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Toyota FJ Crusier Top Truck Challenge 2009

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2009
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Four Wheeler magazine's annual Top Truck Challenge is like off-road summer camp. When you first get there you don't know anyone, but by the end of the week you have a whole new group of friends. Every day you do something different, and only the guys in charge (the Four Wheeler camp counselors) really know what's next. It is easily one of the most fun events you can take your truck to if you can get in.

As many of you know, the '06 FJ Cruiser (aka the Ninja Turtle) that we built for our Ultimate Adventure a few years back was actually a preproduction engineering mule, and since it couldn't legally be sold it was scheduled to return to Toyota where it would eventually go to the crusher. Sad but true. We wanted to give it one last shot at glory before it left us. The Toyota folks were happy to see their truck run against some bigger competition, so we took it to One Ton Off-Road in Pearblossom, California, for some 'cage upgrades as well as a 1,000-pound weight loss program ("Top Truck Turtle," Oct. '09). In fact we got the big girl down to a svelte 5,100 pounds, still heavy, but much lighter than most of our competition.

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Though we didn't win Top Truck, we did have a great time trying and would recommend entering the event to anyone interested. It's hard on equipment but more fun than you can imagine. Even though it has grown into a monster truck competition of sorts with giant tires and huge motors, some of us believe that a well-built, smaller trail rig could not only be competitive but actually win this event with an experienced driver behind the wheel.

For official results and coverage of the whole field check out the November and December issues of Four Wheeler, on newsstands right now, and order the 2009 Top Truck Challenge DVD from 4Wheel Parts, 800.213.5668,

Tank Trap
The final day is dedicated to the Tank Trap, a quarter-mile pit of doom and despair! At least that's what we had been told to expect. By now we were pretty sure we were out of contention for the trophy, but this may have actually helped us, as we went into the trap with a "just have fun" attitude. Actually we had that attitude all week-it'll save you when the other guys are getting worked up trying to win. When the rig before us rolled over backwards we knew we were in for a good time, but again we didn't get to see the course prior to running it.

Our supercharged V-6 engine had no trouble pulling the FJ up the climbs with our four-speed Atlas' worth of gearing, and before long we were straddling the deep notches, dragging along the steep canyon walls, and splashing into the water holes. The recipe involved launching up the next hill, stopping for a second to scout the upcoming water hole and hill, and then rolling into it along one side and not stopping until you were at the top of the next hill. This worked great until we busted another hub on our front axle. (We should have swapped in drive flanges the night before, but sat around the campfire laughing instead.) With only three-wheel drive it was winch time, but we kept the wheels turning at all times because you never know when traction will come. Also remember that these water holes have solid bottoms, so a moderate drive through them is possible (at least this year it was). With just four winch pulls we somehow made it to the top of the trap and out of the course in roughly 20 minutes. Some competitors finished in under five minutes; others flipped, rolled, and broke in the first few hundred feet; so we didn't feel too bad with our little truck.

The Turtle has since gone to the great trail ride in the sky. We stripped it down (all the good parts will make their way into future project trucks) and returned it to Toyota with a tear in our eyes. You were a good truck, Green Turtle.

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