A late 70s Pig Build: The Green Dragon

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Aug 26, 2009
flat earth Midwest
I had a pretty good time posting some pics of my long gone 1976 FJ55, the Green Dragon, over in the parts dept. while disposing of my lucky find of the headrests I purchased for it. That thread is here:

While this is obviously not a build in-progress :frown::crybaby: I think the pics do have some technical, as well as historical relevance in depicting how folks who owned these vehicles when new used them.

The first pic is just ugly -- and the reason why I purchased the headrests. It shows the Dragon after she had a AMC Pacer total itself on the rear bumper at about 25~30 mph. Kind of remarkable there was so little damage to the bumper. The bench seat was, however, bent some from the force. And my neck has never been the same.

The next four pics depict another case where my memory is hazy. Pics 2 and 3 show the truck with my 8274 on it, plus the Garvin Industries brushguard with reverse roller and KC Hi Lites. That may have been my first set of BFG Radial All-Terrains underneath her, as well as my also long-departed cat, Ca-Ca.;)

The last two pics were taken at the Middlefork River crossing on public ROW near Collison, IL, just NW of Danville. Haven't been there in years, although that place is fondly remembered for a particularly good piece of (not white-)tail I managed to luck into there one night.;) You drive into the river going north/east or dive in coming the opposite direction (going south/west) because the north bank is steeper. When the river is flowing well, it's hood high -- or worse.:doh: Using good judgement, all my 4x4s have made it across, including the 76 Subaru 4x4 I owned before the Pig. I suspect this location is closed, because this is now a National Scenic River...hmm, need to check that out and see if passage is still permitted and if The Sacred Cow will make it?:lol:

Note that this is at least my secodn set of BFGs, because I was turning the silly RWLs to the inside by then when getting them mounted. What throws me is that the Garvin guard is off, winch is still on. Maybe I was painting the guard, as I suspect this pick was taken after I had the local Toyota dealer R&R my rusty fenders? It was definitely taken after July 1982, when I first traveled to Nicaragua - Land of Many LandCruisers:). I can tell because of the Sandinista decal at the top of the windshield. All the fashionable LandCruisers down south were wearing them and I managed to finagle me one to bring back as tourist loot. It worked pretty good at backcountry checkpoints to let the Army flag you through, but which could've been kind of iffy with the contras, though, who were just getting frisky at the time. :rolleyes::grinpimp:

Anyway, she was good and I miss her, the cat, too. Be glad to discuss the perils (mainly rust) and pleasures of driving a Pig that started out reeking with new car smell. Most of the Dragon's other features were discussed in the head rest thread. I will say I wish I'd stuck with the 2F after getting the lust for power with a SBC. Given I had no welding chops, this was a project I paid for someone else to do most of and well, nothing was ever quite right after that. But I still enjoyed it when it was running well.





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Great pictures. How soon did it start rusting. My 40 rusted quick, but we ran the rivers alot with it.
Purchased in spring 1977, by the time of these shots in what must have been the winter of 82 it had the new fenders installed. The more I thought about, I remembered that I was painting the hardware up front prior to reinstallation after the body work was done.

It was the typical spot with the vertical post at the inside back of the front fenders. Holed through at the bottom, plus additional corrosion further up after 5 years. Of course, that included the memorable winters of 78 and 79, where the Dragon consistently got me home out in the country on night shift. The only time it didn't was because they shut down the highway while I was at work, so had to stay at a friend's in town.

One time, the part of the crew that lived up that way formed up behind me on the local four-lane to head home together. It was near white-out and for part of the way, I was following that single white stripe that kept appearing in front of me as all I could see for guidance. Several of them swore to never follow me out of town again. All in a night's work for the Dragon.

Sad to say, the rust is why there are so few Pigs in this part of the Midwest. If I owned one now, it'd be parked from November to April in a cozy garage.
OK, 10 more pics and the archive of interesting tech-ish stuff is about exhausted, unless you wanna see more hippies hanging around drinking beer near a familiar 55.

The first two shots are of the place where I had my first stuck in the Dragon. In the wild hills of southern Indiana, we were just cruising around looking for cool trails. Remmeber, this is pre-GPS and pre-Delorme Atlas. I usually had a local guide, but this area is honeycombed with roads and open trails...at this time in 1977, more later.

Anyway, this spot doesn't look too bad now. There's even gravel! Well, it wasn't when we got stuck. It was a nearly washed out two-track that was curving here with a steep bank on one side. I slid down off the crowns, which mashed the right tail-light, which is why it's patched here. We were good and stuck, no recovery equipment, total newbs -- and a nearly empty tank of gas. Plus it was raining, making the mud worse by the minute. We were at a strange angle that was just right to start sucking air, so the truck died. So it was time to hike (no cell phones) and find someone who could get a hook on us and some gas. Somehow, we came up with that stuff and escaped the clutches of the evil mud. Taught me a lot about going onto the trail with the proper gear -- and a mostly full tank of gas.

In any case, the old trail had been bulldozed into submission for someone building lots. There goes the wilderness.

BTW, that's Dave going nature boy on us, for some reason a common thread among my friends at the time for some reason. Heck, I had A/C, at least until the SBC.

The next three picks are from the old Kickapoo pits area near the state park near Danville. It was a great place to 4x4 within an easy drive, then some fool killed himself, lawsuit resulted, state wanted the land to expand conservation area, well, it's long gone now. That and the general practice of drunken locals to stir up troubles in their Jeeps and pickups gave us hardcore 'wheelers a bad name. By the mid-80s, pretty much everything within a two-hour drive was shutdown around here.

The first pick is in the Middlefork River, now a National Scenic River and probably a big no-no to be splashing around like we did here.

The 4th pic is a buddy from work, Whitey, get some front axle articulation going. That's why I loved my Pig, it was a serious 4x4, not the next generation's muscle car.

The fifth pic is Whitey and John, another fellow worker. This is a good shot of the Con-Ferr roof rack.





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And here's the last handful...

First pic here was taken at Sandridge State Forest near Havana, IL. It's another place great for 'wheeling that was closed. Lots of lanes with pine trees and the only place in Illinois where I've seen prickly pear cactus. It was basically sand, hence the name, which was great practice for a type of trail we don't often encounter in the Midwest. That's my bro on the left, a couple he knew from work, and my bro and mine's roommate, RD, hanging off the bumper. The 55 was great for roadtripping with friends. At the time, it and the Jeep Wagoneer were the only two 4x4s with 4 doors on the market, the original sport-utes, ahead of our time -- at least the 55 was.;)

Then there are three shots from a trip to Arizona in 78. My bro and RD worked at the same place and decided to take a long 4th of July weekend. Too long, they all got fired:frown: So instead of collecting unemployment in dreary Illinois, they decided to draw it in AZ. I drove out to visit them at the hacienda on the north side of Phoenix. Having four doors to open helped with the heat...not really. As you can see, I definitely have all the goodies on the truck now, with the spare up top due to the 55 gallon tank in the back. I didn't push things too hard. We turned around when we came to the washout where RD is posing for the ladies on the front bumper. The next to last pick was on a trip around Roosevelt Lake when we went camping up there for awhile.

The final pic is again after the new front fenders. It sort of shows one thing I don't have a pic of, my rear spare holder, seen barely peeking out at the rear. I took heavy C-section to make the bumper, then had pipes welded at each corner. Large pins then slipped down to the swivel arm, allowing entry. The tire was center mounted. It worked quite well and got that spare off the roof. I think the rack was getting painted in this shot, but I do have the Garvin guards on up front.






Great pictures. Brings back alot of memorries. Freeburg, Il. strip mines in 77 and running the Black River, until they shut it down also.
I sold her in 1984 and bought a -- GASP! -- Trooper II. That was a bit of a change, but a generally reliable truck. That was followed by a Rodeo, before I returned to the True LandCruiser Cult.;)

Yeah, must've been some lawyer symposium going around on how to close off land to off-roading in the Midwest -- or sumtin'. Can say that some irresponsible folks ruined it for everyone else...still, you have to look hard to find a place for a nice drive in the woods.

I said that the FJ55 and the Wagoneer were the only 4-door 4x4s when I bought the Pig. The IH Travel-All was out of production, although a buddy of my brother's had one. Obviously I forgot to include my '76 Subaru, but at the time the jury was still out on whether or not to consider it a real 4x4 -- probably still is for some. It certainly wasn't a truck.:p

When I went shopping for the FJ55, I also considered getting a 4x4 van. Then I thought of all the places the Subaru could go that a van couldn't. So I compromised and bought the FJ55, because once I actually laid eyes on one I was hooked. I don't think I'd ever seen one in real life before I laid eyes on the Dragon, sitting lonely at the back of the lot.

To somewhat address the non-van qualities of the Pig, I eventually built an interior. Basically a flat floor via an insert where the second seat went, then a cabinet that ran along the DS, low where the left rear passenger door was with a small countertop, then full height behind with cubby-holes for food, clothes and a place for my shortwave radio. It wasn't very deep, so still plenty of room to sleep on the floor.

The Dragon also had a roll cage, but never did need to use it.:D

Oh yeah, that trip to AZ convinced me it's not a good idea to put a glasspack on a 2F. Too brash, but I'd had to do something as after just two years the muffler was rusted out...which wasn't a good omen at all.
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wow...weird to know there were places to wheel in illinois. everything we did decades ago (late 80s) was illegal wheeling. the fox river area had nothing, but there was an access road for the powerlines in west chicago and a wide open area with some tank traps, an outer track and a pond to mess around in. i met lifelong friends and helped start windy city land cruisers in that area. back then, tlca wasn't east of the mississippi except for the gsmtr folks, and as much as the cruisers were rotted by then, we became the fastest growing club, going from 5 to 107 in seven months. it was amazing the cruisers that were hidden in the proverbial woodwork.




halfway down 80 between the lake and bettendorf was oglesby, which had an old mine. while not legal to wheel there, it was one of those 'everyone does it, just don't cross the bridge to the active side cause the owners flip out and will shut it down' deals, and the owners did shut it down a couple times a year....one of those deals where you have a fun day and are leaving to shouts over the cb of the cops being at the "entrance" waiting for folks.

again, thanks for letting me remember my memories with you ;)




Those are some great pictures! I've got a bunch like that, but no scanner. Young and having fun, can't beat it.
Thanks for those great pics! I wonder where all those TLCs are today? And what are all those folks are driving now that FJ40s are such rare birds? Somehow, the FJ Cruiser seems like pretty weak beer (not to disparage a neat little truck, but the FJ in it is pretty much all in the title, not under the hood) in comparison. Sure wish Toyota would make an effort to bring in all its "Best in Show" stuff, too, rather than just the "That's good enough for the US market" stuff.

In other words, we could sure use some 70 series trucks in this market.

Ron and Brenno,
Thanks for you comments.

Afraid the next four shots will be the last, as I wasn't expecting to find these. But here are a couple more at the Kickapoo pits, another shot of the road-trip to Sandridge State Forest before the trails were closed, and a parting shot showing the famous "Pig stance" that tells you you're ready for whatever the trail throws at you -- even when your tires ain't much to write home about.:)




I wonder where all those TLCs are today? And what are all those folks are driving now that FJ40s are such rare birds?

i sold ricebox2 to a guy in arlington (i think) when i moved to colorado, he just flipped it...archie was kind of an ass, so i'm glad he passed it to someone else. lane's green 74 in the next few photos was almost completely rotted away(you could poke your fingers through the upper tub rail, even) the last time i saw it and is most likely still sitting in a garage in the plano area. the red one in the first few pics is still kicking. steve's tried to take care of it. he's had quite a few land cruisers. he lives somewhere down southern il now, but i don't remember where.

the second set of pics, the white one is the one that eventually became the nuclearlemon, it succumbed to rust and engine issues a few years after moving here, the blue square bezel was sold off so jason could go to med school, he's since gotten into citreons, last pic also had steve and lanes rigs. archies soa cruiser and his friend paul with the green in the forefront i've lost track of.

marcus was also with us a lot, but wasn't at either of those trips, has had his 40 evolve into a buggy throughout the years, all pretty much done as class project stuff at the school he was teaching at in so. ill. all the others i've pretty much lost contact with. will byers, guy (can't remember his name, but built a ss tub for his cruiser), art and myra in their bone stock red fj60, even most of the names are failing me now. :frown:
Fascinating. Yeah, I know what you mean about remembering names, faces not so much, but I think that's typical.

It's really a shame that about the time Mr. T figured out a way to build LandCruisers that don't rust, he quit selling us the low-end ones with rubber mats, manual transmissions, and locking hubs. Some folks say that's progress. :p

I do dearly love my 80, in large part because it's everything the Dragon never was, but I really have no need for the luxury appointments that come from livin' large in a luxury ute. I suspect that's true for just about everyone you mentioned in the pics above and most at MUD. I don't mind the plush, I just wish that Toyota would give us a crack at the more utilitarian models once again.
I do dearly love my 80, in large part because it's everything the Dragon never was, but I really have no need for the luxury appointments that come from livin' large in a luxury ute. I suspect that's true for just about everyone you mentioned in the pics above and most at MUD. I don't mind the plush, I just wish that Toyota would give us a crack at the more utilitarian models once again.

i don't mind the luxury crap as much as i despise the gargantuan round look of the 80. mine's comfy as heck, wheels like crazy, isn't a huge rattle trap, can keep up with most traffic, but gawd it's ugly as sin and not so f'n ugly it's cute like my pigs.

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