Project St Joan – Toyota Land Cruiser Restomod

Project St Joan is our take on the Toyota Land Cruiser, specifically the original FJ-shape that did so much to dethrone the Land Rover Defender as the de facto means of getting to far flung corners of the world in the middle of the 20th century. Admired for its innate toughness and rugged, go-anywhere capability, this generation of Land Cruiser has been a cult classic for some years now and values have long been higher than you might expect, which is why they’ve recently become a popular candidate for the ‘restomod treatment.’

A clue as to the brief for Project St Joan can be seen in its name, St Joan being the town on the Spanish Balearic island of Ibiza where the owner plans on storing and using the vehicle once complete. Once there it will doubtless live a charmed life as its keeper’s primary means of transport around the island, presumably mixing mountain passes and coastal back-roads with the odd bit of low-key off-road work and scrubland traversing thrown in for good measure.

That there will be no recourse to use the completed car on a daily basis and in all weathers has helped shape the project, and is also reflected in the engine we’ve decided to equip it with, the Lexus 1UZ-FE. A well-proven and well-regarded V8, the 1UZ-FE should provide more than adequate motive force whatever the terrain while still keeping things ‘in the family’ in terms of vehicle and running gear. It will remain in standard fettle and so should make approximately 256bhp, so plenty given the nature of the vehicle it will ultimately power.

The theme of rugged simplicity extends to the transmission, much of which we plan on carrying over in standard guise wholesale. This applies to the differentials, both of which will be professionally rebuilt and repainted prior to re-installation once the Land Cruiser itself is into Assembly. We will, however, be supplanting the gearbox that came with the 1UZ with one from an early 80-Series Land Cruiser, a purely mechanical automatic unit without ECU control, and thus well suited to a life of limited maintenance. This will mandate a redesign of the transmission tunnel and gear stick surround to suit, but it’s a price worth paying to ditch the less than inspiring factory unit.

Chassis upgrades will be limited in scope, an understandable decision given the modest performance goals of the completed project. To this end we plan on retaining the leaf-sprung layout (though of course all parts will be restored prior to re-use) but will pair them with some custom dampers for improved road holding, plus an off-the-shelf brake upgrade of some form.

Other aspects of the build will be kept just as low-key, not least the bodywork and associated styling. Let’s face it, the FJ’s aesthetic is one of its best and most distinctive features and its rounded grille with integrated headlights constitutes one of the most recognisable ‘faces’ of any off-road vehicle, and as such we’d be mad to mess with it. Any changes we do make will therefore be low-key and complimentary, the sort of things only really keen Land Cruiser cognoscenti will be able to identify.

We will however be making changes, albeit low key ones. For instance, the Land Cruiser’s front-end is dominated by the spring shackle and bumpers, both areas we reckon we can improve upon by tucking and re-shaping. We’ll carry through the same treatment to the rear of the car and its prominent (but pretty unsightly) bumper mounts and lights. We’ve yet to decide on our plan of action here but watch this space but we’re confident we can make improvements here, so watch this space.

Under the bonnet we’ll strive to preserve and expand the charming ‘pressed tin charm’ Toyota imbued the Land Cruiser with, albeit with provision for our more modern running gear and associated ancillary upgrades. We plan on re-working the radiator so that it is book-ended by fabricated expansion and washer fluid tanks, a relocation which should make the front of the engine bay look that much more pleasant from a visual (and symmetrical) point of view. Ditto the engine inlet, which will eventually be of a custom design so we can run a four-barrel replacement type throttle body setup in centre of the ‘V.’ This will in turn permit us to retain the traditional (and deeply cool) fabricated tin pancake style air filter box.

The interior of the Land Cruiser always erred towards spartan and functional rather than comfy and stylish, and as such we’ll endeavour to add in a handful of tastefully realised upgrades. We’ve already modified the dashboard so that a Vintage Air system can fit beneath the dash, and this will eventually be complimented by custom switchgear and various other tweaks, all in-keeping with the ethos and style of the car they’ll be housed within. We plan on making the rear section a far more useful space, with revised seating and lighting, and even a fold-down picnic table.

We’ve completed the metalwork phase of this particular project (much of our efforts have been focussed on removing rot and hitherto hidden accident damage) and have progressed to the assembly stage. We aim to have the Land Cruiser completed later on in 2023, so be sure to keep up to date with our progress on Project St Joan and the rest of the projects currently passing through Retropower via the Retropower Uncut video series.

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