My 78 FJ40 Project - HD

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Oct 6, 2010
Sevierville, TN
Not sure everyone wants another build thread but I figured I might as well introduce myself and have a place I can post some pictures and ask for help along the way.

I joined October 2010 looking for info on FJ40s. I purchased a 2007 FJ Cruiser figuring that would scratch that boyhood itch of wanting a four wheel drive truck. But since the cruiser would be my daily driver (100 miles / day roundtrip to work) I didn't want to lift it up, put big tires on it and make the gas mileage any worse.

That didn't stop me from enjoying the Cruiser though. Shortly after getting it my son and I loaded up my enduro (DRZ 400) and went to my dad's in Arkansas for a trip. I spent most of the day riding the DRZ and found some great back roads and even a good river crossing. Excited I drove back and got my son and showed him the crossing. When we got there he said that it didn't look like much so I went straight through it with the Cruiser with water splashing up over the hood. I forgot to take the shallow path I scouted previously. But it was all good fun. We spent some time running through mud puddles and crossing the river and that's where I got my avatar photo.
When we got back to my dad's, I think he thought I was a little bit crazy treating a couple-month-old truck like that, but hey, it's an FJ.

We did a lot with the cruiser. I'd load up the DRZ and go trail riding, even one event January 1st without studs. I should have just thrown myself down a flight of stairs instead.

We even took the cruiser to Colorado and spent some time tooling around passes where my son got to drive for the first time. We even made it to Moab where I wanted to show the family the beautiful rock formations.
While I love my FJ Cruiser I still had that itch to work on a project. I don't know what it is, most people would probably call it stupidity. But there are a lot of worse things I could spend time and money on. I've just always liked cleaning up old parts and trying to make an old vehicle look new--to take pride in building something.

So I joined this consortium. Wow, what a wealth of knowledge. I posted up in the clubhouse and got some good feedback from some of the members there. I started my search and in a month I found a viable project. I'm sure not the best project that could be had, not the best deal in the world, but not the worst either. It would be my FJ40.
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Yeah, she wasn't purty. But she was mine. The previous owner was a good guy. I'm sure he was like-minded, wanted to build a project, work with his sons, share knowledge. But the project stalled for him and his wife celebrated its departure.

Me, I was giddy as a school boy. Sure I would have been better off waiting and finding a more complete project. Spent more and took advantage of someone elses hard work. But I was anxious to get started. Thankfully my wife has been through my various projects and obsessions and somehow puts up with it. I'm lucky.

This had to be a budget build. It's funny how things change yet stay the same. I sure make a lot more money than I did when I was in college building a 65 mustang in my spare time. Yet somehow I don't seem to have much more expandable cash. My tool collection has grown but still most of my time would be spent with the same tool--a drill and a wire wheel.

Tear down comenced. Taking things apart don't cost money. :rolleyes:
The first order of business was separating the tub from the frame and getting it up in the air. I wanted to build some body dolly for it on casters but I couldn't justify the expense. Instead I placed a 4x4 over some cinder blocks and a SoloFlex to hold up the rear. (I knew that SoloFlex would come in handy some day.)
This way I could roll the chasis back under the tub so we could keep both of our primary vehicles in the garage over the winter.

Next was the drive train. I even enlisted my son in the motor tear down. Hey it was my birthday and Christmas present. Little did I know it would be the only time my son was interested in working on it. So much for sharing the knowledge.
Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

During the dissasembly, my expert craigslist skills managed to track down a top for the girl. In Wisconsin she can't always go topless and I always liked that hardtop look with the curved windows.

With a little haggling involved with the seller I got a top (the sides too) a rear hatch, a windsheild frame, about 3/4 of a set of barn doors (1/4 rust) and even a bench seat set. And with a little haggling with the wife, I managed to convince her to take a trip to the mothership (Mall Of America) to go shopping, and pick up my parts ofcourse.

Unfortunately I didn't do my homework and I didn't realize the 78 top had wing windows in the side and I ended up with a top likely from a 72 based on the seat. Still, it was a fair price for all the parts and I'll make it all work eventually.

While the bench seat isn't correct for my year, I thought it would be a cool addition for cool night rides with my wife. Even after 20+ years of marriage we still like to snuggle, and a bench seat would be nice.
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Before I separated the tub from the chasis and the motor from the frame I took the advice of a friend and spent some time trying to figure out the status of some of the components of the truck.

The first priority was to get it started. Yeah, dummy me, so anxious I purchased it without hearing it run and taking the PO's word for it that it ran years ago. :D I was giddy when it took me only an hour or so to get it to turn over and running. I've got that same grin now. I can remember looking up and seeing my wife and son peering out the windows at me while I took the obvious step--will it drive?

Dark of night, 40 degrees out, no windshield and some mad man running up and down the street with a grin on his face and wind in his hair, grinding gears along the way. Hey it stopped too.

It would be an almost too common occurence, well it was necessary work. Now that I think of it I do remember locking in the front hubs and doing a few laps around our yard with the big hill. Thankfully I live on a dead end and neighbors aren't too close.

The good news is that the drivetrain worked pretty well, four wheel worked, trans shifted, brakes, clutch. I even got to drive a 40 for the first time. I still grin thinking about it.

Since then, I've ready many threads with newbies asking how to proceed and old-bies :grinpimp: giving the sage advice of live with their vehicles for awhile. Don't be so quick to tear things about and do a frame off. Enjoy it a bit. That is sage advice. Unfortunately my truck was never at that point where it was legal to drive. I probably could have spent some time getting it there, but as you'll probably learn, I learn things the hard way.

While the drive train worked I did find after doing a compression test that my motor had one cylinder that was pretty weak. So that's why I decided to tear into the motor and see what was up. What I found was a couple broken piston rings.
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Would you believe all those rings came off that one piston? :lol::D

I knew tearing into the motor would cost a lot, but I felt it was necessary.

The PO said the pre PO had replaced the head gasket not too long before he got it. But come to think of it, I think he said he bought it out of a field. So since the PO had it for 5 or so years it had sat awhile.

I tore the head down and wow, turns out those Shell gasoline ads aren't too far off. Valves really do get "that" dirty. But they clean up pretty well. Although I can't imagine a gas additive could get all the gunk off the intake valves and the hardened stuff off the exhaust valves that I did.

I also found that the head had some pretty good pitting along the intake/exhaust gasket area.
Congrats on your project. I see the addiction is setting in.

Thanks! Addiction. Obsession. tomatoe, tomoto. :cool: It's nice sharing the addiction with like-minded people here!

Now that I kind of knew where the motor was at I went back to working on the chasis. My goal was to get down to the frame and clean it. The leaf springs were a bear to separate from the frame and from the axles. Being older I have more tools but still little or no air tools and certainly no oxy acetelene torch. That would have come in handy. Much more expedient than a long breaker bar, pickle fork, pry bar and a BFH.

Once the springs were off I tore apart the front axle. A first for me. Ah, so that's a knuckle.
The next couple months I spent accumulating parts. Everything from new JIS hardware (I spent how much for new bolts?) to Optima battery, used set of wheels, a bunch of spares from a fellow mudder in Green Bay and other needed parts. I made a spreadsheet of all the parts I thought I needed and prices from various suppliers. Then I routinely check e-bay, the classifieds and craigslist for parts.

One thing that I think has worked fairly well are online sales from They don't have a lot of parts for 40s but general maintenance things like optima batteries, hoses, brake rotors, etc. It seems every so often they have a sale where they give you 15% or so off, you spend $100 or more and then they e-mail you a coupon for $50 off your next $100 or more purchase. So, if you work it right you can get $200 of merchandise for $135. Not too bad. I picked up some brake hoses, rancho shocks (plus got a rancho rebate), clutch and pressure plate, optima battery and other things. Something to consider. If you're working a long-term project it works out.

I spent a lot of time cleaning up the frame. I would have loved to just take it to a sandblaster and say have at it. But while I want to do things right, $200 here and $400 there sure add up fast. If it wasn't a big deal I definitely would have gotten stuff done a lot faster. But as it is, it's hard to justify spending so much on the girl knowing it's going to cost a lot to operate as well just in gas. The 40 isn't a luxury automobile but me having one is a luxery.

I spent a lot of time cleaning up the frame. I enlisted the help of a bandmate of mine, a great bass player and equally good tig welder and fabricator. My frame would reside in his garage for a few months. I joined a new band and that ate most of my free time but Tim and I found time to repair a few PO repairs on the frame as well as create a bumper and mount a powersteering box.

I figured out roughly what I would need to fabricate the steering box plate and a bumper and went to the local metal supplier. I called a couple suppliers for prices but most would barely return my calls. They have ads saying, "no order too small" but didnt seem to want to spend the time. Tim suggested I call a place not too far from home and the guy just said to come on down. I hadn't purchased raw metal before, it was pretty cool. They had two big barns/warehouses full of various metals. A worker came out with me to the building and I'd tell him what I needed. He'd point out the various sizes and types they had and then lop off a section with the torch. Pretty cool and was fairly inexpensive.

After a lot of research I decided to coat my frame and parts with the MasterSeries Coating line. I ordered up their mastercoat silver primer and tracktorcoat AG111 satin black top coat. I ordered several quarts of each and they threw in some of their metal prep.

The MasterSeries Coating Line & Mastercoat By PM Industries: Headquarters of Mastercoat Rust Preventive Paints and Coatings For Less - Stop Rust Permanently and Get Rid Of the Pits!

I really like how their metal prep works. I wire brush the parts, put their prep on with a scotch brite pad and then wipe it off. It seams to convert and/or bubble the rust to the top. I let the stuff dry and then scuff with a scotch brite before putting the primer on.
Their primer is moisture cured. So when I got to the point that I was ready to paint, of course it was raining every day and if not raining the relative humidity was around 80%. I'm not one to wait so I went ahead and tried primering the front axle.

I was really surprised how well it went on and how well it leveled itself. Not only that, I was surprised how far the product went. The front axle went so well and covered so good I went on to do the diff and then the first coat on the frame.
I forgot to mention the rear frame supports my buddy Tim fabricated. The PO had cut out the rear frame supports and replaced them with just a flat piece of stock running vertically. Looking at that just always bothered me because I didn't think it provided as much support as the formed channel supports that were stock.

My buddy Tim, with some metal he had laying around, fabbed up some supports with box tube and end plates that he then welded to the frame.
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The first coat of the primer usually goes on slick. Levels great. But additional coats don't seem to level as well and leave brush strokes. I use a 2" foam applicator or 2" brush. I don't know if it's a matter of too much humidity or perhaps I get too anxious and apply the second coat too soon to important parts like the axles, frame, bumper etc. I wont those parts to get lots of thorough coats so they're encapsulated so maybe I rush the additional coats.

So when I had some problems with brush strokes I sanded them out fairly easily and the top coat turned out pretty well. Of course it all would likely have turned out better if I sprayed it. But I don't have the facilities for that. Besides all the warnings about vapors on this stuff had me worried to attempt that without a fresh-air mask.

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