What Should I Look for in an FJ Restoration?
As with many things, restorations run from poor to great. Truly excellent restorations, particularly of specialty vehicles like the Toyota FJ Land Cruiser, are difficult to find–but they are indeed out there!
In order to distinguish a good restoration from a great one, or even a great one from an excellent one, it’s important to know what to look for. Fortunately, we’ve prepared a list of questions to get you on your way.
Should I already have an FJ?
We don’t think that’s at all necessary. Some may think it’s putting the cart before the horse, but we think it’s very acceptable to find a quality restoration shop that meets your standards and requirements prior to purchasing an FJ. Many shops either sell quality FJ Land Cruisers that are ready for restoration or know reliable vendors who have FJs that are in an acceptable condition to be restored.
If you already have an FJ that you would like restored, you should definitely have it evaluated at a reputable shop to determine it it’s an appropriate vehicle for restoration. Donors (to use the industry lingo) with minimal rust and an unmodified chassis are better candidates for restoration – you may want to invest in a car like that prior to embarking on a restoration project.
What types of restorations are available?
“Period correct” restorations are a great way to get that brand new from the past feel. These restorations strip the car down to its chassis, fix whatever needs fixing, and then put it all back together. The end goal is to remain faithful to factory-correct features of the car such as color, interior, engine type, transmission and body style. For example, we like to dig into the records of our cars to find out exactly how each model rolled off the production line and restore it down to every nut and bolt.
Restorations tend to run in one of two ways: period-correct restorations or custom (“pimped out”) vintage models. It’s really up to what you want!
Meanwhile, custom, “pimped out”, or hot rod restorations will accommodate any wish the owner might have. A pink 1980 FJ40? Sure, why not. Keep in mind that period-correct restorations tend to hold more value than hot rod restorations, but if you want to know more check out this article about customizations.
We know the FJ has a reputation for being rough-and-tumble and able to handle almost any road condition, but don’t underestimate the value of aftermarket add-ons that can improve your comfort! If you want LED head-lamps, A/C, heating or a gentler suspension, your restoration shop can make that happen, along with a host of other improvements like power disc brakes. Just ask! These are very easy to add on and may end up increasing not just your comfort, but even the value of the vehicle should you wish to sell it.
1971 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43 Grey
These extra add-ons can be part of a period-correct restoration as long as they dont require the chassis to be modified or cause a significant alteration to the engine (both huge red flags for period-correct restoration shops and buyers). Basically, if you are working with a good restoration shop, they’ll know what to do to keep your car in the best shape for you.While technically capable of creating almost whatever you want, usually restoration shops will specialize in either of these restoration styles and will be happy to tell you if your project isn’t the right fit for them. Take them at their word and ask them for a recommendation to a shop that will better suit your needs.
What are the benefits of a full restoration vs. a partial restoration?
It’s not that owners don’t take care of their cars–it’s just that the mere passage of time wears down components that need to be cleaned, serviced, or replaced. The best restoration shops take the car apart completely to ensure that you’re getting a like-new vehicle that is in fantastic shape. They will fix, refurbish, or replace any parts with issues so you don’t need to worry about them down the line. That is commonly known as a full, frame-off, nuts and bolts restoration.
Partial restorations come in many forms. For example, you can have the body of your FJ removed and painted, add new wheels and tires, and get shiny new interior upholstery. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for it! But don’t be fooled by shops claiming to do full, frame-off, nuts and bolts restorations when you’re only getting a partial restoration. Periodic high-resultion pictures documenting the entire restoration process are the minimum you should ask for when contracting a restoration project.
1976 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Mustard Yellow
What should I look for in a restoration shop?
- Reputation. Full, frame-off, nuts and bolts restorations will be done by a company that is a reputable and knowledgable marque expert. The cars they purchase or work on will only be cars they trust and inspect thoroughly.
- Specialization. Restoring classic 4X4s is very different from restoring a vintage sports car. Look for shops that focus on restoring 4X4s; they will no doubt be better equipped to restore a classic Toyota Land Cruiser FJ than a shop that restores a wide variety of vehicles. These shops will also better understand the types of driving you may want to do in your newly restored vehicle and recommend equipment based on estimated usage.
1977 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43 Beige
What should I look for in a donor vehicle?
- Matching numbers. You want to know your donor vehicle is legitimate and well taken care of; matching numbers on the engine and transmission are important! This is especially critical for cars like the FJ; there’s no reason why you should have to compromise. At a minimum, your cars engine and transmission should match the brand. If it doesn’t, this qualifies as a “Run away as fast as you can!” moment. There are plenty of FJs out there in excellent condition that can be restored to perfection.
- Unmodified chassis. A car that has been decently cared for will have a chassis that is unwelded and has minimal rust. Extreme situations such as accidents, floods, or rollovers often require chassis work. Again, there is plenty of inventory available, so it’s not difficult to find a great FJ with an unmodified chassis.
- Heavily modified suspensions. This often happens when cars have enormous tires put on them a la dune buggies. These types of modifications, for all intents and purposes, cannot be fixed due to the cost and time needed to undo the modifications. Don’t waste either!
What should I look for during the restoration process?
- Pictures. Your restoration shop should send you periodic high-resolution photos of the work they are doing. Not only will this ensure they are following the agreed upon process, it will also maximize the value of your investment. If you’re selling a restored vehicle, a knowleageable buyer will demand to see a visual inventory of the restoration process.
1977 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43 Beige
- Undercarriage. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not important. When a car is restored thoroughly from the undercarriage up, any rust or suspension wear is found and fixed. A good undercarriage means a safer, more durable, and more reliable ride.
Remember: these are antique vehicles and despite their strong build, they do still need tune-ups and minor repairs and may need significant work to bring them back up to fully operational status.
- Engine & Transmission. It’s easy to clean an engine and paint it, but it may only look beautiful. Good shops will take the entire powertrain apart–engine, transmission, and clutch assembly, inspect the inside parts, and repair what needs fixing.
- Parts. This process should be meticulously documented with receipts and photos showing the condition of the parts. Depending on the availability, a good restoration shop will use new original parts made for the FJ or refurbish used parts. All of these should be from Toyota if at all possible. In cases when it’s not, you can count on a qualified shop to make appropriate replacements!
- Paint job. This may seem like the easiest part, but it’s actually one of the most critical elements of a restoration. A well-done paint job strips down all of the former paint so you can see rust if it’s there and repaints the FJ in period-correct color (or an alternative color you’ve agreed upon with the shop).
- Cosmetic fixes. Beauty is definitely not just skin deep with any car, and classic Toyota Land Cruisers are no different! Make sure that your restoration shop does more than simply clean your vehicle’s parts–these are purely cosmetic fixes that do nothing to increase the value, or more importantly the safety of your FJ.
What sets the good apart from the great?
- Documentation. Your cars progress through the restoration process should have as many pictures as possible along with receipts and invoices for any parts replaced or purchased. Images should be high-resolution so you can see every tiny detail; lower-res images can hide shoddy or simply adequate work. Exceptional restoration companies will also have video. You should expect to receive consistent updates that stick to the agreed-upon timeframe between you and the restoration shop.
- Reliability. The good things in life take time. But they shouldn’t take forever. Be sure to select a restoration shop that can make a tried and true delivery promise.
- The details. Does every single bolt in the shops finished cars shine like new? Do their finished restorations have a new car smell? How rigorous are they about final inspections?
The FJ Company’s 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ43
- Referrals and previous transactions. Checking referrals is a must! Many shops will have a variety of referrals available upon request from satisfied clients, auction houses, or dealers. Sales that have been documented at an auction house are particularly valuable due to the paper trail (now often in digital form as well as physical).