78 Series Land Cruiser Prado: Project Vehicle

Our ‘new’ Land Cruiser
My affection for the 70 Series Land Cruiser has been well documented on ExPo, a vehicle I consider to be one of the best overland platforms ever constructed. In late 2011, our team began searching for a 70 series that would serve as a personnel hauler and adventure vehicle to augment our staff vehicles. There are a few challenges in doing this, principally the rarity of these vehicles in the US. The other challenge is the expansive model line-up that spans 25+ years and dozens of models. We are currently using two 78s for an around-the-world expedition, but I wanted something slightly more civilized for daily transport. This led our search to the first generation Prado Land Cruiser, which was based on both the 70 series and HiLux platforms. We selected an LJ78 SX, which is the long-wheelbase variant.

It has a big, er, rear. We are going to do some trail testing to see if a more durable rear bumper is needed. Those plastic corners are a concern.
From 1985-1996, Toyota Araco plant produced a lighter-duty version of the 70 series and called it the Land Cruiser II, Prado or Bundera, depending on the market. Critically, the manufacturing location was the same as the other 70 series trucks. The Araco plant is renowned for quality and has produced the HD Land Cruisers for decades. Araco is now owned by Toyota and is referred to as Toyota Auto Body, located just outside of Toyota City in Japan. Current 70 series trucks and many of the 200 series are built there.

There are a few key differences between the LJ78 Prado and HD 70 series of the same era. Principally the drivetrain deviates, with the LJ78 sharing more with the HiLux than a 76. The transfer case is much the same as the HD models, but the engine and transmission is the same as a HiLux. This has benefits and liabilities, with the primary benefit being drivability and economy. It is not uncommon to achieve mid-20 mpg (9.5L/100k). While durability is rarely an issue in typical overland situations, these smaller engines can be overworked and suffer head cracking. Head gasket and head issues are unfortunately common with many Land Cruiser power plants, so a perfect cooling system and attention given to exhaust gas temperatures is critical. It is typical for owners to abandon these engines after failure, but a little research and preventative maintenance will prove sufficient. Our truck has barely 100,000kms, so a long-life is expected. Luxury Imports from Canada has a solid set of recommendations to extend motor life. If ours proves problematic, we will install a 3.0L head. Maintaining the cooling system and managing EGT seems to do the trick. We also benefit from having a 5-speed manual, which keeps ATF cooling duties out of the radiator. The axles are also a hybrid of HiLux and Land Cruiser.

The 2.5L Turbo Diesel was used in the HiLux and Surf. This motor will not take the abuse the 3BT, 1HZ, etc. will. Coolant system performance and EGT monitoring is critical.

Barely over 100,000 kms, this engine is clean and well maintained.
Beyond the drivetrain, the Prado shares much of the frame assembly and body with the HD variant 70 series. The front clip is shorter, and as a result the front frame is slightly different and shorter as well. I like the look of the Prado sheet metal and shorter hood length. This style change occurred in 1990 and is the first major sheet metal deviation from the HD 70 series models. Of particular interest to me was the suspension, which is four-corner coil and the precursor to the 80-series suspension. Having driving a 73 Land Cruiser with all leaf-sprung suspension in the Sahara, my spine liked the idea of a coiler. The rear suspension uses a three-link, trailing arm system with panhard rod and anti-sway bar. As a result, it has much less articulation than our 1997 FZJ80 Land Cruiser. This overall suspension architecture more closely resembles the G-Klass Mercedes (but without the cross-axle diff. locks) than any other Toyota Land Cruiser. We have already identified several modifications that will greatly improve trail and road handling. As a factory option, these trucks had two-way shock valving, selected by a switch in the center console; normal and sport mode. The Prado was available with a factory option rear electric locking differential. Ours came with the limited slip.

While this truck is designated a 78, it shares few dimensions with the current variant 78 Land Cruiser. We have a 1HZ 78 Troopie in the office and pulled it out to compare with the Prado. From the front hubs forward, the Prado is shorter. This makes sense given the 6-cylinder engine of the Troopie, and gives a slight advantage to the Prado in approach angle. Aft of the front axle, the sheet metal is nearly identical to the start of the rear wheel arches. Here, the troopie is longer, reflecting the 2980mm wheelbase VS. the Prado at 2730mm (which is identical to the 60 series). The rear overhang is a mirror copy between the Toopie and Prado. Without question, the massive rear overhang is the primary trail clearance limitation.

While the 1HZ78 has a suspension lift and larger tires, it clear how much taller the Troopie is overall.

Overall length is longer with the new 78 Series. No dimensions are shared between the 1991 LJ78 and the 2010 HZJ78. Despite this, there are many body shape and trim similarities
On the inside, the Prado is a spruced-up HD 70 with that classic metal and plastic dash. I am personally a fan of this dash construction and layout, which feels both comfortable and durable. The various convenience items speak to the intended Prado customer with sport seats (with adjustable lumbar!), A/C, multi-speaker stereo system, etc. Unfortunately, cruise control is absent from all trim levels. Our Prado is an SX model, which was middle of the line and fortunately free of the two-tone paint scheme. The seats are comfortable and durable, with this truck being equipped with the eight-passenger configuration. After the front two bucket seats, a middle and rear three-passenger row makes it possible to make extra cash as a bus driver. The prior owner installed aftermarket rims (only 4) and slightly taller 235/85 R16 Nokian tires. Otherwise, this beauty is bone stock.

The interior is a nice combination of 70 Series durability and 80 series livability

This truck has been extremely well cared for, and will be even more so with our team. The new stereo is terrible (function and appearance) and will be replaced with a stock unit or stereo blank.

I love the altimeter and thermometer in metric.

Metal glove box and a grab handle. Few new vehicles provide a more usable interior.

Eight-passenger configuration

The staff is exited about the new project, which we intend to take slow and with purpose. This truck is already an excellent exploration platform, so modifications will be limited and hopefully enhance the overall usability and performance. Look for detailed editorial on each step of the process.



Specification: 1991 LJ78 Prado SX Land Cruiser


  • Price: (1991) $22,000
  • Engine: 2LTE 4-cyl Turbo Diesel
  • Engine Size: 2446cc
  • Horsepower: 96 (71.34 kw) at 3,800 rpm
  • Torque: 177 ft-lbs. (240 n*m) at 2,400 rpm
  • Compression Ratio: 21.0
  • Bore/Stroke: 92/92
  • Fuel Tank: 24 gallons (90L)
  • Maximum Range: 590 miles (950 km)
  • Fuel Economy: 25mpg Highway (9.5L/100km)
  • Transmission: 5-Speed Manual R150F
      1. First Gear: 3.830:1
        Second Gear: 2.062:1
        Third Gear: 1.436:1
        Fourth Gear: 1.00:1
        Fifth Gear: 0.838:1
  • Transfer Case: 2-speed, part-time
      1. Low-range: 2.295:1 ratio
  • Final Drive:
  • (axle ratio) 4.875:1
  • Brakes:
  • F/R Ventilated Disk
  • Wheels:
  • 16” Alloy
  • Tires:
  • 215/80 R16
  • Dimensions:
  • Wheelbase: 107.5” (2730mm)
  • Overall Length: 180.5” (4585mm)
  • Overall Width: 66.5” (1690mm)
  • Overall Height: 74” (1885mm)
  • Turning Radius: 20’ (6.1m)
  • Curb Weight: 4,166 lbs. (1890kg)
  • GVW: 5,202 lbs. (2360 kg)
  • Payload: 1,040 lbs. (470 kg)

Stock ground clearance is better than 90% of new SUVs

Turbo seats with lumbar!

The 4wd system is unnecessarily complex. We are going to fix that.

Power windows and door locks with Toyota reliability – I’ll take it!

I dig the Japanese warning labels. We are going to keep those

Sweet little storage cubby under the rear deck

Aftermarket Japanese wheels. Not feeling the love on these. Most likely, we will install factory steel wheels

We will remove this nice side steps and install simple and tight-fitting steel sliders

Love the old-school Toyota emblem on the grill.

These electric hubbs are going, although they can be reliable if services properly

The truck is nearly perfect as delivered. We will concentrate on restoration first, then minor modifications

Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona IG: @scott.a.brady Twitter: @scott_brady

One Comment