FJ40 Land Cruisers are classic, capable rigs that are now commanding the same high prices as early Ford Broncos. New FJ Cruisers have only added to the nostalgia. Most FJ40s we encounter are either mild restomod vehicles that are only subjected to mild trails, or they are severely beaten, Chevy-powered, Dana-axled, rockcrawlers. Jesse Crews has straddled the gap, creating a vehicle that is still largely Toyota but does not shy away from the hardest rockcrawling trails in the country.
Crews started with a '74 FJ40 that he purchased about 10 years ago. "My story is typical," he states, "at first I just wanted something to take me out camping, and it spiraled out of control from there." A friend took Crews to the Chili Challenge in Las Cruces and Crews was instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter, he met Jim Allen when he joined the Casa Grande 4 Wheelers in Arizona. Crews cites Allen as being instrumental in the modifications that he has made.
Starting under the hood, the 2F engine was yanked out for a small-block Chevy mill. "The automatic transmission is what I was really after," Crews tells 4WD&SU, "but more power and less weight don't hurt." The engine is a simple, four-bolt main 350 block with a mild Lunati cam and an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold with an adapter to run a modified Ford Motorcraft two-barrel. After seeing how well this setup works on the trail, we can understand why Crews hasn't felt the need to switch to fuel injection. The small-block suffered from chronic overheating until a large aluminum radiator from Summit Racing was added with custom mounts and a modified Ford Aerostar fan shroud. Behind the V-8, power is routed through a TH350 fitted with a shift kit mated to the stock Land Cruiser offset transfer case with an adapter from Advance Adapters. The power is then transferred through a long-travel front Arizona Driveline driveshaft and a CV-equipped rear Tom Wood's driveshaft.
The long-travel driveshaft was necessary to accommodate the suspension travel this 'Cruiser is capable of. The front suspension consists of a hybrid leaf-spring pack with a main leaf from the rear of a Toyota 4Runner and the additional leaves from stock Jeep Wagoneer springs used in conjunction with a shackle reversal. The rear suspension consists of F-150 springs on custom mounts with drop-away hangers in the rear. "Those are a product of the RTI craze in the '90s," Crews admits, "I leave them pinned to the frame at all times now." The suspension results in a 98-inch wheelbase that helps keep the vehicle stable during steep climbs and at high speeds. Rancho RS9000 shocks are used at all four corners and allow Crews to tame the soft suspension and prevent unloading on the trail or smooth out washboard roads. The axles are the stock Toyota units that have benefited from various upgrades. The rear axle has an Aussie Locker than spins the stock 'shafts.