The ultimate automotive authority

Tuner / 10-24-17

Four-wheel fun : Toyota FJ Cruisers

By Francis G. Pallarco


Here’s a pair of properly modded FJ Cruisers


Iconic. Taking inspiration from the seemingly indestructible FJ40 Series Land Cruisers considered by many enthusiasts as an off-road icon, the FJ Cruiser stands as its modern interpretation in terms of looks and off road capability, plus more. With a myriad of FJ40 -inspired features that can be best described as utilitarian, it incorporates angular lines, round headlights set apart with a simple grille, an upright windscreen, four-wheel drive capability with a contrasting white roof and wrap-around rear corner windows. Needless to say, it has a lot of the FJ40’s qualities, which could be attributed as to why it continues to enjoy a huge following. Well, that is until the supply runs out due to Toyota’s decision to cease production of the FJ Cruiser last year. Another reason for its enduring popularity would have to be the outdoor lifestyle, which it is closely associated with coupled with our bad roads and constant flooding that has led to high demand for 4WD, SUV’s and pickups. But if you ask me, I think the FJ Cruiser is very much like a tuner car that’s just waiting to be modified. With so many aftermarket companies selling all kinds of custom parts for it ranging from body parts, suspension, tires, wheels, lighting, recovery equipment and more, the only question here would be where to begin.

As such, we have two FJ Cruisers here owned and modded by two prominent persons who are responsible for making the local car customization scene and industry what it is today. They are none other than Mr. Sammy Liuson of the Wheel Gallery, and Atoy Llave of Atoy Customs who are still trendsetters in the car customization scene and industry. Bringing in world class aftermarket products and showcasing local craftsmanship in their respective fields has made them adapt to the constant trends and changes to satisfy the demands of every enthusiast and consumer alike. Both of their FJ Cruisers embody the vital mods that should serve as a guide for those who are into building a capable off road vehicle that can still traverse the suburban jungle with style. But what’s really important here is that these vehicles are actually used for off-roading and unlike most 4×4’s out there as Sammy Liuson explains, “Most of the time I tell people not to baby their SUV’s because they will miss half the fun of owning one.”

Sammy’s FJ Cruiser

Hard to believe, but this is Mr. Sammy Liuson’s third FJ Cruiser. Not that they were stolen or damaged, but his friends actually bought them from him even though they weren’t for sale, as Sammy quips, “It was quietly parked in my garage, until they saw it and offered to buy it.” And the same thing happened to the second one. Can’t blame them, really, for who wouldn’t want to own a modded FJ Cruiser. Yep, both of his previous FJ Cruisers also got the custom treatment such as suspension, wheels, lighting and a one-of-a-kind exterior wrap to set it apart from the stock FJ Cruisers.

Speaking of mods, his latest FJ currently has the most mods starting with a Borla exhaust, which helps the engine operate more efficiently as it ensures maximum flow and power. Durability wise, its stainless steel construction makes it virtually rust-free. Suspension upgrades to enable it go off-roading include Bilstein’s 6112 Shocks up front, while Bilstein 5160’s can be found at the rear that come with a remote reservoir for extra oil capacity. For those planning on fitting larger wheels and tires, the front Bilsteins come with their own coil springs and adjustable spring seats to address any clearance or leveling issues while increasing ground clearance. When it comes to that aspect, Sammy advises, “I recommend a 2-3″ lift for weekend warriors like me so you don’t mess and spend too much on the suspension and then getting just the right sized tire and rim specs.” I must repeat getting just the right sized tire and wheel as going too large will not only make its overall acceleration poorer but also cause rubbing issues as well as hampering the braking capability of the vehicle. Not too tall nor too wide, or something like this where it uses a 20×12 Razorback wheels from Black Rhino Wheels. Its distinct ten-spoke, concave design with machined outer lip gives great contrast and detail that’s rugged enough, yet very stylish. Traction is of utmost importance when going off road and the Mud Grappler Extreme Terrain tires from Nitto with large tread blocks, aggressive sidewall lugs, and puncture resistant construction make it one tough tire that can go over various off-road terrain, whether it’s dirt, rocks or mud. What’s also great about this tire fitment is that it features a narrow sidewall despite its overall tall height and 20-inch rims, negating the need for elaborate suspension systems and other body mods.

Now that it sits right and rolls right, the mods revolved around the exterior where a set of slightly wider than stock fender flares were added to tuck in the wide tires. Next up comes the front metal bumper from Road Armor which not only helps protect the frontal area, but also serves as a place to firmly mount the Come Up winch which serves as the rig’s recovery tool along with a number of D-Shackles for attaching tow ropes or chains. It also functions as the perfect place to mount several auxiliary lights from PIAA to illuminate the trail. Over at the rear, there’s a Hitch Pro Trailer Hitch receiver with a step down ball mount. A Rhino Rack roof mounted rack takes care of extra cargo capability. It’s also a good place to mount a folding awning for those jaunts at the beach. To set it apart from the rest, a custom wrap composed of a few colors was designed by Rocket Punch Graphics design and was done by Foilacar. With a modded FJ Cruiser such as this, it’s just begging to be taken on an outdoor adventure anytime and anywhere. Perhaps Sammy sums it up best as to what’s great about the outdoors: “You get to go to rugged terrain very few get go. You see greenery and traverse in mud and cross rivers with the same vehicle that gets you to work every day and you get to enjoy the full potential of the 4×4.” And adds, “Plus trailing and BBQ cookout with friends is always fun.” Now who wouldn’t enjoy a trip like that?

Atoy’s FJ Cruiser

In addition, to his luxury van conversions, Atoy Llave of Atoy Customs also specializes in setting up 4×4 SUV’s and pickups for off road. From suspension, wheels tires and exterior mods, his shop is always bustling with activity. Acclaimed for his show-winning custom creations, Atoy Llave of Atoy Customs certainly knows a good platform to customize when he sees one. This is why he wasted no time in modding his FJ Cruiser concentrating on performance and appearance while adding his personal custom touches along the way.

Being an accomplished drifter, Atoy understands the value of getting the most power from an engine. Even though its V6 mill is already packing over 200 horses, it gets a gets a bump in horsepower with a few tried and tested engine bolt-ons. This include an AC Header mated to a Borla catback exhaust, and an Afe intake kit and throttle body spacer to keep the heat way from the manifold. The end result is a more responsive engine with loads of torque and a menacing growl from the Borla exhaust.

Realizing how important the choice of suspension components would play in the handling and off road capability of the FJ Cruiser, Atoy carefully selected the components to be used. Up front, Bilstein 6100 dampers were used with its own set of coil springs that mount on an adjustable spring perch so it can be raised several notches depending on the application. Dobbinson’s coil springs were used at the rear together with heavy-duty Bilstein 5160 shocks that comes with a remote reservoir that increases its oil capacity. Necessary during extreme off road situations where it has to work extra hard demanding greater heat dissipation and damping sensitivity. Another important mod Atoy added was the adjustable panhard bar at the rear from SR Performance. Most tend to forget that even a mild lift will alter the position of the rear differential. As such, the adjustable panhard rod will allow the differential to be centered correctly when it has moved after lifting the suspension.

Largely responsible for the visual impact of this modded FJ Cruiser would have to be the deep-barreled Black Rhino wheels. Just one of the latest wheel designs for 2017, the 20×12 Armory wheel exudes a military look and feel with its large bolts and center cap that keeps the lug nuts hidden for a unique look. Nitto Trail Grappler Mud Terrain tires are used with aggressive tread blocks and dual sidewall design so you can choose how your tires look. But what’s really great about these tires is that despite the large tread blocks, these tires remain quiet on the highway and roll very smoothly even on low speeds.

The exterior also has the Atoy custom treatment written all over it, most notable are the custom fender flares which Atoy extended to fit better and reach the fender bottoms, not to mention incorporating the snorkel intake up front. Then there’s the requisite front and rear metal bumper. Not only do they serve as a place to mount the SR Performance winch and other PIAA lighting accessories, but also create more tire clearance and protection. In this case, Atoy used an RA Front Bumper w/Titan Loop while an SR Performance bumper was used at the rear. There’s also an SR Performance Expedition roof rack fitted with an auxiliary gas tank and lots of other details. The matte beige color wrap really ties everything together, most especially with the color of the wheels, which makes this FJ Cruiser looking and rolling great whatever the terrain may be as it goes off road as often as possible.


Toyota FJ Cruiser

Sammy Liuson, The Wheel Gallery

Performance: Borla catback exhaust system

Suspension: Bilstein 6112 Shocks and coil springs (front),Bilstein 5160 Shock absorbers and coil springs (rear), Rear adjustable lateral panhard bar

Rollers: Black Rhino Razorback Wheels (20×12), Nitto Mud Grappler Extreme Terrain Tires (33×12.50R20LT)

Interior: Blaupunkt Dash Camera, Weathertech Floor mats,

Exterior: Rocket Punch Graphics design, Foilacar, PIAA led foglights / horn / lightbar, Rhino Rack roof bars, Shovel, Folding Awning, Hitchpro Trailer Hitch Receiver w/ Step Down, Ckt extended fender, Road Armor design bull bars,

Recovery Gear: ComeUp winch



Toyota FJ Cruiser

Atoy Llave, A-Toy Customs

Performance: AC Headers, Borla catback exhaust system single tip, AFE Pro Dry Intake Kit, AFE Throttle Body Spacer

Suspension: Bilstein 6112 Shocks with Bilstein coil springs (front), Bilstein 5160 Shocks with Dobinsons coil springs (rear), SR Performance adjustable lateral panhard bar (rear)

Rollers: Black Rhino Armory Wheels (20×12), Nitto Trail Grappler M/T Tires (295/60/20)

Exterior: RA Front Bumper w/Titan Loop, Jaos spoiler, Jaos hood spoiler, SR Performance rear bumper with swing out spare tire, SR Performance Expedition roof rack, Custom Projector Headlights, Piaa RF185 led bar, Piaa LP550 driving light, Rugged Rigs rocklights, Foil-A-Car matte clear wrap

Recovery Gear: SR Performance (12000lbs) winch