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Twisted Customs Ultimate FJ45 Rock Buggy

Upping The Ante

Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

If you are even a casual reader of Four Wheeler, you likely recognized that Top Truck Challenge (TTC) has been bringing together some of the most capable vehicles and the off-road best drivers the world has to offer for nearly two decades. If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall the name Robb Rutledge. Robb campaigned his very unique FJ45 Land Cruiser at TTC back in 2004. With a Chevy turbodiesel engine, Unimog portal axles, and 42-inch Super Swampers, the Land Cruiser pickup was hard to top. So when it was time to create a new wheeling rig, Robb knew that he had his work cut out for him.

Robb turned to Twisted Customs in Rapid City, South Dakota, to create an even bigger, more capable FJ45 than his previous TTC vehicle. “We’ve built a lot of competition buggies, and most are much smaller and lighter than Robb’s,” explained Jason Paule of Twisted Customs. Instead of the standard 104-inch wheelbase, the 2-inch DOM tubular chassis on Robb’s buggy was designed to provide a 120-inch wheelbase for added stability. The chassis was then fitted with a 6.2L GM LS3 engine built by Schwanke Engines with 5.32cc heads and a custom cam to produce 490 horsepower. This is a big jump from the 300 horsepower of Robb’s previous FJ45, yet the all-aluminum LS3 weighs 225 pounds less than the old 6.5L GM turbodiesel.

Power is routed through a TH350 three-speed automatic transmission, which was also built by Schwanke. The transmission is bolted to the engine with an Ultrabell bellhousing and features a 2,400 rpm-stall torque converter and upgraded clutches to live behind the big horsepower. A sturdy Advance Adapters Atlas II provides 4.3:1 gear reduction and splits power to the front and rear axles, which is where things get interesting. Robb is a firm believer in portals after running Unimog 404 axles under his FJ45, but he stepped up to the even larger 406 axles for his buggy. The Unimog 406 axles provide over 20 inches of ground clearance when shod with 47-inch Super Swamper LTB tires.

Steering axles are used front and rear, with a double-ended PSC ram connected to custom steering arms in the front, and a single-ended PSC ram and tie rod used in the rear. The hydraulic rams are used in conjunction with an orbital valve and P-pump steering pump, also from PSC. The portal axles required a robust link suspension to combat any axlewrap produced by the leverage exerted by the portal axles. Twisted Customs fabricated custom-triangulated four-link bracketry to mimic the same geometry they use in their competition buggies. The links are constructed from 2-inch-diameter, 0.500-inch-wall DOM tubing and capped with huge FK 11⁄4-inch shank rod ends. The links work in conjunction with 2.5-inch diameter Radflo coilovers.

One of the biggest complaints about buggies is that, although they are very capable, often times the aesthetics leave something to be desired. Robb wanted a vehicle that still retained the look and feel of an FJ45 and was instantly recognizable. This was accomplished using a Twisted Customs narrowed fiberglass grille and hood with integrated fenders. Sheetmetal skins wrap around the tube chassis in front of the custom Aqualu aluminum bed that was cut into three pieces, shortened 68 inches, and narrowed 42 inches to fit the chassis.

With his new vehicle complete, Robb has conquered some of the toughest trails on the continent. Perhaps the only trail left on the bucket list at this point is the infamous Tank Trap .

The Details
Owner/Hometown: Robb Rutledge/ Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Vehicle/Model: Twisted Customs FJ45 buggy
Estimated value: N/A
Type: Schwanke Engines GM 6.2L LS3 V-8
Aspiration: Stock EFI
Output, hp/torque, lb-ft: 490/N/A
Transmission: Turbo 350
Transfer Case: Atlas II 4.3
Front: Triangulated four-link, 2.5-in Radflo coilovers
Rear: Triangulated four-link, 2.5-in Radflo coilovers
Axles/ Differentials
Front: Unimog 406 portal, PSC full hydro steering, OE air locker
Rear: Unimog 406 portal, PSC hydro steering, OE air locker
Ring and pinion: 3.14:1 (2.08:1 at hubs)
Wheels: N/A
Tires: 47-in Super Swamper LTB