The Ultimate Overland Expedition Vehicle
As our faithful followers and readers already know, we don’t do anything small here at Bone Tactical. In fact, we strive to be the best at everything we do. Security, edged weapons, strength and conditioning, we simply see no competition. Should this not extend to Overland Expedition? Of course it should, and it does. That was our humble mission, to build what we think is the best Overland Expedition light truck the world has ever seen.
A great expedition vehicle build always represents a balance, like anything in life, of what you want versus what you need. In the case of building a truck for overland travel it’s essential to be patient and plan out every aspect of the build even before purchasing anything. Then, be ready to change your plans as you go. Know that by the time you’re reading this article I’ve already spent years planning, designing, and overseeing this build. A truck like this doesn’t just come to existence overnight. If I can impart one piece of advice to you for building or designing your own vehicle, have patience. Spend plenty of time deciding what you need, then on figuring out how to make it fit your budget, before you actually do anything.
Some things to consider: Off-road capability vs. economy, reliability, durability, and drive-ability. Big tires are great. Big mud tires are even better, but the bigger and more aggressive you go the more likely you are to break parts, your fuel mileage will decrease, you’ll need to change tires more often, you’ll have difficulty mounting spares, you'll need to re-gear, you may need more HP, and your on-road performance will suffer. If you get too far into modifying suspension and drive-line components you’ll end up with a truck you have to trailer to the mud hole every weekend, drive it till it breaks, then trailer it home and fix it. That just defeats the purpose of an expedition vehicle, so start with a vehicle that comes as close to meeting your needs as possible, then modify from there.
Some other considerations when balancing vehicle characteristics for a build are as follows: Vehicle size and wheelbase vs. trail size and turning radius. Sleep/storage systems vs. empty work-space and available storage areas. Electronics and luxury items vs. durability and reliability. Top speed vs. low end torque. Horsepower vs. fuel economy. Impact protection, armor, extra fuel, and gear vs. vehicle load capability and drive-ability. Lift vs. stability. Load capability vs. passenger carrying capability.
Toyota Land Cruiser Pickups are not readily available to American Citizens. This is mainly because their simple, reliable design could never meet the emissions requirements of vehicles sold in the United States. New Land Cruiser pickups are harder to acquire still. However, after years in foreign nations around the world witnessing first-hand what these vehicles are capable of, I knew I had to have one. Because I’m not one to give up on something I’ve decided to go for, I began to research the options available. The model I wanted was built in Argentina and sold in South and Central America. Upon further investigation, I discovered Guatemala had two new 2017 double cab Toyota Land Cruiser 79 series pickups in the country available for sale.
The various countries on these continents all have different requirements for an American citizen to purchase one of these exquisite vehicles, and they all have different prices and availabilities. They are priced well in Guatemala, and my contacts there made it possible for me to meet the next set of documentation requirements. These requirements being that one had to be a business owner, and have a place of residence in Guatemala. My never quit mentality wouldn’t let me stop now, I found a way, and I made it work. In one day, I became a Guatemalan resident, started a branch of Bone Tactical in Guatemala, and purchased the most reliable, toughest, and most off-road capable production vehicle available on the world market today.
Diesel pickup reliability has become a thing of the past in the United States. New emissions standards and the perceived public need of comfort and luxury over function and durability have driven Ford, Chevy, and Dodge to turn what used to be American work horses and symbols of American strength and ingenuity into feeble, problem ridden, crippled beasts. In less than 20 years our magnificent machines are dying, choking on their own blue DEF fluid, lulled into a state of lethargy by touchscreen DVD controls, and strangled by their own ABS sensor wires.
In essence, the Toyota Land Cruiser pickup is much like myself, a dinosaur, the last of it's kind. The antithesis of American excess, gluttony, vegan diets, global warming scams, dildo brandishing feminist protests, and instant gratification in a simple and reliable truck. This Ronin samurai is a legend in off-road 4x4 vehicles that hasn’t seen much in the way of changes in at least 20 years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hell, my truck doesn’t even have a computer. No ABS brakes and only available in manual 5 speed transmissions means you’ll have to know how to drive a real truck or learn quick! Although these trucks come priced at the upper end of the luxury vehicle market, you’ll find none of the familiar luxuries. Two tiny speakers and an aftermarket in dash radio make up the factory audio system. A/C is an option. The straight six diesel engine is even tuned down a bit, it’ll never be fast and it’s unlikely to last any less than 300,000 miles because of this. Cloth seats, rubber floors, steel everything, full size wheel and spare tire bolted to the bed, and usually a heavy-duty Toyota winch built into the front bumper. Mine happened to be one of the very few models with power windows and door locks.
What you’re paying for are heavy duty straight axles, front and rear factory electronic lockers, high and low 4x4, a beautifully engineered insanely tough suspension system, the low-end gearing of a true torque monster, and a truck that is likely to last three times as long as it’s American counterparts. Although it’s a bit cumbersome at highway speeds it will crawl down a mountain trail in low range slow enough that you could comfortably walk next to it. My truck will probably never go faster than 80mph, but I won’t have it on many roads that any truck can go faster than that. The only other factory vehicle that can rival the off-road capabilities of this truck is the Jeep Rubicon. But there’s still no comparison in reliability, and the actual payload capacity of this pickup is probably ten times that of a jeep. In the arena of expedition vehicle build platforms and work trucks, the Toyota Land Cruiser pickup is the crowned king. Now read on to find out what we did to ours to further separate it from the crowd.
Powertrain & Drivetrain
The engine in this truck has been in production for over 25 years and is nothing less than a legend. Quite possibly the most reliable engine ever placed in a pickup truck, the straight six, 12 valve, 4.2-liter indirect injection diesel, Toyota 1HZ: Approximately 129 HP at 3800 RPM’s, and 210 foot pounds of torque at @2200 RPM’s. This may sound a little underpowered, but a well-designed engine that’s built to perform below its potential is the best way to ensure long-term reliability. The low range gearing and off-road “crawling” capabilities of this truck also provide a nice offset for the relatively low amount of horsepower. It’s also the only new truck still produced without a computer that I know of. Meaning that I bought this truck with approximately 200 km on an engine that should last at least 600,000 km and has no overly-complicated, sensitive, computerized parts that I have to worry about failing me in the meantime.
You simply cannot claim to have a great dedicated Overland Expedition Vehicle without strong axle's and locking differentials. That's the starting point for legendary off-road builds, and from there its's the bigger the better. The axle's on this Toyota Land Cruiser 79 series are about the American equivalent of a Ford 9". However, in my opinion, they are much stronger than a Ford nine inch. I'd put them somewhere between the said Ford axles and a Dana 60 as far as strength and reliability goes. They are more than strong enough to push the huge beefy 35 inch tires through tough off-road terrain (which is a lot to be said for a set of factory axles). If I wanted to convert the truck into a competition vehicle at some point I would upgrade to chrome-moly shafts with stronger Birfield joints. At this time it's neither necessary or desired. The only other axle worth mentioning is the GM Corporate or Chevy 14 bolt, and it's probably the strongest axle any company ever put under a stock pickup, but they haven't been produced in the form I'm talking about for years... We waterproofed our axle's and other oil containing components by using ARB extended diff breathers.
Lockers, or locking differentials, are the secret weapon of off-road vehicles. If a 4x4 truck is twice as good off-road as a two wheel drive vehicle, then lockers double the off-road performance of that truck yet again. There are many types of locking differentials that all work in slightly different ways, but whats important is the ability to lock in traction on both axles. This truck comes with that ability from factory, it works exceedingly well, and is easy to use. I've posted a video at the bottom of this page highlighting the use of this vehicle's lockers.
Defensive Capabilities and Armor
We perfected the exoskeleton and roof rack roll cage design years ago on our first Overland Expedition Vehicle build, the 2006 Nissan Titan which you can check out here or on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, etc. That previous design was so effective at suiting our needs that we decided to stay with that same basic layout for this truck. Basically, our design is all custom individual steel components tied together for strength; roof rack, bed, fenders and siderails, front and rear steel bumpers, right and left rock sliders, all tied into the frame via an exoskeleton built from both DOM chromoly tubing and schedule 80 seamless mild steel pipe. This design (on the Titan) proved its worth by surviving vehicle rollovers, smashing into other vehicles, running through guard shacks, running over trees, and busting open locked steel doors and gates while only sustaining minor damage in the way of some slight bends during the rollover.
What I decided to change was the design of the front and rear bumper, the ladders, and some of the undercarriage armor. The front and rear bumpers are now both winch bumpers, both custom designed, and both utilize mainly tubing and just a bit of plate steel to cut down on weight while maintaining the most strength possible. Both bumpers are bolted directly to the plate reinforced box frame. Both bumpers are fitted with shackles for towing and vehicle recovery, and they both have trailer hook-ups. The reason they both have receiver hitches is so we can pull a trailer on the back and load a dirt bike on the front. All driving lights are either recessed and mounted on the bumpers, or completely behind them (stock headlights). We've also added hi-lift jack points built into the exo-cage system on all sides of the vehicle for emergency recoveries on the trail (also shown in one of the videos below). What all this does, in effect, is cause 360 degrees of impact protection from any imaginable collision whether on the trail or in the city.
On track with the Bone Tactical ideals of inventing and producing a product that’s completely new and superior to what’s available on the market, we decided to tackle the often seemingly unsurmountable task of designing and fabricating our own vehicle-specific suspension system. We knew we wanted to keep all the factory angles of drive-line, brake cables, axles, leaf-springs, shocks, etc. because if you make too many changes to the factory workings and dynamics of the vehicle you risk sacrificing reliability for capability. This is obviously not an option for an overland expedition vehicle that will be traveling the world through many areas where self-reliance is a must.
The reason you lift a vehicle is to allow the fitment of bigger tires. The reason you fit bigger tires to a vehicle is to allow for more ground clearance. Ground clearance gives a vehicle better off-road performance. The negatives here are center of gravity, less stability, decreased handling, and possibly reliability issues. The higher you lift a vehicle, the more likely you are to experience these problems, and the more work you’ll have to do to counter-balance the negative effects of a tall truck. Larger tires create more stress on every moving part of the vehicle, as the truck must work harder to move them.
We started with a 40mm body lift. A body lift isn’t always the best option, especially on most newer vehicles with lots of moving parts and complicated systems. Luckily with such a small body lift on such a rugged truck the only modification that needed to be done was some slight notching of the shifter housing that allowed for smooth shifting after the cab was raised another 40mm higher than the transmission. Following the body lift with 40mm extended ARB Old Man Emu coils allowed us to use almost all stock steering components on the front end while fitting 35” tires and maintaining proper factory angles. As you’ll read in the next section 35-inch tires were the perfect size for our intended purpose. The only other modification to the front end that we felt was necessary was an Old Man Emu steering stabilizer. This gave us the peace of mind that our front end wouldn’t have any problem controlling our new monster wheels and tires.
The rear suspension of the truck is where we really created something new and incredible by managing to drastically increase ground clearance and flex as well as load capability while only leveling the truck and again keeping all proper factory angles. We did this by designing and fabricating our own U-bolt flip kit with integral free-floating air ride suspension that’s at least twice as strong as the factory components.
Flipping the U-bolts and raising the shock mounts even with the leaf springs gave us 3+ inches extra ground clearance (the equivilant to running 37-40” tires). Of course, we used much heavier duty U-bolts and much heavier duty components as a whole in the fabrication process because as we say, there’s no such thing as overkill. The bottom plate below the leaf springs is now a smooth 1” solid steel plate that instead of getting caught on things like it does on stock land cruisers, acts as armor. The extra flex comes from 2” extended, heavier, anti-inversion, greaseable shackles.
We added new extra heavy duty leaf spring packs from Old Man Emu properly tuned for all the extra weight of the exoskeleton and the gear we carry. Atop the leaf springs we added two Firestone air-bags so we can adjust ride height and the handling characteristics to fit the load being carried at the time. The amount of air in the air-bags is easily controlled by the onboard ViAir compressor. The air-bags are fully free-floated and drop down out of the Daystar air bag cradles, when necessary, to allow for full flex of the suspension system. The air bag cradles are bolted to the chassis in our custom mounts and take the place of the factory bump stops.
Wheels & Tires
I wanted to design and/or build everything I could myself on this truck, but when it came to wheels and tires that just wasn’t feasible as this time. I decided to accept some “sponsorships” (working with manufacturers to provide professional feedback and media). My first stipulation was that they had to be fellow American businesses, and like Bone Tactical, I wanted them to be the best at what they do.
Tires are one of the most important upgrades on an expedition vehicle. I took a chance with this build on some tires that, if they would have performed as advertised, they would have been perfect. However, the first set of new tires turned out to be the biggest mistake of the build. If you really want to do any exploring or adventuring off the beaten path you’ll have to run M/T (mud terrain) tires, probably not the most aggressive M/T's (It's always a balance between performance and durability/reliability). There’s a lot of controversy over this but the fact is that running anything less than M/T tires simply becomes a liability off-road. Just running M/T tires greatly reduces your risk of getting stuck. Furthermore, in today’s modern era of tire manufacturing and design there’s a plethora of M/T tires ranging from those with incredible on-road handling, long tread life, and decent off-road performance (see the tires on our Overland Titan build), to those extreme off-road performance tires with terrible on-road manners and poor durability like the Super Swamper bogger. With the vast array of M/T tires available today there’s really no excuse for putting A/T tires on a vehicle you plan on taking off-road.
Interco tires have been synonymous with hardcore 4x4's for many years, and now they say they make one of their famous M/T tires in a harder rubber compound designed specifically for on-road and off-road use (Radial TSL), but it was just too good to be true... A good option for a designated off-road vehicle would be to run Super Swamper Boggers on the back (for the best possible traction and forward propulsion), and Super Swamper TSL’s on the front (for a mix of traction, handling, and lateral stability). However, neither of those tires handle’s well for around town driving or last very long with on-road use. They don't handle heavy loads very well and they are infamous for having sidewalls which are both too thick to properly mount on beadlock wheels and are very weak (prone to tearing). While they're rubber compound is great for performance in the mud, it's simply too soft to be used on a daily driver. While most other big names in the tire industry have moved on with lighter, thinner, and stronger constructed tires... Interco has made no major innovations for over a decade. This is why we have decided to drop them as a sponsor and are currently considering offers. ( www.IntercoTire.com )
I chose 35x12.50r17 as the size for the Super Swamper Radial TSL’s. To me, a 35” tire is the perfect size for most overland trucks (depending on the size of the vehicle). Very small trucks like the Hilux's you can see on our YouTube channel and IG, can do well with 33’s. Very large trucks like our full-size F-250's usually require 37’s or bigger to have the desired off-road performance. I’m also running two full-size spares (Interco Radial TSL 35x10.50), you should always have at least one full-size spare securely mounted on your vehicle (preferably as low as possible and over an axle for proper weight displacement). Running a spare smaller than the rest of your tires can damage your drivetrain or even be useless if you’re off-road when you blow a tire.
It's a good thing I ran two spares on this build, because in driving 18,000 miles I went through 8 tires (due to poor quality). Only because I ran two full-size spares was I able to keep the vehicle in action. Rotating in fresh tires as the Interco sidewalls continued to blow out.
The next bit of advice I’m about to give is even more controversial, even the company that sent us the wheels for this build says not to do it, but I think that’s just for liability reasons. A sad byproduct of the sue-happy American culture we live in today...
If you upgrade wheels on a vehicle you plan to take off-road, you should consider true beadlocks. Simulated beadlocks let everyone that see’s your ride know immediately that you want to be BA but you lack the cojones to do so. Beadlocks are not dangerous on the road, they simply require the operator to check the torque specs of the bolts occasionally and are more work to mount. We’ve been running beadlocks on the Overland Titan all across North and South America for the last 200,000 miles without a problem. I even once hit a pot-hole in Guatemala that probably would have swallowed a Prius, and drove several hundred miles to a place I could beat out the dented alloy wheel and then rotate and re-balance the tires.
For some reason, there’s a disconnect in the United States between the Overland Expedition community and knowledgeable off-road vehicle enthusiasts. The online overland community seems to be moderated by individuals with Jeep or Toyota mall-crawlers and/or re-post accounts on Instagram. Well here’s the facts: Beadlock wheels allow you to air down your tires to single digit pressures (though I don’t normally recommend going below 7psi). The difference this makes off-road is staggering. It doesn’t matter if you’re wheeling over rocks or through mud, sand, dirt, etc. Footprint is increased (if your tires have side lugs they become usable tread), traction is increased, stability is increased, shock absorption is increased… Basically beadlocks allow you to turn your daily driver into a beast simply by pulling over and airing down. Now that we’re on the topic, here’s my list of minimum important features for an off-road capable vehicle: M/T tires, beadlock wheels, ground clearance, locking differentials, and heavy axles (at least ¾ ton).
The beadlocks we went with for this build are the MR101 from Method Race Wheels ( www.MethodRaceWheels.com ). The founders of Method have been in the competition wheel industry for many years, and their wheels are used by some of the top desert racing teams and trophy trucks out there. Method built these specific satin black wheels with gloss black beadlock rings for a military unit in Dubai to run on their Land Cruiser pickups. When I contacted them and they told me this I knew it was a perfect match. These wheels are 9” wide (the minimum width I’d recommend for off-road use), and 17” tall (right in the sweet spot between big wheels that look cool and a lot of sidewall for tire flex at low air pressures). These 9” wide wheels with -12mm offset and 12.5” wide tires add considerable width and stability to the normally top-heavy Land Cruiser. With extra thick mud tires like our Super Swampers you’ll need to run spacers below the beadlock to allow the ring to seat properly. Method also provided us with the necessary spacers, grade 8 zinc coated hardware, and even the valve stems.
I started by completely removing the bed and bumpers of this truck because I wanted to build in permanent storage areas to hold mission essential gear for a solo vehicle expedition in the most dangerous and remote areas of the world. The next step was fabricating the storage areas directly and invariably into the original design and flow of the vehicle itself in a manner that both acts as a roll cage/roof rack/protective exoskeleton, AND granted open and available storage space for quickly changing load-outs or environments. This is why I decided to keep an open bed space and a fully open roof rack. I can completely load down the bed with coolers and Pelican boxes containing items that are along for a temporary ride while leaving the roof rack open to pop a tent away from possible predatory animals, insects, dirt, and mud.
We've built the custom bed of this truck around two 4'x6' aluminum locking storage boxes. These boxes are concealed beneath the plate steel platform of the bed, and they pull out from behind our fabricated tailgate. We've posted a full video to YouTube detailing the initial load-out of these boxes, and all the contents therein (which you can also view below). The roof rack is a fully functional, load bearing storage system in and of itself as is the bed of the truck. We recently completed one of the hardest overland tracks in the world through eastern Honduras, in the middle of rainy season (supposedly impassable), while carrying over 3,000lbs of gold, guns, and gear distributed between the bed and roof rack. The roof rack is tied into the steel bumpers, rock sliders, and directly into the chassis via the headache rack of sorts that sits behind the cab.
The custom center console we designed and built adds a bit more storage inside the vehicle for quickly accessible items. The front bumper carries our Hi-Lift jack (an essential piece of kit). Built into the bedsides and roll cage roof rack system are the "Jerry Can" holders (2 fuel, 2 water), and both full size spare tire mounts. The 35 inch spares ride above the rear axle to maintain good vehicle handling through proper weight displacement. It's important to mount large spares as low and as close to the axle's as possible. What we've done with the Bone Tactical Overland Land Cruiser represents the perfect balance of ability to carry essential gear for extended trips in harsh terrain while maintaining prime off-road handling.
The whole point of an overland expedition vehicle build is to create a certain level of self-sustainability in order to allow one the freedom to roam and access to areas other vehicles simply cannot access. None of this is possible without provisions. The main three of which are food, water, and accessory fuel. We should always bear in mind along with the further significance of the full rule of three's as it applies to survival: You can go three days without water, and three weeks without food. Of course, these numbers are respective and refer mostly to the resiliency of the human body. You'll want plenty of food and water for each and every day, along with plenty of fuel capacity, further reserves not just to keep you running deep into your explorations but to secure your ability to easily navigate the unforeseen events, emergencies, and shortages that are sure to come with every day life yet are exponentially more frequent and serious in uncharted territories.
Our Land Cruiser is equipped with two 20 liter NATO fuel cans, and two 20 liter NATO water jugs, in our custom built lockable jerry can holders that line the sides of the bed. Along with the large OEM fuel tank this gives us a range of about 800 miles, and a considerable amount of fresh water storage.
The majority of the food we carry is in the form of dehydrated food products, or what was originally known as "space food". The main reasons we carry dehydrated foods is that they are considerably lighter than MRE's (or other types of "camp food"), and they last many times longer than conventional foods. The only minor drawback to dehydrated meals is the time it takes too prepare them. Water must be boiled and poured into the bags, then allowed to cool. The multi-fuel Optimus stove we carry makes this as easy as possible and it takes about 15 minutes to fully prepare a meal. If we're in a hurry we usually carry a few MRE's or protein bars to eat while driving; the dehydrated fruits we carry require no preparation. Alpine Aire is the brand we prefer for our pre-packaged dehydrated meals, and they are the best on the market in our professional opinion. We've made a duffel bag out of Cordura fabric specifically for carrying our foods and it remains in one of storage drawers filled with many months’ supply. On top of the designated food bag, we always keep a fully stocked “Ultimate Survival Bugout Bag” on board (sold here on the site).
Medical gear is extremely important as a storage consideration for any kind of preparedness, whether day-to-day or mission specific. Not only is the equipment important, but training is equally important. Without the training, all the medical equipment in the world is useless. Apart from the First Aid Kit in The Ultimate Survival Bugout Bag, we have packed several custom kits readily available for use in emergency situations (for helping ourselves, or for helping others along the way). Our master medical bag for the truck contains bulk equipment such as pain killers, antiseptics, rubber gloves, various prescription drugs and antibiotics, gauze, tape, Israeli bandages, and other more advanced medical equipment that requires professional training for use such as a field suture and surgery kit. Each Greyman Operations Pack in the truck, set up for various mission specific scouting and recon roles, have one of the same med kits we sell here on the site in it. Each battle belt and/or plate carrier has attached medical equipment, and there is a customized IFAK med kit on the back of the passenger seat for quick access to tourniquets and the like.
Even though it's one of the hardest vehicles on the planet to get stuck, we're running dual winches front and back. Both are manufactured by Warn but the front is an OEM Toyota 12,000lb winch, and the rear is an 8000lb Warn VR series. A rear winch is actually much more useful than a front winch because it's usually easier to pull a stuck vehicle out from the rear. Both winches can be operated from the driver’s seat to winch and drive out of sticky situations when operating the vehicle solo (although the winches on this truck are much more likely to be used to aid in the recovery of other less capable vehicles along our journeys). Snatch blocks can be used to effectively double the strength of any winch, so with ours, either winch is more than powerful enough despite the vehicle sitting at approximately 8,000 lbs expedition ready. You should always use straps in conjunction with winching, so we keep a variety of nylon tow straps and "tree savers" in their designated bag. It's important to dig out, and place something under the stuck tires before winching whenever possible. We have Smittybilt sand tracks mounted to the cage behind the cab that broke the first time we used them, so we're now using whats left of them. If you don't have sand tracks, sticks and rocks can be used.
A large Hi-Lift jack is mounted to the front bumper. Hi-lift jacks are tried and true members of the off-road community. They can be used as a winch in an emergency situation, and it's one of the only safe ways to jack up a big off-road rig manually. We've built High-Lift Jack Points (small receptacles built specifically to fit the High-Lift Jack) directly into all of the bumpers and rock sliders. This gives us a secure hook-up between the Jack and the vehicle, even if the vehicle is not on level ground, as well as the ability to jack up from either side, front, or back. The jack points also ensure the truck will not fall off the jack incurring damage to the vehicle or bodily harm to bystanders. If the ground is soft and/or wet (like almost everywhere off-road), a jack plate is an essential piece of kit to keep the jack from burying itself. We keep a plastic Hi-Lift jack plate along with a complete Hi-Lift recovery tool kit (shovel, sledgehammer, ax, halligan tool) that fits nicely into it's bag along with an extra poncho, road flares, gloves, jumper cables and tire plugs all housed inside one of the aluminum storage drawers. If you don't want to buy a High-Lift jack plate you can make one out of a piece of aluminum, polymer, or high-density plastic.
We wrapped the bumper with a US Military nylon helicopter tow strap for use as a tow rope because there's no such thing as overkill! We removed the chain portion and carry just the nylon rope because it saves on weight, can act as a snatch cable, and won't damage metal parts or chip paint like a chain will. A ViAir compressor ( www.viaircorp.com ) supplies us with onboard air to inflate tires, run air tools, and power the train horn. The kit we received from ViAir was top quality, will fill up to 37" tires with ease, and has proven better in every way than the Smittybilt compressor it replaced. There are attachment/hook-up points and D-ring shackles on all sides of the vehicle. We also have a socket sets, wrenches, spare parts, and various assorted hand tools in individual tool bags, also inside the aluminum drawers.
Batteries, Electronics, & Off-Road Lighting
In order to stay true to the classic Land Cruiser theme of this build, which hasn’t changed much since the 1980’s, we decided to only use only heavy duty reliable equipment for our added electronics. As this truck isn’t even a computerized vehicle itself, we steered away from the touch screen controls and fully integrated in dash iPad mini’s controlling 764 colors, shades, and hues of our lighting system. The cabin (in stock configuration) contains absolutely nothing but the bare essentials, and we love it. Solid steel, hard vinyl, manual controls… There were two speakers in the dash when we bought the truck off the showroom floor and an in-dash Pioneer head unit. That was the electronics. But I love my tunes, the bare cabin doesn’t serve well for keeping out road noise, and the sound quality was average at best...
We solved this by building a pretty sweet custom center console out of heavy duty marine grade plywood. I was able to keep my bare bones man cabin, not drill any holes in anything I didn’t want to, and still jam out like I’m living in a rap video should I see fit. The other problem this large custom center console solved was the lack of a stock armrest for extended drives, two birds with one stone. The center console houses a down firing 10” subwoofer, two 6” mids, and a 6-switch rocker panel to control the lights and accessories.
We added another battery, an inline charger, and an isolator to power our electronics. The second battery is a tough AGM type battery and is also under the hood along with the isolator. The battery isolator allows us to have one main battery that’s just for cranking the vehicle, while the auxiliary battery powers all of the lights and electronics. Should the auxiliary battery be completely drained, the truck will still start, and the alternator and charger will re-charge the second battery. The DC to DC charger is on a control panel behind the back seat along with the stereo amplifier, a 6-fuse marine fuse block, power invertor, and other goodies.
For a little added security, I chose a Viper 5305v car alarm with an added SmartStart system. The main reason for choosing Viper was simply because their good name and reliability, but the reason I chose this particular model with the SmartStart module was completely and only for the smart phone controlled GPS tracking capability. And maybe so I can check my truck in on Facebook… Occasionally having to leave my Land Cruiser while exploring South America feels a lot better knowing my cell phone will alert if my truck gets messed with. Especially in big cities. This alarm system can be completely controlled and monitored via a smart phone app. It even shows the exact location of your vehicle on a map, from anywhere, as long as you have service.
Behind the rear seat, lining the back of the cab, lies a marine grade carpeted piece of marine grade plywood. On this board are some of our electronics and controls including the amplifier for the subwoofer, the Bluetooth control for the RGB rock lights, a marine fuse box wired into our electrical accessories, and a power invertor for charging high power draw items like laptops or camera equipment. The gauges and inlet valves for the airbags are also in this area.
We have a relatively advanced lighting system on this vehicle because when you can’t see, you can’t drive. The 8 main LED light bars give a full 360 degree spectrum of light surrounding the vehicle. 6 small red LED strips inside the bed cage offer cargo and work lighting. Two round LED projectors are housed low inside the bumper and wired directly into the stock fog light harness. Two LED cubes are housed low inside the rear bumper as well and also wired directly into the stock wiring harness as reverse lights. The rear flashers, brake lights, and running lights neatly tucked behind the tailgate are matte black LED hot rod style lamps with smoked glass lenses. RGB rock lights that are controlled by smartphone via Bluetooth and housed inside all four wheel-wells complete the exterior lighting system and offer a little extra flair.
The primary additional off-road driving lights are the LED light bars tucked into the roof rack roll cage. They are basically inside the cage to protect the lights, make them less visible, and to allow them to be covered. We added the system of removable covers for when passing through cities in countries where LED lights are not legal. We have two large light bars on the front, two thin light bars on the back, and two small light bars on each side of the truck. The light bars can be operated both from inside, and from outside. Four of the switches in the center console pod control the front, left, right, and rear light bars. There’s also a master switch outside the truck should all light bars need to be illuminated quickly in an emergency situation.
Inside the upper tube frame of the roof rack roll cage are 6 small red LED light strips. The wires from these strips as well as those of all the light bars are ran through the tubes themselves. The red lights are accessible via a switch at the rear of the truck. Their main use is for when cooking or working around the vehicle at night as red lights aren’t as damaging to one’s night vision as other colors of light. They of course also double as cargo lights should we be carrying cargo at night that we need to keep an eye on.
As for fog lights and backup lights we simply went with much more powerful upgrades. Our backup lights are low enough on the bumper to not be hazardous to other drivers but are also so bright that they give plenty of warning as to prevent potential accidents. Backing up at night on trails and in 4x4 scenarios can be dangerous, we recommend having plenty of lighting to the rear of any off-road vehicle. We swapped the stock fog lights for LED’s to give a little more low and wide front illumination as well as to receive the added benefits of reliability and less power draw inherent to LED lighting.
Finally, the RGB rock lights and hot rod tail lamps give us the perfect combination of swagger and usability. Again, the tail lamps we chose give us all the benefits of LED lighting while also ensuring we have rule number 1 covered (always look cool). The RGB (Red Green Blue) Rock lights aren’t actually very great rock lights and we don’t do much rock crawling with this truck. Although they can be used to light the area around the tires at night for safety purposes, the millions of programmable color combinations and their ability to pulse with the beat of music makes them much more beneficial for other things. Let’s be honest, the majority of what we do when we’re not driving the truck is partying around our wilderness campsites with some choice local women. For this, the rock lights we chose are essential equipment.