How to buy an 80 Series LandCruiser, the greatest 4×4 of all time?

By Sam Young 21 Min Read

Before we dive into the juicy goodness that is the Toyota 80 Series LandCruisers, congratulations are in order! If you’re reading this article, then you’ve made the best decision of your life – You’re buying an 80 Series LandCruiser. If I was sitting there with you, I’d kiss you, but for now, a digital handshake will have to do. 

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What’s the story?

I have no doubt that you guys will certainly accuse me of being biased. I’ll be the first to admit I am. I’ve not only bought and sold more LandCruisers in my time than what most people have had hot dinners. But three have been 80 Series, and I’d say that renders me at least a partial expert in the subject! Now if you’re a Nissan owner, then the best option for you is to look away now. It only gets more Toyota-centric from here on and I know you chaps are a little sensitive. 

Is the 80 Series the best 4×4?

The 80 Series LandCruiser has cemented itself as one of the best four-wheel drives of all time for several reasons. Out of the box, they’re comfortable, reliable, capable and, although subjective, very good looking. The interior across the range was spacious and comfortable with adequately appointed features. The exterior was tough and wide with street presence that still holds its own in today’s modern market.

Toyota has forever and will remain infinitely known for its reliability and the 80 Series LandCruiser is no exception. When it comes to capability, this is where the 80 Series really puts on it’s Toyota-badge encrusted crown. With coil springs and solid axles front and rear from factory, factory differential lockers being available in some models and plenty of power available from the various engine options, there aren’t a lot of tracks the 80 Series can’t conquer. 

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“Toyota has forever and will remain infinitely known for its reliability and the 80 Series LandCruiser is no exception”

How old is the 80 Series LandCruiser?

Although the 80 Series LandCruiser will forever hold a spot close to my heart, they are knocking on the door of historic registration now. With the earliest 80 Series LandCruisers now being over 30 years old, it can be hard to find to buy. But don’t be alarmed, that’s why I’m here! Consider this your All-Aussie-Adventure and think of me as your very own Russel Coight. Here to guide you to the right vehicle! This is my one-stop shop 80 Series buying guide. Let’s dive in! 

The 80 Series was launched in 1990 and was manufactured through until 1997. Through the years, there were some subtle changes and some not-so-subtle changes. Four different engine combinations. Two transmission choices and a plethora of trim levels. Some models are far more desirable than others. And cult-like followings of certain engine/trans options have driven prices up across the board. There are a few key things to look at and consider when delving into this world, let’s start with variants. 

Which 80 Series is best to buy?

The 80 Series LandCruiser had about as many variants in it’s line up as teenagers have hairstyles, lots. Today we’re going to focus on the three major sub-models as these are most likely going to be the ones coming up in your search criteria. DX, GXL and Sahara. 

The DX was the most basic an 80 Series could be and will no doubt be one of the cheaper options available online. Fitted with the underwhelming yet unbelievably reliable 4.2L non-turbo diesel motor, the 1HZ. The DX is the cheapest for a reason, with an extremely basic interior fit and finish. There is no plush carpet in sight, no power windows. You don’t even get a tachometer. The DX had no flares fitted factory. Had no 3rd row seating or sliding windows and even missed out on the traditional 80 series rear boot. Yep, that’s right, it has Patrol-inspired barn doors… yuck. 

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The next contender and most common in your search results will be the GXL variant. The GXL is my personal preference when it comes to trim levels. It takes things another step from the DX with it’s interior and exterior features. The GXL come with a carpeted cabin, more comfortable seats, electric windows front and rear and even central locking. The GXL is adorned with factory fitted flares and has the iconic split-tailgate style rear door. There is also the exciting addition of 3rd row seating making the GXL a 7-seat vehicle with sliding 3rd-row windows for the back passengers. The GXL model came in a variety of engines and gearbox options which we’ll go into shortly. 

“These are about as rare as hen’s teeth and will cost you an additional arm and/or leg”

The final trim level for those looking for a little more luxury is the Sahara or VX Sahara. These are about as rare as hen’s teeth and will cost you an additional arm and/or leg. Depending on how deep your pockets are, you might be able to justify it. The Sahara and VX Sahara have a much plusher interior. There are leather appointments or suede effect trims on the seats, door cards and dash. They have a more elaborate climate control system including 3rd-row air-conditioning and even have an electric sunroof. 

80 Series trim spec

Choosing the right trim level for your needs is a hard one. If you’re going to give your 80 Series absolute hell and drive it through swamps 24/7 then the viny- based DX could be suitable. But if you’re looking for a comfortable and mod-con-equipped cruiser that won’t necessarily break the bank then a GXL might be more your flavour. 

Which 80 Series Engine should I choose? 

This question is one that could start a war. People in today’s world seem to have incredibly strong feelings about what might be better for a four-wheel drive, petrol or diesel. I’m lucky enough that I’ve owned a good variety of engine combos. I’ve had a 60 series with a 3F petrol, and I’ve also owned all three engine variants in 80 Series. Yep, that’s right, a 1HZ, a 1FZ and most recently, my 1HD-T. 

For starters, let’s talk the 3F-E engine. This 4L, straight six petrol powered donk is a truly uninspiring combination pulled together by Toyota. This 155hp disappointment was barely suitable when it came in the previous gen 60 Series Landcruisers. But to slap them in the early 80 series with a simple EFI conversion was devastating. These will no-doubt be cheap and affordable. They are probably the least desirable motor the 80 Series came with so the silver lining is bargains will be there to have. 

Next up is the petrol powerhouse, the mighty 1FZ-FE. If your feathers are easily ruffled then buckle up, because just quietly, the 1FZ is probably my favourite 80 Series engine available. The 212hp straight six 4.5L motor was a modern step in the right direction. It offered manual and automatic options with plenty of pep. Nothing used to get me going like launching off the line against a P plater in their corolla and pulling a car length on them in a 2.5t Landcruiser. But the 1FZ-FE always got it done! With plenty of power for towing, overtaking on the highway and plenty of torque for off-road scenarios, it is a truly fantastic option. 

People automatically discredit these motors purely because they’re petrol. This means these are currently going for around 50% of what their diesel counterparts are selling for.  

“These are currently going for around 50% of what their counterparts are selling for”

Now onto the unsung hero of the agricultural world, the 1HZ non-turbo diesel motor. Now some people out there will probably argue the best use for these engines is as boat anchors but they’re not all bad news. With a claimed 129hp, they certainly won’t set the world on fire. But what they lack in prowess, they make up for in undeniable reliability. Often clicking over one million kilometres if taken care of, the 1HZ is the very definition of Toyota reliability. You’ll be keeping busy on the highway up steep hills though. Throwing gears at it like you’re trying to tame an Egyptian Taipan in a market stall. But if you’re willing to do that, then a 1HZ powered 80 Series could be for you. 

Now for the big-dogs, the 1HD-T and later 1HD-FT. If you ask just about any Toyota LandCruiser owner, they’ll tell you all about how these engines are the best thing since sliced bread. And to be honest, once upon a time, I believed them. The 1HD-T produced 164hp with the later 1HD-FT producing almost the same. The differences were really just in valve and head design. The 1HD-T being a 12-valve motor and the 1HD-FT being a 24-valve motor. These were factory turbo-diesel engines by Toyota and put in the highest spec vehicles on the market.

Reliable, tuneable and great sounding, these quickly rose to fame in the industry, but they aren’t without their flaws. With less power than the 1FZ-FE vehicles and roughly the same fuel consumption, to me it’s a hard choice to go a diesel-sooter over the clean petrol motor. The other issue was an inherent big-end-bearing issue which caused countless blown motors early on. Let’s unpack this next.

80 Series common problems

Now before you all go to hunt me down, even the greatest cars in the world have their issues. Especially when they’re knocking on the door of 30+ years old!

The biggest issue you’ll notice while looking for a second-hand vehicle is paint fade. Clearcoat back in the 1990’s wasn’t Toyota’s strongest attribute and sadly has led to almost every 80 Series needing a respray unless it’s white. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the vehicle, but if cosmetics are a worry, then you might want to start factoring in some paint touch-ups or vinyl wrap. 

Here’s a little fact you can take to the bank, rust is lighter than carbon fibre, so is rust really an issue? It sure is, I’m just being a silly bugger. Rust and a poorly cared for LanCcruiser is a recipe for disaster, expensive to fix, drastically reduces resale and impacts the overall structure of the vehicle. While 80 Series don’t have the same rust issues that 60 Series do, you still need to be careful. Check the underside, inspect the chassis, inspect the body and pretty much any metal surface you can see for surface rust or worse. The best advice I can give you, is if it’s rust, walk away. Like an iceberg, you can only see 10% above the surface while 90% lingers out of sight. 

Big end issues

Now, you probably recall me mentioning the pesky big-end-bearing issue than impacted early generation 1HD-T 80 Series owners. This was a major issue and resulted in a huge number of engine issues. I won’t bore you with the specific science behind a big-end-bearing failure, but if it happens, you’ll know about it and your motor will need rebuilding. It’s important to know if it has been replaced by the previous owner and if so, you need proof. Knowing this will not only arm you with confidence but also mean that if you ever go to re-sell the vehicle, the next owner can’t use the lack of evidence to bargain you down. 

This was a major issue and resulted in a huge number of engine issues

While you’re under the car inspecting for rust and damage, pay especially close attention to the chassis around where the steering box mounts. This is a known weak point and can crack over time. There are easy fixes such as fish-plating this area, but you don’t want to get caught out with it cracking or shearing while you’re driving your new pride and joy. Look closely and if it’s looking a little dodgy, that’s a fantastic bargaining chip. 

LandCruiser leaks

These cars are old, 30+ years old to be exact which means like any older person, they leak… Graphic but it’s the truth and the reality is, you want to check the engine bay, gearbox, diffs, power steering components and basically all other systems for leaks. Leaks can mean neglect and expensive repairs and generally render vehicles unroadworthy. The other important thing to do is drive the car and feel for strange vibrations or driving characteristics. They’re a bit like a truck but should drive straight with no driveline vibrations. The last thing you want to be doing is chasing your tail with an annoying and expensive vibration. 

There are a few more general ‘old vehicle’ things to watch out for too that aren’t just specific to the 80 Series. Check for overspray on panels from poorly done crash repairs. Check inside panels where possible to see if there’s evidence of red dirt or sand from long touring trips which could’ve been hard on the vehicle. Poke around the fuse boxes and general engine bay wiring and make sure it hasn’t been tampered with by a ‘wannabe’ auto-electrician. 

What should you pay? 

Since our little friend Covid-19 reared its head, the market has gone ballistic on all used vehicles. Sadly, the four-wheel drive market was arguably one of the hardest hit too. 80 Series Landcruisers that would have been $15,000 in 2019 are now $30,000, but there are some bargains to be had if you’re a patient person. 

Currently the cheapest 80 Series on the market (as of 19/9/22) is an automatic petrol with over half a million kilometres on the clock. It’s almost completely standard and comes in at $6,600. On the flip side, the current most expensive 80 Series on the market is a late model automatic turbodiesel with just 150,000kms on the clock. They’re asking an eye-watering $76,000. The worst part? It’s almost completely standard. 

I’m not going to sit here and try argue with you that a nearly 30 year old Landcruiser with no modifications is worth nearly $80,000 (unless it’s me selling in, in which case you should definitely pay… Just kidding). 

“If you’re spending over $40,000 then I honestly think you might have rocks in your brain”

For the $5,000 – $15,000 price range, you’ll be in the market for a nice clean 80 Series. For this sort of price, the most common variant of car will be a petrol powered GXL or DX. The early 1990/91 model vehicles will have the EFI converted 3F-E motor in them which is a little lacklustre but will get the job done. Most will have the peppy 4.5L 1FZ motor and probably be mated to the slightly less desirable automatic gearbox. 

The next jump up in price is the $15,000-$40,000. This next range is a wide and vast one which will have a little slice of everything. This is where you’ll have some very clean and well looked after 1FZ-FE 80 Series but also break into the diesel and turbo-diesel market. If you’re looking to spend at the lower end of the bracket, then don’t be surprised when you look at vehicles with close to half a million kms. That works out to be less than 20,000kms a year driven which in the scheme of things isn’t too bad. If you’re looking to spend at the higher end of the bracket, then a clean and cared for Landcruiser should be achievable. Kilometres less than 300,000 would be ideal but not always possible. 

If you’re spending over $40,000 then I honestly think you might have rocks in your brain, these cars are just not quite worth that yet despite what some delusional owners might think. A vehicle over the $40,000 mark should be exactly what you want with almost no compromise. The paint should be immaculate, they should have receipts for work done and it should have genuine low kilometres. I would avoid engine swapped vehicles, especially if they’re not engineered. 

Summary

Don’t be afraid of owning an old Landcruiser, these big, beautiful beasts are the gateway to adventure and exploration. What I tell pretty much anyone who will listen is that even a rough and unreliable 80 Series Landcruiser is better than no Landcruiser at all! No matter what your budget, experience or technical inclination is, there’s a dream rig out there for you. With Summer looming around the corner, there’s never been a better time to buy than now. Take your time, do your research, look at as many vehicles as possible before biting the bullet and you’ll surely not be let down. 

Get out there and I’ll see you on the tracks. 


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