Building the official vehicle of Ultimate Adventure is best described as equal parts two-month pleasure trip and 60-day migraine. This year is no different. We've been busting tail logging thousands of miles, and living out of hotels to the point that our credit cards aresmoking and the boss will be cringing at our expense reports, but in the end we should definitely have the baddest FJ Cruiser on the planet. At least until someone pushes the envelope even further than we can in only eight weeks.
Every year we try to mix up our UA project truck with equal doses of old-fashioned reliable parts and new-fangled innovation. This year we won't be reinventing the wheel so much as trying out a basketful of parts that are fresh on the scene. Additionally this won't be a Cheap Truck Challenge entry, so don't complain that no one can afford this build. The fact is that we see trucks running many of the components here on trails every weekend. It's just that we put all these things on a brand-new truck with less than 3,000 miles on it. In the past 45 days we've cut, welded, and spent plenty of time on the phone ordering custom parts to get this ride ready for its weeklong bash out on some vicious trails, and as this goes to print we have but 15 days to get it done. Check back next month for what worked and where we went to play.
1. Last month we showed you the measuring sessions involved in getting our mellow yellow machine redone, and after the major decisions were made we hauled it over to All-Pro Off Road in Hemet, California, where it has lived for at least a month getting transformed. Our first step was removal of parts, and the front independent suspension was at the top of that list. Independent suspension has many advantages, but no one makes IFS parts for the FJ that can survive with 39.5-inch BFGoodrich Krawler tires. Though we would love to help design and build an independent suspension that can survive off road, our limited time frame did not allow for any research and development for this truck.
2. In order to get all the IFS junk--er, parts--off the frame, we enlisted the help of the official welder company of Ultimate Adventure, Hobart. They came to the party with an AirForce 400 plasma cutter. The 400 can slice steel up to 38-inch and can also pierce through plate to make cuts at the center of brackets. With a bit of practice you can wield one of these cutters like a mini light saber and literally carve out metal quickly and cleanly. Although this machine runs best on 220 volts it can be run on 110 volts in case your shop is wired so.
3. In addition to removing the front suspension, the All-Pro fab crew of Mike Schoffstal and Lee Merriam also removed some of the front crossmembers that run under the engine. These will be replaced with fabricated versions that will clear the new solid-axle front suspension. After all the plasma cutting the frame is ground clean so that the new brackets can eventually be added without paint contaminating any welds.
4. After the front suspension and differential were axed, we tore out the stock full-time transfer case and the rear axle. The transfer case was sent to Advance Adapters where an adapter to a four-speed Atlas transfer case was being built. Meanwhile the front and rear axles were sent to Dynatrac to determine what, if any, parts could be applied to our new Pro-Rock Dana 60 axles. While the final parts were being assembled, we borrowed a set of bare housings to begin mock up of the suspension. Luck was with us as the All-Pro solid-axle kit for early model Tacomas was a near perfect fit onto the FJ.
5. When swapping parts into a truck it always pays to see what parts can stay on the truck and still be compatible with the new parts being added, especially with late-model computer-controlled drivetrains. In our discussions with Dynatrac we decided to try and keep all the stock brake components, and if possible see if we can keep the ABS system working. This would allow two results: One, the master cylinder and brakes would be evenly matched, and two, the dash won't light up like a Christmas tree with all the warning lights.
6. When we got to Dynatrac we found that the brake calipers and rotors would not be a problem; some simple machining of the rotor and knuckle and we were moving ahead. However, we did lose the parking brake from the axle and will need to look into one for the transfer case.