A Coiled FJ That’s Ready to Grind
When Donald Cassel of Venice, California, began the buildup of his 1980 Toyota FJ-40 Land Cruiser, he had a good image in his mind of the type of vehicle he desired. Tackling tough trails such as the Rubicon were certainly on the agenda, but maintaining a street-legal appearance and function were also high on his list of priorities.
After spending a few dollars on mods to increase the rig’s capability in its stock form, a rare opportunity that put him in the driver’s seat of an extreme-built FJ-40 opened his eyes to the untapped capability that his own FJ possessed.
Launching into a full-scale buildup, Donald headed to Don’s 4×4 in Covina, California, for the first stage of many modifications. A Warn Black Diamond coilover suspension system was acquired and a flurry of body and frame cutting and welding ensued (the Black Diamond Suspension line has since been sold by Warn, but the kits are still being produced under the name Black Diamond). Once the suspension installation was complete, Don’s 4×4 also constructed the stout rollcage. A host of other interior and exterior accessories was also installed before the Cruiser moved onto Stage Two of the buildup, which occurred at Tri County Gear in Pomona, California. There, the steering and suspension tuning transpired, and the 5.7L Vortec 350 V-8 was tweaked and massaged until it passed smog.
Building an extreme 4×4 that’s ready for any challenge can prove to be a difficult proposition. It often entails a good bit of steps backward for every step forward and can take its toll on those eager to hit the trail in their new ride. Donald impressed upon us some of the factors that helped him keep his cool during the buildup. First off, know what you want before you start. Be realistic about cost and time, realize that modifications beget further modifications, and most importantly, have a lot of patience. With these guidelines in mind, maybe you’ll find yourself in a ride like Donald’s, crawling obstacles and cruising the highway.