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FJ Company Toyota Land Cruiser Drivers' Notes | The king of cool

This Signature model is based on a 1981 FJ43.

The 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser debuts Tuesday night at 9:20 p.m. ET. In the runup, we're bringing back some of our favorite Land Cruiser stories from over the years.

The high-end restomod community has been building in recent years. Companies like Singer Vehicle Design, Icon and Gunther Werks are building extremely high-end vehicles with price tags soaring well into the six-figure range.
The FJ Company, as the name would suggest, builds some very polished and lightly modified versions of the original Toyota Land Cruiser FJ. Prices vary depending on model and options, but we managed to get a few days behind the wheel of the new range-topper, the Signature model.

This variant is based on the long-wheelbase FJ43 and starts at $200,000 before adding any options. There's a shorter wheelbase FJ40 available. Yes, that sounds like an absurd amount for a nearly 40-year-old Toyota, but a lot of time and effort goes into building these FJs. Look past the iconic sheetmetal and you'll find heated Recaro leather seats, heating and air conditioning, a backup camera, and an Apple iPad in the center console to control the radio. There are LED headlights and fog lights and a custom instrument cluster that adds digital displays into the classic housing.

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Mechanical upgrades are significant. Unlike other models from The FJ Company, the Signature version ditches the old Toyota inline-six for a modern engine and transmission. Power comes from a Toyota 1GR-FE 4.0-liter V6 that can be found in various years of the 4Runner, Tacoma and Tundra. It's paired with a five-speed manual. Four-wheel drive is standard, but you have to manually lock the hubs.

Options on the model include a $2,000 roll cage, $3,500 ARB air lockers, a $3,500 Warn 8274 winch and bumper, $500 flip windows, a $700 leather-wrapped steering wheel, a $400 jerry can and a $250 hi-lift jack.

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Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: On a chill gray morning, I step into the not-so-distant past where a 1981 Toyota Land Cruiser awaits me. Clad in khaki straight out of British army regulations and restored to impeccable condition, the Land Cruiser looks ready to conquer much more than suburbia. This one is much more than a well-executed rebuild. Rather, it's the creation of The FJ Company, and our tester is the $200,000 Signature model. It has everything from a modern powertrain (240-hp six), to luxury gear (Recaro seats) to the cool details, like aluminum control knobs. It's gorgeous, retro and plenty capable off-road.

I climb in. It's cold with the canvas top in back not shielding me from the Michigan winter. It takes two tries to start. I grab first then second gears, make a left onto a surface street and get my bearings. The clutch is pretty easy. I cast off my winter boots, because the pedals are close together, but otherwise, it's not a problem. The five-speed's throws are long and rewarding. The shifter is like a hockey stick. It's so tall. Steering is light and wallowy. Still, it's not hard to maneuver. I clatter and crash over the tight, broken pavement, jarring my teeth and jostling me in my seat. I feel like I'm leading a mechanized cavalry charge. The six is competent. I wind it out and have no problem getting up to speed. It's mid-morning and everyone's at work, which is frustrating since I'd like others to witness me driving this amazing, cool thing.

Still cold, I crank up the heater by sliding the lever to my right. It's drafty. Aside from the temperature, I like everything else about this cabin. Turn the knob to cue up the wipers. Push and pull other knobs to work lights and washer fluids. Distilled down to the basics, this is a pure driving experience. I don't miss the massive modern digital displays or voice-command systems.

I coast back into the parking lot. pull the parking break, and feel exalted. I'd opt for one of the FJ Company's less expensive Classic models, because there's just a lot of stuff on the Signature model I don't need. Otherwise, this is a fun toy that's true to the original Land Cruiser spirit.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: Reese brought this beast to my house after picking it up in Ann Arbor. It was already dark, and the roads were still buried after a lovely winter storm. We hopped in the Land Cruiser, and Reese helped me blindly find the various controls in the darkness of the cabin. I fired it up, and we made tracks out to some snowy dirt roads in the country, our breath one of the few things visible under that cold soft-top.

For a lot of the drive, I blabbed to Reese about the Jeep CJ-2A in which I learned to drive. This FJ reminded me a lot of that. The large-diameter but thin-rimmed steering wheel reminded me of that old Willys, as did the long throws of the shifter. The way this bounced over the ruts in the road felt familiar. Unlike the Jeep, though, I didn't have to double-clutch this Toyota, which was a blessing. The pedals are so close together, and my duck boots in the darkness made clumsy work of them. Reese didn't laugh at me, though.

This vehicle is a cool blend of old and new. The design inside and out is a callback to simpler times, but the newer underpinnings make this Land Cruiser feel a bit more sound and reliable than an off-roader as old as me (and with a much older design) should feel. The addition of a tablet as a sort of infotainment interface felt a little out of place, but it would have seemed even weirder were it mounted on the dash. For someone with the money, this would be a fun car to have in their personal fleet. I feel lucky having had the chance to get behind the wheel. My only regret is that I forgot to honk the horn. I bet it sounds cool.

(Former) Associate Editor Reese Counts: Everything this FJ lacks in modern comfort and convenience it makes up for in charm. Sure, it's cold, loud and about as comfortable as a wheelbarrow, but it's so damn cool. The modern engine and brakes go a long way toward improving the driving experience. It's not harrowing like a lot of older cars can be. You never feel like you're going to be caught out merging into traffic or braking into an intersection. That said, the pre-production model doesn't have ABS or traction control.

Everything is slow and deliberate. The transmission might be modern, but the shifter is notchy and vague. As John said, you don't have to double clutch, but it helps. The steering rack is improved over the factory one. That's apparently a relative term, as there's tons of slop and play on center. Whatever. It's an old Land Cruiser. This stuff doesn't really matter.

The details matter. All the switchgear, buttons and handles are metal. The fuel cap and mirrors are CNC machined aluminum. The shifter and four-wheel drive selector are these heavy metal pieces with fine leather boots. All the leather looks and feels very premium. That's where all the extra money goes. It's all subtle changes. It all looks fairly stock, like an old FJ fitted for overlanding.

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