Project FJ Cruiser: Chasing Off-Road Racing
Oh, What A feeling!

It was bound to happen eventually. Bitten by the off-road bug, I went out in search for an off-road vehicle of my own. Of course, my friends had plenty of suggestions. Get a Jeep they said; get an FJ80 Land Cruiser, or even a Land Rover Discovery. There were endless options, but for some reason or another none of them worked out.

While JK Jeeps are awesome, they are just way too expensive still. The ’90s Land Cruiser is great too, but for the life of me I could not find one in good enough condition; most had over 250,000 miles. This would have to be a car that I could drive deep into the Mexican desert to follow racing, which is the reason why I didn’t go with a Disco’. I love Land Rovers, but I was constantly told to stay away from them unless I wanted to find myself stranded while chasing the Baja 1000.

Enter the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Although they’ve been out of production for a while now, a well-equipped example in great condition with low miles still commands around $30,000. They can often be just as expensive as a brand new JK Jeep, but I got a little lucky…


I found a 2007 (first year) model with 35,000 miles, which equates to only 4000 miles driven per year. It was originally from Seattle, but if I did not know any better I would have thought it was a California car given how clean it is underneath. I walked out the door with the keys to the truck for just $21,000.


The best part? It has a 6-speed manual transmission with a rear e-locker. I know what you off-road-heads out there are thinking: I’m going to have a terrible time trying to crawl on rocks with a stick shift. You are correct, but I’d say I can get to 95 per cent of places an automatic would and also have much more fun doing so.


I didn’t have the truck for more than one day before I started the personalizing process. I began with a set of Enkei ST6 wheels, and as you can see the delivery man graciously hid them so my neighbors wouldn’t steal them. K&N hooked up some goodies in the form of oil and in-cabin filters, because I am going to need lots of those. Lastly, I got some nice tires to go with the wheels – namely 33-inch Yokohama Geolandar M/Ts.


On top of actual performance and maintenance bits, I also grabbed a few personal touches just to make my life better. The FJ did not come with side window visors, and it was evident that this would be a big problem the first time I took the truck out for a spin. Lucky for me the 2010 models came with them stock, so I just ordered them off eBay. While the stock shifter setup was fun to drive, it felt like I was rowing a boat as I was going through the gears. That was never going to cut for daily driving, so I picked up a Toyota Racing Development short-throw kit and some nice shift knobs to go with it. I just love that the TRD set comes with a separate knob for the transfer case shifter.


I run Enkei wheels on my 240Z and I love them to death, so I figured why not match my FJ with the same brand. The ST6 is very simple and strong – exactly what I need for off-road. They come in 17, 18 and 20-inch sizes.


I got mine in 17-inches as that is what the FJ comes with stock, and at 8-inches wide they were perfect for the tires. For fitment, I went with a 10mm inset, and I think it sits really nicely without having to use spacers. For the color, I went with gunmetal to match what I have on the Z car.


There is a lot of debate on what size tires can actually fit under the FJ in stock form; some say 33-inch tires fit and others say they rub. For perfect clearance I would have to do what is called a body mount chop; there is a point where the body actually mounts to the frame, and it can be trimmed for much more clearance.


Here is the first picture of the truck with the tires and wheels mounted, but still running stock suspension. That is Speedhunters’ Louis being dumb.


I mounted the wheels and tires the morning before heading out to Johnson Valley for the King Of The Hammers race, and I am glad I did because it’s the only way I could hit all the obstacles I wanted to without getting stuck.


So does it rub? Yes it does, but only on the plastic trim near the body mount. It’s not that bad actually, it just grazes at full lock.


In years prior I’ve had to get a press vehicle or borrow someone else’s rig in order to do any kind of shooting at an off-road race. That is not the case anymore, and it’s making life so much easier. Now I can finally shoot a race on a whim.


So what was it like to drive the FJ around Johnson Valley? One word: awesome. Most of all, I was amazed at what the truck could do in stock form. While the V6 doesn’t have crazy amounts of horsepower and torque, there’s more than enough to get me in trouble, especially with the power delivery the manual transmission offers.


Pretty much the day I picked the FJ up I went into the mountains surrounding Las Vegas for some wheeling on the stock road tires. I struggled, especially because there was quite a bit of fresh snow, so I now definitely appreciate the amount of traction the Yokohamas provide. Tires are almost always the best mod you can do to your car from stock.


For my second trip, I took the FJ to Mexico for my first race in Baja California, and it performed flawlessly. You can check out the resulting pictures in our San Felipe 250 coverage.

I Love What You Do For Me

The FJ’s interior is fairly simple and comfortable, with plenty of room for four people plus gear. This was one of the things I was worried about considering I travel with so much equipment, and why I was originally looking at much larger Land Cruisers.


The installation of the short shifter was quick and easy; even I could do it, so any of you can as well. It’s the little touches to the interior that I love, like the incline gauge.


Every time someone sees that this truck is manual, they’re amazed Toyota offered a stick option. Most people have no idea it even exists, which is exactly why I like it.


The worst part of the interior? The fake diamond-plate plastic. My friend drives a manual Discovery, and when she sat in my car for the first time she actually burst into laughter when she saw the cheesy trim. I definitely deserved that, but of course I will change it out soon enough. I also love that there is no carpet, which makes it so much easier to clean after every race.


Casey Currie invited me to hang out with his family and friends at Moab this year, so I decided to take the FJ. Still in stock form – save for the upgraded wheels and tires – I headed out from Los Angeles to Utah via Las Vegas where I met up with a few friends.


One of those people was Forrest Wang; I really wanted to go wheeling with him and the Get Nutz Lab crew, and also shoot his Tacoma. Up until this point I hadn’t really taken the FJ over any rocks, but it was made much easier with Forrest spotting for me.


For a stock FJ it seemed like the only issue I was running into was the lack of ground clearance over the really rough terrain. In fact, I even crushed my side steps to the point of them almost touching the body. Time for rock sliders.


We had some close calls, but nothing as bad as what happened to Forrest. On a much harder obstacle he accidently snagged a brake line and the fluid leaked all the way out, leaving him on the trail with no stopping power. It’s a good thing he has two transfer cases, because he was just able to ease it all the way back to camp.


For what I am using the FJ for, which is getting me to shooting locations, it’s perfect, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s far less capable straight out of the box than the newer Jeeps. In fact, quite a few Jeep owners have told me that FJ actually stands for ‘Fake Jeep.’


I didn’t buy it to blend in on the trails with all the Jeeps and Ford Raptors though. I like being different, and you just can’t go wrong with Toyota reliability.


So how does it crawl in stock form? It’s actually pretty neat for obstacles like this; I can just put it in first gear and leave it in four low, letting the clutch out without my foot on the gas and allowing it to crawl. If it stalls out then there is a button that cancels the ‘clutch start’. All I have to do then is turn the key to do a ‘starter walk'; the starter turns the motor to move the truck and fires it up at the same time. What a cool feature.


Every vehicle has its problems, and you really don’t fully understand them until you actually own one. With the FJ, I have not had to do any major repairs yet, but I’m getting ready to do a few preventative mods.


One issue I’m having is with the throwout bearing. The design is terrible and it causes quite a bit of wear on the aluminum shaft that it rides on, which eventually leads to noise and shaking. There are kits out there that fix this issue, and that’s pretty much number one on my list of things to do.


Other things include strengthening the motor mounts; they have been shown to actually crack on the frame side due to lack of bracing after heavy off-road use. Another one is the fuel filter; the design is pretty flawed as it is part of the fuel pump assembly, which means you have to replace the entire thing if you just want to do a service. Considering I will be filling up in Mexico and many other interesting places, I want to be able to change out the fuel filter often. Pretty much all of these issues were fixed in the later versions of the FJ, but they’re expected with a first year model.


So what about the upgrade path? Well, I am definitely going to need a lift kit, some control arms and rock sliders.


After that I will probably do bumpers and the whole nine yards in terms of an overland build. Because as much as I like crawling on rocks, this FJ is not meant for that duty. My goal is to use it to take pretty pictures, and to do so I have to actually get to locations that require a bit of off-road-ability.


The FJ Cruiser community is quite active, so it’s going to be cool to meet people into the same sort of thing. The truck is a blank canvas after all, and just like every Jeep owner out there, the goal is to personalize it and make it my own. This is just the beginning.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto



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MMMMMM King shocks :0

Lmfao I love the UPS camouflage, they would put an elephant under a door mat if they could. I have had all sorts of huge car parts left under my mat. smh.


I live in vegas and my father and I go out with a club called R-Jeeps! You can find them on FB an request to be added to find out all the dates for runs and what not, ye it's called "R-Jeeps" but they wont scrutinize you for not having one lol But yea, you for sure should try to come out one day, not everything they do is extreme but when it gets to that time for you you can always try it. Hope you make it out! It'd be cool to meet you one day


Niceeee...Sick pictures as always!


90nissanS13@my350z I am glad that you thought it was funny, because I thought it was the best thing ever.


Needs more Total Chaos Fabrication


Love the fact that you are using an FJ! Wheels are beautiful on it as well. I am looking forward to seeing the build, and the beautiful pictures that you are able to capture as a result of it. 
P.S. The whole UPS thing made me laugh.


Such a great looking vehicle! Now you only need a roof tent and some spears LOL.


get some under body protection and bead lockers and it should go anywhere with those shocks and whats wrong with a manual trans rock crawling i can get a unimog any where and it is manual.


How much louder you think those MTs are compare to the stock tires on the highway?


Was Louis being dumb, or praying that everything worked?


have you ever thought about finding a trd supercharger for that motor? 300hp and 330lb ft is pretty impressive out of that v6.


silveradotx Why not both?


90nissanS13@my350z what wheel boxes?


I also have a 2007 fj cruiser 4x4. It's automatic but has the lockers and a trac on it. Awesome choice man! I have 285 70r17 bfgoodrich ko2s with a complete old man emu suspension lift kit and rocky road rock rails. With that set up I've been able to do Angeles national forest, moab, big Bear, Johnson Valley and a bunch of others with out any issues so far. You'll have a better time one you lift it trust me!!


Larry, you cant lose with 42's. Just saying.


My 2006 Xterra 4x4 with a 6 Speed Manual on 285s. I like your style Larry.


Good article, I finally got a chance to read through it. It reminds me of my truck days minus the awesome terrain you have at your disposal. Ive always wondered, how is the power on these FJs? Sufficient or is it asking for more?


...Exactly! Hah
I can't wait to see where they put my Corbeau seat on order. ~sigh~


Never really been a fan of FJ's (former Jeep owner) but yours looks good in it's current guise. Those wheel are pretty sweet, would hate to see you make a mess of them in the rocks. For overland and race chasing, should make a nice set up with the mods you have in mind. Please do sliders before you back in the rocks! :) Curious, was that Rocky Gap/Potato Ridge you did in Vegas?


Go talk to Jason over at Demello Offroad in Riverside. They're an Icon shop but if you need sliders or bumpers, they do top notch work. Some of their custom suspension setups on FJs are world class.

Miss my FJ and the SoCal desert.


6spd FJ - best pick for what you will use it for - so pumped to see the progress!


AM81 Yeah, it's a blast to drive on the street also.


@sean Cool, thanks for the suggestion.


desertspeed Yeah I already got the sliders on. I am never going to do that again.

That was Rocky Gap. I did the entire thing, but of course I had to take the bypass for the hard stuff.

Funny thing, as we were on the trail, BJ Baldwin drove by in his two day old Toyota Tundra already beating it up. Vegas is very small!


90nissanS13@my350z The power is not bad, but I could definitely use more for street driving. Then again I have a heavy foot. It has 239hp and 278tq.

I was thinking about the supercharger route, but the reliability is something I want to keep.


@kevinf93til I was really looking into these also, but I could not find any used ones in Los Angeles. I am a big Nissan guys as you probably know, but now I have a newfound respect for Toyota trucks.


@Steven Awesome, post some pics of your ride!


awesomefearwave I would love that, but they are so much money now since they got discontinued.


@Newwwwbie They are actually not too bad compared to stock. If I got a few weeks without going off-road I usually swap my stock wheels back on just to save rubber.


@radiobird I would love to run beadlocks, but everyone tells me that they are super illegal in California to run on the street. I don't really know how I would get caught though.


SmithG23 My UPS man probably hates me, but then again it seriously made me bust out in laughter.


90nissanS13@my350z Post the pic here, lol.


Larry Chen Nice, that isn't too bad. That's good power as long as it feels good. I've driven a few Tacos and they seemed to be powered well for their weight. I'm sure the FJ is lighter than it looks.

You could also change your final drive gear in the axle. That was going to be the solution for my truck before I switched over to my 350z. I wasn't concerned too much with highway mileage too much in a truck and needed the power low. Food for thought, it will save you a ton of $$$ too if you chose to rear gear it.


Larry Chen lol will do. I can't wait, it should be here on Saturday.


Larry Chen desertspeed Vegas is a great place to live if you are into the offroad scene, never know who you might see. 

I dragged my stock Rubicon LJ through Rocky Gap on a night run for it's maiden voyage. Nothing like the sound of sliders and skid plates scraping :) Later when it was built up, it went through all of the washes bar the last one with the waterfall. Definitely a fun trail. Devils Peak is another great trail locally but not stock friendly as it has some decent sized waterfalls to climb up.


desertspeed So cool. I love it. Who needs to go fast? Crawling is just too much fun!


@Steven Dope, love the fogs.


Nice project Larry. Looking forward to your mods as I'm building mine also.


Larry Chen, no worries. He's great and did all the suspension work on my FJ. If I still lived in the area, I'd still be using him. I'll definitely be buying some goodies from him when I start on a Tundra later this year.


I'm very excited about seeing this modded. I usually see Wranglers and Cherokees around here (Georgia), so it'll be nice to see a build on this.



What a nicely done up FJ and looking forward to all the things you will do.  On the blower note, maybe time to reach out to Kraftwerks and convince them to make their own kits for the FJ's...just a thought...


Well, little effort was made for this delivery. This is where i dragged it to after finding in my driveway 10 minutes before the rain way it's the usual driver.


@Kevin Truong Sigh... I would love more power, but as always power comes headaches.


with the old style car that looks good on the road if you want to have


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