Fractal exploration . . .

My 1973 Land Cruiser attracted a lot of attention at this year’s Overland Expo West. However, I noticed a prevalent attitude in the questions I got. A lot of people seem to view a nicely maintained 44-year-old FJ40 as nothing but a museum piece, suitable for the odd retro run, collecting wistful “I wish I’d never sold mine” comments at Cars and Coffee, or day drives on nearby trails with lunch and a cooler of soft drinks on board. Actually traveling in it? That would be . . . a little crazy, wouldn’t it? Even a friend who’d owned a soft-top Jeep Wrangler TJ—not exactly a Bentley Bentayga by comparison—noted, “You wouldn’t want to go too far in this, would you?” during a grueling 20-minute errand run around Flagstaff.

To which my response is, What have we become? Have we reached a point at which, if our overland vehicle doesn’t have 80mph cruise capability, dual-zone climate control, 500 pounds of sound deadening, magnetorheological dampers, and a 16-speaker Burmeister entertainment system, it’s just not worth the hell of going anywhere? A recent thread I spotted on a Land Cruiser forum was titled “FJ40 long range use?” as if the poster was not even sure it was legal.

There are exactly three “disadvantages” to long-distance travel in an FJ40, assuming it’s been maintained to be reliable:

  1. It doesn’t like to go fast.
  2. It’s loud.
  3. It doesn’t have a lot of cargo space.

The first two issues can be solved at the same time: Don’t drive as fast and it won’t be as loud. Fifty five miles per hour is a comfortable cruise speed in a 40. Sixty isn’t bad, and 65 is okay if you need to take an interstate somewhere. You won’t be doing 700-mile days in an FJ40, but 400-mile days are easy if you’re transiting to get someplace special. Still too loud? Use ear plugs like motorcyclists do.

Ah, but what about those leaf springs, massive solid axles, and that 90-inch wheelbase? No, an FJ40 is never going to be a Land Rover Discovery, but then it’s never going to detonate an air bag in the outback, as two Discos I’ve been with personally have done. And with a set of medium-rate Old Man Emu springs and shocks, our 40 rides better than our 2012 Tacoma did stock.

That “transiting” I mentioned earlier? That is the magic of traveling in a slow, loud vehicle. In an FJ40 you don’t look at the map and set your sights directly on a destination—you look more closely at that map and think, What can we see between here and there? And more often than not that leads to discoveries you would have blasted right past at 80 in your 4Runner or Tahoe. 

Don’t get me wrong: We love our Four Wheel Camper and V6-powered, air-conditioned Tacoma.  But we also like to slow down every once in a while and enjoy what I’ve called Fractal Exploration: You take smaller bites of the world, and examine them more closely. 

An FJ40 Land Cruiser is the perfect vehicle for that.