Builds 1997 LX450 Ute

yohavos

 
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After some prodding I've decided to document my ute project. Hopefully this thread will serve as a record of all work performed, preserve a few of my thoughts and editorial as I proceed, and provide a bit of entertainment for my fellow mudders.

I have a few reasons for going this route, none of which are that relevant... the short story is, I really like 80 series land cruisers, and I want a pickup truck. I can assure you the time for debate has long past--this is happening, and no one is talking me out of it.

Secondly, I've been putting off learning how to fabricate for way too long. I've relied heavily on fellow cruiserheads (@hicruise55 built my 4x4Labs rear bumper and has been a great resource for all of my questions, intelligent and otherwise) and have decided once and for all to jump in.

So, we'll start at the beginning...

In December, the decision that I would be building a ute this winter/spring made, I bought myself a welder. I really need to thank @bugsnbikes for his "plasma cutter and some ducktape" thread as somehow being the final push I needed to do this thing. Watching him whip his "bacon bits" project together outside of his apartment is awesome, so when he mentioned he was doing everything with a Millermatic 140, I went ahead and did some research. It's a great little welder, so I pulled the trigger and had one delivered along with a free cart.

After that, I went to a place here in town and got a tank. The :princess: reached out to @hicruise55 and got a sweet list of starter accessories for my future as a driveway fabricator, all of which ended up under the tree on Christmas. After that, I went ahead and got myself an auto darkening mask from Amazon that got good reviews and didn't totally break the bank. A quality electric grinder with some leftover Christmas giftcards and a $21 sawzall from harbor freight later, I was set up.

Except... I had never welded anything before. Being determined to get this thing done, I figured getting the proper equipment together first would make for excellent motivation to see it through.

After a long weekend watching @hicruise55 put my swingouts together (I ran the grinder and masked up to watch him run beads... he let me tack a few things together but I'm pretty sure half of those fell apart!) in addition to a great deal of research, I was confident enough to... practice!


Alright, enough tangent.


Fast forward to January. I've had my feelers out for an 80 series to chop up but hadn't found anything. My budget was under $2k, as I figured I would drop that in maintenance items alone getting it drivable and I wanted the truck to be a driver for under $5k.

In conversation, I learn that @JackZilla (who isn't around here much anymore, but may come on back eventually) had caught the Cummins bug pretty hard and his 80 had fallen by the way side. He was spending time with his Dodge, and threw me a number I couldn't pass up for Black Betty, the LX450 he bought while we were deployed to Iraq in 2008 from a mudder. I offered lunch and gas money to a fellow law student for a ride back to Tacoma, and on a lazy Monday I drove her home.

Black Betty had been sitting for quite some time. She needed coolant, had two dead batteries, had a bit of mold on the inside and just needed attention. I checked and added fluids, threw a new battery in and of course, she right fired up (this is 80-series tech...). We wobbled to the nearest gas station for air and a full tank of premium, along with a final inspection underneath, then to the highway for the 4 hour drive home.

Here she is in my driveway after nice January drive... I had to keep the windows down all day, as the exhaust was broken underneath the body and it got pretty bad if you didn't. Behind Black Betty is our other 97 LX450, which the :princess: has already told me is NOT to be cut up.

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She's a baby with 151k on the ticker:

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And... the next morning, her first act of defiance. Looking like some new radiator hoses are in order, at the very least:

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A quick rundown:


1997 LX450
Originally silver, deflared and painted flat black/rhino lined (poorly)
Full Slee 6" lift (all the bells and whistles to make her drive right, done right)
ARB Front bumper
Slee A/C Drier skid
ARB brush guard things
ARB side steps
Warn M12000
Unknown synthetic winchline
Viking fairlead
Provisions for dual battery (in parallel, no isolator yet)
IPOR Skid
4.88 Gears
Longfields up front (we picked these up personally in Auburn, WA, right before the co. was sold)
JK Custom Rear bar with dual swingout
AO Drawer system
ARB Compressor
Aussie Locker rear/open front
JDM Cupholder for my Starbucks (that's for you, @Booger weldz :flipoff2:)
Hand throttle
Projector headlights (Acura projectors with HID's retrofitted, done right)
IPF's
CB
Firestick
SOR Seat Covers
Blah blah 80 series stuff, blah blah


And of course, the reason it's not horrible that I'm cutting her up is that she has a salvage title that we didn't learn about until after @JackZilla bought it. One of the engine mounts on the frame is tweaked a bit (hasn't affected drivability, but I know it's there...) and, as I'll show later on, I've found evidence of body work and lots of random little repairs done. Someone fixed this truck back up way back in the day with Bondo and electrical tape.
 

yohavos

 
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So, right into it then...

I bought her on a Monday. I was well over budget on initial costs, but it was well worth it.


Step one: transfer drawer system to my silver LX450. Explain to :princess: that it would cost us $1500 to get drawers like this, so in a roundabout way, the truck-to-be-chopped cost us $1500 less!

No pictures taken of this, because... who cares about taking out drawers?


Step two: remove JK Customs rear bumper in order to sell. This was also part of the calculus regarding initial cost of the truck.

Having been very well used, she needed a little help coming off the rear crossmember:

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yohavos

 
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Lakewood
The bumper lasted on craigslist for about two days. I got a ridiculous lowball offer, then met a cool mudder who had just relocated to the Inland NW from Alaska that snatched it up for his son's 80. Money back into the project fund, and less steel laying around the driveway.
 

yohavos

 
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After that, it was time to start stripping the interior. Again, much like I did with buying the welder, I decided that if I didn't strip the thing I was going to end up leaving it full bodied and lose steam

So, I committed.

Out came the interior:

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Tools needed: 3/8" rachet, extension, 10, 12, & 14mm sockets, flathead screwdriver, and a general disregard for what lies ahead.

I love these trucks.
 

yohavos

 
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During the next few weeks, the project didn't go anywhere. The weather was terrible, and my tiny garage wasn't an option for the 80, so she sat, unmoving and un-interiored.

Then, we got some sun. I didn't want to waste it, so out came my $21 sawzall, random packs of blades I had, and my best intentions:

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That was day one of chopping. My oh my does my $21 sawzall do work.

It was around this time my neighbor popped his head over the fence... and I had what was was the first of many conversations in which I explain that I'm "building a pickup truck out of an SUV" to people that just don't get me.
 

yohavos

 
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Day two of chopping:

I had been sick, the weather had been great, and I needed a break from school. So, I played hooky and spent some time with Black Betty and my sawzall.

Once the roof was off, I cut straight across the floor around where the rear seats mount. My single cab floor wasn't going to be this long, but I wanted something quick to get the rest of the body off of the rear. I removed the 4 body mount bolts, the rear gas tank strap (supported with a ratchet strap) and two or three other random things that were bolted to the body underneath (filler cap holder thing, lines, etc.) and off she came:
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What lies beneath, and Floyd the dog eyeing my buddy who came over to help me lift the body off. Notice the non-muffler exhaust dump. Something else for afterwards.

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yohavos

 
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No pictures, but for sake of reference: I pulled all electrical wiring back to the front drivers foot well. My goal is to end up with a single cab Lexus pickup with fully functioning interior lights, windows, speakers, etc.... so everything was meticulously undone and pulled all the way back through the body before I cut it.

I use the word "meticulously" loosely... I'm actually fairly impatient and lazy, which is why this project is good for me.
 

yohavos

 
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Once the rear body was off, I stripped the rear doors of their innards and cut them down to match the floor, again, longer than they will be once I'm done. This was just to get things down to size.

I should have taken my time and saved stuff to use as spare parts, but see my last post re: "meticulously"

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For reference, there's some tube half way down the outside of the door that runs parallel to the ground that is a b*tch to cut. Sawzall didn't do it, so the grinder came out.

So, after day two of chopping, my little driveway started to look like a junkyard, and I felt fairly committed at this point.



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And, Black Betty went to sleep for the night:

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yohavos

 
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Once I cut everything apart, the :princess: asked me what my plan was.

I told her I would figure it out... apparently I was the only one that knew I didn't have a plan!


So, I have a lot of random pictures like this, documenting how terrible of a neighbor I am, with various vehicle body parts positioned differently as I was apparently seeking inspiration.


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I decided not to use the rear pillars with hatch and tailgate as I wanted the cab to be less curved and more like a production pickup truck. Of course with the 80's lines it looks a tad ridiculous to just throw in a flat rear wall on the cab, so I had to figure something out.

Again, I'm not much for measuring and drawing things out. I like shimming things with random pieces of wood and using indexed characteristics to center things (this panel has 13 ribs, so the center is #7, for instance).

So, I mulled. I put a sheet of plywood up on the frame behind the "cab" to see what it would look like flat. I looked at pictures on google, then mulled some more.

I came to the conclusion that using the rear hatch and tailgate would look much better, but it was beyond my skillset, so I decided to use sheet metal.

Then, I talked to @hicruise55 about my dilemma, and he got me turned around. I realized that everything I was doing is beyond my skillset, so why punk out now?

So, it was time to make a "rear wall" as I've been calling it.

I picked up a few sheets of 18 guage steel, as that is what our body panels are made of. Of course they're pinch welded and doubled up and stamped and reenforced and other things, but more on that later.

But first... I wanted to finish my floor cut. Again, not being one for measuring, I used the seam in the body in the rear passenger footwell, then cut the doors to match. This was the only way sh*t was going to be straight.


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My trusty sawzall and grinder, posed on the little tires from our silver LX450. I figured the KM2's would be better served on the 80 that leaves the driveway, so Black Betty is sitting on some pavement pounding 285's.

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yohavos

 
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I had been sweating the gas tank and fuel lines during this process, and used great care with the sawzall when working near them. I was being lazy, and was determined not to drop the tank unless I had to. Once I got things trimmed back I realized it was inevitable, as the tank and lines are way too close to the body and where I will need to weld.
 

BlueCruiser84

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Very cool! I am in the middle of a similar project with an fj60. It's a blast. A little tedious at times, but a fun laidback project that doesn't NEED to be finished by any certain time. I cut mine in a similar spot because Ih8measuring stuff too. Let me know if you have any question and I'll be glad to impart my limited knowledge....
 
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I read through this very quickly but noticed that you said you didn't have a plan and also that you didn't mention Slee's UTE project. Check out the tech portion of his site for some ideas for your plan.
 
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Friggin sweet dude! planning on embarking on a project like this soon with a buddy. Hopefully we keep each other motivated to reach its potential of awesomeness!

Keep the updates coming!
 

yohavos

 
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Very interested in this build - subscribed.

I got one of these and it turned me into a fantastic welder . Its Makita's filing sander. Gets into all the tough spots and cleans up welds that don't go too well.

http://www.makitatools.com/en-us/Modules/Tools/ToolDetails.aspx?Name=9032

Excellent! I've been relying heavily on my grinder (and will rely heavily on bondo once I'm done) for things to look good but there are some areas I need to prep before welding that I can't get to. I was brainstorming last night about getting a dremel, I'll have to look into this.



Very cool! I am in the middle of a similar project with an fj60. It's a blast. A little tedious at times, but a fun laidback project that doesn't NEED to be finished by any certain time. I cut mine in a similar spot because Ih8measuring stuff too. Let me know if you have any question and I'll be glad to impart my limited knowledge....

You are correct! I love having this project waiting for me when I get home, or whenever I have some free time. I'm on spring break right now, the :princess: is leaving town for the weekend, so I'm about to spend some quality time with the metal in my driveway.

I found your thread during many of my endless searches... the lines of an 80 make this even more difficult to get right, though I do appreciate that I don't need to deal with the charcoal canister and evap lines.


I read through this very quickly but noticed that you said you didn't have a plan and also that you didn't mention Slee's UTE project. Check out the tech portion of his site for some ideas for your plan.

The Vlakvark has definitely been part of my inspiration! I went back and forth on stylesides vs. single cab but in the end, I wanted the functionality of a true flat bed and the style side look doesn't do it for me. The way they reused the rear hatch and mated it to the roof is pure art, though... if mine looks half as good, I'll have exceeded my own expectations!


Nice! Subscribed.
Thanks, hope you enjoy it!

Friggin sweet dude! planning on embarking on a project like this soon with a buddy. Hopefully we keep each other motivated to reach its potential of awesomeness!

Keep the updates coming!
Definitely man, this thread should help to document and motivate. If you're stalling, I found that cutting the truck apart is a great way to motivate you to put it back together!
 

yohavos

 
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Lakewood
Well, I had some 18 gauge sheet metal... my first time buying metal from anywhere but the scrap bin! I think the guys could tell I was a newbie, but who cares. They thought it was pretty funny that I had them offload my metal from the forklift onto the roof of my LX450.

I went with 18 gauge because among my many fun accessories and gifts on Christmas was a cheapo electric micrometer that told me my door skin was about 1.2mm or so, which the google told me was 18 gauge.

After the debate of how to make the rear wall of the cab was over, I came to the conclusion that I would use the rear hatch and tailgate, even if it meant not using the rear pillars to blend them into the cab. Again, I didn't want the bubble look, and the rear pillars are just too bubbly.

So, my plan of action became:


1) Try to use the rear hatch and tailgate to make a rear wall.

IF I destroy them and it doesn't work,

2) take the easy way out and just skin it with a flat sheet of metal, reenforced internally for strength and to dampen vibrations.



During this mulling and period of indecision, I decided it was time to drop the gas tank. I wasn't making progress anywhere else, and it needed to happen, so I just did it.

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This yellow garden cart has been wonderful:


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I would like to remind everyone that I'm not a great mechanic, so dropping the tank seemed like a pretty big deal to me. It was very simple.

The 80 series has taught me time and time again not to balk at mechanical projects, because they're never as complicated as I think they'll be.
 

yohavos

 
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Anyways, the rear wall...

The tailgate and hatch are curved. I want the cab to have a fairly straight rear wall, but still look factory(ish).

So, I decided to box the bottom of the tailgate in. It was time to weld something!

But first, I had to cut some sheet metal out. With a grinder. Ugh.



I put one of the half sheets on the rear of the frame, put the tailgate on it, and traced. Some cheapo clamps held the sheet in place while I did work:

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Then, there wasn't anything left to do but to do it:

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These pictures demonstrate how guys can post a before/after picture that takes you 5 seconds to take in on the internet but actually represents hours of f**king around with metal and grinding and hammering and texting your buddy to ask questions about your shielding gas, burning your hand, and just generally being in the garage.

This was a great preview of working with sheet metal and the need to spot/stitch things together. I was able to dial in the welder to deal with 18 guage, the thicker layered stuff on the tailgate, and learn about metal warping from heat.

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