tow tEst: toY­otA 76 sE­rIEs old’s cool

In the 76 se­ries, toy­ota has unashamedly looked to its roots for in­spi­ra­tion. Dan Everett tells us about the worst car he has ever loved.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - Words and Pics DAN EVERETT

There are many rea­sons to love a 4WD.

Some of them are ad­ven­ture ma­chines, tak­ing you to the ends of the earth and back, in per­fect com­fort. Oth­ers are the per­fect do-it-all ve­hi­cle, ca­pa­ble of beach camp­ing ex­pe­di­tions and re­turn­ing home to mix it with the soc­cer mums in the school car park.

Then there is Toy­ota’s 76 Se­ries, the ex­act op­po­site of all of that. Yet it re­mains – some­how – one of the best ve­hi­cle’s I’ve ever driven. And, para­dox­i­cally, also the worst.

If it sounds like I’m talk­ing in rid­dles, it’s be­cause the 76 is a rid­dle in it­self:

A $60K-plus, four-door wagon with a high-tech com­mon-rail V8...

A se­ri­ously ca­pa­ble of­froader, with solid axles all round and a diff lock shoe horned into each...

An ar­chaic throw­back to the 80s, com­plete with op­tional air-con­di­tion­ing, ash­trays in the rear doors (su­per handy for those with tod­dlers who smoke), and a spec list that reads longer than the achieve­ment list of who­ever hap­pens to be our Prime Min­is­ter by the time you fin­ish read­ing this.

Yet, despite all that, the 70 Se­ries fam­ily of Cruis­ers and, by ex­ten­sion, the 76 wagon plat­form have re­tained a cult following that sees strong sales of a de­sign more than three decades old.

So what’s all the fuss about? And why are so many 4WDers and campers keen to lay down

luxury car money for some­thing that feels eerily sim­i­lar to my 1989 60 Se­ries Land­Cruiser?

To get to the bot­tom of it, I took a set of keys from Toy­ota, hitched up a Cub camper and took to the hills on one of the hottest week­ends Syd­ney has ever seen. Good thing I ticked the op­tional

AC, eh?

FIRST IM­PRES­SIONS

The four-door 70 Se­ries wagon was first in­tro­duced as the LJ78 in Ja­pan, way back in 1990, although back then, it was pow­ered by a choice of five asth­matic four-cylin­ders and sported a 75-styled front end.

Yank­ing open the heavy doors on this mod­ern coun­ter­part, it is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous Toy­ota has left good enough alone, with most re­vi­sions es­sen­tially be­ing bolt-ons to the orig­i­nal de­sign.

A dif­fer­ent front end, a new dash, new driveline, and a new price tag. So it’s a 30-year-old 4WD, smartened up with mod­ern safety fea­tures. And it is glo­ri­ous.

Once you’ve heaved your­self high into the cap­tain’s chair, you’re con­fronted with a sur­pris­ingly stark interior.

The front-cov­ered pews are ac­cept­ably com­fort­able with man­ual ad­just­ments and rea­son­able lumbar sup­port, but if you were too tall for a star­ring roll as a hob­bit in

The Rings tril­ogy, then you’ll prob­a­bly find all the arm­rests are well be­yond reach.

The con­trols are eas­ily laid out, with­out any fum­bling try­ing to find the right switch. Although, word to the wise, don’t go look­ing for the con­trols for the power mir­rors – it doesn’t have any.

In the back, there’s room for three teenagers or two adults. Legroom may ex­clude the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters from tag­ging along, but you shouldn’t hear too many com­plaints from kids.

One im­me­di­ate draw­back is that stor­age room and power op­tions are es­sen­tially nil. There’s nowhere to put your phone, wal­let, or keys. The map pock­ets on the doors are lit­er­ally just big enough to only hold maps, and if any of your four pas­sen­gers have the au­dac­ity to bring along their own drink, they can hold it on their lap – there’s only one cup-holder and it’s up front for you.

In a clever in­clu­sion, there are three child seat an­chor points good to go in the rear, above the barn doors in a po­si­tion that won’t ham­per stor­age or com­pli­cate in­stalling a drawer sys­tem.

On the open road, the 76 feels a lot more im­pres­sive to drive than it looks. Not that it looks bad by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, but driv­ing it feels like you’re in a wild cus­tom cre­ation.

You sit high with a com­mand­ing view of the track ahead and row through the gears like a Vik­ing off to war, with the deep rum­ble of a V8 strik­ing fear into your en­e­mies.

It’s an emo­tive ex­pe­ri­ence that can’t be summed up in any re­view, only con­firmed with nods and know­ing looks from fel­low V8 Cruiser own­ers.

This is a rare ve­hi­cle that is some­how more to drive than the sum of its parts, and makes more sense be­hind the wheel than on pa­per.

IN THE THICK OF IT

Throw­ing the stubby lever (yes, it still has one) back into low-range made it im­me­di­ately clear this is where the 76 is most at home.

There’s an un­godly amount of grunt avail­able as soon as you lift your foot off the clutch, mak­ing it near im­pos­si­ble to stall, and it’d eas­ily ac­cept larger tyres with suf­fi­cient gear­ing left over.

In the up­dated model, the front man­u­ally-lock­ing hubs have been re­placed with auto-lock­ing units, so if you for­get to chuck them in be­fore pil­ing into a mud-hole, you don’t need to go dig­ging to en­gage 4WD.

There’s no fancy trac­tion con­trol or ‘offroad modes’ to con­cern your­self with ei­ther – just high-two, high-four, and low-four.

In the highly-specced (and I use that term very loosely) GXL, front and rear lock­ing dif­fer­en­tials are avail­able with twist dial con­trols on the dash.

These twin lock­ers en­sure that even if you lift a wheel or two, you’ll still have drive, so long as your tyres can grip.

Quite handy, as the 76 has roughly the ar­tic­u­la­tion of a 1977 Lada Niva, although ar­guably the Lada has bet­ter ride qual­ity.

Through­out our test track, the Cruiser would eas­ily lift a wheel when­ever the sit­u­a­tion called for more than a few inches of ar­tic­u­la­tion.

It still han­dled con­fi­dently, although with a ten­dency to tip up and down as weight shifted, so we needed to care­fully plan lines to min­imise panel dam­age.

The ba­sic un­der­pin­nings of the 76 are in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble. If you were pinned in fourth gear low-range mak­ing your way across salt pans and red dirt dunes you’d likely never no­tice a sin­gle short­fall.

But if you find your­self in steep ter­rain or

off-cam­ber sit­u­a­tions reg­u­larly, the Cruiser’s tippy na­ture is worth be­ing aware of.

A more com­pli­ant af­ter­mar­ket sus­pen­sion sys­tem with wider off­set wheels would be a must for any tough wheel­ing.

GAD­GETS AND GIZ­MOS

One of the joys of test­ing ve­hi­cles is never hav­ing any idea how dif­fer­ent dash set­ups might func­tion.

It’s a con­stant strug­gle fig­ur­ing out which way the wind­screen wiper stalks work, how to put the air-con­di­tion­ing on, and how to se­lect the best mode and gear for offroad use. But the 76 didn’t pose any such prob­lems. I’d love to say it’s be­cause things were neatly laid out with an in­tu­itive de­sign, but that’d be near on im­pos­si­ble – there just isn’t any­thing to lay out. Sure, it has cruise con­trol, but no fancy stuff like adap­tive cruise or any sort of trailer re­lated busi­ness – it’s a steer­ing col­umn-mounted stalk, much the same as found in 20-year-old 80 Se­ries Cruis­ers.

Like­wise, there’s no weird and won­der­ful con­trols to turn var­i­ous safety fea­tures on and off. Those du­ties are taken care of with the mid­dle pedal. Cli­mate con­trol is taken care of by turn­ing the air-con­di­tion­ing up if you’re hot, or down if you’re cold. Like­wise, ‘offroad mode’ refers to whether you might have shifted the trans­fer case into low-range or high-range.

It’s easy to get used to, be­cause there’s roughly three con­trols for the en­tire ve­hi­cle.

Maybe I’m over­stat­ing the sim­plic­ity. The stereo does take Bluetooth in­put, and there is a sin­gle 12V power out­let up front for run­ning GPS units or charg­ing de­vices, or two if you re­move the cig­a­rette lighter. For some that’s one step above that Lada Niva but oth­ers will see it as a re­turn to the Aus­tralian wilder­ness, away from your LCD dis­play’s man­ual, nav­i­gat­ing par­al­lel-park-as­sist.

BUT DOES IT TOW?

When it comes to se­ri­ous tow­ing du­ties, it’s hard not to com­pare the 76 Se­ries against its big­ger brother, the LC200.

The for­mer has 500kg less weight to throw around, one less turbo, one-third less torque, a sig­nif­i­cantly higher cen­tre of grav­ity and a clutch to con­sider. But, like shorter an­grier broth­ers ev­ery­where, the 76 sim­ply doesn’t care and punches well above its weight.

While the sin­gle turbo ar­range­ment (due in part to the nar­row, 30-year-old chas­sis) does pro­vide sig­nif­i­cantly less power than the 200’s twin turbo ar­range­ment, it’s avail­able from as lit­tle as 1200rpm. As soon as you ease off the clutch, it’s mak­ing more than enough power to for­get you’re tow­ing any­thing be­hind you at all.

Even with the trailer hitched up, there’s plenty of mumbo for over­tak­ing at high­way speeds and the bark of eight cylin­ders scream­ing through the ex­haust can eas­ily sur­prise hot hatches at the lights, es­pe­cially when they see a trailer haul­ing past them as well. Like I said, glo­ri­ous...

Keep­ing to a theme, there’s a dis­tinct lack of gad­gets to aid with tow­ing, so don’t ex­pect things like crash mit­i­ga­tion or trailer-sway con­trol. But the mir­rors are large and the brakes are ad­e­quate, if the trailer is hold­ing up its end of the bar­gain.

One thing worth men­tion­ing is that although these clutches are renowned for giv­ing up the ghost, with even mi­nor power up­grades, we no­ticed no slip­ping through our test­ing. But ex­tended tow­ing could see it in for an early re­place­ment.

Offroad, the 76 shows no signs of quit­ting.

The in­stant drive avail­able with a man­ual gear­box and torque right off idle means the trailer can quickly be brought back into line with a jab of the loud pedal, some­thing very few other of­froad­ers can boast.

Despite feel­ing like a dis­tant rel­a­tive to the Sherman tank, the 76 has a sur­pris­ingly com­pact rear over­hang, help­ing to stop the draw­bar of your camper plough­ing through the dirt on mild washouts, although we did give it a try.

The Ver­dict

Like I said, the 76 is the worst ve­hi­cle I’ve ever loved and I can’t think of a bet­ter way to put it. It’s brash, un­com­fort­able, rides rough and con­stantly left a smile on my face ev­ery time I jumped in. It brought back me­mories of driv­ing old 4WDs to the beach, win­dows down ready for a night in a swag.

Although, this time the air-con­di­tion­ing worked, and so did the brakes. I also knew if I crashed, I’d have half a chance of sur­viv­ing (al­right maybe a quar­ter-chance).

The range of 70 Se­ries Cruis­ers is of­ten touted as over­priced, and yeah, it’s ex­pen­sive and feels like it should be cheaper. But in re­al­ity, if you went look­ing else­where, the clos­est com­peti­tor is Mercedes’ G Class, at three times the price.

So, if you can only have one ve­hi­cle, and you hate your wife and kids, the 76 is a great op­tion.

For ev­ery­one else, it’s suited as a sec­ond ve­hi­cle – some­thing you can leave loaded to the hilt to jump in at a mo­ment’s no­tice for a 12-month jaunt around the na­tion, then use some­thing else for the gro­cery store run.

Some 4WDs lend them­selves per­fectly to do­ing dou­ble du­ties, but the 76 just isn’t one of them. But for what it is, it’s bril­liant.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Ease off the clutch, and you’ll be ac­cess­ing power from as lit­tle as 1200rpm; A few things you need and noth­ing you don’t; No fancy screens here, just the ba­sics; With the rear seat up or down, there’s plenty of stor­age space and even a few tie-down points to show it’s se­ri­ous.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: The 4.5L of tur­bod­iesel V8 grunt is enough to get the 76 mo­tor­ing along no mat­ter what trailer is hitched to the rear; The coil and shock ar­range­ment keeps things sim­ple but doesn’t flex as well as you’d ex­pect; With no air vents in the rear the side open­ing win­dows are great for dis­pers­ing heat; ‘Raised air-in­take’ is code for ‘use­less in river cross­ings’ – if you’re plan­ning on tak­ing on wa­ter ei­ther strip it apart and seal it prop­erly, or buy a good snorkel in the first place; Naysay­ers be­ware, the Cruiser is fit­ted with plenty of elec­tron­ics like ABS brakes that couldn’t care less about wa­ter or mud find­ing their way in.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Up front the large bar pro­vides a handy step, but with no way to get from it to the roof it’s es­sen­tially use­less; The rear axle didn’t sag an inch with the trailer hitched but did shake my in­ter­nal or­gans into a paste. It’s also nar­rower than the front which can cause is­sues in sand or mud; My 60 Se­ries Cruiser has the same jack and tool­bag, I wish I was kid­ding.

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