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1973 FJ40 Restored And Modernized

Posted in Features on March 17, 2017
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The Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser is a four-wheeling legend, but when viewed in the context of today’s technology, some say that it’s an anachronism and ill-suited to the modern highways. An owner of a vintage FJ needing a refresh has some major choices to make: restore to stock, or nearly stock, or bring it up to modern technological standards. Kelly Pfledderer, of Indianapolis, faced such a choice but fortunately, his choice was easy and he could avoid becoming a target for restoration purists because his ’73 Land Cruiser was already a basket case and missing a lot of original gear.

Kelly was looking for an expedition-style Land Cruiser, one that was long distance capable on or off the highway, with good all-around trail capability and more than a little comfortable. Luckily, he had a very skilled, experienced, and renowned builder/fabricator nearby: John Conrad, of JB’s 4x4, of Kingman, Indiana ( John gave Kelly everything he asked for and then some.

The FJ40 was first stripped down to a pile of parts. As usual with this vintage Toyota Land Cruiser (TLC), the original steel body was Swiss cheese, so an aluminum body from Aqualu Industries replaced it. The original top, doors, hood, and fenders were restored to full splendor in JB’s 4x4 shop. The body was then given many coats of PPG Dune Beige paint and reinstalled onto the Toyota chassis after it had been stripped, squared, repaired, and powdercoated black. From there, it got all new mechanicals, the details of which you can see in the pictures. It may still have a Toyota FJ40 soul, but the heart comes mostly from GM and Dana.

It took about a year for John to get this Land Cruiser from a corroded pile of parts to a renewed and modernized FJ40. It’s definitely understated and one of those rigs you can walk up to with few expectation and then spend an hour looking at the finely crafted details. Kelly is now getting to know his “new” FJ40 and looking forward to many adventures.

At A Glance

Vehicle: ’73 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
Owner: Kelly Pfledderer
Stomping grounds: Indianapolis, Indiana
Build time: One year

An Aussie-built Kaymar bumper carries the weight in back. It incorporates a swing-away tire carrier and racks for two NATO-style cans. Conrad added a mount for an X-Treme Hi-Lift jack. A RotopaX Road+Trail storage box mounts to the hub of the tire mount to carry ready-use gear.

Engine: GM 5.3L V-8
Transmission: NV4500 five-spd manual
Transfer case(s): Dana 300
Low range ratio(s): 2.62:1
Crawl ratio(s): 60.3:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 44, Superior Axle & Gear axleshafts, 4.10:1 gears, JB’s 4x4 diff cover/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: Dana 60, disc brakes, 4.10:1 gears, JB’s 4x4 diff cover/ARB Air Locker

Sitting pretty under the hood is a 325hp 5.3L GM LS V-8. What else? Also visible is the Hydroboost brake master for the four-wheel disc brakes and ARB Twin compressor with a custom built and well-hidden air tank. Dual Optima YellowTops power the vehicle and winch with a National Luna Split Charge System. While awaiting the next trail run, the batteries are kept topped up by a NOCO Genius Gen 2 onboard waterproof charger. The 5.3L engine is mated to a GM NV4500 and coupled to a Dana 300 transfer case with an oversized rear output shaft and a disc-type parking brake.

Front: Old Man Emu leaf springs, shackle reversal, Bilstein 5100 shocks
Rear: Old Man Emu leaf springs, Bilstein 5100 shocks
Steering: Custom JB’s 4x4, PSC custom steering box and hydro-assist

Tires: 33x10.50R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain
Wheels: 17x8 American Racing Mojave

Lighting: ARB Intensity 7-in LED
Armor: Kaymar rear bumper, ARB front winch bumper, custom JB’s 4x4 fuel tank skidplate
Cool stuff: Warn Zeon 8-S winch, Fusion amplifier, Lowrance chartplotter, PSC hydro-assist steering, ARB twin-cylinder air compressor, Optima YellowTop batteries, National Luna Split Charge System, NOCO Genius Gen2 onboard waterproof charger, Roto Pax storage box, Bestop Trailmax II Pro seats, Alpine speakers, MOMO steering wheel, Dakota Digital instrumentation

The hose-out interior is understated and traditional but comfortable. And quiet, with a lot of sound deadening material added stealthily so it’s not obvious. Plus, it’s cool, with a custom fabbed A/C system. The front seats are Bestop Trailmax II Pros, and the rear is a matching Fold-N-Tumble. JB’s fabbed a rollcage to deliver a safe ride as well, in case the TLC goes rubber side up. Kelly likes his tunes and doesn’t like to be lost, so he installed a Lowrance HDS-9M Gen 2 chartplotter, which has GPS and mapping, as well as tune capability. It’s connected to a Fusion amplifier and four Alpine SPS-510 5 1/4-inch speakers. Steering is achieved via a Momo wheel on a tilt column. Instrumentation comes from Dakota Digital VHX-1100 that contains both analog and digital readouts in a compact pod that mimics the original TLC pod.
One thing John Conrad at JB’s 4x4 knows is suspension, and he did some of his best work on this Land Cruiser. It’s old school but dialed to a gnat’s ass. The Dana 44 is mounted spring-under with a custom shackle reversal using tapered-leaf Old Man Emu springs. PSC built a custom steering box for this rig and John built the rest of the steering system in his shop from the best components. Also installed is a PSC assist-cylinder. The thick-tube D44 carries 4.10 cogs and an ARB Air Locker as well as Superior ’shafts and what appear to be Spicer cold-forged universals. John makes his own diff covers.
The Dana 60 rear is a semi-float with 4.10 gears and an ARB Air Locker, plus disc brakes and an aluminum cover with carrier bearing support. It’s hung by OME springs and damped by Bilstein 5100 shocks- which appear to be valved about perfectly for the application. Also visible is the 22-gallon fuel tank and skidplate custom built by JB’s 4x4.
Storage space is always a problem with bobtails. But not in Kelly’s rig. Even seating four, there’s room in back for a little extra gear beside the Fusion amplifier. Plus, the Bestop seat folds and tumbles to get even more room. The Kaymar racks swing away nicely to let the traditional Land Cruiser double doors open fully. Yes, there are seat belts for all passengers. John added some other small storage spaces where he could find the room.

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