Words & Images Angus Boswell
A 70 Series Cruiser is a tough workhorse. You’d be hard pressed to find a production vehicle with this level of stock-standard ability.
If one were to build a superb overlanding and trail-crushing rig, with more space than a Jeep Rubicon, there is probably no better starting point.
But they do have a few shortcomings. Forget the Spartan interior and its woeful lack of stash places; how about the low-slung axle hardware which hangs up on rocks, or the handling which is on the crude side?
Heavy duty rear leaf springs ensure that the Cruiser bucks about without a load, on corrugations, and gets out of shape when you hit a corner at speed.
And speed is a real possibility when you’ve got that lusty 4.5-litre V8 diesel with 151kW and 430Nm under the hood. That’s quite a handful on those standard tyres.
Another small detail, hard to believe on a vehicle which has set you back R720k for a double-cab, is that the front axle is 95mm wider than the rear. This was done to accommodate the big V8, but every current 70 Series is the same. This creates tracking issues in deep ruts and sand.
Also, on standard gearing, the V8 revs too high for comfortable cruising. Some owners are opting for an expensive longer rear-diff ratio to ease this pain, and sacrificing some rock-crawling ability.
What we have, then, is the perfect starting point for a little fettling, beginning in the suspension department. Which is just the intention of the fellows at Fox South Africa, a division of the performance oriented Dynamics company.
Keen on building a showcase for the range of Fox products, Paul Zorn of Ride Dynamics has driven a build process that started literally from the ground up: with a brand-new chassis for a Code 3 V8 Cruiser.
After years of prepping race cars for Motorite Racing – helping driver Evan Hutchison win a sequence of offroad championship titles – and thousands of hours of rebuilding shocks for the off-road fraternity, this was a perfectly do-able challenge.
This “Big Foot” Cruiser is named Foxi, but is definitely less cute than the name implies.
Essential to the extra height is a set of 37 x 12.5 R17 Maxxis Trepador radials, an aggressive, chunky tyre that is hard wearing and proved again and again as the business in Evan’s Class A race machines. The bigger tyres meant a larger rolling diameter, so more speed on hand and no need to lengthen that final drive ratio.
Next in was a 2-inch suspension lift, quite enough given the tyres, with Ironman items replacing the standard front coils and rear leaf springs.
In the future, scissor shackles will go in to enhance the already impressive rear ‘droop’ at full articulation.
Special castor correction brackets (and bushes) were fabricated for the front end to deal with the extra height, so the vehicle tracks properly, and the steering self-centres and is less vague than it would be otherwise.
The steering stabiliser, essential with those big tyres, is a trick piece of Fox race-type gear – a 2.0 Performance Series Advanced Through Shaft (ATS) unit, which allows for adjustment.
As a Fox Shocks showcase, the damping department got all the bells and whistles associated with the highend equipment on offer.
The 2.5 Factory Series Internal Bypass units are fitted all round. These shocks ensure a smooth, compliant ride at low (short travel) deflections, but firm up appreciably as the hits get bigger and travel longer, due to strategic porting of the oil passages in the shock body.
In the case of the front dampers, new mounting points on the solid axle were welded in to ensure direct travel with all that extra height.
All the remotes on the 2.5 Factory Series shocks utilise Dual Speed Compensation (DSC) reservoir adapters, in which high-speed damping is adjusted using the Blue dial (clicks 1-12) and low-speed damping with the Gold dial.
So, that’s the ride taken care of, but to add a measure of big-hit capability, in went a full set of Fox 2.0 Internal Floating Piston (IFP) Bump Stops for those unexpected moments and to slow the harsh rebound associated with standard rubber bump stops.
Bodywork fabrication was handed over to 4WD Muscle Trucks, the guys who have built a range of radical show cars.
They cut the wheel arches to allow sufficient space for the new levels of travel being built in, and moulded new GRP wheel arches that not only look pretty trick but are wide enough to accommodate the meaty 37-inch tyres. These arches were bonded, not held by mechanical fasteners, so no drilling was required; making for a neat and slightly flexible final result.
Onca 4×4 then got going, and fabricated some of their particular breed of heavy duty, extremely effective damage-control hardware. This included the rear bumper, a roll bar, rock sliders and a wider-than stock front bumper to match the extended wheel arches.
The detailing is superb on all these items, and they’re fully functional, with jacking and recovery points just where they are needed.
The interior was gifted with Takla seat covers, sound-suppressing floor mats and an upgraded sound system, before the Cruiser was dropped at Rob Green of RGMotorsport for a spot of mostly Stage II engine fettling.
The V8 is a gutsy performer, but, as with most Toyota products, there is room for more.
The upgrade consisting of a hybrid turbo upgrade (larger compressor turbine wheel and matched housing), to increase boost pressure and efficiency, a bigger intercooler fitted to ensure better flow of colder air, a 76mm RGM Techniflow stainless steel high performance exhaust, and an easier-breathing air filter put in its place.
Then, with a Unichip Q module fitted, the Cruiser was dyno tuned to get a safe extra wad of power and torque – somewhere close to 610Nm of torque and 195kW.
The next upgrade planned is a new clutch imported from Australia to deal with the extra power, and a lower crawler gear to give it tractor-like ability on the rock gardens. It’s already impressive, as a little excursion to Hennops 4×4 ably showed.
The Foxi Cruiser was hardly troubled by most of the rock steps, sharp climbs and axle twisters.
The ride too, is magic carpet-like compared to the standard car, soaking up both big bumps and calming corrugations to very mild levels.
As for the performance, it seems that the underbody work helps match those outputs corner for corner, no matter what the surface; so Foxi, unlike its standard counterparts, is no handful in the bends.
The cost to date? It’s now worth close to a million rand. But this is a showpiece.
Anyone who would like to build a similar rig, giving what Paul calls “Rubicon performance within reach”, can opt for smaller tyres, with no need to cut the wheel arches and several lower-priced shock options. (Cruiser options from Fox start at less than R13k for a set of fully serviceable shocks.)
So this ability is far more affordable than you think, and ability is what this Cruiser has, in challenge winning chunks.
Fox Shocks & Ride Dynamics
Fox Shocks was started in California in 1974 by Bob Fox. A keen motocrosser, he began experimenting to make his Maico go faster and more predictably.
The business has bloomed since then into every aspect of wheeled performance, from bicycles to the meanest off-road race cars, with an emphasis on race performance – whether on the dunes of Dakar or the sands of Baja.
Despite the growth, it remains a family-style business where hiring is done on the basis of passion for the industry, along with technical skills. These guys live the brand. And they are still winning on Fox suspension.
Fox South Africa is a division of Ride Dynamics, which was founded in late 2015 out of Motorite Racing – the most successful 2WD racing team to compete in the South African National Off road Championship.
Motorite Racing has amassed seven National Championships in the last 12 years, designing and building each of the cars in-house. As far as Fox is concerned, 11 of these 12 champions were all running Fox shocks.
It’s worth knowing that Fox shocks are designed and built in their entirety in the US, with a no-compromise approach to materials and design.
Serviceable shocks are relatively new in the South African market, and what is exciting and unique to Fox SA is their service exchange programme – which means no downtime when your shocks need attention.
Combine this with their commitment to trade in your old shocks for new or serviced units when upgrading your vehicle, and you have a product that offers long-term savings and an extended lifespan.