IT WAS with us for only a brief time, but rather than fade into the 4WD world’s collective memory Toyota’s FJ Cruiser has acquired a second, far more exciting lease on life, with a number of modified examples being spotted on tracks around Australia. It’s not hard to see why, either, considering the mechanical DNA is Toyota’s all-conquering Prado, with that chassis shunted shorter and a decidedly retro-styled body stacked on top of it.
Add in that sweet 4.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine, plenty of fuel storage to feed its thirst (on the later models), short front/rear overhangs and that seriously cool styling (suicide doors, anyone?) and, again, the explanation behind so many of them being modified and sent out to tackle Australia’s toughest tracks is easy. Case in point: this schmick but stealthy sand bruiser from WA-based Adriano Piviali.
THE FJ Cruiser may not be every off-road tourer’s choice when it comes to a vehicle to modify for bush duties, but that’s probably because they haven’t had a close look at just what this rig offers. Adriano did just that, and knew it fit in with his plans, as he explains.
The removable Rhinohide body armour can be put in place to protect the factory black paint.
“I liked the unique look and the large selection of aftermarket parts available,” he says. “It was great value for money. Not many 4x4s come so well-equipped from the factory (rear diff locker, crawl control, auxiliary fuel tank), particularly below $50K new.”
The FJ’s relatively compact size was also appealing to Adriano, who wasn’t after anything as large as a Land Cruiser 200 Series but still wanted to be able to throw himself and his family – plus the dog and all their camping gear – into the vehicle for weekends away without feeling too compromised for space.
Adriano has also been very smart with how he maximises space in the FJ; by not fitting drawers or even a fridge/ freezer (there is just a KAON cargo barrier inside) he can optimise the cargo area for … cargo. As the FJ is also his daily driver for work (he’s an architect), having that space free for work equipment is paramount. This doesn’t mean the FJ isn’t used as it was intended, as day trips and overnight camping adventures occur every couple of weeks. For anything longer, he already has a solution.
“It’s my daily driver, and I often need to use the limited cargo space. This is why I haven’t installed drawers or a fridge, etc.” he explains. “The ideal setup for me and my family to go on long camping holidays would be to tow a camper trailer with everything I need.”
This is exactly what Adriano did on a two-week journey up to north-west WA.
THE interior of the FJ is pretty much stock, with only that cargo barrier, an Icom UHF radio, some additional gauges on top of the dash, and an iDRIVE unit down on the fascia, close at hand for the driver.
From the outside the FJ looks like a nice, subtly modified tourer and includes all the essential external mods to fulfil that role. Up front is a Stealth off-road bullbar, with Lightforce spotties ensuring plenty of visibility when Adriano and family are returning from their regular sojourns. Under the front end are three Monster Hook Reaper recovery shackles (with a Monster Hook recovery hitch out back), while a JMAX Engineering snorkel (with Line-X coating) keeps that punchy V6 running cool. Further assisting the already ample engine performance is a set of Manta extractors running back through a Manta cat-back 2.5-inch mandrel-bent performance system, complete with high-flow centre muffler. Assisting the engine in all its duties is a Richards Auto Electrical torque converter lock-up kit, transmission cooler, and a Harrop breather kit taking care of the diff, gearbox and transfer case.
The roof is well protected thanks to a satin black vinyl roof wrap. Adriano has also fitted a Rhino-Rack Pioneer Platform roof rack, and this is where his recovery tracks, shovel and high-lift jack are stored. The rear end features a GME antenna and a TRD Trail Teams black rear bumper, while that sweet black paint is protected when the FJ does go off-road by Rhinohide body armour. The exterior is definitely cool, but it’s what lies beneath – and directly contributes to the FJ’s enhanced off-road performance – that is even more impressive.
IT’S HARD to miss that Icon Vehicle Dynamics Stage 7 suspension system under the FJ and, according to Adriano, this is definitely a case of appearance is everything in terms of how it performs.
“I wanted to create a one of a kind FJ,” he says. “I wanted a go-anywhere 4x4 and spent plenty of time researching the various options available for the FJ. In the end I decided to go for the top of the range with the suspension.
“I liked the fact this kit was completely bolt-on and required no welding or modification to the chassis. This kit allows me to drive like a stadium truck or crawl over ruts. Aside from the damping attributes, it’s the increased downward wheel travel that really assists when off-road. Other FJs lift their wheels and lose traction way earlier than I do. For an IFS 4x4, it has great articulation.”
Making the most of all that articulation is a set of 17 x 8.5-inch Method Mesh Race Wheels shod with equally sizeable LT295/70R17 Nitto Grappler rubber, ensuring every single piece of tractable terrain is utilised when it’s time to get serious in the FJ.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it now, but fitting this big wheel/tyre combo wasn’t a straightforward process (and Adriano had already tried with an even bigger set of 35s), as any wheel/tyre combo much larger than standard can cause fouling underneath, which means serious engineering work to make it fit properly … and legally.
“I took it to On Track Fabrication, who is licensed to do a compliance mod for the BMC,” Adriano explains. “I have a compliance plate in my engine bay for this work; they need to cut the body mount on an angle and re-weld a plate to the face of the body mount. It’s pretty much the first mod you need to do on the FJ if you want to fit 33-inch or larger tyres.”
THIS FJ is definitely a keeper according to its very satisfied owner, who’d only make space in his garage for another vehicle if it was an original FJ40 with a longtravel kit for the front end; although, it would mean more engineering work to ensure it fit properly.
Other than that, Adriano is keen on switching the current bullbar to a lighter-weight, pre-runner-style bar with an integrated winch. Add in a matching light bar rack across the top of the windshield and he’d be even happier; although, he’s still searching for a local fabricator to make that mod become a reality. The last future mod – following that lottery win, of course – would be to fit a Harrop supercharger to the 4.0-litre. Dreams aside, Adriano is more than stoked with his FJ.
“I love my FJ Cruiser and will never sell it,” he affirms. “It’s unstoppable. It’s truly amazing what trails I can conquer. I’m often cruising up tracks first time that other 4x4s can’t make.”
It’s hard not to get caught up with Adriano’s pride and enthusiasm for his unique rig. The subtle styling, clever mods and engineering work all aimed at producing a top-notch tourer makes us want to start perusing the classifieds for a low-kay FJ ourselves.
To see more of Adriano’s FJ, check out his Instagram feed at: @roguefj
Forthcoming mods may include fitting a Harrop supercharger to the 4.0-litre V6.