Seven years ago, Jonathan Ward of Toyota Land Cruisers (TLC) was asked by Mr. Toyoda himself to help Toyota design and assemble three prototype vehicles that would become inspiration for the new FJ Cruiser. If you're wondering why Toyota would turn to TLC, you need to visit the company's website, www.tlc4x4.com, and discover the wealth of experience the TLC crew has rebuilding and designing some of the best Toyota-based vehicles around.
The initial build began with Jonathan visiting Toyota plants in both Brazil and Fremont, California, with members of Toyota Motor Sales and Toyota Motor Corp. and engineers from Toyota's NUMMI plant. Both locations would provide them with enough parts to get the build process under way.
The vehicle you see on these pages began life as a Brazilian-model Toyota called the Bandeirante. The Bandeirante is basically an FJ40 built for the South American market. After TLC decided it would base the prototype off this model, Toyota had one shipped to TLC's door to begin.
Since this prototype was to be the inspiration for an ultramodern vehicle, Jonathan and Toyota decided to mate it to the '00 Toyota Tacoma platform. Such a move, they reasoned, would combine the history and nostalgia of the FJ40 with the presence of the very popular and reliable Tacoma to form a worthy off-road masterpiece. Jonathan tells 4WD&SU, "I think the reason they [Toyota] came to us instead of staying in house is that the Japanese culture - business and personal - discourages resting on past laurels or accomplishments, so they in turn have a hard time with the marketing value of 'heritage' in the U.S. They knew of TLC's depth of experience and total immersion in the U.S. 'heritage' Toyota market and our experience with that client base. So I think they came to us first to better understand their buyer."
The Bandeirante comes with a diesel engine, which needed to be removed along with all of its support systems, electrical systems, and suspension. TLC wanted the classic looks of the FJ40 but the performance to be much more state-of-the-art. Shortly after the vehicle was delivered and stripped, the '00 Tacoma was delivered and received the same course of action. In order to get everything working, many of the parts had to have custom mounts and adapters fabricated to accommodate them. The 5VZFE six-cylinder motor was pulled out of the Tacoma and bench-built with a custom adapter from Advance Adapters in order to make it function properly with the Brazilian five-speed transmission and two-speed transfer case. The original wiring harness from the Tacoma was also removed and taken apart to be isolated from all engine systems. TLC handbuilt custom electronic components to allow all vehicle systems to function as if they were still in the original Tacoma. The stock Bandeirante fuel system was kept in place, save the diesel components, with the addition of extra fuel-level sensors and various electronics rebuilt. The Tacoma catalytic converters were retained, but a stainless steel exhaust system had to be custom-made because of the radical new chassis and body form.
This vehicle looks just as good as it performs. In the cabin is a completely redesigned dash and control panels utilizing an aftermarket air-conditioning unit with OEM Toyota Celica vents. The front seats were also pulled from the Tacoma, as well as the center console, armrests, and rearview mirror assembly. All of the interior panels were upholstered and covered in OEM Tacoma textiles to match, including an entirely new carpet piece. Even though this was a prototype, TLC still went so far as to install DOT-compliant seatbelt restraints. The instrument panels were set up to look like the vintage FJ40's interior but run a VDO digital odometer, a check-engine light, and a few other modern features.
The attention to detail on the exterior is magnificent. The front aprons and grille body panels were replaced with factory Toyota panels from the ('79-'83) U.S.-specific FJ40 Land Cruiser. All exterior body hardware was upgraded to stainless steel for durability. U.S.-specific exterior lights and reflectors were also swapped in to be sure the vehicle meets U.S. rules of the road. TLC also added metal Toyota apron emblems from the ('58-'74) FJ40 vintage model, removing "Land Cruiser" from the emblem.
The suspension was mostly retained from the stock Bandeirante. Both axles were freshened up but remain stock with 4.11-ratio gears. Old Man Emu provided the aftermarket suspension components consisting of new leaf springs, lift shackles to gain height for larger tires, and all-new shocks and stabilizer. BFGoodrich T/AKO 285/75R16 tires were installed around black steel wheels with Warn manual-locking hubs up front. Disc brakes are found in the front, with drums in the rear.
Six months to the day from when the vehicles arrived at TLC, the new FJ prototype was shipped off to the Calty Toyota plant for dissection and discussion. Although we're only showing you one of the prototypes, three of these vehicles were actually produced by TLC, and all three were kept secret by Toyota, being revealed to the public right here in the pages of 4WD&SU.
The new FJ Cruiser has already proven to be a worthy off-road vehicle and a great seller for Toyota, but can you imagine seeing a fleet of TLC's creations at dealerships? With only three of these vehicles in existence, your chances of driving one home are about as good as winning the lottery. If we're lucky, maybe a few of the decision makers at Toyota will read this article and be convinced that they need to bring a little more old-school style back to life.