Everyone Always Forgets About The Toyota FJ55
Photos: Hagop Kaladijan
We sent our photographer Hagop on the Copperstate Overland last month and he captured some of the best classic off-roading we’ve seen in some time. Along the way he was tasked with capturing exceptional vehicles that stood out from the pack, needless to say this FJ55 stuck out like a sore thumb. Such an incredible design, and in many respects it’s sort of the missing link between the iconic FJ40 and the more modern FJs we saw dominating the 4×4 market through the 70, 80’s and 90’s.
I caught up with the owner Hank Gries after all the metaphorical and actual dust had settled.
Ted Gushue: Tell me about your FJ 55. This thing is pretty beautiful, but I have to admit I’ve never seen one in person before.
Hank Gries: Thank you. That’s quite a compliment. Well, I’m not quite sure where to begin. I’ve only had it for about a year and a half. Purchased it from a local architect here in town who has a passion for Land Cruisers. He never seems to keep them very long. He goes on to the next project, one after the other.
TG: You’re based in Phoenix, right?
TG: Is this your first Land Cruiser?
HG: It is, yes. I’ve seen them driving around but this was the first FJ55 that I’d ever seen. It’s kind of rare. It’s sort of like the missing link, in terms of Land Cruiser evolution. When I saw one in really good condition, I researched it and thought this might be a pretty rare find. I scooped it up. I’ve been happy ever since.
TG: Yeah. It’s got this really groovy sort of futuristic, retro vibe about it.
HG: It does. I remember speaking to some of the guys and they thought, it has such a unique look, I don’t know what other truck looks like that. It’s got this little robot face. It does seem very futuristic when you think of it being here in North America surrounded by a lot of Ford and GM cars of the era. It looks very Japanese. It looks like something that if you were hunting Godzilla, this is the vehicle you’d probably want to go chasing him around with.
TG: Hah! Yes totally! What’s the powerplant like?
HG: It’s an inline-6. Incredibly simple motor. I’m not a mechanic, but from the research I’ve done, it’s a very rugged, rudimentary, very basic engine. It does not require a certain type of motor oil. You can put pretty much put any oil in it. Which is great if you’re out in the boonies, the Outback, or the Safari. It’s got a lot of great low-end torque and a surprising amount of horsepower for the size. It seems to move the truck pretty well, of course, compared to my old Porsche that I had it’s definitely going to be a lot slower. That’s the thing, I have never really the opportunity to drive any of the FJ 40s until after I bought this one. It rides a lot nicer. It’s definitely more civilized in that respect. I’m just pretty thankful for what I got.
TG: How did it perform on the Copperstate Overland?
HG: It did very well. The worst calamity I experienced during the rally was that the “4-wheel drive” badge popped off. I closed the tailgate too hard one-day but that was about it. Everything else on the truck ran like a whistle.
I have a Lexus LX570, which is comparable to the current 200 series Land Cruiser, that I off-road in Arizona. They have all of the most modern technology and adaptive height control. Going from that to 4-wheeling in the FJ 55 was a pretty big step I suppose, but the FJ55 was just so capable. The one thing, I was most impressed with is how it handled. It’s just as grabby as the FJ 40s. After the actual Copperstate Overland, I took a couple of guys from FJ Company and we wheeled Chicken Point, which is a class 5 off road trail where it just performed beautifully.
The most important thing I think a lot of folks either don’t know or forget is dropping the tire pressure when you’re off-road. I dropped mine to maybe 17 pounds. It really enhances the capability of pretty much any truck. It gives the tire a bigger footprint, so it grabs onto those rocks. In fact, I never actually needed 4-wheel drive. I just scurried up the hills. No problem.