Staff Projects: The Workings of a Daily Driver
Most of the cars you will see here on Street63 have been built towards a certain objective – cars to go to the track with, cars built with a full list of catalog parts, or simply a rare car that’s built to be reliable and give some proper peace of mind. While most video games we played growing up have associated go-fast parts as ‘progression’ in terms of modifying a car, real life is more to it than that. An open-minded car enthusiast will acknowledge that every car is geared towards a certain purpose – and not all of them are meant to go fast. Some are meant to go off-road, some made to carry its occupants in luxury, and, for most of us, cars that are meant to be driven daily.
You could argue that daily driven vehicles are meant to be left stock – you ought to put your budget towards your actual build afterall. But then as it is with most gearheads, driving a car on the regular made me realize that I could tailor my daily to my own style to cater to more specific requirements. Spending time regularly with a car gives us time to think, plan, and execute the little bits and bobs that need changing. I needed a car that would start with one click, get me anywhere I needed to be whether in hot summer or torrential rain, and still have my own personal touch. To contrast the single-focused, temperamental, maarte RX-7 sitting in my garage, I have built my 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser to take on the nuances of everyday driving.
When we took delivery of this Sun Fusion FJ in July 2015, I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t too keen on this particular car. I had zero knowledge of building off-roaders nor did I find much sense in owning them back then. I was quick to point out all the obvious flaws and lack of practicality of this car, but then again it was quirky and had its own charm all the same. All told, my family still decided to push through with the purchase. Driving around town the first few weeks was a bit of a challenge with all the blind spots and tank-y interior, but any FJ owner will tell you once you’re past that the retro-inspired Toyota is actually pretty comfortable and zippy enough for Manila traffic. Add to that the fact that this is basically the off-road counterpart of the Toyota 86 when it comes to aftermarket support and, well, y’all know what happens next.
Considering that this is supposed to be a car used by various people in the family I had to plan this build a bit differently. There were many variables to factor in for this build since it has much differing set of requirements compared to an all-out build like the RX-7. Each upgraded part in this car contributes either to overall usability, better comfort, or for overall improvement of quality of life – and boy are these parts much more different compared to the go-fast bits we’re used to.
For starters, to improve the overall aesthetic of the FJ the very first step is to give it a proper lift and a decent wheel and tire combo. Over the past five years we’ve had this FJ it was running a set of Dobinsons shocks and springs that gave a 2-inch lift, but since those shocks gave way it now rides on JAOS Battle Z Suspension. The Dobinsons struts were pretty stiff in general and in hindsight ought to have been used for hardcore off-roading. The JAOS suspension in contrast rides like a cloud yet handles body roll and pitch impressively, therefore being much more suited for street use.
As for wheels and tires the norm for FJs around town would be an 18 to 20-inch wheel matched with 285 to 305 series mud terrain tires. Thing is that kind of setup will need a careful driver when parking next to curbs and such, and I won’t always be behind the wheel of this car. I needed an idiot-proof set, hence the downsized 16-inch Enkei RPT1s matched to all-terrain BF Goodrich KO2s. Mud terrains would have made too much noise on the road, and the all-terrain BFGs strikes the balance of NVH and off-roader aesthetic nicely.
Exterior pieces on this FJ focus more on details that further improve on the original shape of the car. No steel bumpers, riveted bushwacker fenders, snorkels, rock sliders or racks in sight for this one. A TRD-style nudge bar gives the front just enough aggression while the OEM-look wide fenders pump the guards while retaining the OEM fender shape. The rear section is capped off with a JAOS-style wing, plate relocation, and TRD Trail Teams tails for an OEM+ touch. All the silver pieces like the door handles and bumper wings have been painted black to resemble a true two-tone paintjob. All this is finished off with bright red JAOS Mudflaps under the guards to give the FJ a mild rally-raid vibe.
Notice how some of the exterior body pieces are ‘copy’ parts? That’s because I won’t pay top dollar for some cab or trike to trade paint with an original piece; Again another consideration for a daily driver here in Manila. That scratch on the rear left fender says it all.
One piece that made a significant difference with driving the FJ are these Toyota UAE-spec FJ Side Mirrors. These have a much wider convex angle that reduce the blind spots of the stock pieces and have a wider spread on the sides. While you’ll get used to driving this tank with the stock mirrors eventually, the respite offered by these mirrors are a much welcome benefit for daily use.
Visibility is a much-underrated yet important upgrade for cars, and this FJ has a few upgrades in that department as well. Chief among these are the Redline Autoworks Stage 3 Projector Retrofits matched with PIAA LP500 fogs. The former are more than enough for street use while the latter are only actually useful for cutting through fog in the mountains. You’d normally see LED bars on these, but again i’ve opted for a more balanced lighting setup versus a completely overkill (not to mention obnoxious) part. The windscreen is regularly treated to hydrophobic solution as well to make it easier to see during rain. The number one safety device in any car is always the driver, and these parts all help improve the safety of that particular device by making it see better, right?
Despite looking mostly stock, the interior has been treated to a host of quality-of-life upgrades. An audio upgrade with a Pioneer Bluetooth 2-DIN, Zapco ST4X 4-channel amp, and a set of Acoustic Vertus seps and subwoofer significantly bump up audio quality from the sub-par AVT units that Toyota sells local units with. Lighting in the cabin has been improved by way of LED map, dome, and rear trunk lights. Since my fiancé almost always rides shotgun, I’ve attached a Gudetama tissue holder in front of the passenger seat for her convenience; It also matches the interior scheme and adds a little bit of personality too. Air quality has also been improved in the cabin thanks to a Denso Air Purifier as well as a K&N washable Cabin Filter – both must-haves for the asthmatic people in the family. Rubber 3D-printed carpets make sure any spills from beverages or frozen items stay on the carpet till it’s cleaned, while the bubble shift knob is tall enough to shift without having to move your elbow from the armrest. All minor nuances sure, but these go a long way towards being less stressed during manila traffic and on long trips.
The trunk gets a Weathertech AVM cargo mat matched with cargo pegs that keep all the items in the trunk from sliding around – an annoying problem if you’ve had your FJ for awhile considering all the surfaces are made of hard plastic. This combo alone has made the cabin as quiet as it should be, and is surely a worthwhile investment for any vehicle.
All these parts don’t really contribute much to a staggering spec sheet, but the real-world difference offered by the various conveniences they have to offer make for a better driving experience on a daily basis. Even if a car serves as simple a purpose as to be an A-to-B daily, there is always something we can build upon to improve it for our own convenience. The key point here is to study and understand what parts would bring your daily drive more convenience and peace of mind.
Oh, and if you must know this FJ is mostly stock engine-wise. TRD Catback lang ang baon.
Words by Aurick Go
Photos by Aurick Go and Jaime Miguel Echavez
2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Engine and Driveline
TRD Catback Exhaust
Rear differential Scuba Mod (DIY Diff breather relocate)
Body, Wheels, Brakes, and Suspension
Enkei RPT1 16x8 +0
Mr. Offset 25mm spacers
JAOS Battle Z Suspension
Whiteline rear shock mount bushing
Dobinsons Panhard Rod
Body Mount Chop
Brembo OEM Replacement front pads
Goodridge Stainless Steel Brake Lines
TRD Copy Nudge Bar
Redline Autoworks Stage 3 Projector Retrofit
PIAA LP570 Foglights
TRD Trail Teams Tail Lights
JAOS Copy Wing
JAOS Red Mudflaps
Custom OEM-style wide fenders
Black-painted silver trim/grill
Toyota USA FJ Tire Cover
Toyota UAE Side Mirrors
Pioneer AVH595BT Head Unit
Acoustic Vertus Seps
Acoustic Vertus 12” Sub
Zapco ST4X SQ 4-channel amplifier
Sound deadening on doors
K&N Cabin Filter
Denso Air Purifier
Weathertech AVM Cargo Mat + Pegs
LED map, dome, and trunk lights