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- Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Introduction and History of the FJ
I’ve been asked quite a bit by you guys to discuss my Toyota FJ Cruiser that you’ve seen in ITS photos. Today I’ll be introducing a new series here on ITS, where I’ll detail all the work I’ve done to my FJ and all the aftermarket parts I’ve added. Before we start this adventure though, I’d like to discuss a bit of the history of the venerable FJ Cruiser, as well as what my intended purpose and goals are with my modifications.
The FJ Cruiser, first available for purchase in 2006, comes from the lineage of the Toyota Land Cruiser which started with the FJ40 in 1960.
The 40 Series Land Cruiser production ended in 1984, when 19 years later, the FJ Cruiser was unveiled at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. Paying homage to the original FJ40 with characteristics like a mesh grille, circular headlights, white roof, nearly flat front windshield and wraparound rear windows, the FJ Cruiser was an immediate success for Toyota. While sales have slowed in recent years, the FJ Cruiser Community and all the upgrades available for them are just a few of the things that drew me to purchasing mine.
I’ve never been a fan of the stock look that the FJ has and have worked hard to not only make it a more enjoyable vehicle aesthetically, but functionally as well. Most all of my modifications have had a functional purpose, with the exception of my blasphemous painting of the iconic white roof. I remember looking at FJs at my local Toyota dealerships and wishing I could find a Trail Teams Edition FJ in Sandstorm. Trail Teams Editions of the FJ Cruiser weren’t all that special in my opinion to warrant the additional price tag and I knew that if that’s truly what I wanted, I could make those modifications myself for less money.
Trail Teams Editions of the FJ featured many of the same enhancements that Toyota offers on their TRD packages; different wheels, slightly better tires, TRD Bilstein Shocks and a few other features. The main differences were the monochromatic paint scheme and blacked out trim pieces like bumper caps, mirrors and door handles. Each year Toyota has been making a Trail Teams Edition they have just a single color. For instance, 2010 was the all-over Sandstorm color, 2011 was Army Green, 2012 was Radiant Red and this year for 2013 it’s Cement Gray, which looks pretty cool in my opinion.
What is Overlanding?
You may be wondering what the term overlanding refers to. I’ll first say that it’s right up the alley of most of the readers on ITS and that overlanding utilizes principles and skill-sets we advocate and write about here on ITS Tactical all the time. Overlanding by definition to me is all about the journey and the experience.
It’s about getting into off-road capable transportation, whether that’s a 4WD truck, a Motorcycle or even a bicycle and heading to a remote destination where you’ll rely on self-reliance during your extended trip. It’s also a great opportunity to test your preparedness to handle anything life throws at you and sleep under the stars. Just a few things that I’m very fond of in my life.
I’d been wanting to get into Overlanding with a good vehicle and I knew I wanted to purchase something new. Nothing against used vehicles, but having restored an old VW Karmann Ghia back in the day, I know the can of worms that can be opened with restoring an older vehicle. Plus, I wanted to maximize my purchase and use it as a daily driver too. I’ll admit my gas mileage has decreased over the two years or so since purchasing my FJ, but I’ve had a lot of fun tinkering with it, learning and improving things along the way.
The FJ was also a testing ground for me to learn more about vehicle recovery techniques, self-sufficiency and having a capable vehicle that would allow me to get out into the elements and back home safely. Aside from the aesthetic differences you can see on the surface of my FJ, the majority of the upgrades I’ve made have been functional and for a good reason. They have allowed me to further the capability of the vehicle, whether that’s crossing difficult terrain, storing equipment to help me prepare for the worst, or simply making my travels more enjoyable.
What I’m here to do in this series is not just highlight what I did to my FJ with pretty pictures like most magazines on the shelves, but explain the purpose behind the upgrade and why you should consider it for yourself someday on your vehicle. What’s great about these modifications I’m going to highlight is that they’re fairly universal and provided you have a vehicle with a strong off-road or overlanding following, they’ll be available.
I still have a lot of work to do before the Overland Expo next May in Arizona and you can bet I’ll be documenting all if it to share with you. In the next article, we’ll be walking through one of the first things I did to my vehicle, upgrade the security. You did figure that’s the first thing I’d do, right?
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Why an FJ when a stock Rubicon Unlimited out-of-the-box is effectively a HUMMV at $100K less? Yes, you can mod the Jeep - AEV in Flint, MI is the place to go - but out of the box I can vouch that the Rubi kicks some serious ass.
FJ = Fake Jeep, IMO.
Looking good, I have an FJ on order. What lift and size tires did you go with? Looks like 285's maybe?
I'm excited to see what you've done! Slowly starting to get my '05 Frontier set up to be a more capable machine off the beaten path. I've been pretty impressed with how capable a stock vehicle can be when driven carefully. The biggest investment I've made up to this point is a roof top tent from Tepui tents. Absolutely love it. I think next up will be skid plates, I've already managed to wipe out one oil pan and would like to avoid another!
Use this to black out your tail lights and orange corner marker if laws permit in your state. Light is still translucent through the tint. I believe they may have it ad Advanced Auto Parts.
Looking forward to this. I drive a '91 diesel 80 series Land Cruiser that I have been building up with expedition in mind. It's had a ITS tat on the front bumper for a couple of years now!
One thing to point out, Land Cruisers are still being produced, including some of the great and classic models (just not in North America).
A very capable 80 series LC was produced in the US as a LC as well as under the Lexus badge (LX450) up until '97.
The 100 series Land Cruiser which is completely capable for overlanding, although it makes many nods to the comfort of the driver, is also readily available in the US and I think produced till '01.
Doing similar modifications with my 98 jeep cherokee! Loving the idea of heading out into the uncivilized land and getting back to nature and simple (but not easy) good livin'.
@ITStactical I want the FJ
@ITStactical Definitely looking forward to this! Always liked the FJ, but was scared off by the fuel economy. What does yours get now?
The Frontier is capable platform, slowly is the way to do it. A lot of mods are not relative to every vehicle - and they don't make up for the most important tool in the chest...the driver. Good tires go a long way, you want to put the rubber on the rocks, not your pumpkins...or ,as you have found out, your oil pan;)! Don't go big for the sake of cool- a Frontier will do just fine with 31's all terrains. Mud is highly overrated...fun, but get it all off after the fun, or bad things will happen when dries and starts its evil work on bearings , or worse in open breathers on your differentials.Unless you get chromoly after market axles, you risk snapping them like twigs if you lay into the throttle to help you out of a jam, when those spinning tires decide to bite suddenly.Skid plates need not be 1/4" steel plate, there are some aluminum ones out there, or you are a fab kinda guy-you can make your own out of 1/4" aluminum.Don't let plates fool you, drive like they aren't there, and you will get home everytime...usually (LOL).
Brian has some understated ,but very good advice.....functional mods.If it (your Frontier)is your everyday driver like mine, it pays to heed that advice.Slow is fast, and fast is slow. Off roading is infectious if you do it right, and pay attention.
Doubly so if you can cross it with camping!...and I'm jealous of your tent, enjoy it;)!
Have a good one-
@Harps Nice! I'd love to see a photo of your rig. I did update the article to specifically mention that it was the 40 series that ended production in '84, that was a typo on my part :)
@redraven88 Awesome brother! Getting back to nature is a lot of what prompted me to do what I'm doing as well. Not that you need a tricked out vehicle to find ways to get back to nature, but it sure makes it a better experience. Stay safe!
@mitchellhamm @ITStactical It's getting about 15 mpg right now, that might come down when I get my front bumper and winch on there though.
I kind of figured that. The 40 is the classic Land Cruiser that everybody pictures (and should want).
I'll find a photo and share it in the forum. The outside is nothing special (aggressive AT tires, ARB bumper, winch, basic rack and rear swingout), but I have a bed build halfway done in the back, low draw LEDs, and some extra lighting to install. A "beware of dog" sticker and window tinting will help with "urban" security issues when I get around to it.
I'm in Canada, so we can import 15 year old diesels.
It's a RHD from Japan.
@Harps Roger the 40!
Good idea with dog sticker, tints...go a step further with a motion switch that turns on a digital recording of a long low growl!
Me, I just use an actual dog;)....I know, ":you can't always....".Well, just try and get that FJ outta my drive way without "Uno" in it...LOL