Sandy: 2003 Land Cruiser 100 Series Build & Adventure Thread


Hello all,

I'm going to start out with a bit of backstory to get everyone up to speed. I'm not super far into this build yet, but things are happening quickly, so I decided to get started on a thread. Let's back up a bit and see where this whole saga starts.


My real name is Tom. I'm an avid outdoorsman, hunter, hiker, backpacker, and amateur overlander living in Montana. I've been lucky enough to grow up here and become acclimated to hiking and camping in the mountains for most of my life. It took my a little time to discover my passion was exploring remote places by vehicle, but I eventually got there and fell in with the big overland craze as it was getting kicked off. I owned a 2001 Land Rover Discovery II that shifted my focus from big American 4x4s to more practical travel machines that could actually get you places. Plus, the whole Land Rover lifestyle and overland travel started really appealing to me after a short while of ownership. As you'd expect, that came apart quickly thanks to Land Rover's incredible unreliability and my total lack of money as a college student. I sill have a deep love for that vehicle though, as it shifted my love of cars into something that fed my passion for travel as well.

After a few years of Land Rover ownership, I took the plunge into my first Japanese 4x4, a 2003 Nissan Frontier, named Nancy. Nancy was a great truck that showed me just how dependable a 4x4 could be. I hada lot of fun in that truck and went a lot of places, but the terrible fuel consumption of the supercharged 3.3 was unforgiveable and I could not take it far afield. Thus, after a couple of years, it too went off to a new owner to be replaced by another Japanese 4x4.

The next vehicle is where I really caught my stride with modifying and traveling. Lola, my 2005 Nissan Frontier, was as dependable as the tides. She started totally stock with 112k on the clock, and over the course of six years, I turned it into a mile-eating, trail capable overland machine. That truck took me all over Montana and Wyoming, way up north into the Canadian Rockies, and all over the western US. We took it on our honeymoon and it carried kids home from the hospital. It taught me a lot about what I wanted and what I needed out of a vehicle build. However, after our first child and many modifications to the vehicle, we were starting to reach it's limits. Large tires, heavy armor, and lots of gear placed a huge burden on the truck, and many years of backroads hammering had required me to replace or upgrade an awful lot. Two kids and a dog made it nearly impossible to cram enough gear into it. After six fun-filled years, I sold it, bought a cheap Subaru as a runabout, and bided my time until I could find what I was looking for.

I knew I wanted a robust, reliable, comfortable, and capable 4x4 that could take me and my family on overland trips as far away as Mexico or Alaska. I wanted more inside space and more load capacity, and I wanted durability. A number of options kicked around in my mind, from a Ford Excursion 7.3 to an import Mitsubishi Delica. Eventually though, the obvious choice came shining through and after several months, I found what I wanted: Claire, my 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser.

From the get-go, this vehicle had something special. A local Montana truck that appeared to have been well-looked after with only 156k on the odometer, an immaculate interior, and what appeared to be very minimal rust that my friend and I could tackle ourselves. It sported a Front Runner roof rack, WeatherTech floor liners, decent tires, the BT45-TOY module, and an upgraded speaker and amp set. Otherwise, just an honest Cruiser. After a little deliberation and a hell of a deal from the owner, I took it home and drove it for a while, getting to know it and the things I wanted to do to it. After removing the running boards and poking around under the truck, it became evident that this Land Cruiser would need a little more work than we originally thought. I had started some small projects by then, but the lion's share of the work was underneath.

Here's her current situation:

But let's back up a bit and talk about where this build is going, what I did before the tear-down, and how exactly this all came to be.

My initial goal was to baseline. I wanted to gather up all the fluids, filters, and small wear parts that I needed to get everything where I needed it. I also went after a few mods that I had purchased beforehand and had sitting in my garage waiting for the next build to kick off. Before all that though, I got rid of everything I didn't want. 3rd row seats, extra speaker boxes, running boards, and the Front Runner rack were removed, along with the frame weights. I also removed every scrap of fake wood trim on the dash before giving it a good clean.

I then drove her for a bit, using it as my daily driver while my wife's Crosstrek was being fixed from this fall's deer strike. I got acquainted, took it on a couple of road trips, and really started to fall for the thing and connect with it.

As I was preparing to tackle the rust repair on Claire, I decided it was time to figure out exactly how I wanted to build the truck. I'd been through multiple iterations of parts on my Frontier, and that was a situation I wanted to avoid with this build. I spent a lot of time thinking through each change to try to balance what I knew I needed, what was not at all necessary, and what was nice to have. The Frontier taught me a good many lessons, and I tried to put those to use in the grand plan and on the spreadsheet that has drawn out exactly what is going on the truck. Step one was pulling out the tape measure and seeing what I was working with.

I discovered that the Land Cruiser had exactly the same amount of clearance everywhere as my 3" lifted Frontier on 33s, except for the front diff, which was about an inch low. Good place to start!

Disclaimer: This is not going to be a rock crawler, build. I'm not going to be putting 35s and lots of steel under it. This build will be on the lighter side, balancing long-distance highway comfort with off-highway ability in order to be a good vehicle for overland/adventure travel. It's about going places, not beating it up on the rocks, though there probably will be some of that involved.

So here is the major parts of the build plan, from the ground up.

265/70R18 BF Goodrich KO2s.

Old Man Emu 60000 front shocks, torsion bars, 60002 shocks, 2866 springs.
SPC lower and Metal Tech adjustable upper trailing arms.
Ironman 4x4 LCA reinforcement brackets.
Slee diff drop.
Wheeler's Superbumps.

ARB Deluxe front bumper.
ASFIR 4X4 aluminum front skid plate.
Home built "Creeper" style center protection.
Home built "LCP rock rails".
Dobinson's rear swing-out tire carrier.

EBay snorkel.
Stubby radio antenna.
Rhino Rack roof bars.
Rhino Rack Batwing awning.
Smittybilt X20 winch.
Long Range Automotive replacement tank.
ARB diff/tcase/transmission breather extensions.
Viair 2.5 gallon tank.

Escape gear seat covers and dash mat.
Raingler cargo barrier.
Owl Expedition media mount.
Vulcan magnetic pistol mount.
Rear storage system (TBD)
Front Runner onboard water tank system.
DFG Offroad fridge slide.

Slee main battery tray upgrade.
Interstate group 31 AGM battery.
Auxiliary electrical system.
ARB CKMA12 compressor.
150W inverter.
ARB LED fog lights.
Xprite LED bumper lights slaved to high beams.
Nilight rear flood lights.
Indel B TB51 fridge.

Chewing away at the back of my mind, though, was the rust I knew was on the frame and starting to get at the body. It was clawing at my subconscious and tainting my feelings toward the Cruiser. It was getting close to time to do something.
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New member
I have a '03 LX and would be fascinated to see what you put in. I noticed you only running 28-29 PSI on the tires, that's consider low. Any particular reason why, for ride quality? Enjoy the 100 series!


I have a '03 LX and would be fascinated to see what you put in. I noticed you only running 28-29 PSI on the tires, that's consider low. Any particular reason why, for ride quality? Enjoy the 100 series!
Frankly, that's what was in the tires when I bought the truck and hadn't bothered putting more air in them, being busy with some other projects. I did end up filling them to 35 before the big teardown though.


During the intervening phase while waiting for my wife's car to be fixed, I did a couple of small fixes along the way, including replacing a couple of missing screws and clips.

I started in on modding with some simple things. I installed an oil catch can with a new PCV valve.

I put on an aftermarket TPMS system to keep an eye on tire pressure and heat.

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With the first few steps done, I decided to start in on the auxiliary electrical system, as I had most of the parts sitting around waiting to be used. I knew from my build plan what I was going to be installing for accessories, so I just needed to tailor the system for those components. I can always pull this apart and expand later if necessary, but these are what I know will be present. I bought a small chunk of steel plate at Ace Hardware and got to work making the bracket before laying out all the components.

I used this extremely helpful TacomaWorld thread as a rough guide and went from there.

The building blocks are a Bussmann RTMR, a Blue Sea busbar, a separate weatherproof relay, and a 100A circuit breaker. As you can see, a large cable provides power from the circuit breaker to the internal positive bus on the fusebox.

I built a small jumper wire to connect the external ground bus to one of the internal busbars of the Bussmann RTMR, which will be a common ground for the relays.

I built several power wires to feed from the fuses to the relays.

I then ran a longer power wire from a fuse to go through the firewall and power the switches, as well as a ground wire for inside the cabin.

A wire was built for each accessory to go to a switch.

Then small pigtails were made with MetriPack connectors for each switched and non-switched accessory., which will connect to the corresponding female plug and run both power and ground all the way from the main system to the accessory.

Each connector was labelled and had connections put on either wire.

Then the pigtails, four in total, were secured to the auxiliary system.

I finished with a 5-pin MetriPack that will connect to the main switch harness running into the cabin. There's a power wire, a ground wire, and three switch wires. I will admit the master kill switch wire for the front bumper lights is missing from that harness, but I will likely run that separately as I am keeping it a totally separate system.

The whole system then got taken apart and the bracket was painted.

Soon after this project got wrapped up, I went in and changed a few settings in Techstream, which I thought was pretty fun. It's a little complicated at first, but overall quite simple. The big change I made was disabling the DRLs, which makes slaving the bumper lights to the high beams far easier. I played with some other settings as well, but the 2003 Land Cruiser doesn't have a whole lot of parameters that can be changed.

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The final mod I made before the truck went under the knife was a mount for my navigation tablet. I use an older Samsung tablet loaded with Gaia for my maps and music, so I wanted a way to mount it solidly. That would come in the form of the Owl Expedition Medio Mount, which I am a big fan of. Installing it was very straightforward with the instructions in front of me. The only hard part was pulling the whole dash apart.

Since I already have the BT45TOY module, I opted to run a USB cable for the tablet through the tape deck. I used a set of snips and a file to cut out a cooling vent and clean it up. The cable itself is a braided cable, so it works perfectly here and I am not worried about abraision.

After this project was complete, my wife's car was back on the road and it was time to get the real party started. My brother in law has been kind enough to allow my Cruiser to spend a couple months occupying his lift and causing us to make a mess of his shop. He's also helped with the frame repairs and is the one tackling the bodywork.

The first step was to get it up on the lift and tear everything down to start figuring out what we were in for. Unfortunately, it was worse than I expected but still manageable. We removed the wheels, front bumper, fenders, skid plate, and anything else in the way. Then there was nothing to do but start grinding. A set of wire wheels, some flap discs, a couple of face masks, and some die grinders were brought over and we climbed aboard the pain train.

This was easily the worst part of this whole process. Smacking the frame with a hammer, breaking bolts, and finding out just how deep the corrosion goes. This truck had a poor undercoat applied at some point, so everything was a rusty, crusty mess.

We started at the front and worked our way back, removing anything that needed to be stripped off in order to get at the frame. Cleaning the front alone was two whole days. We discovered a minor hole in the frame under the driver's door, the customary passenger side sway bar mount rot, and the normal hole in the rear crossmember. We also found a thin spot near a passenger side body mount that needed to be reinforced. Overall, not nearly as bad as I was starting to fear once we tore everything apart. I had convinced myself this was going to be a disaster, but it wasn't too bad. Overall, it took probably 5 or 6 12-hour days to remove the rust and bad coating from the frame.

During this process, a lot of parts ended up having to be cut off due to corrosion. All four shocks were completely seized, and each was cut off. The torsion bars would not release from their mounts, and so were released with the help of a torch and a hydraulic press.



After cleaning up the front and starting to work our way back, we applied a few coats of Rust-Oleum rust reformer to the front suspension and allowed that to dry.

Now it was starting to look like something worth working on. In our inspection of the passenger side front sway bar mount, it was decided that it would likely be easier to reinforce if we removed the front differential. I was planning on rebooting the CVs, repacking the wheel bearings, and replacing the front ball joints anyway, so it was just a few more easy steps to remove the diff.

During my next day at the shop, I started tearing into the front end.

Prior to the truck coming apart, I did a small road trip and discovered a minor drivetrain vibration. Nothing major, but it was something on my radar that I felt I needed to address. I had crawled under the truck and wiggled every drivetrain component I could find, eventually tracking the slop to the interface between the passenger side CV shaft and the hub flange. There appeared to be a good amount of play at the final drive location. To fix it, I ordered a set of hub flanges, gaskets, and hardware, so I did wallop the hub flanges pretty hard to get the cone washers out since I had replacements. Then it was a simple matter of pulling the front end apart.

More good news: the grease was still red and looked quite fresh! Despite the rust wreaking havoc with the frame and body, this Cruiser has been well maintained and taken care of.

Slowly, everything was pulled apart. I did break the ABS sensor on the driver's side trying to pull the sensor itself out. I opted to just cut the passenger side cable to save myself time and effort, then ordered a set of ABS cables for the front while I was sitting there.

I stripped both driver and passenger side down to bare spindle before heading underneath and draining the front diff. Even more good news! The front diff oil came out clean and fresh.

While waiting for the diff to drain fully, I pulled the spindles.

Then we removed the front diff, which was an easier task than I expected.

With the front diff and spindles out of the way, I started looking hard at the control arms. The uppers looked serviceable, but the lowers had bad pitting and looked like they'd be a nightmare to clean fully. Luckily, I had recently contacted @Mtkid to sell him some Front Runner load bars, and discovered he had a set of aftermarket lower control arms ready to go for cheap. I did a little deal with him, and decided it would be worth my time and effort to swap to clean LCAs now, while I had the truck this far apart. Since I had ordered a set of 555 ball joints through @cruiseroutfit, I decided to swap the better ball joints onto the aftermarket arms and all would be well.

Long story short: off came the rusted LCAs. With new unfettered access to more rusted frame, I took some time to clean up areas that I was not able to reach before, then applied a layer of rust reformer.

While I was working on that, my brother-in-law was hard at work cutting out the weakened sections of the frame that we had discovered. Luckily the overall damage was minimal and we were able to clean it up with only a small amount of patch work.

I stayed out in the shop late that night making three patch panels to reinforce the areas of the frame that needed repairs. Luckily they were all fairly simple and took very little time to knock out, but it was still a late night, and I ended up crawling into bed well after midnight. On a positive note, progress was being made.

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New member
Nice job, great wrote up!
I did body and chassis on my 94 Surf (4runner) during covid last year and know how deep the rabbit hole goes! Is the Rustoleum rust reformer a one coat deal, or a frame coating prior to another wax based top coat?
I've just picked up a super clean UZJ100 which I want to protect underbody on before it starts eating (we live on a leeward shore). Im looking at Dinitriol 2 part process which has a rust converter and paint base with wax second coat (after all the prep is done... ). Interested in what steered you to Rustoleum solution.


Hey guys, sorry for the late responses!

Nice photos and write up. That's really clean gear oil draining!
Thanks! I'm astonished by how clean all the oils and fluids are. It looks like the mechanicals are all in exceptional shape.

Nice job, great wrote up!
I did body and chassis on my 94 Surf (4runner) during covid last year and know how deep the rabbit hole goes! Is the Rustoleum rust reformer a one coat deal, or a frame coating prior to another wax based top coat?
I've just picked up a super clean UZJ100 which I want to protect underbody on before it starts eating (we live on a leeward shore). Im looking at Dinitriol 2 part process which has a rust converter and paint base with wax second coat (after all the prep is done... ). Interested in what steered you to Rustoleum solution.
It's kind of a one-coat deal that is supposed to chemically treat the rust to ensure that it no longer spreads and strengthens the remaining material. It also acts as a primer because it's a flat finish with a good amount of texture. Once that was finished, we applied several coats of semi-gloss spray paint. I chose stuff I could get from my local hardware store because I have a lot of experience with it. It honestly looks great now, minus the pitting and uneven sanding/grinding we did. It may not be the toughest thing out there, but it would be relatively easy to touch up if necessary. Time will tell.


Hey guys, sorry for the gap in updates. Things got a little crazy for a while there. I'll have to catch everyone up on the full posts later, but a brief synopsis for now:

The Cruiser is back on it's wheels and driving. All of the mechanical work went off without any troubles and the updates have totally refreshed the driving experience. The new suspension has firmed up the ride, but not uncomfortably so, and that's without bumpers on it. However...

We're dealing with a pretty nasty body rust issue at this point. Part of the rockers is compromised on either side, as well as a few spots near the rear wheel arch. Much of that will have to be cut out and replaced. There's still loads to do behind the rear wheels, where quite a lot of corrosion ate through the steel. Luckily, the overwhelming majority of that is covered by the rear bumper and thus doesn't need to be an aesthetically perfect repair. Further, the driver's side rear door and passenger side front door are exhibiting corrosion at the bottom seam, and the rear door appears to be starting to corrode on the outside now, as rust is visible (slightly) under the paint. There's a similar issue happening at the rear lift gate. There is also some corrosion at the pinch weld on both sides, which concerns me as without opening the seam and fixing the problem completely, who knows what will eventually happen?

So, I'm here to ask: what would you do? I can put the truck back together as best as I can. I'm working on locating the rear door section for each side, and the rear quarter panels will be totally fixed. After that, though, I'm not sure what I want to do.

Option 1: fix the worst of it, paint it, and sell it. This is now a rather built 2003 100 Series with less than 160k on it. The interior is perfect, the drivetrain is smooth and sweet, and aesthetically it will be at 80 to 90%. The existing paint is in fabulous shape other than where rust has eaten at the body, so if it gets cleaned up and painted, it will present really well. We've fixed every fleck of frame rust as well. Based on the current market and what the truck will be once I'm done, I can reasonably sell it and expect to break even, maybe take a minor loss. Then I can go on the hunt for a cleaner and possibly lower-mileage 100 Series or equivalent mileage 200 Series to replace it. Ideally, I could be back into a cleaner truck by next summer.

Option 2: Fix it completely and run it. I can try to get at all the rust and fix the paint. I'd know that I couldn't get to all the rust. I'd know, in the back of my mind, that I'd always have to keep an eye out for the rust to resurface and need attention. At some point, it might even require a prohibitive amount of work. That's not a situation I want to be in at all. Also, I have to consider the undercarriage parts that have already corroded and may cause me trouble in the future: brake lines, flare nuts, etc. BUT, I will be into a rather built 100 Series with less than 160k on it. It's been rust repaired, the frame is sound, the suspension is completely new, the drivetrain is smooth and sweet, and the interior is perfect. This option would obviously be more expensive at first and time-consuming, but I wouldn't have to try to shop for another truck. I'd know the drivetrain is in good shape, I'd know the suspension is new, etc. I'd have a relatively solid truck that I am intimately familiar with.

I'm not sure which direction I should go. Thoughts?


Active member
You likely wont be able to find a better one at a better price for the next 6-12 months. If you repaired it quickly you might turn a profit capitalizing on both the toyota/land cruiser/ vehicle shortage situation.

If you dont want to put off your adventures that long (even between build up sessions) keep it, as you HAVE it now. Rust sucks, but it seems like you have it under control, and a plan for the areas you havent treated yet.


You likely wont be able to find a better one at a better price for the next 6-12 months. If you repaired it quickly you might turn a profit capitalizing on both the toyota/land cruiser/ vehicle shortage situation.

If you dont want to put off your adventures that long (even between build up sessions) keep it, as you HAVE it now. Rust sucks, but it seems like you have it under control, and a plan for the areas you havent treated yet.
You make a solid argument. I should clarify by saying that my summer adventure season is completely shot through by this body work problem, as the truck is apart and really can't be used for the time being, so regardless of the situation I will start fixing it soon. I likely wouldn't be purchasing anything until next March at the earliest if I sold the truck. However, I might be looking at 4-6 months of repair time from now, so the market may cool off by then. But if it only cools off to 2019 levels, I'll probably be okay. I think step one is to start repairing the quarter panels and see how long that takes.