Icon Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser Takes a Rocky Mountain Road Trip



We’re bouncing straight for the sting of a cliff. My spouse, Heather, is within the shotgun seat, her proper foot reflexively reaching out to press her personal phantom brake pedal as blue sky fills the windshield. Adrenaline, about 10 Crimson Bulls’ price, programs into my system as I lean on the brakes and wrestle the steering wheel to the proper, till the passenger-side mirror is sort of grazing the sheer rock wall that defines one facet of the path. Higher to hug the cliff, as a result of the opposite facet of the path is outlined by abrupt, ethereal nothingness. I downshift a gear in low vary and handle to barter the vertigo-inducing switchbacks of Tomboy Street as we make our means from 13,114-foot Imogene Cross right down to 8750-foot Telluride. Locals characterize Tomboy as an intermediate path, however, after all, that presumes you do not fall off it.

Ezra Dyer|Automotive and Driver

In the event you’ve bought 5 days to spend in a single state, and also you wish to expertise the most effective roads, the most effective views, and probably the most charismatic cities, plot a route by way of the Colorado Rockies from Durango as much as Boulder. You will discover 14,000-foot mountain peaks affected by postcard vistas and draped with the alpine roads you dream about throughout your every day commute. I enlist Heather to assist an journey that takes in some legendary cities: Telluride, Crested Butte, Aspen. In these locations you may escape civilization—and nonetheless discover a place to eat a pleasant steak for those who roll in at 9 p.m.

I’ve a good suggestion the place I am going, as a result of a number of days earlier I drove from Telluride to Lake Metropolis—50 miles, kind of—virtually completely off-road, in a Hummer H3T Alpha. With lower than 200 miles to cowl on any single day, there must be loads of time for mountaineering, mountain biking, fishing, and off-roading. That final exercise helps dictate the selection of car for this endeavor. What I need is a cross between a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and a Toyota Prius, however no new car comes near combining that diploma of off-road acumen and fuel-miser effectivity. There may be another choice, although: revising the previous.


Anybody who’s pushed a basic Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser would reward its utilitarian, go-anywhere abilities, however when it comes to livability, an previous FJ is a Massey Ferguson tractor crossed with an Iron Maiden. TLC, a small company primarily based in North Carolina, makes a speciality of reimagining the FJ because the Icon—primarily an unique FJ40 that is been stripped right down to its naked body and rebuilt with trendy facilities and funky particulars like handcrafted, engraved and enameled stainless-steel sprint knobs. A brand new drivetrain is a part of the bundle, and TLC now provides a four-cylinder turbodiesel that enables the Icon to common between 22 and 28 mpg. Not dangerous for a car outfitted with 33-inch tires, locking differentials, and a hefty winch bumper. The diesel additionally runs on biofuel, ought to we occur to come back throughout any of Willie Nelson’s filling stations.

toyota land cruiser drive 2009

Ezra Dyer

This explicit Icon diesel is loaded with toys: heated seats, a thumping stereo, and a Energy Tank CO2 reservoir for airing up the tires. Regardless of the car’s facilities and six-figure worth, the driving expertise remains to be retro. Wind, highway and engine noise barge in by way of the soft-top, the five-speed shifter has longer throws than an Olympic javelin competitors, and the steering is disarmingly gradual on these serpentine roads. And but the squeaks, rattles and groans of an previous car, the telltale complaints of calcified bushings and rotten seals, are completely absent. It might be retro, however it’s undoubtedly not previous.

There’s one thing gratifying concerning the strong, tactile sensation of manually locking the entrance hubs on an old-school 4×4.

I am eager to attempt the Icon in its true aspect: off-road. Telluride begins to lure off-roaders as quickly because the snow melts and the excessive trails exterior city grow to be satisfactory. We drive to the Imogene Cross trailhead (barely a quarter-mile off the principle drag), and I yank the e-brake and bounce out. There’s one thing gratifying concerning the strong, tactile sensation of manually locking the entrance hubs on an old-school 4×4. I have interaction the entrance axle with the stubby switch case lever on the ground, and we’re off. Heather provides a hand at airing down the tires to enhance traction within the tough. However I determine we must always skip this process as a result of I do not anticipate to come across any terrain that can problem our Icon. This, it seems, is a rookie mistake, as a result of I shortly study that you do not simply air down your tires for higher off-road functionality. You additionally do it for consolation. Particularly in case your passenger is unenthusiastic concerning the kidney-shaking cocktail of strong axles, leaf springs and rocky trails.

Heather will get some respite from the fixed jostling when she will get out to identify me as I try to climb a difficult rock shelf. There’s a better route round, however what is the enjoyable in that? I gear down into low vary, have interaction the ARB locking diffs and efficiently claw my means up. After about an hour, we’re at Imogene Cross. Apart from a bullet-riddled mailbox at its summit, Imogene provides spectacular views of the encompassing peaks, that are affected by mining operations that have been deserted again when off-roading was an unavoidable situation of journey slightly than an amusing diversion. We do not spend a lot time there, nevertheless, since we would unzipped the home windows from the soft-top again in balmy Telluride, the place the temperature was at the least 25 levels hotter than it’s up right here.

toyota land cruiser drive 2009

The succesful Icon makes brief work of Imogene Cross.

Ezra Dyer

After a hearty breakfast in Crested Butte, Heather eyes the grumbling orange truck exterior the diner and asks, “Why’d you permit it operating?” I produce the ignition key from my pocket and clarify that there actually wasn’t a lot alternative. The ignition change is shorted out. See, manufacturing Icons get break-in mileage to show any kinks or defective elements, however on this brand-new instance, we’re performing the shakedown within the discipline, because it have been. And we have a kink on our arms. Since I am undecided whether or not the change will nonetheless crank the starter, I make a game-time determination: We’re not shutting this factor down until we get to Aspen. And thus, our stroll round a pristine mountain lake is accompanied by the persistent growl of the idling Icon. The hills are alive with the sound of compression ignition.

As I refill at an area gasoline station, I ask the attendant a couple of path somebody talked about that connects Crested Butte and Aspen. “Oh yeah, the Schofield Cross,” he says. “That path is mega-gnar.” Then, deciding he would possibly’ve under-gnarred his unique estimate, he provides, “Mega-mega gnar.” He eyes the Icon sitting on the pumps. “That factor would make it, however for those who put a wheel improper, you fall 40 toes into the river.” I ask if there’s maybe a kinder different for this $122,000 truck that doesn’t belong to me, a path rated single-gnar or much less, and he recommends one other unpaved means known as the Kebler Cross. The Kebler Cross is extra like a dust highway than a path, and I air down the Icon’s tires to take the sting off the stutter bumps. This smooths out the experience properly, and I make a aware determination to keep away from telling Heather that we may have had a a lot nicer drive up Imogene Cross if I might considered this sooner. The aspen forest makes for an exquisite backdrop, and the woods are teeming with life–including, oddly, cows. Heather notes that cows are regular and timber are regular, however put some cows among the many timber and all of a sudden you have bought an odd and unique tableau.

two yellow labs in the back of an fj80 land cruiser

Fellow Land Cruiser vacationers.

Automotive and Driver

A number of hours later we’re in Aspen, and I pull into the car parking zone of the Gant Lodge, press my proper foot on the brake and pop the clutch with my left. The motor stalls, choking itself into silence for the primary time previously 7 hours. Now comes the true second of fact: I flip the important thing to see if it’s going to begin up once more. The starter spins, the motor roars to life, and we’re in enterprise. After shutting down once more, I disconnect the battery to maintain the equipment from killing it in a single day, however we now have a viable technique for persevering with our journey. That is the advantage of older designs–things might go improper, however it’s rather a lot simpler to plan work-arounds than it’s in new vehicles. There aren’t any OBD II bother codes, no digital safety techniques to go haywire. Unhealthy ignition change? Stall it out.

Harm Waivers

As we stroll round Aspen, I discover a poster promoting performers at a subterranean bar. “Hey, look,” I say, “Ice Dice performed at this place!” It appears unlikely that Ice Dice, of N.W.A. fame and Friday film stardom, would’ve performed a bit bar in Aspen, however there it’s. “Take a look at the date,” Heather says. “He did not play there already, he is enjoying there tonight!” And that is how we ended up witnessing Ice Dice performing “Straight Outta Compton” dwell in Aspen. That is the type of factor that might make for a superb story later. Identical to once you attempt to go mountain biking and your bike falls off the automotive rack at 50 mph.

toyota land cruiser drive 2009

Ezra Dyer

About that: I assumed every little thing was correctly ratcheted down after we set off towards Woody Creek. The lady on the bike place instructed me that the late gonzo legend Hunter S. Thompson used to dwell close to the path, so I wished to test it out, even when Thompson in all probability would’ve pistol-whipped me for sporting a helmet whereas using a bicycle. He would have absolutely accredited, nevertheless, of the carnage. As I hit an growth joint on the freeway, my bike bounces off the rack and begins a demise cartwheel down the freeway. Did I join the injury waiver? I hope I signed up for the injury waiver.

Once I return the bike, the shaggy dude on the counter buys my rationalization for the massive chunk of froth lacking from the seat. “I took a digger,” I say, gesturing to the highway rash on the seat. “You positive did!” he agrees, and I depart earlier than he can ponder how I trashed the seat with out struggling a lot as a scrape myself.

Alpine Angler

Again within the Icon, we climb out of city on Route 82, headed towards Independence Cross on the Continental Divide. The blacktop is clean and principally freed from plow scars. Up right here at 12,000 toes, on one of many highest paved roads in North America, they do not even hassle to plow in winter–they simply shut the highway and wait until spring. As soon as the 10-mile route thaws, it is a widespread climb for highway bikers touring the Sawatch Vary.

The Icon’s turbocharger is whistling, and I am spinning the steering wheel like Combine Grasp Mike on the turntables, however as I move a parade of Porsches going the opposite means, it is arduous to not want that I had a sports activities automotive proper now. On the high, the Icon’s riotous idle is all of a sudden drowned out by an otherworldly shriek. Over the ridge, making wonderful time, comes a pink Ferrari Enzo, considered one of just a few hundred or so on the planet. Judging by the smile plastered on the face of the fortunate man behind the wheel, we must always all aspire to drive a pink Enzo over Independence Cross earlier than we die.

Quickly, we’re on Interstate 70 for the primary time on the journey. I wish to attain Boulder in time to arrange a fishing journey tomorrow. So we forgo lunch in favor of that traveler’s staple, jerky (with a facet order of surprisingly good convenience-store tamales), and head down I-70 as quick because the Icon can carry us.

My seat-of-the-pants method to scheduling implies that no guides can be found. However I do not even must drive that far to search out my very own solitary place to fish. Barely 20 minutes after I go away the Kinsley Outfitters Orvis store in Boulder I drop anchor. I examine the fancifully named flies I purchased and ponder which one to deploy for some epic trout slaying. I ponder the Chernobyl Ant and the Elk Wing Caddis, however determine to attempt the Stimulator first.

I am extra of a shameless bait caster than a fly fisherman; nonetheless, I attempt to dance the fly on the water, as a result of that looks like what a fly would do, proper? However the water is just as much as my shins, and I fail to spot how there might be fish right here. They’d should be two-dimensional, and I am fairly positive flounder will not be indigenous to the Rockies. I am prepared to surrender and take a look at a brand new spot, however all of a sudden the fly is tugged underwater, and the slack goes out of the road. The fishing in Boulder Creek actually have to be fairly good, as a result of I caught a fish. I let it go—so there is not any proof to contradict the hyperbole I conjure to explain my catch again on the resort bar in Boulder. It was a creature of the deep, 5 rows of enamel, license plates in its stomach.

The subsequent morning brings the road-trip bummer: the belief that we’re completed driving to new locations searching for new adventures. No extra random Ice Dice concert events, sudden fly-fishing mastery, or rural Enzo sightings. No extra challenges just like the bike tumbling down the freeway or the shorted ignition adopted by the exhilaration of a profitable repair. And, I am unhappy to say, no extra Icon.

Whereas I initially missed the refinement of a contemporary automotive, over the course of the journey the FJ endeared itself. It took us from Durango to Boulder, up Imogene Cross, by way of the Crested Butte aspens, and previous the woodland bovines, its heart console shut tight sufficient to stop the odor of the ever-present beef jerky from permeating the inside. Apart from all its artful particulars, the Icon has the FJ40 charisma, an authenticity that solely comes with a real four-decade pedigree.

Headshot of Ezra Dyer

Senior Editor

Ezra Dyer is a Automotive and Driver senior editor and columnist. He is now primarily based in North Carolina however nonetheless remembers find out how to flip proper. He owns a 2009 GEM e4 and as soon as drove 206 mph. These details are mutually unique.


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