Rusty Wagner's Big Block Land Cruiser
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By: Harry Wagner - July 2002

Rusty Wagner's tow and trail rigs in Death Valley.
Back in 1973, setup for dunes with a 302.

Rusty Wagner of Fremont, California is a man who likes torque. When he hooks his trail vehicle up behind his tow rig there is over 1000 foot pounds present. Rusty's tow vehicle is a 1986 K3000 pickup equipped with a 453T Detroit Diesel, Allison transmission, NP205 transfer case and Gear Vendors overdrive. This drivetrain directs power to a 10 lug Dana 60 front axle and 10 lug Dana 80 dually rear axle. The one ton diesel is not Rusty's only engineering feat though, his trail rig is equally impressive.

Rusty bought his FJ-40 Land Cruiser off the showroom floor back in 1967 after being impressed with a friend's FJ-45 pickup. The FJ-40 quickly went from daily driver status to dune wheeler. Anyone who has tried to climb sand dunes with an F motor knows that it doesn't really work, so the stock motor was soon removed and replaced with a 283 small block Chevy. Toyota "purists" should stop reading now, because the swapping did not stop there. This vehicle was home to 302, 327, 350, and 377 small blocks before the current big block was placed between the frame rails. This is no junkyard motor either. The LS6 block currently residing in the engine bay produces over 500 foot pounds of torque thanks to its 468 cubic inch displacement, steel crank and rods, forged 10:1 compression pistons, Crower "RV" hydraulic cam, oval port heads, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, Quadrajet carburetor, and custom headers and exhaust.

Echo Canyon in Death Valley.
Echo Canyon in Death Valley.

The list of transmissions used over the years is nearly as long as the list of motors. The original Toyota three speed transmission was first treated to a floor shift conversion before giving way to an SM420, a Muncie four speed (for the sand), an SM465, a TH400, and the current 4L60. The 4L60 is equipped with a heavy duty flex plate, B&M shift kit, and low stall lockup torque converter. The tranny is mated to a Dana 300 sporting a Currie twin stick to aid steering with the front Detroit locker.

Prior to adding the 4L60, the stock Toyota "three speed" transfer case was used along with a custom twin stick. The change from an offset to centered transfer case required the addition of a centered rear end. Rusty took this opportunity to add a high pinion Dana 60 rear built from a Ford front axle found at a junkyard. The new axle is equipped with disc brakes, a Detroit locker, 35 spline full floating shafts, 5.13 gears, and eight lug outers. The front Dana 44 is also equipped with 5.13s and a Detroit, and both axles have been narrowed to 55 inches, stock Land Cruiser width. 38 inch Dick Cepek Fun Country Radials cap the axles and TJ flares were recently added in the rear for more clearance.

At Argo-A-Go-Go in 1982. Rollover on the Rubicon in 1983. In 1984 at Bucks Lake. Fordyce Trail in 1990.

The tires clear the body thanks to a springover with Blazer springs and reversed shackles in front and stock FJ-40 front springs in the rear. KYB Gas-A-Just shocks are used up front, with Rancho RS5000s on custom mounts in the rear. This combination stretches the wheelbase to 93 inches and is soft enough to work in the rocks while still controlling the heft of the big block.

The big block fits nicely under the hood.
The rear reverse rotation Dana 60.

The original chalk yellow paint was covered in Hugger Orange back in 1972 and has been touched up and repainted several times since then. Custom half doors were also made out of stock Cruiser doors and sprayed with the same color. The heavy hard top was removed along with much of the Cruiser's interior to lower the vehicle's weight. Without the rear jump seats, the tailgate was welded into place to further strengthen the body. At the same time all of the spot welds were ground smooth and a custom grill was added.

When the front Dana 44 was added, the stock steering was replaced with Saginaw crossover steering to provide better steering and shed more pounds. The driver's side header was custom made to snake around the steering shaft to the box. Some of the other custom features include the high clearance rear gas tank, the 3 inch roll bar, an 8274 winch up front, and twin Optima batteries to fire up the high compression big block.

Barrett Lake Jeep Trail in July 2001.

Like any true wheeler, Rusty will never be content with his rig. Rusty's shop currently contains another FJ-40 frame, a high pinion Dana 60 front axle, and an NV4500. There is talk of adding a Cummins 4BT four cylinder diesel, an Atlas II transfer case, and hydraulic steering to the new package as well. Only time will tell what is in store for this heavyweight Cruiser.

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