Every year, aftermarket parts suppliers, speed shops, and even a few major manufacturers descend on Las Vegas for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show. Unlike an auto show, SEMA is closed to the public, but it’s a major event for gearheads. Unlike the public shows, which offer a broad view of the present and future of the automobile, SEMA is largely about three things: speed, looks, and tech. With such a specialty focus, small shops have a chance to share the stage with the big guns. And this year, The FJ Company’s latest custom Land Cruiser, codenamed the “Aspen Project,” garnered as much attention as anything at Toyota’s official booth.
We wrote about The FJ Company’s last custom build, an olive truck built to compete in this year’s Copperstate Overland rally, a four day race across the Arizona desert. In that article, we said to “think of what The FJ Company does to the Land Cruiser like what Singer Vehicle Design does to the Porsche 911.” In the months since, it turns out that the comparison was pretty apt. The Copperstate truck was sold at Gooding & Company’s Monterey auction, smashing its $70,000-$90,000 estimate and changing hands for a whopping $176,000. As impressed as we were with that truck, we like the Aspen Project even better.
Unlike the Copperstate truck, which was built to handle inhospitable desert conditions, the Aspen Project was designed to handle everything both off road and on the pavement. Don’t let its timeless good looks fool you (though you’d be forgiven if they did); this is no faithful restoration. This truck is a thoroughly modern rock-crawler — it also just happens to be one of the most timeless vehicles ever made.
Like the Singer-restored Porsches, The FJ Company keeps everything that is great about the 1960-’84 Toyota Land Cruiser and improves on everything that could stand to be better. The Aspen Project began life as a 1982 FJ43, a rare, slightly longer model than the standard FJ40. It was stripped down and given a full frame-off restoration. But instead of being reunited with its original powertrain, it received a newer 4.5 liter 1FZ inline-six engine with Haltech fuel injection, giving the truck 210 horsepower to route through its five-speed manual transmission, an extra pair of cylinders, and nearly twice the power to play with.
From there, the truck got an interior coated with hard-wearing Rhino lining, a custom dash with air conditioning, Recaro seats, modern stereo, rear backup camera, and a custom soft top and roll cage. Underneath the classic body, there’s an Old Man Emu off-roading suspension, front and rear ARB air lockers, and front disc brakes. Topped off with a Warn winch, PIAA lights, and a matte white paint job, the Aspen Project FJ43 looks like what could’ve happened if Toyota kept the original Land Cruiser around to compete with the Mercedes G-Wagon.
There’s no word on pricing yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if this custom FJ43 traded hands for about the same as the Copperstate truck. For a more traditional restoration, FJ Company-built trucks start at $55,000 for a “Classic” build, and top out over $80,000 for a modernized “Sport” truck. It’s hard not to love the original Toyota Land Cruiser for its timeless style and go-anywhere ruggedness. But if you asked us what we needed to actually live with one as a daily driver, it probably wouldn’t be too far off from the Aspen Project truck.