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Classic Good Looks Meets Rugged Ingenuity
By Jordan May and Jonathan Ward
4 Wheel Drive & SU Magazine 6/07
Jonathan Ward and his team at Toyota Land Cruisers (TLC) have created some of the most memorable Toyota FJ-series vehicles to date. We were so impressed with their TLC Icon vehicle that we put it on the cover of our Feb. ’06 issue. All Icons are handbuilt in very low volume in Van Nuys, California, by a small crew of six specialists, one at the time, with and tools. All design work is done with CAD to ensure standardization and to improve efficiency of the operation. The concept behind the Icon vehicles was to create something that would offer the consumer the classic good looks and style of the original FJ40 vehicle with the driving performance of a modern vehicle. With a little bit of research and a whole lot of know-who, they have new added a biodiesel version into the Icon family. As we take a walk through this more-than-impressive vehicle, we can only wonder what TLC will think of next.
TLC began development of the new “Biocon” by researching many engines and manufacturers. Although they have always been big fans of the non-USA Toyota diesel engines, this was not an option due to the fact that service parts are not available in the U.S. After also investigation the more common North America market diesel four-cylinders, they came to the conclusion that they were either too heavy, too tall, too long, or too difficult to adapt to the chassis. Ideally, TLC wanted to use a high-pressure direct-injection motor but discovered that there is not enough technical support in the service sector to ensure that their customers would be able to find support for maintenance. The new electronics-intensive diesel engines require special tools and training barely present at the dealer level, not to mention in the general repair community.
In the end, they chose a proven, simple, and highly reliable engine made by International called the HS 2.8L VNT. Four cylinders, 2.8 liters, high-pressure rotary-injected with Garrett variable turbo and intercooler. This engine features quality Bosch support parts, simple electronics, stellar reliability, and extreme longevity. The fuel system was designed to be directly compatible with biodiesel. Delivering plenty of performance with loads of torque down low where it’s needed (376 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm) while averaging 25 to 30 mpg, this is a four-wheeler built with exploration and the environment in mind.
The Icon begins life as an old FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser (’60-“78). The truck is then stripped down to the frame, and the extra parts are recycled back into the Land Cruiser community or are sold as scrap metal. All of the textiles TLC uses are from environmentally conscious suppliers.
The surface body coating is a TGIC Teflon/polyester hybrid powder coat, which emits no CFC’s or VOCs in its application. The powder coating was developed with Andrews Powder Coating and Cardinal Coatings and is far tougher then paint. The powder coating keeps the vehicle’s body looking new. All you need to do is simply wipe it down with organic dishwashing soap mixed with 50-percent water. Best of all, the finish never needs waxing and is UV-stable.
Instead of the traditional petroleum based under coatings, TLC uses heatcured polyurea from Line-X which not only helps protect the body from road debris but also adds heat and vibration insulation with no potential negative effect on ground water as with petroleum-based coatings.
The original frame is modified by reindexing the rear suspension hangers, removing the crossbrace, adding a removable center crossbrace, and boxing the nose. That frame is then powder coated, and the process begins.
The original axels are replaced with new Dynatrac Dana 60 and Dana 44 assemblies that are offered with either a limited-slip in the rear, a locking ARB differential in the rear, or locking ARB differentials front and rear. Brakes are four-wheel-vented and slotted power assisted discs based on GM designs. For improved long rating and ride comfort, special Old Man Emu leaf springs from Australia are used on all four corners with greaseable pins and anti-inversion shackles, nitrogen shocks, and poly bushings. The rear leaf springs are 7.5 inches longer than the original design.
For improved weight distribution and a lower center of gravity, the fuel tank has been enlarged and repositioned to the rear and boxed by the frame. The original fuel tanks are directly under the fixed passenger seat. TLC also redesigned the floor structure to ease rear seat entry and to expand the front passenger foot area, which was always an issue with the vintage FJ40s.
Painless Performance helped develop a specific wire harness and switch package for the vehicle. Steering is accomplished via an ididit collapsible tilt steering-wheel column using a PSC 17.5:1 steering box mounted to the frame with an Advance Adapters fit kit. ARB supplied the front bumper, lockers, compressor, and Dakar suspension utilizing FJ40 and FJ60 parts for an improved ride. GM was chosen for the fuel-injected, 350hp, rollerrocker, 5.7L Ram Jet small-block engine, and the Dodge NV4500 transmission with the Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case delivers power to the axles thanks to J.E. Reel custom driveshafts. A McLeod CNC clutch system was used to ensure long-term service under heavy demands.
TLC is now offering the Icon in four standard colors, including Quarts Rock White, Mocha Brown, Rocky Mountain Gray, and Slate Blue. After exploring the trails in Johnson Valley and hugging plenty of thornbushes, a quick wipe-down with Simple Green and water restored the finish.
The interior features forward-facing seating for four, with three-point shoulder belts for everyone. The entry and exit to the rear seat through the front doors is drastically improved over Toyota’s original design, with front seats that tumble forward to the dash, allowing tons of room. Both front seats recline and feature long floor tracks. The rear seat is also removable. Or it can be tucked and tumbled forward for storage room. The seat are covered in Mercedes marine-rated vinyl and an innovative woven vinyl that is highly durable (originally intended for outdoor furniture) and looks like woven strands of steel and titanium. This material proved ideal for the heated seat elements with controls hidden in the Tuffy console. The same material is backed in rubber and used for the floor mats. Also inside the console is an Alpine CD XM/AM/FM iPod stereo, with four Infinity Kappa speakers cleverly integrated into the body structure in the their own CAD-designed aluminum pods. The steering wheel is from a Cat diesel, and the gauges are from an aircraft supplier. The windshield frame latches the dash knobs were selected from commercial refrigerator and tooling suppliers and are stainless steel. To address the traditionally poor dash lighting, a clever stainless hex bolt protrudes from the center of the dash controls and 12V power port (a second power port is in the rear speaker pod). The HVAC system uses components from TLC’s favorite A/ suppliers to provide full in-dash heat, A/C. and defrost with exceptional air volume.
In keeping with the handbuilt, low volume production, each Icon is built to order. No two will be alike, with unique colors, surface coatings and textiles to meet each owner’s tastes and utility needs. The Icon s are available in two different styling packages: the New School and the Old School. The New School features a more modern industrial look with an ARB Bull Bar, a Kaymar dual-pivot Class II rear bumper, and American Racing Teflon-coated 17-inch alloy wheels. The Old School is more of a throwback to the original FJ40, with stock gray power coated steel wheels and hubcaps and stock front and rear bumpers. The original body-mounted spare-tire carrier is also maintained with the Old School package, 4WD.