OFF-ROAD TEST: Toyota Land Cruiser 79 D/C V8 6×6
Born in Pretoria. Destined for the world. This is 4×4 Muscle Trucks’ massive Toyota Land Cruiser 79 double cab V8 6×6. But is company owner Hansie Coetzee a visionary or is he chasing an impossible dream? We took his prototype Cruiser 6×6 for a spin, along with a stock 79 V8.
Sometimes, one particular action can change things. Like Joel Stransky’s drop goal in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, which saw South Africa win the title ahead of the much-vaunted All Blacks team. The Rainbow Nation ideology gained some traction, Nelson Mandela and team captain Francois Pienaar spoke words of wisdom, and an American guy called Clint Eastwood made a film about it. Some time ago, Hansie Coetzee, owner of TJM Pretoria-East and 4×4 Muscle Trucks, decided that he needed something else to grow his business in the future. Something with a bigger profit margin than fitting a bull bar on a Ranger. Something that only his company offered in South Africa.
He started looking at various options. From extreme portal axle builds, to bakkies with 40-inch wheels. One conversion really caught his eye: a 6×6 conversion on Toyota’s popular Land Cruiser 79 pick-up. He found a company in Australia that builds these vehicles. With payloads of up to 3.5-tons, the 6×6 Land Cruisers are used for a variety of applications, including mining, military, fire fighting and recreational purposes. Hansie contacted the company, and stated his interest to become the local distributor of the product (even though the company’s basic 6×6 would have retailed for about R5 million in SA). The response was not quite what he had hoped for: the company said it was speaking to another local distributor, and that they wouldn’t be entertaining Hansie’s intentions. Basically, they told him to bugger off.
It was the spark that Hansie needed: he decided to not only build his own 6×6, but to build a better one than the Aussies. His 6×6 Land Cruiser would be the best in the world. In collaboration with a customer who was in no particular hurry for his vehicle, a brand new Cruiser bakkie was acquired late last year. Hansie, who also owns an engineering shop, set about developing a 6×6. First, the chassis was extended by 950mm. But Hansie did not just cut the chassis and add in some extra steel. With a tough military application in mind, he effectively over-engineered the design, using high tensile Domax 700 steel with CNC bended edges for the reinforced beams. Domax, incidentally, is a harder steel than used for the Cruiser’s original chassis. And a stock Cruiser’s chassis is pretty much solid and sturdy.
Since there was more space underneath the ‘bak’ to work with, Hansie designed a 236-litre fuel tank that lives between the reinforced chassis beams. However, when the first custom prototype landed up in his workshop, he promptly sent it back. The standard of craftsmanship was just not good enough; Hansie demanded only the best for this all-in project. When he eventually received the up-to-standard, polished stainless steel tank, it was mounted on special vibration mounts, to ensure the tank won’t get damaged due to flex or when the Cruiser has to tackle really bad dirt roads. It’s all in the details, they say. In time, the third axle was added, as well as a full TJM Gold Edition suspension that comprises shocks and leaf springs (at the back). Coetzee is quite fond of bigger-is-better wheels, so his Cruiser rides on massive 37-inch wheels. The special bead-lock rims were imported and retail for about R7 000 each, and are shod with Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tyres.
Despite the big wheels, the actual suspension lift is just 2.5-inches (63.5mm). Hansie and his team developed custom wheel arches for the Cruiser, which ensure that he can fit up to 40-inch worth of wheel to this vehicle. The bodywork was cut to accommodate the bigger arches, but it also ensures that, even in extreme 4×4 (or 6×6, in this instance) conditions, the wheels won’t make contact with the bodywork. Hansie says he prefers to limit the suspension lift, as it keeps the centre of gravity lower, and ensures a better-handling and safer conversion. It also looks better, he reckons. The heart of the 4×4 Muscle Trucks’ new 6×6 though, is the custom designed transfer gearbox. Manufactured from aircraft-quality aluminium 6082 T6 material, and with an aluminium billet machine housing, the gearbox allows for full 6×6 application, with a differential lock on each diff providing even more grip.
But that’s only part of the story. The gearbox offers a selection between 6×2, 6×4 and 6×6 drives. The driver can choose between two-wheel drive for light applications or 6×4 for tougher jobs. Essentially, you can engage both rear axles, or you can engage the middle and front axles. Or you can go full fat, with the 6×6 application. The Cruiser’s engine and drivetrain have also been upgraded, with an Onca 4×4 performance exhaust, engine management chip and a heavy-duty clutch. The bak is a single cab Cruiser pick-up version that has been modified and strengthened. This bak was used to ensure modular fitment of existing Cruiser pick-up accessories. For instance, a canopy that fits on the standard single cab Cruiser will fit perfectly on this 6×6, too.
Coetzee dipped deep into the Onco 4×4 accessory bin for this high-end build. Ditto with Front Runner, as well as Alu Cab and Hella. These are some of Hansie’s preferred suppliers. Just the Hella Luminator HID lights on this unit are worth R40 000! We’ll get to the pricing a bit later. First, time for some driving impressions, as the stock Cruiser 79 double cab V8 takes on its 6×6 cousin at the McCarthy 4×4 Club’s tracks at the Rhino Park complex, east of Pretoria.
Boetie. And the BEAST
Driving the standard Cruiser pick-up V8 the 100km or so to the Rhino Park complex, a few things are very clear. First, the gear ratios are very, very short. So when you drive at 120km/h, the big V8 engine spins at 3 000r/min. In a cabin that is not exactly plush and sound proof, the noise of the high-revving oilburner does get a tiny bit intrusive. That said, there is a very good reason for those short ratios, the Cruiser hailing from Japan and all, where no decision is made without proper due consideration and testing. Simply, it allows the Cruiser V8 to haul extraordinarily heavy loads without breaking even the tiniest sweat. Which is great if you plan on hauling extraordinarily heavy items. For a more leisure-type application (as seems to be the case with most Cruiser V8s these days), it’s not quite as ideal.
Another trait is the hard suspension set-up, with live axles at both ends. Obviously the set-up is also tuned for hard work rather than comfort at higher speeds. Overall, the ride leans towards the agricultural side, probably just as its creators designed it to be. It is a tough-as-nails workhorse, of course. Roll in the massive 6×6 Cruiser. And massive it certainly is! With the 37-inch spare wheel on the replacement rear bumper taken into account, the 6×6 is just over a metre longer than the standard double cab. But it’s the height and girth of the modified LC79 that is even more imposing. It stands nearly a metre taller than the standard bakkie, what with all the accessories and another 37-inch spare wheel on the roof rack.
Underground parking areas are clearly no-go zones for this Cruiser. Standard parking lots can be a challenge, too and a reverse camera is still on the menu to be fitted. But this Cruiser was not created to mount a pavement at the mall. Instead, it’s intended purpose is to overland. And to carry up to 3.5-tons of extra weight with no hassles. For that purpose, the 6×6 Cruiser has been recertified with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of six tons. That means it requires a Code 10 licence to drive. What is it like to drive then? Firstly, the bigger wheels have ensured taller gear ratios. So, unlike the standard Cruiser V8, the ratios more resemble a normal passenger car, not a workhorse lorry. Driving in top gear at 120km/h, the 6×6’s V8 engine turns over at a more overland-friendly 2 500r/min.
Thanks to the Onca 4×4 performance exhaust system, the V8 engine sounds great. The ride quality is better than that of the standard Cruiser. The combination of the big wheels, TJM suspension and plenty of weight ensures a softer, more pliant ride. On the subject of weight: this 6×6 weighs a lot. There are the over-engineered chassis reinforcements, the huge fuel tank (that was filled to the brim when we drove it), and all the extra weight from the eight big wheels and accessories. On the open road you don’t feel it so much, but on a tight 4×4 track, gravity comes into play. Although this prototype was not up to full 6×6 operation when we drove it, with lockers on two of the axles (front and middle), the Cruiser certainly had enough grunt and ability to scale obstacles.
Yes, on a tight and technical track, gravity and size count against it. And that breakover angle won’t do so well on a sharp crest either. Instead, this Cruiser far prefers to chase the horizon. Another critical component that will be upgraded is the braking system. Cruiser pick-ups are not renowned for their excellent brakes, so with all the extra weight, Hansie will comprehensively upgrade the system. The six-wheeled Cruiser behaved really well on tar and gravel. It didn’t even mind the puny little axle-twister obstacles too much.
Want one? Here’s how to get it…
4×4 Muscle Trucks will be offering three versions of its Land Cruiser 6×6: a ‘Base’ model, a ‘Military’ version and lastly the one you see on these pages, the ‘Exclusive model’. Pricing for the Base and Military models remain to be confirmed, but the Exclusive will retail for R2.95 million. For that booty you get a brand new LC79 double cab V8, the six-wheel drive conversion, eight 37-inch bead-lock rims and Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tyres, the massive 236 litre stainless steel fuel tank, a Warn Powerplant winch, TJM suspension upgrade, custom Onca 4×4 rock-sliders, custom Onca 4×4 bull bar, custom Onca 4×4 rear bumper with spare wheel carrier, custom wheel arches, a rubberised load bin and the free-flow performance exhaust and Unichip engine management system. The prototype unit you see on these pages has been fitted with so many extra-cost accessories, we’d need another six pages to cover them all. No expense was spared: only the latest and greatest from AluCab, Front Runner and Hella were fitted, and the total value of the ‘optional extras’ amounts to more than R200 000.
Where to from here?
Since news of the Pretoria-born Land Cruiser 6×6 broke on social media platforms, 4×4 Muscle Trucks have been inundated with enquiries from all over the world. The big drawcards appear to be the price, and Hansie’s obvious attention to detail. Yes, R3 million is no small change but that price still undercuts the closest international rival by around R2 million. Seen from that perspective, it is a relative bargain. And remember the Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen G63 6×6 we featured in 2015? That Benz retailed for R13 million. After investing literally millions of rands in the development of this special Cruiser, Muscle Trucks is now close to production of its 6×6. Hansie’s attention to detail and the high level of craftsmanship are bound to ensure that this project turns out to be a roaring success, both here in South Africa as well as in international markets. We reckon, somewhere in Australia, a few company executives may soon be regretting the day they gave a young entrepreneur from Pretoria the cold shoulder.
Text: Danie Botha. Photographs: GG van Rooyen.