Back in the eighties, vintage Land Cruisers were fetish objects to Tim McGrath and his buddies at Albuquerque’s Eldorado High School. During his junior year, McGrath was ecstatic to find a dark green 1974 FJ40 decaying in a barn. He scoured out the mud, mice nests, and chicken shit, then spent weekends testing the truck on camping excursions in the local mountains. He kept it through art school in Laguna Beach, then sold it. “Everyone told me, ‘You’re gonna regret that,’ ” he says. “They were right.”
After settling into life as an advertising art director back in New Mexico, McGrath and his wife, Jennifer, tracked down a rare 1966 FJ45 long-bed pickup truck. “It was cool,” he says, “but we couldn’t even go across town without worrying about it breaking down.” They eventually brought it to a shop in Colorado for a full rebuild. Their vision: a truck that was ready for the gnarliest off-road duty, but could also support a comfortable road trip for a family of four.
The shop removed the truck bed and replaced it with a shortened “troopy” cabin (so named because it’s made for carrying military troops). This created a truncated rear hang-over for off-roading and a spacious interior with room for a backseat. To power taller tires, they installed a 5.7-liter, 351-horsepower Chevy Ram Jet 350 engine and a reinforced five-speed transmission. They also added a twin-stick transfer case, front and rear locking differentials, and an A/C unit.
McGrath says the FJ was a work in progress for a long time, but the effort was part of the pleasure—though not the best part.
“I’m just amazed at what this thing is capable of,” he says. “Whenever I think we’ve gone as far as we can go, she just keeps on going.”