The success of Toyota's FJ Cruiser relies heavily on the legacy of the tried and true FJ40 Land Cruiser. Although it has a white top and an oval grille-and-headlight bezel, many Toyota diehards were discouraged by the independent front suspension and lack of removable top on the FJ Cruiser. These hardcore enthusiasts wanted a 'Cruiser that offers modern creature comforts without softening the corners of the original Land Cruiser design.
Erik Niemeyer of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, is one such person. Instead of spending his money on a new FJ Cruiser, Niemeyer created his own interpretation, starting with a rust free '76 FJ40. He wanted a vehicle that retained the original Land Cruiser feel, was capable off-road, and comfortable enough to drive every day. This is a tall order, and Niemeyer consulted several shops before he found one capable of meeting his goals. The FJ40 was sent to Proffitt's Cruisers in Delta, Colorado, for a full makeover; a process that took over nine months. "Nine months is not that long in the bigger scheme of things. I plan on owning this vehicle for the rest of my life," Niemeyer confessed to us.
The first thing we noticed when we jumped in the passenger seat of Niemeyer's Land Cruiser was how easily the engine turned over with a twist of the key. A fuel-injected 3FE engine from an FJ62 was transplanted into the '40. This engine retains the same tractor-like grunt of the factory 2F, but adds the mileage and reliability of fuel-injection. The engine is fed clean air by a Safari Snorkel and exhales through custom 2 1/2-inch exhaust with a Flowmaster muffler. From there the power is routed through an imported Toyota H55F five-speed manual transmission that is backed with a late '80s Land Cruiser "split" transfer case with a 2.26:1 low range.
Since 1976 was the first year that disc brakes were offered on the front of the FJ40 the factory brakes and axles were retained. The differentials still contain the stock 3.73 gears, but they were upgraded with ARB Air Lockers for traction on the trail without any quirky handling on the road. The lockers are powered by a Viair compressor that is also used to air up the tires after a day of wheeling. Even with the ARBs unlocked, steering can be difficult with the factory manual steering and its multitude of sloppy tie rod ends. Proffitt's Cruisers added Saginaw power steering to the FJ40 for improved precision and less wandering and bump steer. As a final touch to the drivetrain, Longfield axles were installed to replace the factory Birfields, which are prone to cracking under severe use.
The suspension is incredibly simple and supple. Skyjacker 2 1/2-inch Softride leaf springs are mounted under the axles with a Man-A-Fre U-bolt flip kit, and clean 33x10.5R15 BFGoodrich Mud Terrains are mounted on factory steel rims. Contributing to the smooth ride is the Proffitt's Cruisers shackle reversal with greasable shackles and Bilstein 5100 Series shocks on custom mounts.
While the mechanicals are impressive, the fit and finish are what really set this Land Cruiser apart from the masses. Bob Anderson laid down factory Desert Tan paint over the new steel tub from Paul Pilgrim, and the entire interior and undercarriage were coated with Speed Liner for corrosion resistance and noise reduction. It must have worked, because this is one FJ40 that is free of squeaks and rattles. The interior appears the same as when the Land Cruiser rolled off the assembly line in 1976, from the rear jump seats to the rubber floor mat to the glove box complete with the original ID plate. Toggle switches were tastefully added to the dash for the Air Lockers and the stock gauges were replaced with Auto Meter Street Rod gauges in the factory locations. Proffitt's Cruisers built a custom roll cage that ties into the seat mounts for the Corbeau Sport seats, which are located on top of a 28-gallon Man-A-Fre fuel tank. Other upgrades include the felt headliner, 3M Clear Bra applied to high wear areas, and nylon washers used on bolt surfaces.
These details complement Toyota's original design and create a quiet, comfortable 'Cruiser. After a day on the trail we would have to say that Erik Niemeyer accomplished his lofty goals. The addition of the fuel-injected engine, overdrive transmission, and power steering make the Land Cruiser much more comfortable and reliable without taking away from the original feel of the vehicle. The Air Lockers and BFGoodrich Mud Terrains add to the off-road prowess of the legendary 40 Series. And the attention to detail performed by Proffitt's Cruisers ensure that this Land Cruiser will remain clean and squeak-free for years to come.
Vehicle: 1976 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40
Owner: Erik Niemeyer
Hometown: Rio Rancho, NM
Engine: Toyota 3FE six-cylinder
Transmission: Toyota H55F five-speed manual
Transfer Case: Land Cruiser "Split Case"
Low Range Ratio: 2.26:1
Front End: Stock Land Cruiser w/ disc brakes and Longfield axles
Rear End: Stock Land Cruiser
Ring and Pinion: 3.73:1
Front Differential: ARB Air Locker
Rear Differential: ARB Air Locker
Suspension: Skyjacker 2 1/2-inch lift and Bilstein 5100 shocks
Tires: 33x10.5R15 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KMs
Wheels: 15x7 stock steel rims