Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Introduction and History of the FJ - ITS Tactical

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Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Introduction and History of the FJ

By Bryan Black

Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding
  1. Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Introduction and History of the FJ
  2. Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Security Upgrades and Common Sense Vehicle Security Tips
  3. Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: ARB Bumper Upgrades

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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  • mitchellhamm

    ITStactical Definitely looking forward to this! Always liked the FJ, but was scared off by the fuel economy. What does yours get now?

    • @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.

  • lookatyeti

    ITStactical I want the FJ

  • redraven88

    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’.

    • 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!

  • 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.

    • How did you get a diesel land cruiser in the US?

    • Mhael 
      I’m in Canada, so we can import 15 year old diesels.
      It’s a RHD from Japan.

    • @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 🙂

    • 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.

    • Allwet

      @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

  • RJeepHobby

    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.

    • @RJeepHobby I’ll give that a look, thanks!

  • Allwet

    Nice job Brian, Ive seen the truck,but not the FJ….hehe
    I noticed a VLC icon in the box but I was unable to do anything with it. I have a 2007 Blk , no 2, by the way.The first met its end on a bridge in Louisiana, during a hellacious rain- culminating with 47′ of inverted flight, landing on the roof,and skidded to a stop 38′ later(748′ from the initial guard rail impact from hydro sliding)-measurements conp of state police.I walked away…later spending 3 weeks in intensive care,and another 4 wks “upstairs”….42 days of morphine drip. I showed up at the hospital 2months after the fact with torn esophagus,and 2 collapsed lungs and double pneumonia-and then some.I mention all that to indicate the violence of the impacts involved-a I walked away.I had another one located with the Procomp factory lift, and had it delivered a week before my undetected internal injuries fully manifested themselves. WHY get another one ?Are you nuts? Several people said.It was like being inside an insulated, well cushioned  tank throughout the accident, and I am thoroughly convinced that I would be long gone in just about any other vehicle.State Police were just scratching their heads as to how that crash was not only survived, but that I was ambulatory immediately there after. All the pillars collapsed, albeit only partially-I just cut the harness and crawled out the only window opening wide enough.
    The new one….got bigger, and wider(6″ wider between 35 x 12.5 tires, and spacers with Tundra lugs installed),2.75″ PC Racing shocks and MX-6’s to back up the rear coils.Many will say a lift makes you a roll candidate(if poorly done-yes indeed), without realizing the amount of unsprung weight increases dramatically, and lowering the front pumpkin is another gravity center lowering, as well as drive line saving trick, and done correctly ,all this dramatically increases stability. It ain’t no Porsche on the road, but it corners on rails compared to stock.Besides traction from larger foot print, adding weight down low, increasing ground clearance, the tire void spaces GREATLY resist hydroplaning  if you are wise in your selection.I am sold on the Nitto Trail Grapplers.Ground clearance is 22” at frame just aft of the diff, and approach angles are steep.

    With DT Long Tubes /TRD exhaust and TRD “big box” CAI,URD maf sensor and r4 soft ware, and a Sprint Booster accelerator chip, I put off  regearing……and blew off a super charger.I would advise 4.56/4.88 gears otherwise, and definitely so for real overlanding.
    I use receivers for a winch and it goes in the war chest until needed.I am a weight weiny , so I forewent the much wanted aftermarket bumpers….so far, looking for aluminun versions.
    Don’t forget to mention breathers for the pumpkins, to go with the snorkel, something many over look.I installed breather tubes, but forewent the snorkel…because the intake 3′ and some odd inches.For overlanding -you are right on with the snorkel.
    I’ll shut up now….not trying to hijack a thread here, just make a few points for what to many is a misunderstood animal.The funny part of the crash…,there 5,000 rounds of Israeli surplus 7.62 in the back(range day was the next day), and it was covering the road like glitter. No one asked any questions, or even spoke to me until they got the ambulance through the backed up traffic, and I climbed in, they asked for my DL,and asked me to sign a release so they didn;t have to inventory the contents, just recover to secure temp storage location.
    FJ Cruiser? You bet your life.
    Have a good one-

  • 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!

    • Allwet

      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-

  • jamesravenwood

    Looking good, I have an FJ on order. What lift and size tires did you go with? Looks like 285’s maybe?

  • Panhandle Rancher

    The very best overlanding tool is the mule.
    Panhandle Rancher

  • docwatson223

    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.

    • ruggidterrain

      docwatson223Aesthetics and reliability.

    • dustytrounce

      docwatson223 wrangler rubicon prices out somewhere near 40-50k depending on location and dealership. My FJ was 30k with the off road package. It handles better, has better performance, and i don’t sacrifice anything in terms of comfort…. you can’t say the same for the jeep.

    • docwatson223

      dustytrounce Not so sure I agree about the handling, capability and performance. Off the lot my Rubi traversed an ATV trail with minimal effort and bruising – how I wound up on an ATV trail of all things is a story for another day – so I can vouch for the out of the box usability. I have comfort but I didn’t buy it to haul kids, groceries, the commute, so I didn’t get the leather seats or any of the faux soccer dad stuff; I bought it to kick ass off-trail and it does it as-is. That being said I do want to get a lift kit and other additions so I can go further and do things like Moab and the Jamboree.

      I also thought hard about supporting the American worker in Ohio at the Jeep plant. That may change but my reasons for the purchase were to try to keep Americans employed in American manufacturing.

  • jravenwood

    He bought the FJ because he didn’t want an inferior, poorly made vehicle that will start to need major repairs after 30k miles. Not to mention the aesthetics, better resale value, more cargo space, bigger engine (yeah 4.0L vs 3.6L in the Rubicon), more goodies (rear power outlet, more guages, rear locker, traction control) etc etc etc. Enough said.

    RUBI – Repairs under bonnet imminent.

  • Swordsman

    Personally I would have gone for a 4Runner, same price bracket roughly but with more cargo space and an overall tougher car. Roughly speaking the same MPG.

    • PA_FJ_Owner

      I had an ’03 4Runner for 11 years.  Loved it!  That is until I bought my ’14 FJ back in December.  It is much better than the 4Runner on trails and in the snow.  This past winter it went places that I KNOW my 4Runner would have struggled.  It has it’s quirks and short comings (like poor storage in the front of the vehicle) but overall, it is AWESOME!

    • BrianTucker2

      @Swordsman also now at they dont have fj’s

  • roboyak

    Love how you setup your FJ.. Which roof rack and ladder is that?

    Great site, fantastic content. Keep it coming.

    • roboyak Thanks for the kind words, glad you liked the article. The rack and ladder are from Baja Rack. I’ve been happy with them, but haven’t been pleased with how quickly the coating has chipped and led to rusting.

  • Hey Bryan quick question,
    What size tires and wheel is on it? Does the aftermarket roof rack fit into the same drill holes in the roof that the fact you wrecked it? Also how much the suspension lift did you put on the beast?
    Cheers, Ty

    • @bryanpblack ⬆️

    • tyrainey Hey Ty, they’re Nitto Trail Grapplers 285/70/17 (17″ wheels), it has a 2-3″ OME (Old Man Emu) suspension lift. No issues with fit on the roof rack. Thanks!

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