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Restored custom 1984 Toyota LandCruiser FJ45 review

By Matt Wood | Photos: Nathan Jacobs, 02 Jan 2020 Custom 4x4s

Restored custom 1984 Toyota LandCruiser FJ45 review feature

This FJ45 might be nearing 36 years old, but when you slide behind the wheel it feels and smells like an all-new Land Cruiser ute.

It doesn’t take much to transport the human imagination. A simple sound or smell, a sensory trigger that can send your mind tumbling back through the years. And classic cars are notorious for their ability to propel the observer back in time.

The smell of 1970s’ vinyl, one of those horrible dusty tartan blankets that everyone seemed to have in their cars, or – for less-fortunate souls – the crawling sensation of your butt growing numb while riding in the back of a leaf-sprung 4x4 ... all potential fuel for a sentimental time warp.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself to suggest an FJ45 Land Cruiser is an evocative time capsule. However, there was a definite flicker in the space-time continuum when I climbed behind the wheel of Doug Quayle’s absolutely immaculate Cruiser ute.

I’m not kidding; there was even a new car smell. I turned the key and the mighty 2F petrol donk fired to life instantly and idled smoothly with barely a shudder. The tough, torquey 2F may be beloved of forklift owners the world over (the 2F also had a long and stellar career as an industrial engine), but finesse isn’t usually one of its finer points.

The gearbox clicked into gear with a precision belying its crude commercial origins. As I rumbled down the dirt road I could have been a cow-cocky time-warped straight out of the late-70s, albeit now equipped with a splash of historical elegance.

This 1984-model FJ45 has been restored to the point where it’s effectively a new vehicle. “I’m actually a little terrified of driving it,” says Doug, with just a little chagrin. “I threw a birdcage in the back of it the other day and then freaked out a bit because I was worried I’d scratched the bed of the tub.”

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It’s a good thing Doug has more than just one and Cruiser to play with, because I get the impression that driving this one can be a little stressful. I nearly breathed a sigh of relief when I parked it!

For Doug, the Toyota Land Cruiser badge has a long-held affection that stretches back to his family’s Queensland roots, “My father bought my mother an early green FJ55 and that was what my mum drove both me and my three siblings to and from school in,” he recalls. “They were so rare back then, everyone used to stop and stare at it, and then we had a brown 55 after that.”

The family affair with Toyota has its roots even further back than Doug’s childhood, “My old-man’s best friend, as a kid at school, was a kid from Longreach,” Doug explains. “He spent his entire childhood heading out there and consequently we did too.”

Due to those strong friendships forged by Doug’s father at school, Doug spent much of his formative years in Western Queensland. “I was always out around the Longreach and Barcaldine area and these Land Cruisers were everywhere, and they were revered.

“There was always a big deal about such and such getting a new Toyota … a new Land Cruiser was like the currency.

“I very nearly followed a life and a career out there, in the end I didn’t … but I still head to the bush several times a year. I just love it, it’s just a part of the world I love.” Nodding towards the Toyota, Doug adds, “And these things were just part of the backdrop really.”

It comes as no surprise that Doug has more than one Land Cruiser, however the desire to bring an FJ back to this kind of condition, as with so many resto projects, didn’t start that way. Doug nearly looks sheepish when he says, “It totally got away from me mate, totally.”

Enter FJ Toyota specialist, and proprietor of Hendra Motors, Ray Saggal. Ray was effectively tasked with not only carrying out the mechanical work, but also project-managing the restoration. Ray was asked by Doug to find a neat FJ45 to tidy up. This truck was found in a prestige caryard in Sydney, “It was a pretty tidy car already,” admits Ray. The brief from Doug, however, was that the ute had to have the factory tub and, even more importantly, a factory headboard – the Holy Grail of 40 Series ute fans.

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However, the idea was that the ute was just going to get a bit of a mechanical check-over and a tidy-up before hitting the road. And the rest, as they say in the automotive restoration world, is history. It’s the car nut equivalent of saying, ‘Okay just one more drink’.

“Once you do a little bit it’s hard to stop,” Doug admits. “Once you fix a few oil leaks, what about doing the rest, the suspension’s sagging a little so you fix that, you keep going and going.”

This FJ originally had a fibreglass roof and a fibreglass front apron. Clearly these non-original parts were not going to cut it.

While 2H diesel LX Cruisers tend to be the sought-after unicorns of the 40 Series world, this ute is a pretty basic spec. No power steering and no air-conditioning to complement the 2F petrol and four-speed combo.

It’s a bread-and-butter spec for working hard, chasing sheep and swigging a decent amount of petroleum along the way. Regardless, it proved a solid basis for the yearlong build. “Pick up the groceries, throw a couple of sheep in the back, tow huge loads; I just loved seeing them work,” says Doug.

Half of the build time was spent getting panel and paint sorted. Ron from Crash Smash Repairs in the Brisbane suburb of Northgate was tasked with braving the three different shades of white found on the cab, and then digging deeper to eliminate any and all rust that may have been lurking in the shadows and seams. The interior of the tub was also lined with stone-guard and then painted.

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The biggest challenge of this build was actually locating parts, according to Ray, though he is torn when asked on what he is most proud of. It’s probably the fog lights or, to be more clear, the OE factory switch that controls the fog lights. I’m not sure how many people ticked this option box back in 1984, but I can’t recall seeing any 45 Cruisers getting around with this option. I have to admit, it’s a tasteful addition.

The chassis was water blasted and painted, and the body was massaged back into a rust-free glistening state. The engine was sandblasted and painted (the internals, unsurprisingly for a 2F, needed no attention).

Every seal in the vehicle has been replaced; every part of the interior has been replaced; the seats were even re-trimmed in the original vinyl; and then there’s the addition of the mentioned fog light switch!

No Bull Accessories provided the interior vinyl floor covering. However, while the original vinyl left a gap at the back wall, this covering runs all the way to the back, covering the layer of Car Builders sound- (and heat-) deadening that was installed. The glass was all in good nick, but the windscreen was replaced for good measure.

Another area of debate was the colour of the lettering on the tailgate. While internet forums buzzed on the topic, it took some computer mock-ups to settle on the red that now looks so right. The Dune Beige trucks all had black lettering as standard.

Doug’s ute ended up being a nut-and-bolt restoration that has managed to capture the ethos of an off-road era, when suburban Australia was just discovering the far-flung reaches of the Australian interior. While the Thiess Brothers, and later Toyota Australia, were supplying vehicles to support burgeoning infrastructure projects, the average Aussie was starting to wake to a bigger Australia and had a more affordable and reliable means to access it.

For Doug, however, his ute plays the part of evocative time capsule, a homage to the hardworking inhabitants of the rural back blocks. “It’s a beautiful thing to drive, it’s great to sit in and look out over that bonnet, and yet unless somebody really knows what it is, nobody notices, it just passes through the world.

“It’s fun seeing something reborn, something that’s had a hard life, and giving it a new life.”

Clearly bringing an old 4x4 warhorse back to life isn’t a cheap exercise and I had to ask Doug, when there are more obvious, exotic automotive options to explore, why the old Cruiser? With a shrug he briefly contemplates the horizon before replying, “In a world of Justin Biebers, the aim is to be a Johnny Cash.”

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