Customizing a Toyota FJ Land Cruiser: Where to Begin Your Project

It’s no secret that in order to get what you want, you must first know very well what you want. Since a full restoration allows for an exciting amount of customizations, here’s a list of questions to help guide you toward your dream FJ.

How am I planning to use my FJ?

The answer to this question will help you through the process of selecting not only a great restoration shop but also the extra types of features your restored FJ should have. If you’re still not sure how you want to restore your FJ, read this article first.

Here are a few types of driving scenarios we’ve found our drivers want their restored FJs to handle:

Head-turning drive around town

Sometimes you just want the coolest ride in town. It’s not every day you see a vintage FJ on the road!

In terms of classic vehicles, you can’t beat the FJ for cruising with the whole family on any short trip–to the beach, to the park, through puddles on a rainy day–and as an added bonus, it’s absolutely ice cream cone-friendly. While not as flashy as other classic vehicles, you can still be at ease leaving it in a parking garage overnight or even using a valet. This is the car everyone will want to drive–and you won’t be afraid to actually let them.

Some extras you might want to add:

  • 5-Speed manual transmission
  • Upgraded suspension (e.g. modern Old Man Emu)
  • 4-Wheel disc brakes
  • New A/C and/or heater
  • More comfortable seats
  • Sound system
  • LED lights
  • Power steering

While most of these are simply nice-to-haves, why not upgrade key features of a vintage ride? We’re sure you’ll find your increased comfort is well worth it in the end.

However, keep in mind that with a general top speed of 70mph, the FJ isn’t a great option for a suburban commuting car that requires a lot of highway driving; it’s much better around the city or town.

*1982 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Medium Blue

Offroading every weekend

The FJ was pretty much made for offroading. There are tons of FJs out there just waiting to take you away on an adventure! A stupendous benefit of a full restoration is that you can rest easy knowing that even with original parts, your FJ has been thoroughly inspected and restored to keep it in working order.

When deciding what additional features to add or how much to spend, you may want to take into account that in your ideal scenario, your FJ will be enduring some pretty rough conditions. You may also want to consider mechanical upgrades that can increase your safety and comfort.

Some features you might want include:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Vintage Air A/C and heater system
  • Power steering
  • 4-wheel disc brake system
  • Full 8-point roll cage
  • Recaro racing seats and seatbelts
  • Old Man Emu 2’ soft suspension
  • WARN winch
  • ARB snorkel
  • ARB air lockers front and rear
  • LED fog lights
  • Fabricated front and rear bumpers as well as fenders
  • Marine-grade sound system and seat cover material

These additions increase comfort (Recaro racing seats, Old Man Emu suspension), safety (roll cage, LED fog lights), and overall off-roading experience (ARB snorkel, air lockers, custom fenders) while keeping the rugged cool and tough-ability that an FJ is so well known for.

*1982 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Medium Blue

What about simple modifications?

If you’re starting a restoration from scratch, you can do just about any number of simple modifications to the car, including color, interiors, and lighting.   Wheel and tire options are nearly unlimited but should be chosen wisely based on your driving needs.  Great replicas of period-specific tires are available and should be used for a more true to style vintage restoration. However, if your purpose is to climb the highest mountain, consider deviating from the original style for something that better suits your driving.

For the purpose of originality and long-term value however, you should stay as close to the original features as possible. Your restoration shop will be able to advise you appropriately based on your needs.

*1974 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43 White

Will customizations impact the value of my restored FJ?

The short answer is “it depends”.

A period-correct restoration aims to deliver a vehicle as if it had come straight out of the original assembly line. These are usually commissioned by hardcore collectors and enthusiasts of the Land Cruiser. You’ll find these trailer queens exhibited in major car collections, classic car shows, and concours d’elegance type events (a good example is this 1971 FJ43).   Needless to say, period-correct restorations tend to hold their value better than any others.

*1971 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43 Grey

At the other end of the spectrum are custom, “pimped out”, or hot rod restorations.  These generally have engine, body, or chassis modifications, multi-colored paint job, or other departures from the car’s original functions or appearance. Custom restorations are not concerned with period-correct finishes. Instead, they reflect a highly personal aesthetic interpretation of the original car. A good example would be this 1982 FJ43, built specifically as a serious adventure machine.   Nothing wrong with these – in fact they’re probably more fun – but their long term value will be impacted by the additional features.

There is middle ground however: A custom, period-correct restoration incorporates features that were not available at the time the car was originally produced, but remains faithful to the car’s integral structure and chassis. Your car will look mostly like it did when it rolled off the production line but will have modern features that make it better suited to your needs and preferences. A custom, period-correct FJ, for example, could have a slightly raised suspension, a deluxe sound system, and a powerful A/C–but the look and feel would still be authentic and classic, like this 1978 FJ40.   In fact, this is our favorite type of restoration project.

Should I get the soft top or the hardtop?

Weather is a huge deciding factor in this choice. For extremely cold weather, you will probably be obliged to select a hardtop and a heater so you can keep the cabin warm (the soft tops simply lack the ability to insulate appropriately for extremely cold weather). For the opposite end of the thermometer, you can choose between a hard or soft top. If being true to the original vehicle is important for you, you should get the top the car initially rolled off the production line with. Original hardtops–and also reproductions–are becoming very difficult to find, so if you’re set on a hardtop you should seriously consider purchasing an FJ with a hardtop already.

*Hardtop on the 1978 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Rustic Green

If you already have an FJ but just need a new soft top, some shops that focus on FJ restorations may also offer custom soft tops plus the frame to fit your FJ. These kits will necessarily have to be reproductions (originals are simply no longer available in great condition), but you can count on kits from quality shops to be faithful reproductions that will suit your FJ very nicely. Rarely, these shops will also accept custom orders for reproduced hardtops, but these are much more difficult to find.

*Soft-top on the 1980 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Beige

It’s also possible to have both! Changing from hardtop to softtop and vice versa is like having the best of both worlds, but it does require time, patience, and knowledge to switch between the two. Bear in mind you will also have to store the top you’re not using, requiring a fairly large amount of space.

Post by The FJ Company

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By Daniele Zedda • 18 February

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