Travel: The FJ Company's 'Aspen Project' Makes For A Perfect Modern Land Cruiser

The FJ Company’s ‘Aspen Project’ Makes For A Perfect Modern Land Cruiser

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
February 17, 2017
1 comments

Photography by Hagop Kaladijan

We’ve featured The FJ Company before, and if you missed Ted Gushue’s interview with the company’s president Juan Diego Calle, be sure to read how his classic family heirloom Toyota 4×4 started the Florida-based, family-owned restoration and restomod garage.

What started out innocently enough as restoring his grandfather’s tired 1982 FJ40 snowballed into building factory-spec restored vintage Land Cruisers to flip at auctions as a side business. Quality attracts the enthusiast’s dollar, so naturally Juan, his brother Nelson, and their cousin Jaime quickly became overwhelmed with build requests— they’ve been full-time Land Cruiser commissioners ever since.

After returning a number of FJ Land Cruiser models of all variances back to their former Toyota glory, the garage started receiving requests for fuel-injected reliability, ease of ownership, more comfort, and extended on-and-off-road capability. The “Classic” model was added to the lineup as a result; a trim package that’s two parts old school and one part new.

Based on the ‘80s-era FJ40 series trucks, the Classic build offers “an authentic Land Cruiser” with discreet improvements, such as a complete nut-and-bolt ground-up restoration to factory aesthetics with optional air-conditioning, upgraded front disc brakes, and a few other tweaks throughout to make the finished product an overall light-restomod for the adventurist who prefers to crawl in classic style with a dash of modern amenities.

After dozens of orders were placed for Classics, Juan wanted to take it to the next level. Despite his automotive business, Juan openly admits he’s not the type of petrolhead that wants to fiddle with finicky carburetors and diagnose “old car problems” when they oh-so-conveniently decide to get temperamental.

So, he commissioned “The Aspen Project” with a very specific discipline in mind. “We wanted this to be our interpretation of what a modern FJ Land Cruiser would be. It had to retain all of its classic features but with modern guts, so to speak. I think we’ve accomplished this with ‘The Aspen Project’ and subsequent ‘Sport’ models. It’s still a vintage Land Cruiser, but powered by a modern Toyota engine, not some typical GM swap.”

Once the donor was sourced, it was stripped down for a complete body-off-frame restoration. You might notice that this truck is based on an FJ43, which visually separates it from the FJ40 by way of an approximate one-foot rear overhang body extension for additional cargo hold. 

As with all of their builds, authentic Toyota OEM parts were used throughout. All new seals, gaskets, rubber, trim, emblems, and lighting equipment were sourced. The Aspen Project, however, was constructed with Juan’s “hands-off” mentality—he didn’t want an old truck, he wanted a modern truck cloaked in ancient armor.

So, while The Aspen Build resembles a near identical original FJ43, it’s under the skin where Juan and his team of 65 have hidden their magic; an honest turnkey character was required. Juan wanted a truck he could drive daily. Something he could haul the family around in, use to pick up groceries, whatever the day threw at him, and he wanted to be able to comfortably tackle whatever it was in this truck without the worries that commonly plague older machines subjected to daily duties.

Whether it’s on pavement or over trails, the Series 80 Land Cruiser-derived 4.5-liter DOHC 1FZ inline-six mated to a five-speed manual gearbox ensures guaranteed reliability, improved responsiveness, and a significant jump in power.

With 210-horsepower on tap conducted through a Haltech electronic fuel injection system, keeping tabs on engine vitals through the original gauge pod wasn’t going to cut it. In response, a retro-themed custom digital instrument panel was created with LED backlighting for more accurate readouts, with modern switchgear added to the dash for a minimalistic look that keeps functionality in mind.

Elsewhere in the interior, Recaro semi-buckets strapped with four-point Sparco harnesses were reupholstered in marine-grade fabric to match the rear folding jump seats and door cards. Hidden JL Audio speakers and a Rockford Fosgate center console control panel were installed for modern audio without detracting from the classic feel of the simple interior. A Vintage Air under dash air-con unit keeps occupants cool.

LED interior lighting was added to increase brightness inside the cab, while a pair of bumper-mounted seven-inch PIAA LED fog lamps light up the outside; useful in tandem with the Warn 8274 winch that sits front and center on the truck’s leading edge. Custom projector LED headlights provide laser-like white light, a huge improvement over the dim yellow original sealed beam units.

A backup camera hidden in the jerry can/license plate bracket works with a trick rearview mirror screen display to bring this ’82 up to ’17. New old stock Toyota factory FJ steel wheels were sourced, painted gunmetal gray, and wrapped in 33-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tread. The increased tire size required a raise in ride height, so The FJ Company installed an uprated modern replacement suspension kit from the Aussie FJ fanatics at Old Man Emu.

Finished in a crisp but utilitarian matte white paint, the sand colored canvas folding roof—wrapping a full black rollcage—was color-matched to the front grille for a timeless contrast. The build was completed in nine months, the standard turn-around time for the shop’s builds. Like all of their trucks, The Aspen Project was stripped, restored, and customized entirely in-house.

Juan built this truck to his standard, but a customer who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer acquired The Aspen Project shortly after its 2016 SEMA unveiling. The “Classic Meets Modern” makeup behind The Aspen Project proved to be another huge hit for The FJ Company.

So much so in fact, that they’ve added the build-type alongside their “Classic” and “California” constructs. They’ve named the multi-tool modernity the “Sport” model, under the context that it’s “Built for the serious enthusiast. Equipped for modern driving.” With cult following looks and improved underpinnings, we can’t help but think this is our ideal Land Cruiser.

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Owned a ’77 and that thing rusted from the inside out. I miss the rubber floors and hosing it out clean. Reliable as a horse. 12 mpg in 4H or 4L or 2H not an economy vehicle.

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