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The High Road

by Digital Mayne Media

Planning an off-road trip to Fraser Island? Don’t be surprised to see this jacked up classic Toyota FJ40 tearing along the sand tracks in a wall of noise.

Hop over to Fraser Island and you’re guaranteed to see an incredible array of 4x4s. Beat-up old Nissan Patrols, Suzuki Jimnys and Land Rover Discoverys, tricked up dual cab utes of every vintage, even the occasional brave soul in a Range Rover tackling the tough trails on the world’s largest sand island. Then there’s this. Murray Kahler’s 1979 Toyota FJ40-Series LandCruiser. With huge lift-kit, giant BFGoodrich rubber and immaculate body finished in eye-catching Mazda red, it’s just about the coolest thing to be found in this off-road playground.

Murray’s no stranger to a few toys. His garage on the Sunshine Coast houses, amongst others, a custom 1967 Chevy Camaro, Ford F-150 Raptor and his main weakness: Ducati motorcycles. His collection includes some of the Italian brands’ finest historical racing machines and numerous 750 SuperSports, including the first one he bought at age 18. Tucked away in the corner is his very first bike, a Honda 70, bought for him to use on his parents’ farm when he was eight years old.

“As soon as I got the motorbike I was done, that was my life,” Murray said. “When I was 11, I saw my first 1975 (Ducati) SuperSport. It looked like a spaceship and I thought I’ve got to have one of those one day. My passion started with Ducatis as I love the technology that goes into them. A 1975 model compared to a 1975 Japanese bike is like chalk and cheese. Like a Ferrari compared to a Falcon.”

What’s this got to do with his mad FJ40? If Murray’s happy working on these complex Italian sports bikes, he’s got few qualms about owning and running his Toyota plaything. A career builder, he said his experiences in that trade help him with his two- and four-wheel passions.

“Building and mechanics are similar in the attention to detail needed, and often, just using common sense,” he explained. “I’m more about nutting something out before going about ripping it apart. Plus, I have a really good support group of guys. If something iffy is going on, I’ll always call or email for advice.”

The common sense bit is key, as is appreciating when somebody else’s exquisite workmanship is offered. Murray used to own a 1979 Jeep CJ7, and although it was in good nick, was starting to get rusty from his regular trips to Fraser Island. He was made aware of this FJ40 modified by an expert boat builder, saw the craftsmanship employed and how suitable it’d be for his sand adventures and quickly made a deal. “Once I saw it I knew it’d outlast me,” Murray said.

The previous owner had bought it from Gympie 4×4, the off-road specialist setting up the chassis using more robust LandCruiser 60 Series springs. The track is now wider than a normal FJ40’s thanks to a 60 Series diff, while the same model has donated its brakes, steering column and steering box. The latter greatly improves the drive and usability of an FJ40.

Also fitted under the Toyota’s then black body was a crate motor brought over a long time ago from the USA. “It’s a cast iron 350 Chev ordered about 20 years ago, that’s how long this build’s been going on,” said Murray. While it lacks a more modern aluminium block, it does have a Ram Jet aluminium top end, but even so, it’s no rocket ship, especially when compared to its beastly Ford F-150 Raptor stablemate. “It’s not the most powerful thing I’ve ever driven, but with no trailer on it’s fine,” Murray said. “For more torque, maybe a little turbo or bolt-on supercharger will happen soon.”

The motor’s mated to a GM Turbo 700 four-speed auto, which Murray said allows the FJ40 to cruise at 100km/h only using about 2000rpm, and despite its high ride height and distinct lack of aerodynamics, will happily sit at 110km/h on the highway.

The boat builder’s craftsmanship is most obvious for the body and interior. These FJ40’s were the third generation of LandCruiser – first produced in 1960 – and the two-door, short wheelbase 4×4 with angular lines, two round headlights either side of a mesh grille and upright windscreen helped it become a style icon. Problem was, those steel bodies rust after a hard life. Solving this – and ideal for his regular Fraser Island excursions and his coastal residence – was the previous owner fitting a fibreglass body, finished in that extrovert and dazzling red paint.

“BUILDING AND MECHANICS ARE SIMILAR IN THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL NEEDED, AND OFTEN, JUST USING COMMON SENSE.”

“It was quite mad the lengths he went to,” Murray said of the previous owner. “All the floors are like a boat’s with chrome-plated channelling.” Bucket seats and a deep-dish steering wheel give a Baja warrior feel to the open cabin, while a colour-coded custom dashboard and modern sound system join the practical inclusions of a padded roll cage and hose-down rubber matting on top of that special floor.

It’s the suspension and huge tyres that most grab your attention. “When I bought it, it was sitting pretty well standard to how an FJ sits, but it was rock hard,” explained Murray. “The only thing that would bounce was the tyre wall; me and my wife were like pogo sticks trying to bounce out of the thing when we took it to Fraser Island.” He took it to a specialist to have it softened, not really wanting it jacked up at all, but it was suggested he use Fox shocks. “It was jacked up about two-inches all round. I thought it looked decent and the ride was exactly what I wanted.”

Sadly, on its next trip on the sand a big hit collapsed one of the giant leaf springs and it had to be limped home two inches lower. “It’s happened three more times, and it was supposed to be fixed, but they’ve put too much curve in the spring which has made that part of the spring longer than the shackle was, so as it flattened out, it just flicked the shackle flat.” So while the general build is superb, Murray said the suspension has never been totally right. His next plan is to use a specialist in Hervey Bay to rip it to bits and “that beautiful painted chassis is going to get welded; I just want it right,” he said.

The BFGoodrich tyres certainly look right. These 35/12.5 Mud-Terrain knobblies replaced the previous all-terrain tyres, and Murray reported they’re reasonable enough on-road. “I put them on for the look as they’re far chunkier, and I drive to the conditions on the road so they’ve been fine.”

They clearly work well when it comes to sand driving, and of course ground clearance over sand is no issue either. “In soft sand if you idle along, one wheel will start to spin, but if you nail it, they both lock in and you get traction instantly,” Murray said. “At high tide I have to take it steady and follow the tracks because it sits up so high. It’s more of a chore than my Raptor, but you get sand in your arse, eyes and face anyway, so you may as well do it tough in the FJ.”

The response when other off-roaders spy this jacked-up FJ40 is hugely positive.

They love seeing it being used. Murray’s able to swing open the rear tailgate – note the custom spare wheel holder which he designed himself – throw in the BBQ and chairs and go on a sand driving fun-filled day trip.

Back home it just needs a hose off, a wipe down with some detergent and then a quick dry. The heavy-duty suspension does need a makeover, and if a dash of forced induction is added this modified FJ40 is going to be even more outrageous than it already is. A head-turning Boy’s Toy par excellence, but one that is properly used. Just as a classic LandCruiser’s supposed to be.

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