Let’s say you’re looking for a new 4X4 to get away from it all with. You don’t want to buy a second-hand pile of someone else’s problems and a rat’s nest of bodgy wiring; you want it to be capable of tackling anything this country can throw at it; and you don’t want to spend more than $50K. This was exactly the situation that Gary Tischer found himself in, back in 2011. After sussing out what was on the market and what fitted his criteria he’d narrowed the choice down to two options. The Land Rover Defender ticked a lot of boxes but when he came across this FJ Cruiser for a grand under budget he knew he was onto a winner.
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To be fair, we can understand his choice. The FJs are pretty good straight out of the cereal packet sporting plenty of capability with the factory rear locker, excellent safety ratings and generally just being a solidly usable four wheel drive, and with a few choice mods and a little good old-fashioned can-do attitude, Gary has converted his into a rig that’s as comfortable eating up endless Outback miles as it is on the daily commute to work. How’d he do it? Read on…
Not wanting to waste time, Gary was off on a trip as soon as the Cruiser was his. With the ink on the rego papers still wet, he and his daughter Elodie hit the road in the big yellow bus and took an amazing drive down from their home state of Queensland to Southern NSW and hit the snow. While the FJ handled it all admirably, the gears in Gary’s head were already turning on how to make it suit his needs even better.
What followed over the next couple of years was a comprehensive build-up that was designed to take Gary, his daughter and his wife to wherever they liked without sacrificing driveability for everyday use. A truly versatile off-roader that could easily handle daily duties – sounds like a big ask, but I reckon Gary has absolutely knocked it for six. With his tasteful yet practical mods he’s got himself a rig that’ll get him there and back and to work on time on Monday without a hiccup.
As with every FJ Cruiser, this one is sporting the 4.0L V6 petrol powerplant. While many folks still can’t believe Toyota hasn’t brought out a turbo diesel variant (yep, I’m one of ‘em – what’s the deal Toyo-san?) Gary isn’t bothered one bit. He tells us that it has plenty of power when it’s needed and the Long Ranger tank takes care of any fuel range issues. Plus when driving it sensibly (apparently Gary’s lead-foot days are long behind him) it doesn’t even use that much fuel anyway (and is cheaper to maintain, to boot). Who said you need an oil burner for touring?
Now bear in mind, this thing was still relatively new back in 2011 (interestingly this particular FJ was one of the first to hit our shores after the infamous Fukushima nuclear meltdown caused by the monster tsunami that hit Japan; Gary tells us it had to be tested for radiation before he could buy it!) so there wasn’t a heap of aftermarket gear available. Not to be deterred he hit up his local TJM store and wrangled them into using his Cruiser as the R&D vehicle for the snorkel, front bar and rock rails to get the water fording and impact protection side of things sorted.
Along the way a couple of inches of suspension lift made its way under the guards and a set of chunky Goodyear Wrangler MTR Kevlar tyres on the stock 17-inch alloys were bolted up to the hubs. Gary reckons the tyres are ‘expensive, but bombproof’. He rates them over any terrain – and he’s been on just about every terrain there is too – and tells us when these ones wear out he won’t hesitate to buy them again.
As mentioned, there’s a 120L Long Ranger fuel tank bolted underneath to bring the total fuel capacity to 190L, which Gary conservatively reckons is good for an easy 1,100km. It could go more but he likes to keep a little in reserve should he feel like taking any detours along the way. To put it in perspective, he’s driven from Birdsville in QLD to Kulgera in the NT without refuelling before – pretty impressive!
A triple battery system takes care of the 12V needs and provides plenty of amps for the X-ray Vision spotties, lightbar, fridge and camp lighting. Gary can keep an eye on the state of his electrical system thanks to a voltage gauge that’s been neatly recessed into the rear cargo area.
Possibly the coolest thing about Gary’s rig though is the fact that once he’s back from a big trip, after a little time on the tools he’s more or less got it back to stock for around-town driving. Yep, off come the off-road tyres and rock rails, and the Pioneer roofrack that is usually put to work carrying the kayak or mountain bike is leaned against the wall of the shed before the rear seats are thrown back in and his FJ is ready for commuting and grocery-getting duties. Now that’s trick.
When the travelbug bites again, the racks and sliders are all bolted back on, the rear seats are removed and the Gary-designed and built storage shelf is fitted into the rear along with some storage boxes and he’s ready to hit the dirt. The entire vehicle is basically a giant meccano set that can be kitted for hard touring or brought back to city spec with nothing other than some spanner-twirling. Talk about flexibility.
When asked if there was anything he didn’t like about his FJ, Gary spent a bit of time thinking about it before coming back with, “It’s a bit hard to get rear passengers out of the suicide doors in shopping centre car parks, but they’re excellent when you’re camping. It’s like opening a cupboard – easy access to all your gear. Why would you buy a Prado?” Hard to argue with that…
Astute readers may recognise Gary from some of the previous articles he’s contributed to Unsealed 4X4 over the past couple of years. He’s been with us since the mag kicked off, mainly because he loves his travelling. He and his daughter Elodie have done some amazing trips, from chasing the snow in southern NSW, to the Simpson Desert, the Flinders Ranges, the Victorian High Country, Uluru, East and West MacDonnell Ranges, Winton, the Murray River, Double Island Point, Moreton Island… talk about raising her right, Gary. Well done mate.
Words By Dex Fulton, Photography by Gary Tischer