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Trail’s End: A Mechanical Love Affair

Posted in Features on August 1, 2018
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Photographers: Stuart A. Bourdon

Bob Doherty can tell you a story of a high school love affair that ends with bright orange paint instead of a breakup. Beginning in his last year of high school, Bob and the ’69 Toyota Land Cruiser started their relationship by spending lazy days on the trail and in the sand, learning all there was to know about one another. The Land Cruiser remained mostly stock for the beginning of the relationship, but as parts wore out and broke, Bob took the opportunity to make quality improvements—the first being the engine.

The stock mill didn’t break or wear out, Bob just wanted more power. His solution came in V-8 form with a 350ci ’70 Chevy small-block that had a Christmas wish list of upgrades. The engine was bored 0.030 inches over stock and given TRW flat-top pistons, a Sig Erson cam and lifter set, Crane rocker arms with TRW chromoly pushrods, and ported and polished Chevy Bow Tie heads. As a result of all the work done to it, the engine squeezed out a 10.6:1 compression ratio. Even with the goodies in the engine, Bob wanted a bit more oomph from under the hood; he added a NOS Cheater Series nitrous oxide injector system, allowing the V-8 Land Cruiser to flirt with 600 horses of power.

To get as intimate as possible with the gear selection process, Bob chose a reconstructed ’67 Muncie four-speed M22 manual transmission for his ’Cruiser. He wrapped the bellhousing with a Lakewood scattershield, added a Hurst Competition Plus shifter and McLeod 11-inch clutch and pressure plate, and also smoothed out the shifting with synchros on all the gears.

Of all the modified parts on the ’Cruiser, Bob left the chassis alone, aside from the 2-inch steel-tube rollcage mounted to the frame. More careful work went into the suspension when Bob reworked the shock mounts to accept a pair of KYB gas-charged shocks at each wheel in the front. The rear of the rig was light enough that one shock per corner was enough to do the job. Bob maintained the leaf-spring suspension on the ’Cruiser, but he removed a leaf from each rear pack to soften the ride. To decrease binding, he lined each leaf with sheets of polypropylene to keep the steel faces from contacting each other.

The FJ40 was often found wearing 15x10-inch Enkei 30 wheels dressed with 11-15LT Tru-Trac tires, or if the occasion was the dunes, a quartet of Streaker three-piece aluminum wheels and Big Brother paddle tires from Sand Tires Unlimited. The ’Cruiser’s two-piece fiberglass body came from Malotte Manufacturing and was further glitzed by a coat of Competition Orange Imron paint with a clearcoat to keep it shining for years to come.

Bob wanted to make sure the FJ was beautiful inside and out, so he handbuilt the dashboard from birch, sprinkled in a custom arrangement of gauges, and tailored all the wiring to his specific needs. The high-backed poly bucket seats were well padded, making all the time spent behind the Grant steering wheel painless and carefree. The rear of the rig could either house a back seat or be smartly draped with a black vinyl snap-on tonneau cover.

Whether perched on a boulder or parked for a night on the town, Bob’s 13 years of devotion showed through on this build, which we featured in the August 1986 issue of Four Wheeler. The axles and transfer case might be stock, but much like human relationships, it’s the little things that make a difference—like the Chevy Bow Tie on the grille, chrome plating throughout the vehicle, and replacing virtually all hardware with stainless hex-head bolts.

We want to hear about your high school wheeling rig! Was it a relationship built to last or a two-month fling ending with a blown tranny? Send the story to and please make sure to include some high-resolution photos!

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