Land Cruisers aren’t for everyone, but Rodney Wills isn’t “everyone.”
Rodney has lived a life of constant immersion. He just can’t do anything casually. He’s been diving head-first into the deep end of myriad pools since he was a teenager. It was then, before he could drive, that his love for BMX drove him to open his own bike shop in the suburbs of Birmingham, Ala.—long before Amazon and eBay. And in that same analog era, a local record shop enlisted Rodney’s services based on his uncanny ability to find good music well before iTunes made it easy.
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A foray into street art garnered commissioned work from a major metropolitan museum, and when Rodney forged a path out west, he was inspired to create one of the most influential underground tuner car magazines of the day. Rodney’s fast and furious lifestyle eventually pushed him into stage rally racing. But when he danced on the edge of the Grand Canyon, doing near-triple-digit speeds on a narrow dirt path, Rodney had an epiphany. “That was it,” he recalled. “The pivotal moment when I knew I didn’t need a checkered flag. I just wanted to come back and take in the view.”
This moment instilled in Rodney a lust for unplugging and getting off the grid as often as possible. Much like everything else in his life, Rodney immersed himself in the search for the perfect getaway vehicle, which brought him to this well-worn Toyota. And he couldn’t have made a better choice, as Land Cruisers are very popular for off-roading all across the globe. You can always count on one of these beasts to deliver you from evil when SHTF. They are virtually indestructible.
Take Rodney’s 1992 model for instance. He stumbled upon this 80-Series, codenamed the FJ80, in 2008 with 160,000 miles on it and not a single mechanical problem. After spending $3,000, it was his. At the start, Rodney performed all the basic maintenance to ensure his “ADV80” as he calls it, would be trail-ready. From there he just took some time to enjoy the ride before digging into any serious modifications.
“While most would jump a tire size or two up right out of the gate, I wanted to drive and learn as much as I could about this rig and how to drive a 4×4 off-road in stock condition before I went crazy with all the mods,” Rodney explained. “I wanted to know what stock would do so I would know just how much [improvement] the modifications would give me, if any.”
By now, the ADV80 had conquered 270,000 hard-fought miles, including service as Rodney’s daily driver and commuter to his job as the global marketing director for Axial Racing, but Rodney only felt the need to add an Airtec snorkel air intake and a Magna-flow exhaust system to improve the performance of the ride’s venerable 3F-E inline six-cylinder engine. “The 3F-E came in the first two years of the 80-Series Land Cruisers, and I believe it was a carryover from the 60-Series Land Cruisers. I call it the ‘3F-E get-out-and-push’ motor, as it lacks the power needed to climb highway grades,” Rodney said. “But once the rig is in the dirt, it’s all magic. They’re called a Land Cruisers, not a Land Speeders.”
Outside, the first modification Rodney made was to install a Wilderness Racks roof rack with the addition of a plywood sheeting insert to help shield the cabin from the summer sun. “Yes, it’s a thing to modify your roof rack with a layer of wood for thermal protection—something I learned about while reading an Australian Outback tour rig page and thought I would give it a try,” Rodney explained. “Lo and behold, I ran the rig for five years without A/C, partly because I would rather put money into other upgrades.”
Speaking of which, this very roof rack was soon upgraded to a Front Runner Slimline II. Rodney explained why he loves its modular design: “I bent a portion of the rack on a trip due to a low-lying tree branch and not paying attention. I didn’t have to replace the whole rack, just the small one-piece section, not even a whole side rail.”
To make sure nothing or no one gets in his way when he’s getting away, Rodney added a TJM T15 front bumper with safari-style side-brush rails that integrate into step-side rails. He’s quick to point out that these are not rock sliders, which would allow the ADV80 to pivot up and over boulders and other obstacles that would high-side a lesser rig, although he is planning to add these at some point.
Sitting front and center in the front bumper is a Tuff Stuff 12,000-pound winch. But even this stump-puller isn’t enough for Rodney, as he takes a lot of solo trips where extraction tools are a must.
“I have a shovel, tow straps, floor mats and a come-along hand winch,” Rodney said. “This is a tool I grew up with in Alabama, as my dad didn’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, nor an electric winch, but we hauled wood in an old two-wheel-drive truck, and a come-along hand winch is what got us out of the woods every time. Yes, we would get stuck, and it would only be us out in one truck. Self-recovery was just a way of life. Even with a winch hanging off the front of my bumper now, I will eventually upgrade the old hand come-along with a Wyeth Scott hand winch.”
OVER THE TOP LAND CRUISERS
After thousands of miles, Rodney finally went big on the undercarriage. ICON Vehicle Dynamics used the ADV80 as the prototype for its ICON HD VS 2.5 Series Piggyback Shocks. Three-inch ICON progressive springs improve clearance and ride quality.
Changing gear ratios can really improve a vehicle’s off-road prowess, and Rodney did just that with a switch to late-model axles that also came with upgraded disc brakes. The larger brakes called for larger wheels to clear the calipers, and being ever resourceful, Rodney found five Tundra spare wheels that fit the bolt pattern of the new axles. The steel wheels look mean and they’re strong, affordable and easy to find in a pinch. Rodney wrapped the steel wheels with beefy 315/75R16 Falken Wildpeak tires.
Aside from these modifications, Rodney only lists one other major tweak, which he calls “desert pin-striping.” These deep scratches on the flanks of a rig are caused when you venture deep into an overgrown area, and Rodney wears each and every one on his ADV80 with pride.
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His home in the affluent South Orange County region counts more Ferraris than FJs, and it gives Rodney an even greater appreciation of his Land Cruiser. In a region filled with exotics, Rodney finds these upper-crusters checking out his rig because, as he put it, “They know I am rolling in the ‘escape’ they wished they had.”
We couldn’t agree more, Rodney. The next time you want or need to escape, you could do much worse than Rodney’s well-worn ADV80.
GETTING BY WITH A LOT OF HELP
Rodney has a long list of people that helped in various ways to make the ADV80 become what it is today, the masterpiece of Land Cruisers.
“I will say that, hands down, finding the right shop has been my single most critical challenge,” Rodney said. “Finding and building that trusting relationship with a shop is critical. Trial and error with a couple of shops closer to home found me looking farther out and discovering Yotamasters. But at the top of the list is my wife, as without her, I would have never really pulled the trigger on making the purchase.”
Major Hat Tips To:
- Scott G. of GravelCrew
- The IH8MUD.com community
- Eric Hansen and crew from Yotamasters
- Nick Fousekis, James Yim and Mark Richter from Falken Tire
- Dylan Evans from ICON Vehicle Dynamics
- Steve Hayes from Front Runner Outfitters
- Chris Corbett from TJM USA
- Doug Moir from Cascade Audio
- Max Gremillion from PullPal
- Jeremy Ayers from Nitro Gear & Axle
- John Angelastro from sPOD
- David Druke from Trasharoo
- Rigid Industries
- 5.11 Tactical
- Jeff Johns from Axial Racing
- 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ80)
- 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder 3F-E
- Airtec snorkel air intake
- Magnaflow exhaust
- Nitro Gear & Axle 4.88 gears
- ICON progressive springs
- ICON remote reservoir “test shocks”
- Slee Off-Road adjustable front lateral control rod
- TJM adjustable rear panhard bar
- Old Man EMU steering stabilizer
- Toyota Tundra factory spare wheels
- 315/75R16 Falken Wildpeaks
- Front Runner Slimline II modular rack system
- TJM T15 front bumper with safari-style side-brush rails
- TJM step-side rails
- Rigid Industries 20-inch LED bar
- Tuff Stuff 12,000-pound winch
- Viking Offroad winch line
- PFran LED interior lighting
- Cascade Audio VB-1X and TG-1 insulation
- sPOD power distribution
- Yotamasters LED flexible light strip
- ARB standard air compressor (CKMA12)
- TJM air lockers
- Wits’ End fire extinguisher mount
- Ram Mount accessories
Editor’s Note: This isn’t limited to Land Cruisers. Want to show off your rig in the pages of “Ballistic” magazine? Shoot us over a high-resolution digital image of your “Wildest Ride” along with a caption that details what you’ve got to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and telephone number so we can shoot you back some swag. Hell, we might even ask you to take part in a future “Wild Rides” feature story.