We are generally fans of stock, because we appreciate the charm of period details and the old school driving experience. As a bonus, originality is sought after in the market place and helps to maintain the value of your Cruiser. However, what if you want to use your rig as a daily driver, and must deal with the realities of life after Sunday? Well, there are a few ways you can update your Land Cruiser to modern standards without committing to permanent changes, as these "mods" (modernization, not modification) are all reversible. Having said that, we doubt you'll ever go back!
Mod 1: LED Headlights
For some time now, DIYers have been swapping out light bulbs throughout their vehicles with LEDs due to the benefits of brightness and longevity. However, the most important lighting of all, the headlamps, have lagged behind in this revolution. Lighting manufacturers introduced "brighter, whiter halogens" (a better typewriter) that sacrificed longevity, then took a detour to HID lights that need several seconds to reach brightness, and require adding bulky ballasts to the harness. Fortunately, with advances in technology and economies of scale in manufacturing, the age of LED headlights has arrived. You can now swap in a set of plug and play LED headlamps into your FJ40 Land Cruiser as easily as you can put in a set of the original candle lights. These lights turn on instantly, and through beam projection put white day light in front of you. Best of all, you don't need to sit in a Porsche to enjoy this technology. Price has come down significantly akin to flat screen TVs. We think this one is a no brainer.
Mod 2: Electric Power Steering
Here is an opportunity to leap frog from 1970's technology straight to this day. Pause on that amazing thought for a moment.
The vast majority of FJ40s were delivered with manual steering throughout its production span. Power steering was a rare, late model, and highly desirable afterthought. Now the table is turned. A manual steering car can gain power steering by replacing its upper steering column with one powered by an electric motor. The steering box, linkages and tie rods all stay in situ. No additional equipment under the hood, same accessibility, and never worry about leaking hoses or pump. The factory power steering cars, on the other hand, are stuck in time.
The best attribute about an EPS is how it transforms the way the car drives. You gain more than power assist. Aided by computer feedback, the old tractor is injected with a sort of nimbleness, or dare we say sporting character that you never thought was possible. What we consistently find is that those who have installed the system only need one drive to become a stalwart advocate of its superiority. Many will tell you, it's the single best mod and the best money spent on their FJ40. That's another amazing thought - the most convincing sales pitch comes after the sale is made.
Mod 3: Gear Reduction Starter
A common experience with driving an old carburated car is the long starting routine. You know the ritual: pull the choke out, pump the gas pedal several times; crank, crank crank. If it doesn't start, crank some more. You put in a high CCA battery, rebuilt the carb, so now you can crank better than ever.
Did you know your Land Cruiser can achieve a near instant start by switching to a gear reduction starter? Again it's a case of using better technology. We'll let you Google the technical weeds, but the bottom line is that a GRS will start your car like it's fuel injected, NOT like it's 1969!
Best of all, you can buy a remanufactured good-as-new GRS from Toyota for only around $100 online. Look up part # 28100-60070-84. It fits all years of Land Cruiser 40, 60, and 80 series. Don't be surprised by the fact that the unit is noticeably smaller and lighter than the original starter. Installation is a one banana job with hand tools, and it should take you 30 minutes or less. Watch it in action here.
Mod 4: Bilstein Shocks
We are not affiliated with Bilstein, nor do we carry any of their products. However, it's no secret that Bilstein has a strong following among the Toyota 4x4 crowd, sports car fans, as well as with European car enthusiasts. While nothing will turn a truck with leaf spring suspension into a Cadillac, a good set of shocks plays a key role in making your ride bearable for that daily commute or offroad excursion. Besides overall comfort, the differentiator with Bilsteins is with control - meaning the amount of bouncing / rocking motion associated with a short wheel base leaf sprung vehicle is well dampened and under control. Apparently the science used to deal with the extreme demands of racing helps to tame a Land Cruiser suspension. We tried Toyota OEM shocks prior to installing Bilsteins, and there is really no contest. Of course that's not a fair comparison, since the OEM shock is significantly less expensive and not intended to be anything but ordinary.
Obviously there are other good shocks out there, and we haven't done a Car & Driver style comparison test. One of the simplest test we do is called the "grandpa test". Grandpa rode around in the Cruiser with OEM shocks and got a headache from bouncing around, but didn't utter a complaint with Bilsteins!
I initially delved into TPMS after my wife had a string of flat tire incidents due to constructions in our area. As I became more proactive with inspecting tires, I found that a leak usually develops gradually. In other words, a nail doesn't usually ground you until several days later, and many roadside incidents are preventable if you only knew your tire pressure.
When you pilot a 4 wheeler, particularly one that's short wheel base, lifted and fitted with large tires, a flat or blowout can be downright dangerous. If you wheel your rig, not knowing tire pressures is equivalent to driving with a blind spot. How many times do we see fancy rigs out there with every kind of aftermarket gauges, and yet there is nothing that informs of tire pressures! TPMS isn't just a cool gadget. It's a necessity for modern day driving. In fact, it's so important that DOT requires it in all new cars built from October 2005 onward. On a practical level, running at optimal tire pressure also leads to better fuel economy and less tire wear. That matters when your FJ40 only gets 12 mpg with a tail wind, and a set of BFGs is no donut money.
The good news is that several technologies have converged in recent years: semiconductor chips, wireless transmission, and lithium batteries. TPMS can be retroactively added to your car or truck easily and economically.
We still love the 70s, but it ain't so bad to live in the modern time after all!