2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser Modified for Overland Capability
Kurt Beiermeister’s Toyota FJC is cool, capable—and controversial
A Chevy Camaro, a Chevy Corvette, a Jeep Wagoneer, a Ford F-150, a Toyota FJ40, a Toyota FJ Cruiser, and a dump truck. Each one is an important player in connecting the dots between Kurt Beiermeister and this 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, which was on our 2019 TireRack.com Overland Adventure East.
When Kurt was just a kid, his father took him hunting, fishing, and camping. He also taught him an invaluable lesson: how to survive in the Northern woods, which helped whenever Kurt would go hiking and camping with friends or head out to explore. Then life got in the way of doing what he loved—he got busy dealing with graduating from college, starting a career, and having a family of his own. But then it happened—his daughter showed an interest in all those same aspects of being outdoors. "I figured combining my love of off-roading with all of the other things I enjoyed doing and being able to do it with my daughter was an absolutely amazing opportunity that my wife couldn't say no to! So now every time I buy a new part for my truck to upgrade it, my wife can't say no because it's for my daughter, as well as my enjoyment!" Kurt said. He also cherishes being in the woods and spending time with his daughter just as his father spent with him. "I can pass on all of the things he taught me to her and also integrate off-roading as well."
Why a 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser?
How did he end up with this FJ Cruiser for those adventures? Flip the calendar back to when he was 8 years old and riding in the back of his parents' station wagon. "My older brothers were talking about what cars they liked and what they were going to get when they got older, and both of them were into fast cars. One said he wanted a Camaro, and the other wanted a Corvette. Then they turned and asked me what I wanted. At that moment, an old, beat-up FJ40 pulled up alongside of us. It was yellow but very 'worn,' with a beautiful patina. I didn't hesitate—as soon as I saw it, I knew someday I'd be riding around in one."
Now, flip the calendar to 1995, when Kurt was cruising in a Jeep Wagoneer that he bought from his dad for a couple thousand bucks. "I was stopped at a traffic light, and ironically it was the same one in the above-mentioned description when—WHAM! A dump truck slammed into the back of me." Wagoneer? Totaled. Insurance money? An '86 Ford F-150. What to do with the leftover insurance payout? A '73 FJ40. Making it a project vehicle would satisfy Kurt's hankering to learn all things automotive.
"My dad and I took it completely apart, right down to the frame. I was in grad school at the time, so summers and holidays were when I worked on it, in spurts over the next few years. I either replaced or refinished every bit and bolt on that truck myself with the help of my dad or friends." When it came to painting it, Kurt and his friend Tom argued for weeks. Should it be Safety Orange or Corvette Yellow? Tom got sick of waiting, so he bought paint and put the cans down in front of Kurt, announcing that inside was the color they would be painting the FJ40. "When I opened the can, I immediately fell in love with the Corvette Yellow," said Kurt.
A Must: Sun Fusion Paint
And now we're down to one more vehicle in the 7 degrees of separation: Kurt purchased a used '07 FJC in the shade of Sun Fusion in 2013—chosen to match his Corvette Yellow FJ40 restoration—with 65,000 miles on the odo. After six months, it was totaled when Kurt was driving home from work in an ice storm. "I took the insurance money and put it in a separate bank account and squirreled away money here and there waiting for the perfect Sun Fusion FJC to show up for sale." Which brings us to the '08 you see here.
Right vehicle, right color, capable right off the showroom floor—or in this case, right off the state next door, New Hampshire—and with just 40,000 miles, plus all the options he had wanted, including electronic locker, A-TRAC traction control, and tow package. "When I first brought it home, I said to myself, 'There is no way I'm going to modify this thing. I'm just going to keep it stock.' As fate would have it, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups when I was searching for the truck," Kurt recalled. "This ended up influencing my modifications greatly because I saw all the cool stuff others were doing, and being a highly competitive person, I began changing the looks to make it stand out from all the others—as if yellow didn't stand out enough."
Kurt is happy with how his FJC has turned out, a build process themed in adding components that improve performance and comfort. "That's not to say that it's been the perfect experience, but it's pretty damn close, as far as I'm concerned."
Why I Overland
"I overland because I love my truck as well as the outdoors, and anytime I can put the two of those together, I'm golden," said Kurt. Most of the trips he's planning with his '08 Toyota FJ Cruiser run about three to four days, but "there are always spur-of-the-moment rides put together by friends that I can jump on if I want. I can usually have my truck ready to roll in an hour or so because all my camping gear is packed in two hard-shell containers that I leave in my garage. From mid-April to November, I have my oversized tires on and the tent is on the roof, so I just have to throw the containers in the back, strap them down, go food shopping, and I'm done."
Under the Hood
Kurt essentially left the engine and driveline stock since they're working out just fine thus far. And because: "My aftermarket warranty is still in effect until I hit 111,000 miles, so that is the biggest reason. At that point, who knows what I'll do, but I'm pleased with the truck's performance for what I use it for." He did add a K&N cold-air filter and DryCharger filter wrap, plus a Pedal Commander throttle response controller, Odyssey battery, and NGK copper spark plugs. The FJC is his daily driver "and it's killing me. I'm a home health physical therapist and some days I'm driving 80 miles, and in case you didn't know, FJCs are not the most fuel-economical vehicles out there, even in stock configuration." To fix that, he's on the prowl for a beater for daily use.
Stock Toyota Axles
Kurt runs the stock Toyota axles, which have been no problem in his fondness for rocky trails "and, of course, once in a while just gunning it through a muddy area or a challenging water crossing can be fun!" He also follows the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra to avoid what he sees all too often: people pouring money into their trucks to fix one problem after another due to the original mods. While you're down here, spy the stainless steel Borla Cat-Back dual exhaust and full set of Rasta aluminum skidplates.
Old Man Emu Suspension Upgrades
The Old Man Emu suspension kit equals 2 inches of lift. Kurt also added stainless steel extended brake lines front and rear. He makes modifications as needed and also after talking to people on trips and via Facebook and FJ Cruiser forums. "A lot of my parts were purchased used in good condition as people went 'bigger' or 'better. '" However, he's at the stage in which modifications to improve the FJC will become more expensive and technical. "A perfect example is my suspension. It cost about a grand for the one I have, but for more adjustability and travel, I'm going to need to up that by a couple grand when my current suspension needs replacement."
Toyo Open Country Tires and Mamba Wheels
The factory suspension was swapped in order to fit bigger tires—"which look better"—and to gain clearance. The answer came in the form of Toyo 285/75R17 Open Country mud-terrains, which are matched to Mamba M14 wheels with -12 offset. Kurt also installed 1.25-inch Spidertrax hub-centric wheel spacers.
That's a RESZ Fabrication V2 front bumper, and Kurt hopes they'll be producing a rear swing-out bumper in the near future, as "there is way too much weight on the stock door with the oversized tire and equipment hanging on the inside storage unit from Orange Boxx Fabrication." The 13,000-pound winch is a Badlands. You might also have noticed the door handle and mirror blackout and the FJ Freedom side windows. He also uses EZView mirrors from Trail Toys.
The interior features Husky floor liners, ARB overhead center console, rolltop center console cover insert, 4x4-pattern and classic-Toyota shift knobs, and Midland CB.
Among the overlanding/off-roading/camping essentials are an ARB rear awning, MOLLE packs for storing tools and recovery gear, portable compressor, portable battery jumper, and G.A.R.B. storage bag and 5-gallon propane tank carrier from North Bound Expeditions. But his musts? "For overlanding purposes, the Tuff Stuff rooftop tent, and the ICECO fridge comes a close second." Lights aplenty were needed for nighttime at camp and safe driving on dusty roads in the summer when he's in a convoy. "I have been on trips where you couldn't see in front of the hood of the truck if it wasn't for the rear and side lights." Brightness comes by way of a Warrior Products Pre-Runner fold-down lightbar on the roof, Baja Design Pros on the bumper combined with Hella foglights for the bumper (and on the roof), auxiliary backup light, floodlights, and work lights.
Custom RotopaX Fuel Storage
Having the RotopaX on the C-pillars is Kurt's proudest accomplishment. That's also the FJC's biggest controversy. "I needed to store extra fuel somewhere on my truck due to steadily declining fuel economy as I went up in tire size and added weight." He got permission to copy Jimmy Speranza's mounting idea after seeing the YouTube video, but Kurt put his own twist on it: aluminum diamond plate from Home Depot and Rivnuts rather than drilling holes and riveting to the sheetmetal directly. He deburred the holes and put in two coats of POR-15, plus some on the Rivnuts when he inserted them. This allows him to remove the entire panel and put the bolts in to cover the screw holes. "They can be removed and there will be 12 small bolts in the C-pillar if I want to 'go back' to a stock look." Rubber weatherstripping/gaskets on the back protect the body and prevent water from getting in. But: "A lot of people actually vilified me for it on Facebook after I posted the pictures." Opinions ranged from how horrible it looked and how dangerous having gas on the side of a vehicle was to how the drilled holes will rust and the whole setup being a "damage multiplier" (as in, it could get caught on trees and tear off other stuff).
Custom Fabricated Rock Sliders
A friend of Kurt's fabricated the sliders. "Basically, it was a lot more cost-effective having him do them than to purchase them new and have them shipped to me." Kurt knows how to fabricate and weld, "but not good enough to make the sliders like my friend did."
Vehicle: '08 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Owner: Kurt Beiermeister
Stomping grounds: Farmingdale, Maine
Build time: 3 years
Engine: 4.0L Toyota V-6
Transmission: A750F 5-spd automatic
Transfer case: VF2A
Low range ratio: 2.57:1
Crawl ratio: 33.74:1
Front axle/differential: Toyota 8-in/Open
Rear axle/differential: Toyota 8-in/Electric-locker
Front: Old Man Emu coilovers and shocks
Rear: Old Man Emu heavy-duty springs and shocks
Tires: 285/75R17 Toyo Tires Open Country M/T
Wheels: 17x9 Mamba Wheels M14
Armor: Rasta skidplates, RESZ Fabrication V2 steel front bumper, custom sliders
Cool stuff: K&N air filter, NGK spark plugs, Pedal Commander throttle response controller, Borla exhaust, Spidertrax wheel spacers, Baja Design/Diode Dynamics/Hella lights, RotopaX fuel containers, GZila Designs antenna/light mounts, Midland CB, House of Speed shift knobs, ARB awning and overhead console, Tuff Stuff rooftop tent, North Bound Expeditions mounts/bags/holder, Trail Toys mirrors, Husky Liners floor liners, FJ Freedom side windows, Orange Boxx Fabrication rack system, Odyssey battery, MOLLE packs, ICECO fridge, Warrior Products lightbar, Harbor Freight Tools portable compressor, Stanley Tools battery starter/USB charger, Coleman stove, Badlands winch