Custom 4x4: Toyota FJ Cruiser

Custom 4x4: Toyota FJ Cruiser

We all know that we should value our time and spend it wisely, seize the day and live life to the fullest.

Troy Shortland does it well, heading out in his prized fourbie at every opportunity. Maybe it’s because Troy is a paramedic and gets daily reminders of just how precious our time is on this big, blue planet. Or maybe it’s because wife, Keryn, shares his strong passion for camping.

Sure, Troy went camping as a kid – squashed into the back of the Sigma station wagon with his two brothers, with no room for the cricket bat, as the family headed north to the rellies’ beach shack at Green Head, but it was Keryn who dragged him north for a very serious first trip.

Traveling from Perth to Darwin – stopping off at Karijini and Millstream-Chichester national parks, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, they wisely decided that remote touring was totally awesome but not best experienced in an ’84 Ford Telstar.

Custom FJ Cruiser rearAs a young couple on a limited budget, they spent their pennies on upgrading to a 1989 Subaru L Series. Troy had no problems flying up the Lancelin sand dunes ahead of his mates in Pajeros and Vitaras. True, the Subie did have help, with a slippery diff out of a Dato 1600, a 50mm body lift, plus the extra power of a Jap-import turbo implant giving the Subie an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Bigger rims and tyres made sure none of the extra power got wasted.

Next was a ’92 Subaru Liberty AWD sedan, and finally a low-range gearbox, so things started to get serious. Crossing the Nullarbor three times, Troy and Keryn checked out the Flinders Ranges, Arkaroola, Strzelecki Track, Innamincka, Oodnadatta Track, Coober Pedy, Chambers Pillar, Rainbow Valley, Uluru and the Great Central Road, and parts of the Gunbarrel Highway.

“The look on Patrol and Land Cruiser owners’ faces outside the Oodnadata Pink Roadhouse, seeing our unmodified Subaru, was priceless,” Troy reckons.

Custom FJ Cruiser rock drivingHis love of travel and the Aussie bush saw him finally leave the Subarus and cross over to the dusty side, in the guise of an ’08 NS SWB Pajero. With a few mods, the shortie was ready for adventure.

Revisiting some favourite locations as a shakedown, they embarked on the next big trip, heading north-east of the Flinders in 2010. This included visiting the Burke and Wills Dig Tree before travelling back through to Birdsville, only to find the Simpson Desert closed with five meters of water at the base of Big Red!

Not the best year for touring, Keryn and Troy enjoyed Fraser Island, but widespread flooding prevented them from passing north of Port Douglas – so no Cape York, the Savannah Way was too soggy to drive, Litchfield and Kakadu weren’t much better, and back in Western Australia the Gibb River Road was closed as well. Troy sums it up with: “Even the helicopters had stopped flying to the Bungle Bungles as it was too wet to land.”

Custom FJ Cruiser engineOn Troy’s days off, he started helping a friend he met through the Mitsubishi 4WD Club of WA. Richard Nicholls runs Adventure Offroad Training and he taught Troy plenty about getting the most out of his 4WD. It was while Troy was helping Richard out on a Toyota Corporate Day, he got to drive an FJ Cruiser off road.

Rememering the experience, Troy says: “Wow, what a difference from the Pajero. Exceptional rear-axle articulation, the FJ was quiet, no diesel rattle, no turbo lag, and power in spades, and the new updated model was due in a few months, which included rear locker, auxiliary tank and crawl control, all standard. Price-wise it was $13K cheaper, as well as smaller, lighter, better approach, better ramp-over and departure angles than a Prado. Only one problem: gee it’s ugly.”

After six frustrating years of diesel particulate filter issues and engine-check lights with the Pajero, it had to go, and despite the suspicion of a tear in Keryn’s eye, Troy pulled into the driveway in his new 2014 4L V6 FJ, complete with slick five-speed auto, sat-nav touch screen and reversing camera. “Now,” Troy said, “for the mods to start!”

Custom FJ Cruiser uphillOff he went to ARB for front and rear protection, before adding OME Nitrocharger suspension, Adventure Products recovery points, a front locker for good measure, and a Safari snorkel for the FJ to breathe above the dust on those dry tracks. Then he swapped over the XD9000 Warn winch from the Mitsi.

Troy chose a Rhino Backbone roof rack with Pioneer tray because of the numerous accessories it accommodates. He says: “We have had our rooftop tent up there doing the Holland track with no issues at all. It allows easy fitting and removal of the ARB 2.5m awning and the Maxtrax/shovel holder mounts.”

After a few months Richard and Troy hatched a plan to take the FJ to the next level. Icon Remote Reservoir long-travel coil-overs with Total Chaos upper control arms got the nod for the front end. This provided 20mm more suspension drop than the OME and brought the wheel alignment back within spec.

Toyota FJ ground clearanceTroy says: “The ride difference was amazing; great road holding yet plush and it soaked up the bumps.” But as is often the case with importing gear from the US, Icons for the rear became cost-prohibitive with the decline in the Aussie dollar – so Troy waited for ARB’s BP-51 system. With the front Icons removed for sale, the FJ now sports a full set of OME BP-51s with remote reservoirs and adjustable compression and rebound.

“The result is exceptional,” Troy says. “Plenty of adjustment to set up for towing, high-speed gravel work and low-range rock crawling. With the amount of remote touring we do, I couldn’t look past the nationwide back-up service ARB can provide. I have been unable to bottom-out these shocks and the progressive valving rate the further the shock compresses is awesome.”

Next, he looked to the underbelly of the beast. An FJ basically sits on a Prado chassis that’s had 100mm cut out just behind the front doors. Since Troy’s mate Richard had already designed a set of 5mm bash plates for his Prado, he was able to modify the design to suit the FJ. Troy was more than keen to get a set.

Toyota FJ cruiser underbody protection“They are so strong I can actually jack up the FJ.” With that level of protection, the FJ’s driveline has solid insurance.

Under the bonnet, relocating the fuel canister created enough space for an ARB battery tray (intended for a 120 Prado diesel) to be slotted in, and placing the battery in the back corner meant Troy and Richard could then tackle the task of fitting an ARB twin compressor under the FJ’s bonnet.

With Richard’s CAD expertise and a little laser cutting, metal folding and welding, they had possibly the first OEM-quality twin-compressor installation bracket for an FJ. Able to inflate his tyres, those of a 200 Series, a Prado and a 79 Series, all in succession, the compressor is “one of the best investments” Troy has ever made.

Redarc battery isolatorA Redarc SBI212 battery isolator with an in-cab switch can join batteries for winching or to overcome a flat starter battery. There’s also a Redarc BCDC1225; a 25amp, three-stage DC-DC battery charger to look after both batteries’ needs.

To keep the night at bay, the Rallye 4000 lights got a 75W external ballast HID kit. Troy says they now provide a fantastic spread pattern. He also swapped the interior globes for LEDs.

Comms are via a remote-head 80-channel Uniden UHF mounted in the rear quarter panel. To make sure he never gets lost in the dust, a Hema 6 navigator sits on a ClicOn mount. There are dual USB charging points for phones and cameras, with a dual volt meter is mounted in the OEM switch bank. Comfort and practicality are provided by Wet seat covers and there’s ample rear storage thanks to Drifta Drawers with a custom table and bed extension for overnight stays.

Custom -FJ Cruiser interiorApart from the FJ’s looks, Troy reckons you need to be aware of the large blind spot created by the C pillar and the suicide doors – but says you get used to it.

“I can’t see myself ever going back to diesel. Servicing, fuel and repairs are all cheaper with the petrol. It’s quiet, smooth and has plenty of instant power on the highway, with no diesel smell lingering in the car or on your hands after refuelling.”

So far, the FJ has travelled the Holland Track, the south-west corner of WA through to Israelite Bay, north to the Murchison Offroad Adventures Camp, and enjoyed numerous weekend trips out of Perth. 2016 should be big, with Troy and Keryn looking at doing the Madigan Line and then trying again for Cape York and the Savannah Way in 2017.

Troy and Keryn with -the FJ CruiserTroy confesses: “Without my wife’s support, and passion for camping and adventure, I would not have seen the countless beautiful spots this country has to offer and the memories we have created together.

“We are both looking forward to seeing and enjoying many more places and meeting lots of amazing people on the way, all made possible in our trusty FJ.”

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