When you grow up in the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains, outdoor sports are kind of like hot dogs at a baseball game - they just go hand-in-hand. And when the famous Rubicon and Fordyce trails - two of the most beautiful and challenging rockcrawling trails in the country - are just one hour from your front door, four-wheeling becomes a natural choice for those warm summer weekends. As a young lad growing up in Truckee, California, such was the case for Jason Berger. We caught up with Jason at last year's Sierra Trek and had a chance to check out his super-clean FJ-40 on the trail.
At age 16, Jason's first four-wheeling love was a '46 Willys decked out with a Buick V-6, a lift, 35-inch Mud Terrains, and open diffs. Reflecting back, Berger says, "Those were the days - so simple." Parting ways with the old Flattie, several vintage Broncos passed through Jason's garage before he picked up this, then stock, Toyota FJ-40 from a dealer lot. Rolling it into the garage for a few upgrades, the project became a full frame-up restoration and buildup
Because the OEM, normally aspirated inline-six was never known for heaps of power, the factory mill was quickly laid to the wayside. A Throttle Body Injected (TBI) Chevy 350. took its place. Complementing the powerplant is an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, an RV cam, and a K&N air filter. A Howe four-core aluminum radiator maintains proper operating temperature, while a 160-amp alternator keeps the Optima RedTop battery at peak performance. OEM manifolds route spent gases aft via a Flowmaster exhaust. Tucked neatly behind the aluminum radiator shroud is a York air compressor, the air lines of which run to the nerf bars, which double as air tanks.
Moving aft, a TH350 automatic fitted with a TH400 1,200-rpm stall RV torque converter and B&M shifter handle power management to the Toyota transfer case. Advanced Adapters provided the adaptation and gearing solution with a set of 4.3:1 transfer case gears and T-case adapter.
With the powerplant in place, Jason looked to creating a leaf-sprung, multipurpose suspension that could tackle the tough trail yet be stable enough to manage Lake Tahoe's twisting highways with a margin of safety. The result was a combination of items that worked well together. The front spring pack consists of Jeep Wrangler and OEM FJ-40 leaves, while a Johnny Joint-mounted track bar maintains positive axle placement. Out back, Rancho 44044s spring packs mounted on Rock Equipment shackles provide flex, while a shackled torque bar eliminates axle wrap without inhibiting articulation. Nine-position adjustable Rancho 9000s at each corner allow for driver control of shock damping.
Because this was to be a rock rig, quality lockers were a must. But before coughing up the dough for lockers, new axles were slipped in fore and aft. The rear reverse-cut Dana 60 received a spool and 35-spline Moser axles, while the front Dana 44 was fitted with Spicer 760 U-joints, Warn axles, and an ARB Air Locker. Both were upgraded with 4:10 gears and are spun by CV'd drivelines from Hi-Angle Driveline. Capping the ends are a set of Walker Evens aluminum 17x9-inch bead locks and massive 40-inch Goodyear M/TRs. With the additional unsprung weight and increased tire size, directional control was enhanced with the addition of a Rock Equipment Hi-Steer setup, and a Saginaw power steering box and KRC pump.
Handy with a welder, and one who likes things his own way, Jason did most of the fabrication work himself, including the crossmember, nerf bars, rear tire rack, and front and rear bumpers, the front of which cradles a Warn 9500 winch. The integrated top rack and six-point rollcage were also home-fabbed.
As creature comforts are a high priority in the Berger family, the interior is clean and functional. A pair of Mazda MV-3 seats, wrapped in waterproof Motor Sheep seat covers, holds occupants in with the help of RCI racing harnesses. A Con-Ferr rear seat provides for plenty of lockable storage underneath, while a 100-watt sound system from Pioneer/Alpine provides symphonic-quality audio. Auto Meter gauges were chosen to monitor system vitals. We liked the Specter Family soft top, which fully covers rear passengers and wraps around the rollcage/roof rack.
When it comes to aesthetics, compromise is not an option in the book of Berger. To accommodate the 40-inch M/TRs without spraying occupants with mud and road grime, Jason widened the front fenders by 2 inches, capping them with 1.625-inch tubing. The back received a pair of TJ fender flares. For high visibility on the street, and on the trail (for safety reasons, of course), the old FJ was taken to Joel Swanson Paint, where it was given a new Toyota Red exterior and trimmed with some riveting hood graphics.
What Jason likes about his cruiser: "It can crawl over the boulders with the best of them, then do 70 mph on the freeway home." This old FJ won't be doing the rock racing circuit with Berger's team, Mountain Goat Motorsports, but we're guessing that it will still see plenty of trail action. We dug it, and thought you'd want to check it out, too.