Custom 4X4: Solid axle swap FJ Cruiser

FJ (Freakin’ jacked) Cruiser, 

This sassy FJ proves anything is possible with time and money

Let’s face it, you are statistically more likely to find little nugget-like deposits under your rocking horse, than find another one of these listed for sale! But when this one popped up on Facebook, Ben jumped on it straight away. After snapping up the FJ for a steal, it was time to tinker away on the tank, in preparation to see some of Australia’s premier touring destinations, starting with Cape York!


The owner

By the time you read this, Ben would have been up and conquered the tip of Australia in the ‘Cruiser, something he had been looking forward to ever since he spent two weeks exploring the Gulf in a stock 105 Series with work mates a couple of years ago. Living on the central coast of NSW, Ben’s childhood passion for electrics led him to an apprenticeship as a linesman straight out of school. Consequently, working outside for the last 15 years has only grown his passion for exploring and seeing more of what Australia has to offer. It is not unusual for Ben to have a unique vehicle parked in the driveway, after having a heavily modified NB MX-5 pushing a crazy amount of power through a guinea pig motor. But when the size of his boat outgrew the size of the car, he needed to look elsewhere. Ben went through an R50 Pathfinder, 120 Series Prado and even started looking at the early dual-cab D-MAX and some 200 Series LandCruiser variants before a mate persuaded him to have a look at this FJ after showing him the ad on Facebook.

The rear bar houses the Hi-Lift and protects the quarters from any stray rocks or wildlife
The vehicle

Being the vehicle’s fourth owner, it was never going to be in perfect condition. Ben bought it on an as-is-where-is condition, with three weeks of Queensland rego left. The original owner from up in Queensland, who did the SAS, had built it to Queensland standards, which unfortunately meant it did not meet NSW laws. After it expired, it was parked up in the front yard and Ben began the tedious process of making the vehicle compliant in NSW. This eight or nine month ordeal was a necessary one, because Ben didn’t intend to just use this vehicle as a rock-crawler. He explained, “I didn’t buy the vehicle to be a look-at-me thing. I bought it to get into touring and tow the boat.” To do those things with relative peace of mind, it required the build to be fully road legal as he didn’t want a sudden, defect-induced end to his holiday.

Ben’s FJ is a late 2012 model, one of the last ones released without the crawl control and auxiliary fuel tank. You can have any gearbox you like as long as it is automatic, and you may pick any motor providing you choose the 4.0-litre V6! This combination was met with some skepticism, with many querying the lack of a diesel variant for the Australian market. I asked Ben where he stood on the petrol vs. diesel debate, and he put it like this: “I used to have a bog stock 1kz 120 Prado, that would tow the same boat up the highway, that would pull 18 or 19 litres of diesel, compared to this heavily modified FJ that only pulls 22 litres per hundred. For that extra four litres I have servicing intervals that are half as often, a much more capable vehicle with a SAS, 35s, lift, and bar work set up for my needs.”

Did I mention that it is twin-locked? Well now you know!
The modifications

The bulk of the questions Ben gets are concerned with the front end. The original owner took it to Buds Customs and had them rip out the front end and all the IFS components to make room for the custom diamond diff housing, built with 80 Series specs. It was then flipped to match up with the factory passenger side transfer case on the FJ. One-off custom radius arms in the front with integrated bump stops make smart use of the limited space. Custom shock towers house the 14-inch remote res King coil-overs.

Interestingly, because of the lack of room between the engine and tower on the driver’s side, the steering column passes through a machined hole in the shock tower to maintain an ergonomical angle into the 80 Series steering box. The two towers are braced in the engine bay, a requirement for engineering as the two towers would come under tremendous load when reaching maximum flex.

The tower brace not only provides the structural rigidity, but also serves as a mount for various lines and a winch isolator

Recently, Ben changed out the rear coils for a set of better suited custom-made Dobinsons springs. Both the upper and lower rear trailing arms are one off, as the entire geometry of the vehicle has changed since the SAS. BUDS also took care of all the bar work on the FJ, offering 360 degrees of protection for just about every situation. The bull bar houses a Runva 11XP with rope and a Factor 55 FlatLink E with an additional rope guard. A short LED bar resides inside the hoop, with the same lines continuing down the easily removable brush bars and into the sliders. The rear bar makes clever use of the space, with the single arm carrying the tyre swing-away and jack-holder down low, to ensure a better centre of gravity. Overall, the total lift of the vehicle equates to around four inches, including the additional height from the 315/75R16 mud terrains. The illusion of greater height comes from the removal of factory guards/flares and the addition of the Bushwacker flares. The chassis has had a small chop at the rear to suit the bar, but still left enough room for an ARB 125-litre long range tank, increasing the total capacity to just shy of 200 litres, enough for a safe 1300km on the freeway.

For an engineer to sign off on it in NSW, the front sway bar and recovery points needed some attention. Ben took it to Rampt Customs in Newcastle as he wanted to get the previous owner’s half-done job finished once and for all. Benji was able to help Ben out with some intricate sway bar links and mounts along with some impressive fabrication work that not only looks the part but is 10 times stronger than how it was when he picked it up.

With it back on the road, Ben had been able to focus on slowly transforming the vehicle into a solid tourer. A single N70 battery is tucked under the bonnet and a 60Ah lithium (with low voltage cutoff) in the back are linked through a Redarc lithium battery charger. For long trips, a foldable panel will have a seat reserved to chase the sun at campsites.

A GME UHF and rear mounted antenna on the door hinge will handle communications, and the 50-litre Waeco will keep things fresh. He also installed a TJM snorkel and routed the piping to the existing custom airbox and changed out the filter in favour of a Unifilter. Storage space is a new challenge for Ben, coming from a larger vehicle. Ben remounted the BajaRack roof rack that came with the car to the carry swag or camping extras and to provide a mounting point for the Foxwing awning. A cargo net will be utilised to keep the rear sections of the car separate, with another used to create roof lining storage. There are no drawers in the back, with Ben opting to pack all his Cape York supplies into storage boxes until he can find a setup that takes his fancy. Just goes to show you can do the Cape without having all the gear!

After such extensive surgery, the undercarriage has remained very tidy and contains only essential parts
Final thoughts

To create a truly one-of-a-kind vehicle usually takes either a lot of time or money, or in this case, both. Ben says, “I have no dramas spending the required money on it; there is no point spending vast amounts of money on the build, then putting cheap products all over it.” Ben is quick to point out that without the help of Athol from Mullen Automotive Engineering and Benji from Rampt Customs, the boys from Dobinsons, Ol Mate 4×4 and some great mates, this build would still be sitting in his front yard. Instead, it is bound to result in mass rubbernecking wherever it goes. Keep an eye out, you might just see it passing through your area on his next adventure!

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