better mounting position for the Kings external-res shocks. Up front, Jmacx drop- radius arms help correct caster to give stock-like steering feel.
4. Farmer’s tray
Flat trays are great; canopies are even better. Picking what you actually want is even better again. While the showroom can only spec a 79 with a flat slab of alloy, Jamie’s gone for a retro-throwback with an old- school tub, a second-hand offering imported from South Africa then and rebuilt like new. He’s kitted it out with a PSR tub rack and tube tailgate for jerry can mounting while a pair of Maxtrax are on hand if he comes across any hapless Patrols.
5. No front flex
Radius arms are a necessary evil if you want a solid front axle (let’s not talk axle tramping Jeeps), but they’re not exactly flex monsters. Alright, they’re barely flex toddlers. To get around this, Jamie’s binned the factory setup and optioned up an X-Link: a brilliantly simple arrangement that connects the front of one radius arm, to the front of the other with a pivot in between. As one arm pushes down, it pushes the other up, with front axle articulation being the end result and a more balanced drive off-road.
6. 8-track cassette player
Alright so the Cruiser might not come with an 8-track, but it’s not far off. The standard stereo is something you’d pick up for $50 from Cashies and has less features than a base model Lada Niva. Jamie’s sorted those issues and more with a trick in-dash stereo setup. The aftermarket offering from Jamie’s own company Power Vision Sound not only gives Bluetooth connectivity, but also pairs up with the replacement steering wheel for full on wheel-controls.
7. Can’t take a beating
Put your pick-axes down Cruiser owners. As tough as the 79s may be out of the box, the reality is the stock bumper will give you less protection than a box of Durex that’s been hit with bird-shot. Jamie’s fixed the typical weak links with a one-off PSR front bar pumped out to meet the guards as well as the rock sliders protecting the flanks. Underneath has copped a similar treatment. A steel bashplate protecting the exposed transfer case from wayward rocks, while a PSR plate protects the factory rear locker.