TOYOTA’S FJ Cruiser was an odd 4x4 wagon that, thanks to its unique styling, was a vehicle people either loved or hated.
However, those who love the funky FJC really love them, and examples of the short-lived model can be found with all sorts of modifications and customisations to reflect the tastes of the owners.
Being unusual and quite a standout vehicle, the Toyota FJ Cruiser caught the eyes of many a non-four-wheel drive enthusiast and introduced them to the unlimited pleasures of off-road adventures. This is exactly what happened when Western Australian Andrew Phan discovered the FJC.
“To be honest, I used to be in the JDM scene,” admits Andrew. “Japanese sports cars were my first passion. I started to look into getting a car more suited to outdoors activities when I stumbled on the FJ Cruiser.”
With its Prado-derived underpinnings and simple and reliable V6 engine, the FJ Cruiser makes a good choice for the 4x4 newbie. Andrew also recognises the reputation of a Toyota vehicle, “I love the Toyota brand and badge, and I was interested in the FJ as it had the capabilities of a Toyota Prado without feeling like a soccer mum’s car. I caught the 4WD bug and it spiralled into a massive passion it is today.”
STILL AVAILABLE? You may be able to still get an FJ
While it shares much of its driveline with a 120 Series V6 Prado, there are pros and cons when choosing an FJ over the proven family wagon. The FJ is generally a better off-road vehicle than the Prado thanks to its shorter wheelbase and shorter overhangs, which are less likely to get hung-up than the long wheelbase of a Prado.
The FJ takes its part-time four-wheel drive system from the Hilux, which is simpler than the full-time system of the Prado and, because the FJ was so popular with enthusiasts in the USA, there are heaps of gear and modifications available for them.
On the downside, the shorter wheelbase of the FJ means there’s less room inside, so you need to think smart if you’re building it as a tourer. Plus, that funky body style does have some limitations for vision outside of the cabin.
CUSTOM 4X4: Rogue FJ
These things didn’t deter Andrew, who picked up a 2011 model FJ in the standout Voodoo Blue hue, and the spiral began.
“I wanted something that could do a mix of everything,” says Andrew. “Touring and overlanding, as well as tackling some difficult tracks.”
While there is plenty of equipment available to build up an FJ, Andrew soon discovered that the relatively compact size of the vehicle pushed him to come up with a custom solution to carry all his gear.
“One challenge I did face was trying to maximise the space inside the FJ to store all my camping and touring equipment.”
CHARGED: Supercharged FJ
Working with Chris at Custom Installations and 4x4 Storage Solutions, they came up with a rear setup that maximises all the available space while retaining the rear seat for when it’s needed.
“The unit is made for camping and storing everything I would ever need,” says Andrew. “The drawer system houses everything including the cooker and camping equipment, ARB air compressor, 3000W inverter, lithium battery, table, recovery gear, two fridges, and more!”
The clever fitout even has storage boxes built-in to the rear wall/barrier which can be accessed from the back seat. There’s a 65-litre water tank tucked in there and the area at the rear of the vehicle is maximised with a drop-down table on the right side swing-out that also extends out to create a large working and cooking space.
OFF-ROAD REVIEW: Toyota FJ Cruiser
The interior mods continue up front with the factory seats being covered in leather and an Android head unit fitted to view Hema maps, internet and data from the OBD reader. Oh yeah, it plays tunes, too, and Andrew’s favourites are blasted out via a pair of Alpine amps, a 10-inch sub and a plethora of Clarion speakers. There’s never a dull moment when this FJ is out on the tracks.
Getting out to the best 4x4 tracks necessitates the right wheel, tyre and suspension package, and the FJ doesn’t hold back. Tucking a set of 295s into the wheel wells required a body mount chop, which is a common mod to give a bit of added clearance; while a set of Super Pro upper control arms help as well, plus keeping the geometry in line with the increase in ride height.
A set of coils from Dobinsons provide around 50mm of added height, and they are kept in check by Outback Armour adjustable shocks; while a set of airbags are fitted at the rear for added support with the extra weight on board.
Some of that weight is up on top where an Alu-Cab rooftop tent sits on a Front Runner rack along with an Alu-Cab 270° awning and Quick Pitch en-suite tent. There’s also a 50-inch light bar across the front of the rack and LED lights out to the sides. The setup is all the accommodation Andrew needs while he’s out exploring all the great Western Australian tracks with his partner Ashley.
The FJ is Andrew’s first and only four-wheel drive and it has taken him up the length of the West Coast from Albany to Broome “and everywhere in-between”. He says the highlight has to be the Pilbara. “I love the Pilbara,” he says with enthusiasm. “It’s an amazing place and absolutely breathtaking!”
The FJ Cruiser truly is an enthusiasts’ 4x4 and, even though it’s his first 4x4, it has become a big part of Andrew’s life. His Phantastic Adventures Insta blog is loaded with images and videos of his travels and he’s become a member of the Perth FJ Cruiser Club and is the state coordinator of the FJCC Australia.
You could say that Andrew is well and truly living the FJ Life.