How to Turn a Rustbucket FJ Cruiser Into a Worldbeater

It starts with knowing where to find one

November 9, 2016 9:00 am

At the recent SEMA Show — an ode to the world’s snazziest aftermarket vehicles held every November in Las Vegas — the FJ Company debuted Aspen Project, a restoration of the hard-to-find 1982 Toyota FJ 43 Land Cruiser.

A full off-frame restoration with a matte grey finish, the off-roader includes the addition of an inline-six Toyota 1FZ engine and the FJ80 Toyota five-speed transmission, along with modern upgrades like a rear back-up camera, Recaro SPEED seats and Bluetooth audio. Those modern touches are made to blend in seamlessly for a tasteful look.

The FJ Company has been has been the full-time passion project of Nelson Calle and his brother Juan Diego for four years now, and they’re selling around 60-70 builds annually, mostly to buyers in California, Texas and New York but also in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

“We drove in the mountains and the real off-road world,” says Nelson, who grew up driving Land Cruisers on his grandfather’s farm in Colombia. “There were few options for a farming car back then.”

We caught up with Nelson over the phone and discussed his process for finding the cars, his favorite place to off-road and what makes these new models so special.

InsideHook: Why the FJ? What makes that vehicle so iconic?

Nelson Calle: We’ve been around the car since we were born. My grandfather was an avid farmer and his only choice was a Land Cruiser. He had a ’71, which he had until ’81, which he passed along and then got another one. We have a passion for it and a good deal of time on them. We learned how to drive on them, and being fanatics, we did them with our families. Been a part of our lives. It’s a very popular car, everywhere in the world.

IH: How difficult is it to find these?

NC: There were a bunch of them. A large number have been heavily modified or they’re really rusty and need work. Every day it becomes harder to find ideal cars for restoration, where the chassis is still intact. As long as the chassis is straight and the numbers are there, we have a good candidate for a car. We do have an availability for new body panels. We can build it from scratch. We can find engines and transmissions and details. But we’re still scouring around to find the parts for the cars that we build. Our big production facility is in Colombia. And that’s where we find the cars and the talent for working the old fashioned way. Out of need a lot of rebuilding.

IH: What’s the level of overhaul? Tell us about the restoration process.

NC: There are at least four small factories that are pressing the fenders, hoods and doors for us. That’s the only thing we don’t do ourselves. Unless it’s a difficult part to get. For example, the long base wheel for the FJ 43 is impossible to get, so we have to fabricate those models ourselves. We do all of the metal fabrication and welding in house. But we have excellent suppliers, and we’re fortunate for that. Regardless of what type of Land Cruiser we build, the process is the same. We don’t do partial repairs and restorations or paint jobs. We do full restorations. Each car is torn apart to bare chassis and that chassis is stripped and then powder coating, overhauling the transmission, electrical and then bodywork before final assembly, resanding and refinishing.

IH: What sets these mods apart? What do you do that enthusiasts won’t find elsewhere?

NC: There are a lot of people that can do a nice FJ restoration. We focus all of our energy into a car until it’s completely restored, regardless of what condition we find the engine in. We strive to have our clients know what to expect. Every single restoration is documented and our clients get monthly updates. And those include pictures from day one, when the car is being disassembled. That’s been a huge difference for us, because there’s much less uncertainty. Less brain drain. That material is passed along to the new owner in a digital file and a nice coffee table book that summarizes the work done to the car. That adds a lot of value, especially when the client decides to sell the car. We stand behind our rigorous process and we have a one-year warranty. That’s hard to find in the restored, custom build car world.

IH: What’s your favorite place to take one of these off-roading?  

NC: It’s hard to say. Mountainous rocky trails are a lot of fun, but it’s very technical drive, you have to go low range and change the speed. Light rock climbing is a great place for a LC. But the other extreme is taking these to the Arizona desert and go flat out at 60 mph on flat open and winding roads. I like both, and they’re very different types of driving. If you get one, you should do both.

IH: OK — let’s say you can take one of these anywhere in the world. Where are you going?

NC: I would definitely say that our dream, which is hard because I have kids right now, would be to experience different continents. The first trip would be to start from our factory in Miami and drive all the way down to Patagonia in Argentina. And also there’s a 10-day rally through the Moroccan desert that is supposed to be amazing.

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