Capable of countering nearly any natural landscape while practically promising a hiccup-free trip home, Toyota’s FJ40 is the evolutionary paramount of their durable off-road vehicle offering. But at nearly sixty years old, it’s an old dog that modification firm ICON has reborn into a true titan of the trails with modern technology.
The Onset of Offroad
The Jeep began a craze after World War II that has seeded itself the same way all over the world. The love of a cheap, rugged, utilitarian form of transportation that was happy offroad as much as it was on roads. Land Rover brought Europe into the market in 1947 after mirroring the original Jeep’s architecture. Yes, everyone was in the game besides a Japanese manufacturer. But in 20 years’ time, the Toyota FJ40 would resoundingly prove to be the off-road vehicle that possessed the power, durability, and engineering to surpass all of them.
Initially, a military vehicle the Toyota “Jeep” BJ was built under a Jeep contract provided by the US military to Toyota. They needed Jeeps for the Korean war, and Japan is right next door. In 1951, Toyota decided to hold a demonstration to prove their mettle; they climbed Mt. Fiji all of it, all the way to its sixth station. Now realize that to get to the sixth station you have to traverse a volcanic ash field and you will begin to understand why this car has made Motoring History. The demonstration was an unbelievable success and set a record for being the first car to drive that high. The gauntlet of ruggedness was established. So, when ordinary citizens began picking them up, they found them more capable of the tasks than their Jeep & Land Rover counterparts.
Fast forward to 1960. At this point, Toyota had been exporting its FJ20 all over the world for several years. With more powerful motors and vast improvements in construction, the FJ series was dominating the market, but a replacement was on the way. The FJ40 brought with it new production techniques that dramatically modernized panel assembly. Power was boosted to 130 horsepower and with new low-range gearing acceleration and performance on impoverished terrain was improved. Inside new folding rear jump seats allowed for more passengers or cargo space. The most loved renovation was the relocation of the shift lever and the transfer lever off of the floor, though. This modification allowed for a third passenger to sit up front and made driving easier. All of these alterations, while important, were scrutinized and thoroughly tested to ensure that the FJ’s remarkable persistence was not jeopardized.
During the next 24 years, the FJ40 Land Cruiser would scarcely be altered because the original formulation was perfect. So perfect that Toyota scarcely updated the standard equipment available. A benefit of this is that parts are readily available, which is excellent because most of the over 300,000 sold are still operating today. Around the world, specifically in rural areas, reliable transportation can be the difference between life or death, and the FJ is and has been, the go-to choice because it never fails.
Engineering An ICON
So how do you improve on the most rugged, durable designed car created? You focus on the minute. You take the sturdy, dependable technology that made it great and improved upon the driving experience that was not great. That is where, and how, Jonathan Ward and ICON intervene. Their mission is classic transportation revisited: envisioning what the truest, purest, unadulterated version of the car could have been if business and finances had not intervened in its construction. Although overall the original Fj40 was constructed to outlast an apocalypse some components were not. Thankfully with Icon, we can see how they should have been with no shortcuts.
Taking the rugged perfection and craftsmanship into undeniable solidity. Jonathan has a strongly dispassionate feeling towards plastic, so nearly anything that can be made of metal is. Rust? Not a question, polyurethane linings seal the cars and components to keep them rust-free and watertight. The interior is protected by using German manufactured marine rated vinyl fabric, the dash with CNC aluminum, long-lasting LED lighting, and even polarized sun visors are just some of the attention to detail not withheld.
Under the original Toyota FJ stamped steel hood lies a venerable GM LS 5.7L V8. The LS is the modern revisitation of the original F-type engine. It is powerful, lightweight has fool-proof engineering, and is commonly found all around the planet. A look below the beltline and you will find a mesmerizing array of extreme off-roading suspension components coupled to the original Land Cruiser frame. Even the fan is built to endure water fording, yet it can sufficiently cool the engine in Death Valley. Keeping true to the lifesaving effectiveness that the original FJ provided, no manufacturing shortcuts have been taken.
True to form though is ICON’s dedicated retention of the original FJ look. The whole car is distinctly modern but nearly every panel has replicated reminders of their 1960’s counterparts. The hood and grill are the primary focal points of the ICON FJ40, but flanking either side, on the front quarter panels, you will notice five slated air vents, an homage to the late 1960’s FJ’s. Inside the dashboard is a litany of modern reimaginations. The gauges, certainly are, but the shifting placard on the passenger side, the windshield releases, the cabin ventilation controls, and even vents are all modeled after the years of their best vintage. Each piece an allusion to history.
Perfecting the Original
The original FJ40 will continue to be fondly remembered as a monolith, a stalwart representation of the most durable engineering we were capable of in the 1960s. As trustworthy and dependable as a dog the FJ was built to keep us alive and moving. Today, ICON is the torchbearer to that legacy by adhering to the ideas that the engineers and designers would have wanted. Like the Neolithic era the sturdy, proven designs are not radically redesigned, rather they are imbued with technological enhancements to create something stronger. That is what makes ICON’s FJ40 a proper tribute.