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Video | I’ve Lifted the Cheapest Toyota Land Cruiser in the United States

There’s a large swath of car enthusiasts who think less of their brethren if they don’t wrench on their own cars. I’ve never understood this, personally, as I’m in the camp that thinks mechanic work is a miserable experience. I spend more time looking for the 10mm socket I lost than actually working on the car — and I make a mess of my garage (and myself) in the process. While I usually let my mechanic do most of the work, I gave into peer pressure this time, and I decided to get my cheap Land Cruiser overland build off the ground — literally.

Last year, I bought the cheapest running Land Cruiser available at the time — a 1999 Lexus LX 470 with 350,000 miles for only $2,100. I had big plans to build this into a formidable overland expedition vehicle, but I was overcome with sticker shock when I saw the prices of these upgrades. I did eventually decide to melt my credit card with $5,000 worth of off-road goodies — but the build never got started. My mechanic, the Car Wizard, and I have both gotten very busy, and we don’t have time for big projects (like my Porsche 911 LS swap) like we used to. This is why my basket-case Bentley project was abandoned — but skipping out on that nightmare meant we could finally get started on the less daunting Lexus project.

Today’s video focuses on the installation of the lift kit, which ended up taking two full days to complete — even with the assistance of a highly skilled Car Wizard. The first challenge had to do with upgrading the torsion bars, which are about 4 feet long and require lots of hammering and swear words to remove. Unlike a traditional spring suspension, a torsion bar acts as a spring based on how much it twists — and a thicker bar results in a greater lift. Thankfully, the Car Wizard did most of the jousting with these heavy bars — but my focus was equally challenging.

One of the main differences between the Lexus LX 470 and the 100-series Toyota Land Cruiser is the suspension setup. Lexus chose to outfit its rig with a luxurious hydraulic suspension system, giving the car a plusher ride, which is also height-adjustable. While mine was working perfectly (which is pretty impressive after 350,000 miles), it couldn’t provide enough lift to accommodate the incoming 33-inch all-terrain tires. Removing these hydraulic struts is a messy job, as the pressurized oil squirts everywhere when you remove the lines — but that’s not the worst part. I was able to remove the front shocks with very little drama, but the rear-end setup seemed like it was engineered by Jigsaw, the torturer from the movie "Saw."

Before removing the rear shocks, you must first remove the hydraulic lines connected to it. This requires removing two small bolts positioned deep inside the chassis — which are totally invisible. You can only find them by touch, and even that’s a challenge, as you can barely fit your hand into the very tight opening. I spent over 2 hours figuring out the best angle, the best tool, and struggling to remove these bolts — which meant I was holding my hands over my head nearly the entire time. I was fortunate these bolts (and the undercarriage in general) weren’t rusty, or else it would’ve been an impossible job.

I did eventually coax out the rear shocks, and the wizard was able to easily replace the stock rear springs for the new ones — but, unfortunately, our progress was halted when I broke something. The rear sway-bar link was obstructing the installation of the rear shock, so I decided to unbolt it out of the way. The link seemed to have other ideas, and it decided to blow itself apart when I tried to remove it. This meant that, after 8 hours of hard work, my Land Cruiser wouldn’t be finished that day. After installing all the shocks, we had to wait for the replacement sway-bar link to arrive before mounting the wheels and taking it for a drive.

Thankfully, the Wizard was able to find a supplier that could overnight the part — and installing new links the following day was the easiest task of the entire job. Now that it’s finished, I will say I’m proud of what was accomplished — but I didn’t find the job satisfying or cathartic, like so many gearheads claim. I would much rather pay someone to do this, and enjoy the fruits of their labor without my own busted knuckles. Still, I’m going to see this project through to the end — just because I care way too much about what complete strangers say about me in the comments section. I know, what a sad existence I have… Find a Lexus LX for sale

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t feel bad about the sway bar link, my 04 with considerably fewer miles broke every bolt in the assembly. I had to get new links and drill out holes for the mounts. I also needed to replace the sway bar brackets as well. If that was the only bolt you broke, you’re doing great.

    BTW, what brand of jack were you using in the video? I’ve been looking at them myself.

  2. The Old Man Emu kits work magic when it comes to handling, ride quality, and suspension travel. I installed that kit on my 1992 Jeep Wrangler and it is the best leaf spring ride I have ever had

  3. Be sure to maintain sufficient down-travel when cranking the t-bars.  I didn’t install the OME suspension on my LC myself, but I’ve read that you can drill a hole on the top of each rear wheel wells to make accessing the shock bolt -f-a-r- easier.

    • That’s what I did to replace the rear shocks on my 2004. I then painted the new edge holes and found stoppers to seal them up. Significantly easier to remove. I was able to slap my torque wrench on them and quickly blast off the nuts

  4. I, too, enjoy the fruits of my labor more than the labor of mechanic-ing, but I do get a sense of accomplishment that’s hard to beat when I fix something and/or figure something out that broke and am able to fix it myself.  Plus, I am cheap, so that helps motivate me to fix stuff myself.  Now, if I was as rich as you’re making the Car Wizard, then I’d probably pay someone like him to do the heavy lifting stuff. 

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