LUCA Giovannetti was a 4x4 virgin before he purchased his FJ Cruiser.
This was first published in 4x4 Australia’s July 2012 issue.
The closest thing to a proper 4x4 he had owned was an AWD Subaru STi. Not very close then. Luca has always longed for an original FJ40 (check out the numberplate), the problem was he needed a daily driver with all the mod cons, which ruled out anything from the 1970s. So Toyota’s FJ Cruiser seemed like the perfect choice.
The FJ has the right amount of power (200kW) and all the comfort and safety features Luca was looking for – six airbags, cruise control, great stereo and the ability to go off-road with ease.
Luca’s not one to leave any vehicle he buys standard for long, but with minimal 4x4 experience he had to talk to some experts to get the ball rolling. After picking up the FJ at Healesville Toyota he paid a visit to ARB, who fitted a set of Old Man Emu coils matched to Nitrocharger Sport shock absorbers. The new set-up gives the FJ a 50mm lift all round and improves ride and on-road handling.
“A big improvement to the FJ’s ride quality compared to the stock set-up,” Luca said. The extra height also maximises the vehicle’s wheel articulation and allows a larger tyre to fit within the guards.
Next up was changing the OE tyres for something that would perform better. Luca was after a tyre that would work in every situation, on- and off-road. After doing some research he went to Tyreplus in Glen Waverley for five BFGoodrich all-terrains in a 285/70R17 size.
In keeping with the blacked-out theme, Luca decided on a set of Series 7028 rims (17 x 8.5) from Pro Comp Australia. These mean-looking wheels have a matte-cast blast finish and are manufactured using low-pressure casting technology claimed to give them immense strength. They also suit the FJ Cruiser perfectly and remain within the edge of the guards.
The BFG tyres combined with the 50mm lift gave the FJ a 76mm lift overall. Luca was pretty stoked when he saw his elevated FJ for the first time – it was starting to look like a serious machine.
Things were coming together mechanically, but the FJ still had that white roof and silver highlights on the grille, bumper and mirrors. Luca wanted the FJ to have an urban assault vehicle, SWAT-team theme. No chrome, no silver, no white roof.
Exotic Kustoms in Melbourne took control of the FJ’s exterior and after a few days in the shop it resurfaced looking a fair bit meaner. Exotic wrapped the roof in a flat-black vinyl, painted the grille, mirrors, door handles and bumpers satin black and even blacked-out all the badging.
Vinyl wrapping a 4x4 is a great idea. Apart from applying a custom colour or pattern to your vehicle, it also shields the original paint from the elements. So you can hit off-road tracks without worrying about stone chips and scratches; great protection when you have a brand-new 4x4.
The difference these things made to the look of the FJ was amazing. It’s gone from a standard daily driver to a stealth bomber. Luca also tinted the front windows to match the factory rear privacy glass.
Having pimped the body, Luca decided to add extra lights. He ordered the mother of all LED lights from Monster Lights in Melbourne. The ML240X sits above the windscreen packing 16,000 lumens of pure white light. This model runs a combo beam, which consists of 90 percent spot and 10 percent flood.
On the rear of the roof rack there’s a ML48X flood beam. The great thing about this light is that it has a low current draw, meaning it can be wired directly across the reversing circuit without the need for a relay. Luca reckons the ML240X sitting on his roof is powerful enough by itself and is pleased that one light can do the job.
The FJ’s engine is stock, but Luca has fitted an aftermarket exhaust system. Because the FJs had only just been released in Australia, no-one locally was doing an exhaust specifically for them.
HiTech Mufflers in Sydney came to the rescue by designing and building a bolt-on cat-back stainless steel system. This system follows the original path of the stock set-up, but has a larger diameter and uses a hi-flow muffler. The exit is kept tucked up out of harm’s way and the whole exhaust system has a polished finish. The FJ has better throttle response now and a nice bark to the exhaust note.
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With everything finished on the FJ, we took it to the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground for some fun. This was Luca’s first proper off-road drive in the FJ, so he had Robbie Emmins give him some basic training and run him through all the different areas we could use.
After a bit of articulation work to begin and a quick river crossing, Luca sent the FJ over the site’s steepest drop. The FJ did it easily, and with that rush of adrenaline we think Luca was soon hooked on his FJ and four-wheel driving in general.
After about three hours of driving, the once-pristine FJ was now a totally different colour – it looked like something out of Operation Desert Storm. Luca was proudly no longer a 4x4 virgin, and his FJ looked like the real deal.
While the mods list on Luca’s FJ isn’t massive, he has improved some key areas on what is already a capable vehicle in stock form. And for someone starting out in the world of off-roading, he now has a package that will more than cope with any future adventures he has planned.