Toyota’s Land Cruiser 200 Series has been around for more than a decade now, with the replacement seemingly a long way off. One reason for the delay is the simple fact that, even in the twilight of its career, the LC200 is still one of the best all-round rigs on the planet.
This, of course, comes with a correspondingly steep asking price for that capability – and that is before you fit any gear to improve on near-perfection. But, when you want to build the best of the best, the expense doesn’t matter. As Matt Szczesny’s gleaming white 2018 LC200 VX proves, it is the end-result – in this case one of the sweetest, smartly built LC200s in Oz we’ve seen – that counts.
A close call
Ironically, Matt’s uber-tough LC200 nearly didn’t happen. Matt and wife Tori were expecting their first child and needed to juggle their passion for off-roading with family-focused fun. This meant that, initially, their plans revolved around a Prado Kakadu and a ‘project car’ – in this case, either a HSV GTO or a twin-turbo Supra. But then Matt hopped in a Prado for a test drive…
“I was coming out of a 3.0-litre Hilux SR5 and even that was a little bit underpowered with 33s on it,” he says. “And I thought ‘God, going to a 2.8 – I don’t think I can do it!’”
Matt’s appreciation of power in a 4x4 then led him to think about a 200 Series, with an early check of the second-hand market revealing just how well these big boppers hold their price.
“A second-hand one was more than 100 grand,” he says. “I thought bugger it, I will just buy a new one.”
This decision was reinforced after Matt chatted to a mate of his who used to test the LC200 suspension setups and the vehicle’s durability.
“He said everything in them is oversized, it’s just overkill – they’re unbreakable, so I thought ‘Righto, bugger it, I will just lay down the best base I can and do it on that, rather than cutting corners on the car and adding stuff to it.’”
Devil from the details
Having the opportunity to build up a rig that has come straight from the showroom floor – to the exact specs and features that suit you perfectly – is rare.
Matt was super keen on ensuring every piece of gear he fitted was exactly what he wanted for optimum performance, which meant plenty of research into every single part. He also didn’t want to over-build the Cruiser; besides being capable off-road, it still had to function as a daily driver.
“I had a plan in mind – I had favourites of everything,” he says. “I had done my research; I loved Process West from when I was younger; I knew it did really nice stuff, so I used its catch-can. I had worked with Harrop when I was younger, so I used its breather kit (for the transmission and diffs).”
Matt had his own plan well-sorted, but still went to other experts for advice on crucial components, such as the LC200’s suspension, with a mind to how heavy the vehicle would be once all the mods were complete. This saw him head to WA Toyota gurus, Toyotune, owned by Alan and Maria Vial.
“With the suspension, I didn’t know what to think – whether Fox, Ikon or something,” he says. “Alan at Toyotune showed me the King suspension setup and he’s like, it’s a bloody heavy car you’re gonna want to do it right.
“I had Old Man Emu in the Hilux and it was good and didn’t get hot, but did bottom out and was a rough ride. The King stuff is tuneable.”
As well as the King 2.5 adjustable remote reservoir shocks and accompanying springs (resulting in a two-inch lift), also added were Blackhawk castor/camber corrected UCAs, progressive bump stops, a diff drop kit, adjustable rear panhard rod and Airbag Man rear bags, meaning the Cruiser rolls super smooth. Aiding that is a set of Method MR309 18x9-inch rims, shod with Nitto Trail Grappler 295/70R18 rubber for a perfect balance of on- and off-road performance.
These choices – along with all the others on the Cruiser – reflect Matt’s dedication to research and wanting to fit the best and most applicable part, regardless of brand.
“I haven’t gone down the road of fitting a full catalogue of gear from ARB or TJM or Toyotune – I picked every part individually and it just works,” he affirms.
A louder grunt
The 4.5TDV8/six-speed auto combo in the LC200 offers impressive performance already, but with a background in modifying vehicles Matt knew he would want to squeeze some additional oomph from the big oiler.
“There’s a fair bit (of power) already in them; they are torquey and a lot of fun, but I like to have 300kW at the wheels,” he laughs.
Toyotune’s team of owner Alan and head mechanics Nick and Dylan set to work. A Safari Armax snorkel was fitted, along with a Toyotune EGR and throttle butterfly upgrade, Toyotune’s own custom ECU and throttle remaps, a Richards Auto Electrical High/Low torque converter lock-up kit, and a secondary fuel filter kit.
Then – yep, we haven’t finished yet – there’s the Manta/Toyotune custom dual three-inch exhaust system, with a high-flow stainless steel cat and twin 3.5-inch pipes to dump it all out the back. The end result is, to put it bluntly, very bloody impressive.
“It weighs 3.6-tonne and it will break traction on all four wheels,” he enthuses. “The front will point in the air – it scares people. It’s pretty good.”
And before anyone asks how you stop this behemoth, Matt has already answered that question, fitting DBA T3 ventilated and slotted discs front and rear, along with DBA XP650 pads. He highly rates the ‘strong’ discs and reckons the pads perform perfectly even under heavy load and, most importantly, offer enhanced cooling properties for urban stop/start driving.
Built not bought on Custom 4x4 reviews
The dirty side
Yeah, this LC200 is shiny and new, but don’t think for a second that stops Matt getting out on boys’ weekends away and dune driving near home. To make sure that all goes smoothly, he’s fitted the Cruiser out with all the essential bush touring items.
Under the bonnet there’s an Intervolt dual-battery setup with deep cycle batteries to take care of additional power requirements. Matt raided TJM’s exterior protection catalogue to ensure that schmick paint job (with MOS full body paint correction and quartz glass coating) stays just that.
Up front is a TJM colour-coded bumper cut bar, matched with rock sliders and Raptor-coated steps and scrub bars. Hanging off the front bar is a TJM 12,000lb winch, nestled in an orange colour-coded cradle.
For night-driving duties, Matt has gone the full monty, with a LazerLamp light bar, and Lightforce HTZs supplying the driving lights, rear floods and tailgate light. The LC200 is a relatively big wagon allowing for plenty of kit to be carried, but Matt has, again, ensured the vehicle is ready for any test and fitted a Rhino-Rack Pioneer platform on backbone roof rack system, and used Yakima lockable mounts for his Rhino shovel.
Also up top is provision to store Maxtrax and there’s a lockable bazooka tube and brackets (Raptor coated). Hanging off the side of this is a Darche 270 awning (complete with its own light – a custom-adapted Korr Marine unit), and there’s a Darch telescopic ladder for easy access to the gear up there too.
And there’s more; as with everything Matt has done with this LC200, future-proofing it has been the driving force. For those boys’ weekends and, no doubt, those longer family journeys once the little’un is up for it, there’s an ARB 60L fridge/freezer, a 10L water tank, ARB dual-compressor and reserve tank (cleverly fitted into the rear quarter panel), and a Custom Installations drawer system that features an inbuilt 12-inch JW subwoofer and 600W amp. The interior includes the standard VX leather, with Matt adding essential comms (a GME UHF radio and ZCG dual-whip 6dB antenna) to finish it off.
Now or never
By planning every mod, then researching the best one for each job, Matt has created a rig that performs brilliantly now, but is also more than capable of tougher stuff in the future, or – just maybe – some leisurely sojourns. Still, that stuff’s a long way off, Matt reckons, and in the meantime there’s a shit-tonne of fun to be had in the Cruiser.
“I am not a grey nomad; I didn’t buy it to tow shit around and go slow in,” he laughs. “It’s for launching off the lights, boys’ weekends away and just a bit of fun, jumping the dunes, all that kind of stuff.
“Maybe when we settle down a bit, we’ll put a caravan on the back. But, for now, I am still rocking a swag and we’ll just thrash it about.”
After all the research and hard work that’s gone into this tough LC200, we reckon it’s more than up for a damn good thrashing.