Toyota does have a sense of humor. All it takes to see it is a look at the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, a cartoon version of the old FJ40 Land Cruiser. It makes your daily commute feel like a trip to the beach.
Until, that is, the FJ Cruiser's double-wide C-pillar blots out your ability to make a quick lane change during the crush-hour traffic. There must be some kind of comic irony to be found in a retro vehicle with severely impaired rearward vision.
Someone should do something about this. In fact, why not just cut off the whole top altogether?
Is Placentia Anywhere Near Newport Beach? Apparently someone at Toyota had similar thoughts, because last year the company commissioned a convertible concept for the SEMA show from Al Zadeh of Newport Convertible Engineering in Placentia, California. Actually, Zadeh did much better than just slice off the FJ's roof; he went ahead and built a power-operated fabric top to replace it.
This is not the first time an automaker has come to Zadeh to produce a convertible version of one of its vehicles. The FJ represents only a small portion of the alphabet soup of vehicle tops he has engineered during his 24 years in business.
"I have done just about every vehicle from A to Z," he says, only half joking. Under the letter "A" you will find conversions of the Aston Martin Vanquish for individual customers. He handled the design and engineering of the first convertible version of the Volkswagen New Beetle in 1998. Soon after, he worked on the PT Cruiser for Chrysler. His conversion of the 1990-'99 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is still popular with customers in Dubai. Recently, he's been meeting a big demand for ragtop versions of the Cadillac CTS and Chrysler 300C. And don't forget his Nissan Z, which was popular in Japan through the 1980s.
For all Zadeh's popular successes with convertible versions of exotic modern cars, he got the inspiration for his vocation from an MGB while a student at USC.
"I got tired of carrying towels and having wet pants every time I drove my MG in the rain or the car wash," Zadeh recalls. "I started thinking about how I could improve the design of the convertible top."
When work in the oil business began to disappear in 1981, Zadeh changed his engineering career and began to build convertible versions of the Nissan 300ZX, Porsche 928 and even Roll-Royce sedans.
Measure Twice, Cut Once Zadeh relies on a combination of sketches, computer design and Photoshop-altered images to carry out his development.
"My knowledge base is strong because of all the cars I've done over the years," he explains. "I respect the manufacturer's original design and try not to deviate from it. Safety is most important, so the mounting points for the seatbelts and backseat points stay in place."
Zadeh personally carries out the initial conversion to get a feel for the way the car is built and where it needs structural reinforcement. He says that a four-door vehicle usually takes up to three or four months to design.
The four-door Toyota FJ Cruiser posed an additional problem because its unique B-pillar swings out to afford access to the rear seat, so once the top is removed, the upper latch points for the front seatbelts go with it. As a solution, Zadeh has fabricated a roll cage of 1.25-inch tubing over the passenger area to locate the door mount, plus he's added structural integrity, safety and a dash of Hummer-like off-road machismo.
What Zadeh didn't add was a lot of weight. "I try to keep the weight within 50-100 pounds of the original vehicle," he declares. His FJ convertible weighs about 80 pounds more than a stock version.
Because the FJ has body-on-frame construction, there was no need to further stiffen the chassis. The body, however, gets additional bracing at the rear via extensions from the side of the roll cage, a rectangular bar just forward of the rear wheelwells and two similarly sized bars across the back near the tailgate.
The fully lined power top includes a heated glass rear window. A switch on the lower left of the dash raises and lowers it. Securing it to the windshield is easily done by a pair of latches borrowed from the Toyota Solara convertible.
Sparks Fly As eager as we were to do some al fresco beach cruising in the FJ, it was hard not to resist the opportunity to watch one of NCE's workers wield an electric saw in an attack on the FJ Cruiser's offensive C-pillar along with the rest of the roof.
The whole spark-scattering, eardrum-shattering process (much like a fireworks display during a demolition derby) takes about 30 minutes. This is done after the interior has been stripped and the exterior covered in 3M Welding and Spark Deflection paper. It takes three workers to lift off the amputated roof.
What follows is the more exacting task of fitting the roll cage, bracing, top mechanism and then the reinstallation of the interior.
Great Big Beach Cruiser With the top down and the windows raised, the FJ convertible is nearly as temperate and draft-free as the hardtop FJ. Judging by the stares we get (well, except for the guy in the Wrangler straining to avoid eye contact), it's even cooler on the outside.
Some people might like the humpback styling of the stock FJ Cruiser, but the general populace definitely feels the convertible vibe, especially the closer you get to the beach.
Zadeh's engineering skill and the general sturdiness of the FJ convertible are verified when two sets of railroad tracks fail to induce a hint of cowl shake or vibration. While vehicle performance hasn't been upgraded, the airy cockpit makes the FJ feel sprightlier. Being able to hear the V6's raspy little exhaust note adds to the illusion of power.
Although the top retracts almost completely, it still rests above the FJ's already high beltline, so visibility directly behind the driver remains compromised. Once it's raised, the top seals well, with no annoying squeaks or rattles. But we must admit that there is only a slight improvement, if any, in terms of the dreaded blind spot.
But who cares when you know the remedy is only a button-push away?
So Good, Toyota Wants One The success of Newport Convertible Engineering's FJ Cruiser Convertible has made Toyota think seriously about putting something similar into production itself, and we anticipate a factory-authorized version in the fall of 2009. For the time being, plenty of Toyota dealers are sold on the idea. To meet demand, Zadeh has had to employ two 12-man shifts to pump out 20-25 FJ Cruiser Convertibles a month.
About 90 percent of Zadeh's sales are new models sold through dealers. The remaining sales are to individual FJ owners who deal directly with NCE. The convertible conversion costs $10,000 and includes NCE's warranty for three years or 36,000 miles. Just as important, the conversion does not affect Toyota's warranty on the rest of the FJ.
You know, there are times when you really enjoy driving a life-size cartoon, especially if it's a big, yellow convertible.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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Review I first want to start off by saying I have not reviewed any prior vehicles but felt compelled to due to the pleasant experiences I have had with my FJ. The most common question I get is "why didn't you just get a jeep" and to be honest they were considered when I was in the market for my next vehicle. There was not one deciding factor in my getting a FJ over a Jeep but rather a list of reasons. I like to research my next vehicle to the fullest extent before investing any sort of money in them. Overall, my personal experiences with Jeep's have been less than satisfactory. I have had a Jeep in the past and was not happy with it. Prior to buying the FJ I drove my buddies 2007 Jeep Rubicon 4x4 for week to see how I liked it. I gave it back within 2 days. It drove like a tractor in that you have to constantly manipulated the steering wheel to get it to track straight at anything over 40mph. It was a dog. The V6 in the Jeep's up until 2010 I believe had absolutely no power. During my brief time driving it we had a small shower and like every Jeep I've known, it leaked. One of the only advantages I could see was the huge availability of aftermarket parts. On to the FJ. I test drove a FJ at a dealer and immediately loved it. Personal preference maybe but it felt more like a machine than any Jeep I had been in. Dealers in my opinion are always overpriced so I got my preapproval from the bank and stalked Craigslist, and AutoTrader until one came up. The FJ's are supremely unique in that they look like nothing else on the road. Jeeps are miniature hummers, 4runners look like mini Sequoias and so on. I wanted something unique that everyone didn't see everyday and I found it in the FJ. The V6 in the FJ initially surprised me with how much get up and go it has. With more horsepower than most Mustangs and Camaros of the same year it makes for a awesome driving experience. I've read reviews of people complaining that Toyota paint is horrible but I must say it is quite the opposite. I personally have a Black FJ and the paint has been easy to upkeep. Easy to wash, wax and buff. Resilient against most things encountered off road like thorns, rocks that have been flung up and the occasional branch popping up. I would definitely recommend getting the roof rack and step up rails as they add style and function. The interior as I'm sure you've read if your here researching FJ's is designed to be washed out with a hose. IE. It is mostly plastic and water resistant cloth. This is one of the best features Ive found yet. IT IS SUPREMELY EASY TO CLEAN. After a weekend at the beach with the dogs, or off-roading you can practically take a hose to it or a broom. With a cloth and a touch of Armour All she looks new. The plastic just about everywhere on the dash is very resilient. The floor and cargo area lack that a bit. Though not soft it tends to scratch if throwing rocks, antique furniture or what have you in the back. Keep in mind this is not a Land Rover, it is made to be used. Not looked at. It is not your prissy leather, and hardwood Jeep. I am 6'2 and a compact 225 and fit great in the front seat. The back is a bit of a squeeze but I'm always driving so who cares. Until your kids grow past 5ft you will be fine. The front is very open and the windshield can be expensive if broken but I've thankfully not had that happen. Many people complain about the lack of visibility when looking back. If you angle your mirrors like it says to do in every DMV book you will be fine. Its not for soccer moms who have kids throwing candy while changing lanes. Like I mentioned before the engine is a great piece of engineering, Toyota literally squeezed every bit of HP they could out of it. If you want more, get a Supercharger, the engine has been built up about as far as it can go. Sure exhaust and a CAI will add 5HP but can you really feel that when you step on it? No. The Oil Capacity is a nuisance at 5.5 quarts, IE you have to buy another quart along with that 5 quart jug. Something that I found notable is that even at 5k miles, the oil is still cleaner than my Mustangs oil after 3k. Better tolerances? I don't know but its worth mentioning. MPG is something people complain about the most. At 55mph at get 24mpg, (automatic w/ 4x4) at 65 20MPGand on long hauls to the coast at 85-95mph I get 17MPG. If your buying the FJ for fuel economy get a Prius instead, its literally a box. Some people report a bump in the transmission after coming to a stop. Supposedly this happens after 100k but at 125k I still have not felt it. Drivetrain seems bulletproof, the fancy A-Trac and locking differential is really handy for getting you out of places where you should of had a second vehicle. Overall I love the FJ. I love the fact that it has true glove box on the drivers side dash and that it has 3 windshield wipers. Toyota dependability can not be beat. I'd buy another one tomorrow if I could drive both at the same time.
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What options are available on the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser?
Available Toyota FJ Cruiser 2007 Submodel Types: SUV