Spaniard Albert Pou is a man who likes the best of both worlds. So when he set about creating his ultimate overlanding offroader, he wasn’t about to limit himself to a one-marque vehicle – he wanted to combine the strengths of a Land Rover Defender and the Toyota Land Cruiser.
And this isn’t just a randomly eccentric and eclectic machine – every aspect of his ‘Cruisender’ has been properly planned and executed. Albert knew exactly what he was up to – he’s the owner of a specialist 4×4 sales outlet Lidor (apou.com) in Manlleu, 50 miles north of Barcelona, so he should do – and for him, the decision to combine the mechanical strengths of the 1989-97 HDJ 80 Toyota with the modularity of the Land Rover Defender 110 was a no-brainer.
Albert maintains that mechanically, the Toyota is unbeatable in terms of ruggedness and reliability. However, at the same time, he appreciates that the Defender’s flexibility in terms of design and its ease of customisation means it has the best bodyshell for an expedition vehicle. With the idea fixed, next came the difficult bit – building the thing.
It took a mechanic working full-time, with help from Albert and his friend, Joan Puigderrajols from Autosprint, a year to complete. The first step was to get hold of two base vehicles, including a 2005 Defender 110 Td5. During the time it took to select and strip down the donors, Albert and Joan created a spec list – a list that became increasingly detailed as time went by.
Above all, the vehicle had to be Toyota- based mechanically. Albert’s travelling companions are all HDJ80 Land Cruiser owners and on expeditions, they share spare parts, so the Japanese 4.2-litre straight-six turbodiesel engine, peripherals, gearbox and axles would all be kept.
The suspension is still Defender, as is the chassis, with the Toyota axles grafted on. The Defender and Land Cruiser share similar track widths, 1486mm vs 1610mm, and it’s only the greater offset on the Toyota alloy wheels that means the standard Defender wheel arch extensions couldn’t be used.
Aside from the mechanicals, Albert was free to choose the bodywork and accessories and went for a maximum of Defender parts; the lightweight, long-lasting and easily modifiable aluminium body, and easily customised interior were deciding factors.
As the build progressed, the pair constantly made innovative changes and complex modifications. The end result has exceeded both their expectations. At first glance, it looks like a traditional prepped-up Defender. But when you get closer, you notice that the axles aren’t ‘normal’, the gearbox is not in the usual place and the wheels have six nuts.
A quick peek through the driver’s window confirms this vehicle is a hybrid unlike any other. Under the bonnet lies the vast Toyota turbodiesel. Installing it meant removing the original Land Rover engine mounts and replacing them with items designed especially for the Toyota motor. The same goes for the ve-speed transmission.
Standard di locks are just one of the advantages of the Nippon axles. Only the driveshafts are non-original parts- made-to-measure units replace the standard items. The numerous chassis reinforcements and protective guards are made from welded aluminium sheet.
Albert has two sets of tyres and rims for different terrains. For the rugged Spanish off-road tracks, nothing beats 255/85 R16 BF Goodrich mud tyres, fitted on steel rims. For Africa, he ts less well- known 285/75 R16 Mastercraft Courser C/Ts on Toyota alloys.
Elsewhere, the Cruisender is lavished with all the expedition kit you could wish for. Albert’s treated it to the best of everything – even to the extent of assembling the best of several different products to create his own version, like the drive-by tyre inflation system. He dissected an Argentinian Viagia kit, keeping only the rotor and making the rest himself with reinforced HGV piping, meaning that he can now inflate or deflate his tyres in eight minutes at.
The Cruisender is equipped with two compressors, a Maple Extrem twin- cylinder and an Outback single-cylinder, along with a couple of reservoirs. One powers the pneumatic tools, like the impact driver and grinder. The second, from a Range Rover L322, serves the air suspension system and air lockers. Yes, they really have thought of everything!
The suspension reflects the same in-depth consideration and execution. Albert uses two systems, with each one being brought into play depending on the terrain. For hardcore o -roading he uses King Spring units. These work brilliantly in combination with Öhlins dampers mounted on raised supports.
They are backed up by Rancho dampers, which are adjustable from the dashboard. For more sedate outings, softer Bearmach springs take over and, depending on what he plans to do, Albert adds anti-dislocation cones or anti-tear straps.
The brakes are from Toyota and are a mixture of large-diameter discs and forced-air vents usually found on small- disc braking systems. Everything has been either fully overhauled or replaced.
Leaving the Barcelona suburbs behind him, Albert heads south whenever he can. Sometimes he has one passenger, sometimes more, so the Cruisender can be adapted to suit. With just two people aboard, the Cruisender is stripped of its roof tent, improving fuel economy, and the rear bucket seats are removed in favour of maximum on-board kit.
With four passengers, the tent is required and the sides of the 4×4 are adorned with all kinds of gear attached via aviation-grade rails, from jerry can holders to sand ladders through to spare tyres – you name it, it’s there. There’s no problem in terms of self- sufficiency, either. There’s provision for 50 litres of water, with interior and exterior feeds, allowing for a heated shower. The range is also maximised with 260 litres of fuel capacity, in two tanks.
At the wheel, the Cruisender certainly doesn’t feel like a regular Defender – there is some serious power and torque under the bonnet. The stock Japanese motor delivers 170bhp and 280lb ft – a useful jump up from the base vehicle’s five-cylinder with 122bhp/221lb ft. Despite that, it’s no hot rod – the gearbox dates from several generations ago and seems to drain a large chunk of the engine’s power.
Practicality is excellent. The semi-bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, while the Toyota’s tilt steering column and cruise control is a bonus. I also enjoyed fiddling with the drive-by tyre inflation system and Rancho damper set-up, both controlled via switches on the dash. The steering response seems sharper than a regular Defender’s, maybe due to the wider track and polyurethane bushes throughout.
Creature comforts are limited, but rear passengers enjoy reclining co-ordinated seats with full harnesses and headrests. To top it off, they even have direct access to the fridge – ideal to crack open a cold one when Albert eventually stops at beer o’clock. The effective air-conditioning system is taken from the Toyota too.
In the back of the cab, Albert has organised a smart set-up offering room for two berths, lockers for clothes, kitchen gear, tools and more.
If you’re inspired to create your own Cruisender, remember that the project took more than a year of full-time work, despite Albert’s specialist skills and the long family tradition of working in overlanding (his grandfather started the family garage in 1942). The cost? Around £70,000, with more than £30,000 of that in labour charges alone.
Few people will be able to go to the extremes of Albert’s project, but for the rest of us, it showcases a myriad of ideas that we can take away and adapt for our own vehicles. For that reason, the Cruisender is truly inspirational.
Build it yourself, Meccano style:
To build a similar vehicle, you will need:
– A Toyota HDJ 80 with manual transmission, factory fitted lockers and air-con (From £10.000)
– A Defender 110 Td5 in great shape, with excellent bodywork and trim (you’ll keep the whole of the body after all). From £11.000
– Out of both vehicles, you will be able to sell on around £10.000 worth of unused parts
– You will then need to mix the two vehicles’ bulkhead in order to fit the Toyota steering column, mix the vehicles binnacles and wiring system. Get this done by a professional auto-electrician, from £4.000 (estimate)
– An engine integral overhaul, custom intercooler, additional radiators, and manual turbo boost selector: £5.500
– Alloys, tyres, inflating system and two full suspension set-ups £7.500
– Interior modification, electrics, and electronics fitted: £12.000
– Labour: over £30.000 in research, development and final build.
The overall cost of the Cruisender is 90.000 € / £70.000.
NOTE: the vehicle is entirely homologated in Spain, therefore in Europe, thanks to a law that allows independent garages and manufacturers to get one-of vehicle homologated.