Credits via Practical Motoring
Hugely popular and a survivor against contemporary counterparts, Toyota’s LandCruiser 70 Series is a classic four-wheel drive with a strong heart. But strong as the 4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel might be, a relatively mild 430Nm and 151kW was never going to be enough to test the upgrades Blüsteele had planned for its unique 70 Series build.
Inspired by a new product in its lineup, the Survivor Series 4×4 clutch kit, Blüsteele realised it needed something much more powerful to properly test its claims. Enter a brand-new 2019 Toyota VDJ76 LandCruiser GXL wagon which was quickly modified to the ultimate 4×4 tourer with more than 1000Nm punishing the flywheel.
“We bought that vehicle brand new, so it had the OEM clutch in it,” explains Dan Rippon at Melbourne-based Blüsteele. “And when we had the vehicle tuned, that clutch couldn’t handle the extra power and extra torque – which is part of the reason the Survivor Series was developed, to handle those vehicles with extra torque.
“We saw a hole in the market for a really top quality 4×4 clutch. With the four-wheel drive industry growing, we decided we wanted to build an ultra-premium clutch for guys who wanted something they could take off road, or tow caravans around Australia.”
Dan ran the engine in for 10,000km before he, his father Chris and the Blüsteele team began the modifications. First on the list was an upgrade of the factory brakes to Bremaxx ‘Claw-Grooved’ disc rotors that have improved cooling efficiency. Matched to these were a set of Bremaxx Heavy Duty ceramic disc pads that offer high-temperature performance and reduced dust.
With improved stopping power on each corner, the car was dyno tested before engine upgrades fitted. It produced 95kW and 299Nm at the wheels in factory specification.
Upon opening the bonnet, the first upgrade was to replace the factory turbocharger, using Dynomotive’s GTX-470 turbo kit that is based around a larger turbocharger. Next was a Turbosmart wastegate, new stainless dump pipe and intake, pipe adapter and other small changes. A PWR top-mount intercooler and HPD oil catch can was added to cool air intake temp, while AAA Exhausts and Customs in Queensland fabricated a fully sealed airbox that’s larger than the Toyota factory item. Complementing this is a snorkel from the same company that’s mandrel-bent from a single section of stainless steel pipe.
Beyond the turbo is a larger 3-inch exhaust all the way to the outlet, and a Unichip ECU is fitted that provides driving modes and map calibrations.
Dynomotive's Mark Trounson says that the biggest improvement in the upgrade package is the turbo kit, which he has seen ruin other clutch kits available on the market.
“The limiting factor is the factory turbocharger,” explains Mark. “It’s very small in air flow capacity, is very lazy to come on boost and has a limited upper boost capacity.”
“This GTX-470 turbo kit will test any clutch on the market,” he adds. “We have seen a fairly popular clutch that is ‘rated at 1300Nm’ fail on the dyno using our turbo kit.”
With this in mind, the Survivor Series 4×4 clutch had a stiff challenge ahead. But any doubt about performance was dismissed when a new dyno run was performed, showing an increase in engine output from 95kW (factory) to 200.5kW, and from 299Nm to 745Nm at the wheels. Blüsteele’s new clutch – fitted by LCR Automotive in Victoria – didn’t miss a beat, either. While we don’t have flywheel figures for power and torque, the numbers would likely exceed 1000Nm.
And it’s not only the increase in newton metres that poses potential problems for a factory clutch: larger tyres, heavy accessories and gear plus towing will all stress out a clutch. For Blüsteele’s LandCruiser, some of the additions include a unique bullbar from ATD Customs in Queensland, which is linked to brush rails and side steps that were also manufactured by ATD. Some neat additions here include ‘Blusteele 76’ laser-cut into the side steps and LEDs incorporated into the brush rails. Kings spotlights were added to the bullbar, augmented by an LED strip from Night Armour in Queensland, fixed on a Rhino Rack roof rack. Combined, this light package is brilliant at lighting up trails.
At the rear, the factory bumper was replaced with a unit from Uneek 4×4 in Victoria. A dual spare wheel mounting system from the same company takes the Pro Comp 16-inch wheels fitted with 31-inch BFG All Terrain T/A tyres. There’s a reversing camera slung underneath that Uneek 4×4 bar, which has proved to be a handy addition. In the rear cargo area, a premium lockable drawer system from RV Storage Solutions and a Hayman Reese cargo barrier keeps everything tidy, while a Clearview Easy Slide fridge slider holds an Engel MT-V fridge.
Inside, the Toyota factory front seats were replaced with FPV items that Dan says are much more comfortable, while the basic factory audio system was upgraded with a Kenwood unit. Finally, a longer gear shift lever and centre console upgrade that includes a chilled compartment, upped the comfort ante even further.
But what is the added weight, increased grunt, and new clutch like on the road?
Well at first you don’t really notice it, despite that huge number of newton metres waiting to be unleashed. The pedal effort required is not excessive and the clutch has a nice progressive feel. It obviously has the clamping force to handle the considerable increase in power, but isn’t tiresome to operate and has a quick, predictable bite when moving from a standstill.
Dan says this is his daily driver – evidenced by the baby seat in the back – and given its nature on urban roads we don’t doubt that.
Our first encounter with the 70 Series is on sealed tarmac, moving from Blüsteele’s Dandenong premises to drive further out for some off-roading and sand driving. Near the Blüsteele factory, where roads are limited to 60km/h with plenty of stop-start traffic, the 70 Series is easy-going, but there’s also no doubt that the acceleration has improved over factory spec. We check out the varying modes on the Unichip ECU which includes the bonkers, all-out power calibration for the full beans, a more economical and less powerful driving setting, and then modes that suit off-road scenarios to help with traction.
Once we get near the freeway the diesel V8 engine is unleashed and the induction sound through the custom steel snorkel bellows almost as loudly as the 3-inch exhaust. We’re in the full-whack setting to unleash all one thousand newtons. The torque picks up heartily midway through the rev range and there’s a pushing urgency as the torque battles with grip on the road. There’s no mistaking the more than double torque output of this modded 70 Series over a factory model – the comparison in acceleration is night and day.
All the while the shifter and clutch are simple and intuitive to use. It’d take an unaware driver to suggest that the 70 Series is a joy to drive in terms of sophistication, though the increase in output with improved clutch feel make a marked difference in driveability at all times.
This includes heading onto rougher roads where steep inclines are dispatched easily without throwing the gear shift around. It’ll sit in second or third and happily dial up enough grunt on demand.
Indeed, the aftermarket wheels – which include a fix to the standard 100mm offset – improve grip in poor conditions, but also the instantaneous power and feel in the clutch allow for easy going in deeper, looser sand. It’s something we’d love to take further abroad to somewhere like the Simpson Desert or Fraser Island. That said, its ability to scramble Victoria’s loose rocky tracks is strong and the extra torque a blessing.
Complementing this is the clutch kit, which is the unsung hero of the show. It improves feel over the factory set-up, is smooth to operate and did not miss a beat, even with the shellacking we gave it. And there’s much more to the improvement than just a tougher clutch.
Blüsteele’s Survivor Series kit includes a clutch plate, pressure plate cover, thrust bearing, spigot bearing and an alignment tool. In most kits, a rear main seal, new bolts and replacement flywheel is available, too, with the Project Survivor Series LandCruiser getting a new chromoly flywheel.
We handled the parts at Blüsteele’s factory and they are very well machined. At a nuts and bolts level, Lee Cafiso from LCR Automotive, who fitted the clutch to the LandCruiser, says that the full kit is one of the best he’s seen.
“The Survivor clutch we fitted to the VDJ76 Landcruiser V8 is one of the most comprehensive and complete clutch kits I have ever fitted. It comes complete with all the parts to do a proper clutch replacement job. I was particularly impressed that the kit included a genuine NSK thrust bearing.”
As an off the shelf and seemingly bulletproof clutch to upgrade or replace the factory unit in your 4x4, the Survivor Series 4×4 clutch kit from Blüsteele is one of the most competent and well-rounded options we’ve tested, both in quality and application.