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4-Corners Moderator
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
July 2019 Rig of the Month: 101Firedog



BEFORE:




The earliest photos I have of ARCA9 - by a long shot, due to an unfortunate data loss. 3 days after I signed the paperwork at the dealership, I was out at the local Hidden Falls Adventure Park putting it through its paces! The engine bay is much later, but is the oldest engine bay photo I've got.

AFTER:





We'd like to congratulate 101Firedog for having the July 2019 Rig of the Month!


Hayden: Tell us a bit about yourself (Family/pets, work/school, hobbies/interests, location, etc.)

Austin: My immediate family's mostly from Texas, and I was born and raised there. I studied theater & computer science in college and now work as a software engineer during the week.

I tend to focus on a few hobbies at a time, rather than just adding new ones alongside the old. 4-wheeling is obviously a big one at the moment. I'm also an enthusiastic casual consumer of video games - classics from the 80s & 90s as well as more relaxed or story-focused contemporary titles. I built a two-dance-pad home setup for Dance Dance Revolution-style dance games. Originally I bought a hard metal pad, but now I'm working on building my own. I enjoy reading sci-fi, especially pulp paperbacks from the 70s & 80s - the kind you can get 10 of for a dollar a piece in the back of a used book store.

I love eating & making food - especially Indian & Japanese cuisine. Not like a Michelin-starred restaurant, though - I look for classic, delicious dishes with wide appeal. I've got my own cookbook of collected & refined recipes alongside the purchased books, and a full bar where I can mix up just about any ****tail.

I'm "stuck" in the city but (because of that?) love road trips - both the journey and the destination. There's more open road out west so I tend to strike out in that direction - Big Bend National park, Moab, Las Vegas, etc - at least nowadays.


Hayden: How did you come to own your FJ Cruiser?

Austin: A business I'd been pouring heart, soul, & money into for years found its feet and I sold my stake... and suddenly "What car I'd get someday if I had the money" wasn't just idle dreaming.

I wanted a 4x4 to build into a Zombie Response Vehicle (and also road-trip vehicle, on account of how much I love road trips). I wanted a "compact SUV" form factor instead of a pickup truck or something like a 4-door Jeep because I thought it would be easier to navigate around and fit it places. At the time everything in that form factor had been discontinued in the US except the Jeeps, but my family was lifelong Toyota owners and Toyota has a great reputation especially for longevity of their vehicles in adverse conditions - something that a Zombie Response Vehicle would need!

In the end, Toyota's reputation won out and I started looking at late-model FJ Cruisers instead of Jeeps. When I saw the two-tone Magma paint color & funky styling in person, I was in love and my mind was made up that I was going to get one.


Hayden: Is the FJ Cruiser your first off-road vehicle? If not, what was the first vehicle you took wheeling?

Austin: It's the first! Bought with the intent to go off-road, taken to a local off-road park before the dealer's 3-day 150-mile return warranty was up!


Mod List:

My build-up thread covers most of these in-depth, with progress photos & narration along the way. Check it out for more detail on any of the following!

ARMOR:

  • ARB Deluxe front bumper
  • BudBuilt 3/16" skid plates - bumper fill plate all the way back to the gas tank.
  • All-Pro APEX rock sliders
  • TrailWorx rear link skids
  • ARB rear bumper
In the interest of maintaining daily-drive-ability, I figured I wouldn't lift too high - but that means less clearance. So, armor up with the beefiest stuff out there and load up some wide tires for maximum traction to drag through!



SUSPENSION/WHEELS/TIRES:

My tires at the moment are the classic BFGoodrich T/A KO2s, in 305/65/r17. They're 33" tires, but a 40mm wider contact patch with the ground than the 285/70R17 option. They also fit (barely) without a body mount chop.

The suspension is ToyTec's BOSS Performance kit, but with the front coilovers upgraded to 700 pound springs instead of the 650 that came with the kit.



ENGINE PERFORMANCE:

The big one is Magnuson's 2010+ Supercharger, beautifully color-matched in Magma.



Additionally,

  • Off-Road Garage (the Kazakhstani company) snorkel
  • URD Mark3 3" stainless catback exhaust
  • Oil catch can in the PCV system

LIGHTING/ELECTRONICS:

  • 2x rigid driving lights, facing forward on the front bumper
  • 2x rigid floodlights on the sides of the front bumper
  • Alternator upgrade: 130 Amp 4Runner alternator
  • Battery upgrade: Odyssey 31M-PC2150 marine deep-cycle battery
  • "Big 5" wiring ugprade - bumped all the main alternator / starter / battery cables by at least one size, added some more 0-gauge grounds
  • Added accessory fuse boxes in the engine bay and behind the rear seats
  • Edison (120V AC) outlet w/ 2 fast-charge USB ports added below front passenger A/C vent
  • Edison (120V AC) power strip w/ 2 fast-charge USB ports below rear passenger seat
  • Auxilary, charged-off-main-electrics, but isolated-with-a-button-press rear battery
  • Dometic CFX40 electric fridge/freezer powered off that rear electric system
  • Illuminated boost gauge for the supercharger under the driver's side A/C vent
  • CB radio - Cobra 18 WX ST II mounted in the dashboard

EXTERIOR MODIFICATIONS:

I'm wary of touching the exterior! Obviously, the armor, bumpers, and snorkel can be seen from the outside, but I haven't done much beyond that!

  • Opened the fake hood scoop into a real vent
  • Swapped the headlights, taillights, & front fascia for a streamlined, pure-LED set
INTERIOR MODIFICATIONS:

A previous owner swapped the fabric seat covers with black leather, but it's definitely worth noting. It's not seatcovers, either - the seats actually got completely reupholstered! I love it.

  • Drifta drawer system in the rear cargo area - two teflon-slide lockable cargo drawers, a stowable camp table, and a flush slide for my refrigerator. All perfectly fit to the FJ Cruiser by the Australians.
  • LED dome lights
  • Tuffy lockable center console - 10/10 would recommend. Easy & indispensable!
RECOVERY MODIFICATIONS:
  • WARN M8000 winch on the front bumper
  • ARB tow hitch receiver on the rear - it's got a recovery point built into the hitch in addition to the regular receiver & saftey-chain anchor points.



Hayden: Any modifications unique to only your FJ Cruiser?

Austin: A couple rare modifications that I have unique takes on, I think.

Opening up the fake hood scoop into a real vent. Every one of the brave few who've opened up the fake hood scoop have done it slightly-differently, so my approach would, I think, technically qualify: I used a double grille to keep even small particles out, and I replaced the one-time-use plastic trim clips with re-usable bolts. That way I can easily get back into that area if I need or want to change anything later on without having to burn ~$12 of specialty plastic fasteners.



I think my boost gauge may also qualify - because while I'm sure another supercharged FJ somewhere has a boost gauge, I went through the trouble of connecting mine to the FJ's dashboard dimmer circuit so it'll shut off its lights when you shut off the dash lights - you know, like a regular gauge should!



The headlights and taillights are unique as far as I know - though they are a kit so I'm sure someone else, somewhere has them. What makes mine unique is how I swapped all of the connectors on the headlight side and the FJC side for my own, weatherproof, solidly-soldered connectors. It's not huge, but it's night-and-day more solid than the aftermarket parts came from their factory. The Toyota connectors and wiring, too, were starting to show signs of fatigue after how many times I have had to take the headlights in and out when working on them or on something they block access to.




Finally, the one that may actually be truly unique, is the wiring harnesses I made for the center console switches and cabin fuse box accessories. I wanted - nay, needed - all of my aftermarket accessories that lit up to dim correctly! I also didn't want a messy fusebox that made it hard to disconnect specific accessories to troubleshoot issues down the line.

For illumination, I built a forward-thinking harness and spliced it into the FJ once Every illuminated dashboad accessory since then has been soldered up in the comfort of my home, at my desk, and then just plugged in to the FJ's wiring. No cramped crimping or stretched soldering! Not only does this make the process of installing new accessories faster and easier, but they're much more ruggedly-built, too.



For general accessory power, I built single-pole connector harnesses off of a couple fuses in the fuse box, with plenty of slack. Now, powering any new accessory is also plug-and-play by the time it gets out to the FJ.



These played out exactly as I'd hoped they would, and I've patted myself on the back many times as a result!


Hayden: What modification has been your favorite or has been the most worth the money/time/effort that you’d recommend it to someone else?

Austin:
Fridge/Freezer with auxiliary battery.



Going to the store but want to run some errands afterwards? No biggie, just put the perishable groceries in the fridge.

Road tripping and want to bring your own beverages to save money, but also want them to be cold? You could deal with a cooler, space for insulation, and swapping ice out... or you could just put 'em in the fridge.. Heck, packing meals for a road trip? You can't really pack frozen food for a long trip because coolers keep things right at freezing at best - unless you want to deal with dry ice and its suffocation / explosion risks. If you can even find it to replenish it on a road trip (I've done this before). Or, you could... just put that frozen food in the freezer.

Going to hang out or camp somewhere, want to bring some beer? You can fill up a cooler and maybe it'll still be cold by the time you get there, or you can lug a cooler full of unnecessary ice and ice water around... or you can just reach into the fridge!

Hot summer day at a car meet? Cold drinks don't require any preparation of forethought or purchase (like a cooler or ice), just toss some in the fridge on the way over. Heck, you could even toss some ice cream in the freezer, too!

Leftovers from a restaurant or other big meal? No worries about getting them home right away, heck, you can even forget them in the car overnight and they won't be ruined if you put them in the fridge!

I feel like a million bucks every time I fetch something from the fridge that's just sitting there in the back, doing its own thing, keeping my stuff cold with no ice required!

Second place goes to the supercharger, but only with the color match. I love the performance boost, I love the sound, I love watching the boost gauge, but it was, admittedly, not cheap. Expensive, one might even say. Pop the hood and see that bright magma rectangle staring back at me with "MAGNUSON" in black relief, though... and all doubt drains away.


Hayden: What upgrade has been your least favorite, or what modification would you do differently if you had to do it over again?

Austin: Making the hood scoop "real." Good gracious. It takes up two complete posts in my "Member Build-Up" thread because I hit the 20,000 character limit on the first post. It was a difficult, painstaking adventure with no room for error that had no discernable benefit to the FJ.

It took me several nerve-wracking weeks and if I had to do it over again I wouldn't do it. I'm not even going to go into it any more. Put a light bar or something in the "scoop;" there's no reason to try to open it up for airflow!


Hayden: What future modifications do you have planned for your FJC?

Austin: I'd like to think I'm nearly "done" with the build-up phase, about ready to move on to "maintain & improve." I've busted my butt in the years since I got it building it out into my Zombie Response Vehicle as fast as I could!

For sure, I still need to do the following:

  • Better roof-rack. Lower-profile with a full bed so I can actually store cargo up there.
  • Rear lower link skids - where the shocks connect to the hub assemblies. I've dinged this once before and got lucky.
  • Onboard Air - that dual ARB compressor, in particular. It'll have a dedicated tank, and I know right where I want to put it - just need to get around to it.

And, depending on where my interests go over the next few years, I'm eyeing:


  • long-travel rear suspension
  • rooftop tent
  • re-gearing the transfer case with Marlin's higher-ratio kit

That last one in particular has me quite excited, but it's quite an undertaking - according to their install guide, in addition to pulling and completely disassembling the transfer case, you've got to cut on some of the parts to make them fit! Hopefully Marlin comes up with a drop-in replacement FJC transfer case that just has a lower ratio. I don't want to go for one of their addon cases because I dont want a second shift lever - I like my second cupholder!


 

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Discussion Starter #2

Hayden: Where all have you been with your FJ Cruiser? What trail/park/location is your favorite?

Austin:

I've been to

Big Bend National Park


Arches National Park


Some Trails around Moab


And of course Ouray, Colorado for the FJ Summit in the San Juan mountains.


I've also been making the annual journey out to the Lone Star Toyota Jamboree at the Barnwell Mountain ORV park in northeast Texas each year:



The FJ's also done its fair share of highway road trips, out to Knob Creek in Kentucky and up to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore at the top side of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

A favorite is hard to pick - Probably a toss-up between taking Black Gap Road out to the Mariscal Mercury Mine in Big Bend National Park, or the "Gulches" FJ Summit trail. Both of those feature abandoned & disused old structures. The mine at Big Bend is remarkable because of how remote and unpopulated it is, given the relative ease of access, whereas there are so many different abandoned mining structures hanging out in the San Juan mountains.

Black Gap Road to Mariscal Mercury Mine at Big Bend National Park


Gulches FJ Summit Trail Run


Hayden: What park/location have you not been to yet that you would like to take your FJ to?

Austin:

I definitely need to get it out to Las Vegas - my other car's driven to Vegas and it sometimes taunts the FJ about it.

I'd also really like to visit Centralia, Pennsylvania - an old coal-mining town whose mines caught fire and forced the abandonment of the town. The fires still burn, and sometimes the ground still smokes! Ghost towns intrigue me and I'd like to see this one before the fire's completely gone and it's just another "regular" ghost town.

4-wheel-wise, Moab was my big bucket-list item in the FJ and while I certainly haven't done everything in Moab - far from it - I've at least been there. I have an itch to go somewhere with tall trees and snow - either the Pacific Northwest or New England - but I haven't set my heart on any particular location yet.


Hayden: Has anyone on the forum inspired your build or been a go to resource for you?

Austin:

Not directly - not to where I saw what someone else did and decided "I need that, exactly that!" But,


  • @debFJVT's enthusiasm & adventuring spirit are infectious, and I am inspired to try and do more with my FJ.
  • @Iconic_'s fabrication work is inspiring to me, though I'm not currently on a path to learn that myself.

Everyone that ever posts a photo out camping with their rig makes me want to get up & get out into the wilderness. It shows that there's a community all attached to this same odd little 4x4 that's having a blast out there, and hey - that could be me, too!


Hayden: You appear to be quite the electrical pro when it comes to your rig, any advice for those looking at attempting doing their own electrical work?

Austin:

If you've never had any formal education in electric circuits, get yourself one of those kids "fun with electronics" kits and do all the activities. A basic understanding of what's going on in circuits will do so much to enable you to understand the electrics in your vehicle. A basic understanding is all you need - no doctorate degree required for things like lights, batteries, stereo, etc.

Then, get a digital multimeter that can do these three core things (and learn how to use it to do them):


  • measure voltage
  • check if a circuit is open or short
  • measure resistance

That tool combined with a basic understanding of circuits will enable you to understand, diagnose, and build (if necessary) basically every circuit that 4x4 accessories will need.

On a more advanced note, I firmly believe it's worth it to properly solder and heat-shrink your wiring connections. They look so much better and they'll last so much longer, and you'll feel better about them, too.


Hayden: What has been the most memorable experience with your FJ Cruiser?

Austin:

My first FJ Summit, my first time out-of-state with the FJ, my first time up in real mountains since I was a kid, going through Imogene Pass. The whole trip was wide-eyed wonderment, from the sweeping alpine vistas on the way up, past snow banks (we don't get that a lot in Texas), up past (some of) the clouds, then down again.

It was raining and cold when we passed "Poser Rock," but I was just barely talked into driving out on it and I was walking on air the rest of the trip:




Hayden: Any additional thoughts about your FJ or FJ Cruisers in general that you’d like to share?

Austin:

I love this vehicle. I loved my previous car, too, but I'd always be eyeing what was on the road, imagining myself in such-and-such other car. No more - I'm actually in my dream car now and don't have eyes for anything else.

The community - especially FJ Cruiser owners - is also one of the most chill and easygoing "car communities" I've encountered. Wheeling with FJ Cruisers, I'm always supremely confident that everything will be OK. Even if someone breaks something, gets hurt, gets stuck, or wrecks; even if the trail run runs long; even in inclement weather. It feels like everyone's just delighted to be doing the FJ things together, come what may - and anything unplanned isn't an inconvenience so much as a new adventure to experience together. That's a really special feeling!

 

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Great job! Very clean build up!
 

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I Have a V-8!! Moderator
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Congratulations!
 

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Congrats and nice write up. I`m a big fan of Centralia, Pennsylvania and would love to get there sometime in my life. I`m in So Cal, so that's a hell of a drive right now. I love exploring mines and anything else I can get into :)
 

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Nice job! I enjoyed reading.

I'm pretty sure the transfer case gears are only for the 80 and 100 series land cruisers unless I'm mistaken. Otherwise yeah, I would love to do that too. I have heard that Marlin is going to be addressing FJC's with some new transfercase products down the line. I'd bet its at least a year out though.
 

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Congrats!
 

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Congrats on your selection! I read through your build page when I first joined! Your rig is amazing...now bring on the zombies! :)
 

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Congrats brother, awesome looking truck


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