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A review of the HZJ78 as an Overland vehicle

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Joined: 12 Jun 2008
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Location: It varies at the moment!

PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 13:23    Post subject: A review of the HZJ78 as an Overland vehicle Reply with quote

After many kilometres of African travel with our HZJ78 I thought I would post up some thoughts on it and it’s modifications.  I have noticed that there is always a lot of interest in the “Troopy” in the UK, with a few people asking about them and a (very) few people buying them as people quite rightly see them as arguably one of the best expedition vehicles.  I want to try to convey a balanced picture here of the vehicle and the modifications…  As we all know, no vehicle is perfect and compromises always have to be found.  Likewise with the modifications I hope to indicate what works well and what doesn’t.

The HZJ78 troop carrier is powered by the naturally aspirated 4.2 1HZ engine, and has a part time 4 wheel drive system.  In Australia they were available in factory turbo versions (1HD-FTE I recall) and are now available with the V8 diesel in single turbo format.  Other markets (e.g. African, like mine) still have the good old 1HZ.  The engine is renowned for it’s longevity and relative ease of maintenance (with the possible exception of valve lash…).  However it is not to be confused with a modern electronic high boost common rail diesel – nowadays for it’s capacity it is not exactly “sparkling”!  As a lot of troopies end up heavily loaded (with expo equipment or crammed full of people) then you can imagine that it is not exactly an autobahn stormer.  Of course the upside to all this is that the engine is fully mechanical and the only electrics are the fuel shut off valve and the starter motor.  The engine is also known and understood widely in the less developed part of the world.
 Of road the HZJ78 also has it’s limitations, axle travel is no where near as good as say a Defender or 80 series.  The move to coils springs on the front in ’98 or so (previously they had been leafs all round) also brought the R151 gearbox – replacing the H55) as well as a smaller high pinion differential in the front.  Both have been found to be weaker than their predecessors, therefore the HZJ75 is arguably slightly tougher.  I experienced two R151 failures on cruiser p/ups in Ghana, but then they were used VERY hard.  They certainly can be broken, whereas we never were able to break the g/box in a 75 series!

The 70 series heavy duty cruisers are really considered ‘utility’ vehicles and therefore fairly basic.  In the spec like mine there are vinyl seats and floor covering, winding windows and a crude stereo, although thankfully there is aircon.  In Australia there was a slightly more luxurious ‘RV’ version with cloth and electric windows etc.  This version was also available with the factory turbo motor which to my knowledge was never available anywhere apart from Oz.

They are certainly capacious though – mine came with 10 seat inward facing benches in the back, and they must be one of the few “cars” that you can fit a standard 8’x4’ sheet of plywood in the back!

Particularly in Europe (where they are scarce) they command very high used prices compared to say UK 80 series.  They are also highly prized (along with the 79 series p/up sister) throughout Africa and in tough environments such as mines throughout the world.  

The lack of wheel travel is often compensated by factory locking diffs, but I couldn’t get one with that option in Ghana.  Another factory fitted option that is often standard in some markets is a raised air intake.  On the road the HZJ78 should really be thought of as a light truck, and driven accordingly – they have a narrow track, and on skinny 7.50 R16 tyres the handling is “interesting” on slippery roads.  Wider tyres and track spacers help in all road conditions and particularly in the dunes we always felt stable despite being almost 2.5m high!  Underground car parks – forget ‘em. The vehicle is also relatively noisy, with a lot of road noise (particularly on MT tyres) at high speed.  Braking also takes a bit of effort with such weights.  However the other controls are nice and light and the raised driving position is comfortable and good off road.  In really hot conditions the air con will struggle as there is a lot of glass to heat the car.  No surprise that the car is far more dust/waterproof than a Defender.  We taped up the rear vents and kept the aircon (when used) blowing in exterior air and not set on ‘recurculate’.  This keeps the car at positive pressure and stops very fine dust entry around the rear doors.    

In 2007 the 70 series range got a new wider front end (to accommodate the V8 in Australian markets) which was carried over to other markets even if the engine was not!  One advantage of this is that in ‘face lifted; 70 series there is now a far bigger engine bay for all these expo accessories!  My 2007 car was one of the last of the old round headlight 20+ year designs.

Then began all the modifications which consisted of:

• Longranger 180L second diesel tank
• Dobinsons heavy duty springs 2” lift front and rear (medium duty on front)
• Koni Heavy Track Raid Shocks
• Firestone airbags supplementing rear springs
• 105 Series 6.5 Steel rims with (currently)BFG MT 285 tyres.  Was General AT2 tyres previously.
• 30mm H&H wheel spacers
• IEF Engineering rear bumper with 2xwheel carriers, LED lights and CAT rear flood lamp
• Lightforce 140 driving lamps
• Turbo (genuine Toyota 1HD-T parts) with boost compensator
• Tourfactory side exit free flow exhaust
• Boost and EGT gauges
• Low water (coolant loss) alarm
• Digital coolant temp meter with sensor placed at thermostat
• Glind heat exchanger shower system and onboard water tank heating and  filling.
• 100L under-body Tourfactory water tank
• General ecology water filter (snap-in fittings) connecting to pump/tank system
• Milford Cargo Barrier
• African Outback drawer system
• Sterling Power Products digital battery to battery charger
• 2 x 100a/hr deep cycle batteries
• Clipper Marine battery monitor
• Extra 12 sockets front and at rear door
• National Luna 40L stainless steel fridge
• Drop-down table at rear door
• LED lights rear interior and rear table
• Viair on-board compressor  and ARB compressor “piggy backed” together
• ARB Air Locker rear locking differential
• Truetrac torque biasing front differential
• Thule roof bars
• Hanibal Impi hard shell roof tent
• Custom made mahogany marine plywood interior panelling
• Blaupunkt speakers, amp and sub-woofer system
• Unisolar 50w (estimated!) solar panel and charge controller wired to deep cycle battery system
• Custom made front bar and side steps/sill protectors
• Garmin GPSMAP 620 marine/automotive system with Tracks 4 Africa and various other maps
• Solar blinds on all rear and side windows
• Custom made rear awning fitting over rear doors and giving sitting/cooking space out of the sun or rain.  
• Canvas seat covers

Firstly, the performance modifications.  Well, frankly the turbo transforms the vehicle.  Heavily laden, our car can still out accelerate an HZJ79 p/up empty, and is at least able to keep up with most traffic.  In heavy dunes the turbo also at least meant we were not too much of a ball and chain!  Now there are lot’s of arguments for and against fitting turbos to 1HZ engines – in Australian/SA/American 4x4 internet forums it is a never ending debate.  The pros are obvious, the cons include cracked heads, melted pistons and other such big ticket engine damage.  I can easily understand how this can happen!  In Ghana, even on the “highways” I never saw high exhaust gas temperatures.  The hills are just not high enough, and roads generally are level or too bad to allow higher speeds!  My EGT probe is fitted after the turbo and from lot’s of reading it seems that 530 celcius post turbo is pretty much the threshold not to cross.  In big Namib dunes we could hit that fairly easily, sometimes we had to… other times we could just feather the throttle enough to get to the top.  On hilly South African highways with long uphill grades it is even EASIER to get to scary EGTs, so care really does have to be excercised.  Bear in mind that I set my fuelling fairly mildly, a little bit less and performance drops to the level where you may as well not bother with a Turbo!  Intercooling I did not do – I tried with an e bay charge-cooler from a Celica, but in that cramped old-school 70 series engine bay it was going to be more modifications than I was prepared to do.  Maybe a water injection system (Aquamist, just like rally cars!) would help, allowing the throttle to be held open a bit longer.  Maybe more boost.  Prolonged high EGTs also start to affect the coolant temperature, and here an aftermarket temp gauge is frankly vital.  The factory gauge hardly moved even in really hot conditions, but the digital aftermarket one would let me know when things started to get hot – although excessive coolant temperatures have not been an issue at all, unlike some experiences I have read about. All food for thought.  Now I don’t regret turboing the beast.  Sure I try to limit the EGTs.  To do this modification without fitting gauges would be in my opinion simply a matter of time before trouble starts.  A factory turbo engine with higher output would of course be the best.  The other side of all this is well illustrated by a comment I read that "all these diesel guys are spending a lot of time and money chasing petrol like outputs."  For a lot of people in Southern Africa that have recreational 4x4s the allure of that big petrol 4.5 is hard to resist.  For commuting and daily use it’s a different story, but if I was lucky enough to live near the namib dunes then there would be no doubt!  The recent putting of the 4.0V6 petrol motor in the 70 series has fed further fuel to the petrol Vs diesel debate.  My honest gut feeling is that were I living in Southern Africa and in the market for a 70 series expo vehicle then my choice would be the 79 series with the newly added 4.0 V6.  

With consumptions we have so far averaged over the whole trip 15.8L/100km which if I am not mistaken is about 17.8 mpg.  In Namib dunes we were a whisker over 30L/100km and in Kruger national park over 700kms we averaged 10L/100.  I know that in the Namib the petrol cruisers were no better or worse, it would be interesting to make other comparisons.  Of course we are very heavy!  On the power and consumption subject I did find fitting 285 tyres sapped quite a bit of power.  I read of someone’s experience with a naturally aspirated 76 series in SA who had to immediately switch back to 265 (he was pulling an off-road caravan).  

The next big debate type thing is tyres.  Now I know lots of people here rate General AT2s highly.  However anyone reading this and contemplating whether to do a similar trip  to similar places in a similar vehicle should avoid them like the plague.  They are not up to heavy vehicles on heavy rocky terrain/gravel roads in Southern Africa and lasted just over 10,000kms.  I went back to BFG MTs which had worked for me before on this vehicle and on a Defender.  They are great in every circumstance I have come across – rocks, sand and gravel.  Yeah they whine a bit on the tarmac, but that I can live with.  The performance of them in sand is frankly brilliant.  From my old  HZJ105 company cruiser back in Ghana I know the AT2 works well and grips nicely, and for a lighter vehicle they would probably be fine in expedition use.  Just not for this vehicle and this trip.

Now suspension…  I know this also results in torrents of debate!  The Koni shocks have been superb, I have no negative comments at all.  The Dobinsons, well the rears are the heaviest that Dobinsons make, and to be honest I am very glad that I kept the airbags I fitted before upgrading the suspension.  When all tanks are filled the rear sags.  But to be fair there is a hell of a lot of weight around that rear axle!  But on the other hand on the Namib trip our car’s sibling in the form of the guide’s 79 p/up had the same rear bumper and tyres, the same longranger tank, almost identical water and other loads and did not sag at all.  He was running OME rear springs.  With the air bags it is no big deal, but just to let you know!  And on the subject of suspension I would just like to add that greasable shackles are a pain in the backside.  You know how it goes…  eventually persuade the greasgun to work, get covered in the bloody stuff, find out that a nipple or two are blocked, etc etc.  More trouble than they are worth.  I am not a fan of poly bushing type things as on my Defender I replaced them after about a year when some of them fell apart.  I would rather have standard ‘no grease’ rubber thanks.  The air bags themselves are brilliant things, not only for levelling off and compensating for loads, but also for levelling the car before bed when on uneven ground.  Really and truly this is a very useful feature with a roof tent.  With regard to the front springs they seem very well matched to the vehicle’s weight, but I must admit they do not articulate well.  Okay I didn’t really want or expect them to, but don’t go buying them expecting a slinky rock crawler.  

Traction aids next!  Well the ARB does what it is supposed to so far and makes a cool phshhh noise when you switch it off.  But the plastic switches are junk – I snapped one just by enthusiastically switching it on in a hurry.  Not a big deal, but there you go.  Early in the trip we were plagued by a rattle in the front of the car.  Various people listened and diagnosed everything from heat shields to prop shafts to the transfer box.  Well being the paranoid type and before heading into remote areas in Botswana and Zambia I bit the bullet and got Maun (Okavango, Botswana) Toyota to strip the front axle.  A brilliant South African technician surmised before beginning that the truetrac diff had a tiny bit of play in the splines accepting the side shafts, resulting in the strange “ggggrrrrr” noise when 4wd was locked in but the transmission was loading and unloading.  And he was right!  So while the Truetrac works brilliantly on the front end – I especially like the controllability of it not being fully locked – it does make an alarming noise at times!  But a huge thanks to Maun Toyota and Lawrence who didn’t charge me a penny – how refreshing!  In general with this vehicle and it’s limited articulation and on some of the terrain we have been on the traction aids have been pretty useful!  It is also astonishing how far you can get in sand (for example) with very aired-down tyres and the rear locked.  Update – in the Central Kalahari a seal (I think) blew so now the diff doesn’t lock…  This is a PITA as God knows when I can sort this out!

Other ‘con’ stuff:  

The tourfactory stainless steel tank (that I use for water) cracked, but actually this was partly poor construction and partly poor fitting so I am also to blame.  I dropped the tank down in Cape Town and had it welded – and the numpty who welded it didn’t do it properly.  It only weeps, but getting it off is such a mission.  Epoxy putty time.  (Update – looks like it has cracked again…  and this is not caused by poor fitting.  Luckily I was able to easily stop the leak with some epoxy).  In summation we have been relatively unhappy with this tank and in the future I will have to remove it and weld angle iron strips along every welded seam on the tank.  To be honest the material is far too thin when I compare it to the Longranger tank.  

The IEF rear bumper was very difficult to fit originally due to certain bolt holes not lining up.  The powder coating has taken a real beating and it does actually sag a bit on the right hand side (from the spare tyre weight).  Again this is not a huge issue, but at the end of the day all this kit (whoever makes it and wherever you buy it) costs a lot of money so you would expect things to work 100%.  Also a huge bolt clamping the tyre holder to the bumper upright sheared.  How it happened I have no idea as the bolt is large.  This meant drilling out in Cape Town.  The IEF number plate light also strangely drew far too much current, the cheap Chinese fuse didn’t blow and melted part of the fuse board…  Diagnosing the problem took the best part of a day. (Update – another huge bolt snapped in Lesotho, so now I am just going to weld it solid – the bolts allow some adjustment according to the size of tyre being carried, so I will just weld it extended out to take a 285s)

My errors:

I fitted my reinforced side steps too close to the body and this resulted in the body hitting the steps when hitting severe pot holes at speed.  This I sorted out in Cape Town also.  

A connection on the battery to battery charge controller came loose.  This resulted in really strange charging patterns in the 2nd and 3rd battery.  It took a long time to figure out what was going wrong and not that batteries or the charger was shot.  It is a simple matter of one bolt, but then that bolt is behind the panel which is behind the drawer system etc etc…  So in reality it is a whole afternoon’s job!  Later one of the little cooling fans on the charger got some dust/insects inside so I had to repeat the performance only this time I removed it from behind the panel and put it against the cargo barrier. Then the same thing happened due to poor connections to the amplifier on the other side so that was also placed behind the barrier.  

The roof tent really needed a third bar underneath as it was starting to sag quite a lot after so much use.  We acquired one also in Capetown (surprise), where we also fitted a high density foam mattress.  The original normal density mattress had compressed badly with so much use.  

In summary, the few problems we had were all related to either poorly manufactured things or poor work by me.  There is a hell of a lot to be said for keeping things standard where possible as the standard vehicle is just so damn tough out the box.  However I love all that modifying and tinkering.  The vehicle as it is I cannot really envisage making better for an African overland trip.  However I firmly believe that people doing trips should either do all the mods themselves or really understand what has been done.  For example my split charge loose connection would have been a nightmare for someone to sort out who did not exactly know how the system and panels/drawers/cargo barrier all goes together – as all had to be partially stripped.  I have absolutely no doubt that a factory standard troopy would manage fine in 90% of the places we have been with the addition only of some airbags on the rear springs.  

The good stuff:

Well, like I have been saying nothing was really ‘bad’ as such, just a few issues that could be done better.  The car itself is brilliant, and I really cannot think of another vehicle (except another LC) that can carry a similar load as dependably and well over some frankly brutal terrain that would have just not been possible in (say) my old Defender.  We have headed off solo into some places for up to a week in total isolation with enough fuel and water (and everything else) to be totally self sufficient and yet also not be suffering!  An old African Hand I know always says “any fool can be miserable in the bush” and how true it is.

• Hannibal Impi roof tent.  We love this thing – so simple to erect and dismantle and dust proof, tree proof in it’s shell.  When in use it is totally waterproof and just generally    feels more ‘room like’ than it’s more regular predecessor.
• Dual compressor arrangement.  Fast and has been so useful.  With the little receiver it gives enough oomph to blow Kalahari seeds off the engine or out the inside of the car.  A larger reservoir would be even nicer!
• Sterling B2B charger and twin batteries and solar panel.  Great.  Apart from my poor wiring incident it has provided us with more than enough power every time.  The solar panel really helps too when laid up for a few days.  The sterling also charges extremely quickly and far better than a conventional voltage sensing relay type arrangement.  Two 105a/hr batteries gives enough power for fridge, lights, laptops etc with absolutely no problems.  It also drives the two compressors nicely.  Battery meter also very handy.  To be honest with our power requirements one 105a/hr battery is just not enough – especially if parked up for a couple of days or if the fridge is set very cold.  
• Drawer system – faultless!  One drawer for kitchen stuff, one drawer for car type stuff.  
• Cargo Barrier – without this we simply could not safely load the car and go charging around safely.  It also has been so useful to strap and mount stuff to.  A much undervalued item I think.  
• All the lights – driving, LED cooking light, rear flood etc have been very very useful.  
• National Luna Fridge – wish I had one years ago.  
• Multimeter – don’t leave home without one
• Longranger tank – extra 180l of diesel.  Superb – no mess, no jerries and a huge range.  A week in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve or the Kaokoveld becomes easy (in terms of worrying about fuel at least).  Also nice to be able to do huge highway distances if required at the flick of a switch.  
• Glind heat exchanger / shureflo pump system  / general ecology water filter.  Brilliant – the ability to load up 100l of water easily and also plug in a filter for drinking water is excellent.  The hot shower really came into its own in Lesotho!
• GPS loaded with tracks 4Africa.  Take a spare (maybe a small one that you can use when hiking) as yet again I experienced a GPS go phut (we used GPS systems a lot in Ghana for work and I have had this happen more than once).  It happens and when you rely on them that can be a real problem.  I won’t get started on Garmin’s decision to discontinue the 276c and the merits (or lack of) of the 620 as a ‘replacement’.
• Awning – for Namibia and in general for the first part of the trip we didn’t need, but from Christmas onwards it has been essential due to rain!  In many instances when we needed it for rain/wind protection our three sided one was required and not just the type that rolls out and provides only a roof.  Luckily we have a friend who made us this one to our design in Cape Town.
• Engine watchdog temperature gauge – gives a digital readout (with settable alarm) of temperature.  I have put the probe by the thermostat housing.  This is vital in so many circumstances as the factory gauge is a joke.  In the Kalahari in April with the dangers of seeds fouling the radiator (even with a net), this gauge instantly lets you know that things are getting hot.  There are plenty other circumstances where I was glad of it.  It’s natural companion is the low coolant alarm which is spliced into the radiator top hose.  Both these gadgets I have come to view as extremely important – again the Kalahari springs to mind where we were extremely isolated and in the sort of circumstances where it is important not to break down!  I know to my cost how fast diesel engines will not tolerate overheating.  

What we haven’t ever wanted/needed:

• Winch.  Had one, didn’t fit it and didn’t ever feel the lack off one (touch wood!)
• Roofrack – okay if we needed the extra space it would be excessive, but I don’t miss a big heavy roofrack at all.
• Sand ladders
• Highlift jack (touch wood)
• “One life live it sticker”

Camping Stuff that is great:

• Dutch oven (we have used it literally every day!).  Our one has a flat lid that can be used for frying etc.  We modified a single burner cadac gas attachment so that the lid can balance on perfectly.  Such a usefull thing.
• Trangia stove – for a fast bowl of soup or whatever.
• Magcharger torch with LED conversion – with daily use it literally goes a few weeks on a charge!  It gives a very powerful light (ideal around the camp in Lion country!).  

We carried around a twin burner gas stove and never used it as we always had a fire going so could use coals for pretty much everything.  We later ditched it and bought a single burner which screws into a cadac bottle – this has been very useful especially in Lesotho where firewood was hard to come by.  

Folding chairs are funny things!  We have so far worn out 5 cheap Chinese ones!  Okay two were taken with us from Ghana and a bit worn out, but still!  On the other hand we have a better quality one that we bought in Namibia and is still going strong.  

Other obvious stuff:
A good set of tools is absolutely essential., as is cable ties and duct tape.  A good strong recovery strap or rope – we used ours on at least five stuck vehicles so far.  Two part epoxy putty is also very useful, as are various bits of hose and hose clamps.  But then we know all this anyway.

The Landrover Vs Landcruiser thing:

In summation the troopy would still be my choice as an expedition/overland vehicle.  The combination of space and robustness is great.  I was always a bit of a Landrover fan (despite always using cruisers for work) however I have no doubt that the Landcruiser in it’s basic strong form (40, 60, 70, 80,105 variants) is a stronger more robust vehicle.  If Landrover had attempted to stay in the game in the developing world and produced a Defender with improved build quality and strengthened components and with a larger capacity simple diesel engine then the argument would not be so (IMHO) clear cut.  As I write this I am in a campsite in Lesotho and four guys are dismantling the front diff on a Free State registered TD5 Disco – the owner commented that “it wouldn’t have happened if I had been driving one of them” while pointing to the Troopy.  He is wearing a Land Rover baseball hat and is surrounded by his mates (driving Landrovers!) no one disagrees or refutes his statement.  But the one thing we all do agree on is that travelling around Lesotho is fantastic – be it by Landy, Cruiser or a Basutho Pony.  We subsequently met a German family in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in their Defender;

We come around a corner in the absolute middle of nowhere (about 8 km south of Bape) to find a Tdi300 Defender with the bonnet open and some very relieved people.  They had lost an oil hose (engine oil to oil cooler in the radiator) and subsequently lost all their oil!  They had a few litres with them and I have a few as well.  He has already shortened the hose where it let go and is ready to go but just needs oil.  When we pour mine in I cannot even see it on the dipstick, but he insists on moving on.  He is moving South and we are going North so that is that.  When we hit Xade gate we send a message south that they should check they left okay.  Later on we meet them in Maun and it turns out they had to be pulled 200km through the Kalahari!  They seem to relish lurching from one crises to the next – they have lost two gearboxes in as many years!  Fun for some maybe, but I don’t want to be broken down in the Central Kalahari’s less travelled areas with my wife and son.

Any vehicle can breakdown, but down here to be honest the cruiser is king!
HZJ78 - a Turbo and a 'bit' more!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 13:23    Post subject: Google Ads keep this community free to join!

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 19:46    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic write up!
HDJ80, BFG AT's, grooved discs, OME 850/860's
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 21:00    Post subject: Reply with quote

HZJ78 - a Turbo and a 'bit' more!
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Site Admin

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 22:05    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article - thank you notworthy

Well worth a 'sticky' thumbright

If you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much room!

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PostPosted: Fri May 14, 2010 14:34    Post subject: Reply with quote

Many thanks Simon!  I am flattered.  
A small addendum:

1) We put the car on a weighbridge recently in Zambia - well over 3.6 tons (all tanks full)!!!  

HZJ78 - a Turbo and a 'bit' more!
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PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 12:43    Post subject: Reply with quote

excellent write up,can picture it but  can't see it,
will you be able to post some pics.
"ANGEE" it needs hoovered out again
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PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 9:04    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you go to "reader's drives" and look at the thread entitled "another troopy" you will see loads of pictures of the build up stuff as well as travel related stuff,
HZJ78 - a Turbo and a 'bit' more!
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African Drifter

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PostPosted: Tue May 25, 2010 0:01    Post subject: Superb! Reply with quote

Hi Gil.

Thanks for the write up and the pics... Great stuff!!

Im from Africa myself (Arusha in Tanzania) and travelled much of Africa including parts of Zambia.
Thanks for the pics, it brought back good memories.

Very Happy  Very Happy

African Drifter
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