Electric Conversion Land Cruiser 80 (EV Adventure)

Electric Conversion Land Cruiser 80 (EV Adventure)

Words & Photos by Jimmy Underhill

I decided on converting a 4x4 vehicle to electric power instead of a smaller vehicle, like a sportscar, because I was inspired by the new wave of EV trucks like the Hummer and Rivian. These new vehicles have departed from their rugged utilitarian roots. I wanted a classic, so I chose to convert a Land Cruiser.

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A Land Cruiser was more attractive than a smaller 4x4 for good reasons. It has a solid front axle, coil springs, and a great chassis. It has a large payload capacity. Batteries are heavy, and it's not uncommon to see EV conversions that quickly balloon way past the vehicle's GVWR making for a sketchy, if not unsafe, ride. By using a Land Cruiser I avoid that problem, and can add as many batteries as I want.

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure

I purchased a 1996 Land Cruiser with over 325,000 miles on it. It had been used as a construction or handy-man vehicle and was filthy. Over the next months I cleaned and fixed little things  while thinking about the EV conversion. I decided early on to use a salvaged Nissan LEAF EV for parts. My reasoning was simple: they are affordable and have all the main components needed for an EV to function. Components like the electric motor, inverter, charger, 12-volt converter, and most importantly a large lithium battery. I purchased a wrecked Nissan LEAF from an insurance auction and started taking it apart. I wasn't sure how exactly I was going to make it all work yet . I called over some friends and we pulled the engine out of the Land Cruiser. I removed the fuel tank, fuel lines, filler neck, exhaust,  radiator, and AC. There was no going back.

As the Cruiser came to life, my goal was to debut it at Cruise Moab 2022, the 25th anniversary of the event. I knew I could do it, but it was going to be a lot of work.

I was especially worried about safety.. I made it a point to repair, service, upgrade, or otherwise get all the base systems like suspension, brakes, and steering up to snuff for Moab. For the EV conversion, the brakes would be boosted by an electric pump pulling a constant vacuum on the OEM brake booster. The power steering would powered by an electric pump on the OEM lines and box.

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure

I rebuilt the front axle and fixed a broken birfield joint. I installed an auto locker in the rear diff. I installed a 2” OME suspension lift. A set of tubular bumpers and a Warn winch finishes it off as a standard 80-series build. From the outside it looks like any other 80-series build Land Cruiser. Those with keen eyes will spot the Gamiviti roof rack is loaded with solar panels, and two charge ports in the front grill.

            I had a little bit of time to test it around my neighborhood streets, but Moab was the first time the EV Cruiser was going to be put through it's paces. The plan was to do the trail Wipe Out Hill lead by Tim of Gamiviti. This trail is rated a 5. Enough challenges for any Land Cruiser but not likely stop the EV Cruiser or worry about breaking. The plan was to trailer out early,  start with a full battery, and not delay the group.

            As I was airing down, I saw the group coming towards me. I got butterflies in my stomach as I knew it was time to test my creation for real. I was airing down my final tire as Tim  slowly rolled by in his FJ40 and shouted, “still airing down?” “Last tire” I replied. He rolled on through onto the trail followed by the group. All Toyotas, mostly Land Cruisers. There were 40s, a 45, 60s, 80s, 200s, and 4Runners. One thing for certain, my Cruiser was the only Electric Vehicle on the trail that day!

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure

            I jumped in EV Cruiser with my wife, Jasmin, and we got going. Behind us our buddy Josh in his 1997 80-series was our support vehicle. Josh had been involved with the conversion since day one. Behind him was tailgunner, Marco. Both were waiting on me as the main group disappeared into the desert. “Crap,” I thought, I didn't want to play catch-up.

            The truck was immediately in it's element. The suspension was right. The tires were excellent. Power and gearing were perfect. We were actually doing it! Cruising down the sandy track the truck was smooth. The GPS speedometer showed us going 30. We could hear some noise from the suspension, and some noise from the transfer case, but the truck was very quiet.

            After a few minutes we saw the group ahead. I was relieved and started to relax. The group was slowing at our first climb. As we slowed to a stop in utter silence my wife, and I looked at each other and broke out laughing at the silence. I shifted the OEM transfer case into low-range and started climbing a steep sandy incline. We could hear the gears load up and whine as the load increased. As the truck crested the hill we picked up speed and a vibration came with it. I shifted back to high-range and we continued on. Even though the EM57 electric motor from the Nissan LEAF only produces 80kw, or approximately 100 horsepower, it turned out to be an excellent match for this trail driving. On the sandy roads the truck could easily accelerate to 40 MPH or more and start up steep climbs from a complete stop.

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure

            Watching other Cruisers climbing up slickrock ledges I shifted again into low-range and started to creep ahead. The low speed control of the EV was amazing.  It crawls along while the driver uses just one foot. I found out climbing the rock ledges with a lot of wheel-spin that is harder to judge the amount of movement that right foot needs on the throttle as. Normally, you hear the engine load up the torque converter and you have a decent idea of how much torque is being produced; if there's a lot of load or not. With the electric motor there is none of that noise. Just your foot's position and if you are moving or not. A couple of times I gave more throttle than needed and spun the tires unnecessarily. The tires spun up fast, with a puff of white smoke.

            We stopped for a hike, and later on for lunch. We took in the red cliffs, buttes, and dunes. As the day went on I worried less about range, battery percentage, and mechanical breakage, and started enjoying my EV conversion as a Land Cruiser. I had my fridge with cold soft drinks and food. My dog had plenty of room. I had my tools and gear. It was comfortable and spacious. We got back on the trail and I moved to the front of the pack. Tim wanted me to have a clean shot at the obstacles coming up. Also everyone wanted to see the EV Land Cruiser perform.

            I pulled up to an obstacle with three main lines. I watched the FJ45 do the hard line, so I pulled up behind him. I was skeptical that my truck could make it up. It was a rocky set of ledges with loose dirt and big holes. I picked my line and started up. At first the front tires were spinning. Then the rear fell in a hole. I rolled back by lifting off the throttle, re-adjusted, and rolled into the throttle a little more. More wheelspin but it wasn’t climbing. Tim gave me some spotting, I used a little more throttle to bump the rear over a rock, and then the truck drove right up!

            The only obstacle left was the namesake Wipe Out Hill, a very steep set of descents down a slickrock face. I was looking forward to this particular obstacle as a great test of the regenerative braking (“regen”) that is a built-in feature of modern EVs. Regen takes the rotation of the motor and produces electrical power while slowing the vehicle down. It has a similar feeling to the driver as engine braking. The EV Land Cruiser has three levels of regen. I set regen to maximum and lifted my feet off the pedals. It was an eerie feeling as the Cruiser's nose pointed down steeper and steeper. Once or twice I touched the brake to keep the body movement to a minimum, but I was absolutely shocked at how smooth, steady, and controlled the regen kept the vehicle while descending the steep rock face. At some points during the descent I actually gave throttle to keep the vehicle moving at a constant speed. Talk about one pedal driving!

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure

            That was the last obstacle of the day. The rest of the trail was a beautiful scenic drive through the Moab desert. The Cruiser made it to the end of the trail with 45% battery remaining after having started with 90% and the total distance covered was 12 miles. This makes the maximum offroad range somewhere around 30 miles.

I learned some big lessons and built a vehicle that is a lot of fun to drive. Whether cruising around the town or out on the trails the EV Land Cruiser is so much fun to drive. It can rock crawl with the best of them and blast through the desert sand. My electric Land Cruiser is the first 100% electric vehicle to take part in Cruise Moab. I am excited to drive it on more trails around the country and improve it bit by bit.

I started a company, EVSwap, dedicated to converting classic cars and trucks from gasoline to 100% electric power. For more information, please visit www.evswapconversions.com or contact me, Jimmy Underhill, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

electric toyota land cruiser | electrified vehicle adventure


  • 100 HP (80 KW) EM57 electric motor
  • 30 KWH 400 Volts maximum Lithium Ion Battery
  • 6.6 KW and 50 KW onboard fast chargers
  • Resolve-EV Vehicle Control Unit
  • Optima Yellow Top aux battery
  • 5180 LBS curb weight


  • Old Man Emu Medium 2” Lift
  • Old Man Emu steering stabilizer
  • Stainless steel braided brake lines
  • GM Brake Vacuum pump
  • Volvo Power Steering pump
  • NWF Blackbox Doubler 2.7:1

Storage and Interior:

  • Gamiviti Roof Rack with 400 Watt Solar Array
  • Tuffy Center console
  • Pioneer double din stereo
  • EcoFlow Delta Pro 3.6 KWH Solar Battery

Wheels and Tires:

  • 295/70/17 (33x11.5) Nitto Ridge Grapplers
  • 17x8.5 SCS Stealth 6 wheels


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