Monday, October 5, 2015

Retro Crushing: Flex "Rounding Retrofit 60 Face" 1993 Toyota Land Cruiser

Every once in a rising sun, I find myself admiring the 80 series Toyota Land Cruiser. This is the generation built from 1991-1997 that retained the old formula of large cast iron inline six under the hood coupled to solid axles front and rear, and it was the most evolved version of that species that was ever sold in the US, with a whole new range of engines, coil spring / linkage suspension, and some luxury features. However, I also find myself (a bit less often) admiring and pining for the classic lines of the preceding 1980s Cruiser, known as the 60 series. But what if you could have both? That's where the Japanese aftermarket steps in. Find this "Flexcustom Wonder" 1993 Toyota Land Cruiser for sale in Japan for ¥2,198,000 (about $18,300 today) via

Don't attempt to adjust your monitor or zoom in "to see the pixels;" this is a real thing and not photoshopped. As well as I can gather from my limited (i.e. terrible) grasp on the Japanese language, this company called Flex buys up 80 series Cruisers, and grafts on the face of a 60 series. No in-process photos have turned up in my searching but I'm guessing that there is some creative welding and body filler work necessary to make the light bezels fit the fenders, and to get the 60's lower valence (below the grille) grafted in. The hood leading edge appears to be chamfered now as well.

If you're not into Land Cruisers you may wonder why someone would do such a thing. I think the reason is something like practical nostalgia. Enthusiasts have resoundingly settled on the 80 as the sweet spot generation for the Land Cruiser, before started too closely resembling a Chevy Tahoe with its current setup of V8 power and independent front suspension, not to mention ever-increasing weight and complexity. But there is still a healthy respect for the classic 40 series, its Iron Pig descendent the FJ55 wagon, and the last version with round headlights - the 60.

But if you could have the aesthetics of the earlier trucks with the capability, comfort, and durability of the '90s tank, why not? The retro theme carries over to the wheels which are steelies adorned with 40 series (or similar) dog dish hubcaps, a solid classic shade of blue on the exterior, chrome door handles (not my favorite), and even to the interior. The Nardi wood rimmed steering wheel is a nice touch and looks oddly at home amid the arcing gray plastic dash.

I'll admit I own a 1994 FZJ80 myself, and have thought a few times about backdating it with steel wheels and a two-tone paint job a la FJ55. It never occurred to me to go whole hog and swap the 60 series' front end on as well, and I'm a bit surprised that I like the end product so much. This one's even an HDJ81V diesel model, with the forbidden fruit 1HD-T six cylinder making only 162 hp but 267 lb-ft of torque at a lazy 1400 rpm.

I'm tempted to scrounge up some junker 60 series parts and start test fitting. A few weekends of welding followed by a trip to DT's favorite cut-rate paint shop (Beto's in Wilmington, CA) and I could have a retro cruiser of my own. With the 25 year import rule now allowing 1990 model year vehicles into the US without much fuss, it's only a matter of a few more long summers before we Americans could buy these pre-converted from Flex themselves and save the trouble. As a consummate cheapskate I have to think that the sum of the parts and labor would be less than $18k + shipping + duties (and fees, etc) if I built one myself using my cheap beat-up Cruiser as a basis. The only question would be: monochrome as above, or two / three tone as shown on the "Wonder" marketing page and below?

If you're a kook like me and are into this type of thing, Flex has many many more converted 80s for sale here. Just don't ask me for help with translation.

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  1. Sweet conversion! Makes me miss my old 1997, although at 6'3", that truck had the worst legroom:vehicle size ratio I've ever experienced.

  2. RHD is a deal breaker for me, but the fact they are vegetarian almost swings it back....

  3. +1 FTB

    And that carries over to the 4runners, as well. While I love almost everything about my 3rd gen, the height of the front seats from the floor is surprisingly low. I have been pondering how I could safely raise the driver's seat lately.

    1. No doubt doc.....I've never sat in any generation of 4 runner that didnt' have that trait. They all seem to have that "legs out" low seating position.

  4. In the 80 series Cruiser the driver's ergonomics are definitely fudged up. I find myself moving the seat back occasionally to be able to stretch my legs out enough but then my upper body is too far from the steering wheel. I think the lower firewall and pedal box are pushed back (closer to the driver) vs. steering wheel posiiton. Probably fine for someone with short legs. The gas pedal is also a bit left of where I'd like it to be.

    Other than that, no complaints about the driving experience in an 80. Mine has stiffer OME springs, shocks, and steering damper and actually corners pretty flat for a lifted full-frame SUV on 35" tires. The short wheelbase makes tight maneuvering a breeze, and large greenhouse / thin pillars make visibility excellent.

    My next projects entail rebuilding the front hubs, followed by a bit more interior comfort. I'm swapping the cracked leather seats for cloth, adding some sound deadener and radiant heat shielding, and installing a modern touchscreen head unit. AC is a bit weak as well but there is no electric pusher fan and it probably needs a recharge after 21 years.

    1. That seemed to be a thing with the Japanese makes in the late '80s and early '90s. I found many Nissans worse than Toyotas in that regard.

      The 80-series LC may have been a decent off-roader, but the on-road dynamics were (in my sample size of one, newish, stock) pretty awful for something that long.

    2. They are pretty soft and squishy in stock form. With a mild lift and overload springs it sharpens up the handling. Rough roads and bumps upset the chassis more than they would with independent suspension.

      By long do you mean vehicle length, front to back? They are actually quite short compared to most fullsize SUVs, in my experience.

    3. Not to mention, there aren't many vehicles I'd choose to be in a front end collision in over a FJ80 with an ARB bumper..

    4. Ditto here. The OME 891 springs and tall Bilsteins are major improvements.


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