THE FJ Cruiser was an attempt by Toyota to cash in on the perceived nostalgia of the early petrol-powered FJ40s, FJ45s and FJ47s – though without the kidney-jarring, spine-crushing ride and indifferent handling of its forebears.
A certain cult following has grown up around this later FJ, because like the mid-wheelbase of earlier times it was an attempt to tame the pitching ride of the short-wheelbase FJ40.
The Prado-based FJ Cruiser has enjoyed a mixed relationship with the four-wheel-drive-buying public: it’s one of those love/hate things. It did win 4X4 Australia’s 4x4 of the Year award back in 2006, but nobody can deny the attachment it has to those who seek to enhance the original product.
It was once said that short-wheelbase Toyotas were a great base for the accessorising 4x4 owner, and the FJ Cruiser follows this tradition.
Oleg Cher saw the potential for what he wanted in a 4WD and began planning six years ago. He spent two years searching for the right accessories. And while he agrees there’s nothing wrong with locally produced gear, he wanted his FJ to be a bit different.
Eager eyes might notice that the bigger tyres and the bullbar definitely look a bit different, but it’s only when you get up close that things reveal themselves. That bullbar is by Road Armor in the US, while the rear bar and swing-out tyre carrier are also from the US and made by Expedition One. These are names most Australian 4x4 owners probably haven’t heard of, but they are well-known across the Pacific.
A slightly fruity exhaust note is courtesy of a Toyota Racing Division (TRD) Cat-Back exhaust; the chrome-plated tips give a more civilised finish to the business end. The suspension kit is from Icon Dynamics (yes, the US again), which does a magnificent job of holding the vehicle where it needs to be.
We drove around Oleg’s macadamia farm and through some areas he’d cleared for more trees. While the FJ Cruiser’s OE suspension is pretty good the remote resevoir Icon gear is a lot better, particularly where suspension travel is needed.
To back up that suspension travel there is an ARB air locker in the front diff. This works from an ARB twin compressor, feeding a four-litre aluminium air tank. Oleg decided to stay with the standard Toyota rear locker, though the diff ratios have been changed to suit the larger rolling diameter of those big Goodyear Wranglers MTRs with Kevlar sidewalls. Like most of us, Oleg is not a fan of doing tyre changes in the bush; he reckons the Kevlar sidewalls have more than proven themselves.
He went for a set of 16-inch Method rims with bead locks, once again bought in from the US. “I didn’t like having 17-inch rims on a vehicle like this,” he said. “The 16s provide a bit more sidewall to help absorb the bumps.”
Tyre pressures and temperatures are monitored by a Tyredog unit on the dash, with the data sent from sensors on the valve stems. Oleg likes having the ARB compressor to vary tyre pressures to suit the terrain; it also controls air pressure in a Polyair raised coil insert air bag kit at the back.
The factory Toyota roof rack has been augmented by a drop-in Garvin unit from the States, while the 9500lb Warn winch is spooled with synthetic rope. It’s complemented by a Factor 55 hitch that rotates a full 360 degrees.
Throughout the build Oleg worked closely with AutoCraft in Geelong, Victoria. They import a lot of specialist 4WD gear from the US, and they do a great job fitting what they sell. The dual-battery set-up is another product from AutoCraft; it’s a Bond unit that uses a Redarc 15A battery management unit located under the front passenger seat.
The snorkel is from TJM, and the sill protection rails are a Toyota accessory. The clean air provided by the snorkel is augmented by a Cold Air Intake system that monitors the condition of the air filter, and it can be taken out for easy cleaning. Should Oleg need to travel through deep water, the breathers on both diffs and gearboxes are vented up to the firewall.
While any underwater objects will have to deal with an AutoCraft bash plate that protects the underside. Other underbody protection is afforded by a guard on the electronic actuator for the rear diff, a BozTec skid plate on the rear diff housing, and skid plates on the Icon lower control arms.
For storage, Oleg has fitted a Drifta drawer system that includes a slider for his Engel 40-litre fridge/freezer. The drawers also house an extensive recovery kit, while a Springtail Solutions cargo guard from AutoCraft keep his two kids safe.
With safety in mind, Oleg went for a set of Hella Luminator Compact spread-beam driving lights. “I didn’t want long-range lights,” he said. “It’s always the ’roo that jumps out close that gives you problems, not the ones far off.” He also installed some PIAA Crystal fog lights, while mounted on the roof rack are strategically placed cat’s eye LEDs – one on each side and two at the rear.
Another safety accessory is the Icom UHF 440N radio, complemented by a TRG antenna and BozTec mount.
It’s probably safe to say Oleg’s gone a little further in his quest for individuality than others – he has what is probably the most off-road capable FJ Cruiser out there! Certainly on the NSW coast anyway.
SO FAR Oleg and his family have taken the FJ to Fraser Island, North Stradbroke Island, and the Victorian Alps during the snow season. Future plans include a trip he’s calling the “Australian Extreme Points Adventure”. The list includes the northernmost point of Cape York, the southernmost point of South Point on Wilson’s Promontory, Steep Point in WA, Cape Byron, then the lowest point of Lake Eyre, and the highest of Mt Kosciusko.
How he plans to link them all is in the planning, but it will undoubtedly include such 4WD magnets like the Simpson Desert, Uluru, Goog’s Track, the Canning Stock Route and the old Telegraph Track in Cape York.
Whatever he decides, the FJ Cruiser is sure to handle it.