Over the years, we've been directly involved in several extensive vehicle build-ups of our own, we've watched other people build thiers, and drawing from a different section of this site, we've watched many boat builds as they progressed from the starting idea stages, through to the end result. One thing we've learned from this doing and watching is that for a project to reach a successful conclusion, it must start out with a well defined beginning. In other words, before the first wrench is turned or the torch is touched to the first piece of steel, the scope of the project needs to be defined. Sometimes this is referred to as a "design brief", but other times it can be as simple as a few basic statements about what the project is going to be accomplishing.
In our case, we decided to sit down and prepare a written design brief for our project. We wanted to define the end results we were trying to get to, the basic capabilities that the vehicle had to have or retain, so that as we started putting parts on the shopping list, they didn't wind up there just because they were cool. Ok, well that's not 100% true, we probably will keep a little "cool stuff" money in the budget, but the major parts and modifications we make are going to have to fit into our overall design brief or we're simply not going to put them on this particular rig. We're hoping that this semi-disciplined approach will get us the most bang for the buck in the end. Along the way, we'll keep you posted here with the choices we make, and more importantly, how those choices wind up meeting their intended use as we continue to put this rig to work.
The FJ we chose to start with was basically equipped from the factory as follows:
- Model Year - 2008
- Exterior Color - Silver / White
- PowerTrain - V6 and 6 Speed Manual Transmission
- Factory Options - Convenience Package, Towing Package
Project FJ - Intended Roles for the Rig
As the first Offical Redrock Outdoors Trail Rig, we have several major intended uses that we have defined as the major requirements for the vehicle. As we defined the major uses of the rig, we also assigned each an estimated number that represents the percentage of overall use we expect each portion to make up, to help us when it comes time to allocate our budget. A modification that affects an intended use that represents a higher expected percentage will have a better chance of making it onto the shopping list than one that only affects a use we expect to be a small percent of the overall use. Here's what we came up with:
- Highway Use - 75% - This is the time we expect to spend in the vehicle on paved roads, traveling to destinations that we are reviewing, visiting vendors and service providers, etc.
- Mild Trails Use - 20% - We expect mild trails to make up the true majority of our off-road use, things such as dirt roads into areas that we are reviewing, trails back into back country camp spots, lakes, etc. Our definition of a mild trail is one that could in most cases be completed using a stock vehicle.
- Hard Trails Use - 5% - These are the trails that require at a minimum some basic modifications such as larger tires, along with the use of low range 4 wheel drive to complete. This is a broad category we know, and we fully expect to run some hardcore trails with this rig, but we're trying to be realistic in our use projection.
So, there's our rough projection of how we expect to use this rig in terms of how much time we expect to be using it for each type of activity. We realize that this can't be the only measure we use as we decide how to build our rig up, as it's obvious that the 5% of time spent on hardcore trails may easily put 99% of the stress on the parts and modifications but again, we're hoping this realistic estimate of how we will be using the rig will help us set the budget priorities.
Project FJ - Exisiting Stock Capabilities
There were some existing stock capabilities that the FJ had from the factory that helped us choose it as our rig, and we thought it made sense to define some of those that we're satisfied with at this point so we don't go off and try to recreate them. In other words, this is the stuff we're convinced is good enough for our intended use, and so we're not going to touch it.
- Drive Train - We belive the existing 4 Wheel Drive combination will be adequate in terms of gearing, and locking differential capabilities. The factory rear locking differential is expected to be adequate and we do not expect to need a locker in the front diff for our use.
- Gear Storage - We expect the combination of rear cargo area storage, combined with the factory roof rack to be adequate for most of our equipment storage requirements. We don't expect to upgrade the roof rack to a bigger rack at this time.
- Power Generation - Our intital assessment is that the exsting 100/400 watt inverter and outlet in the rear cargo area will be adequate for our requirements. We also expect the alternator / battery combination to be adequate, but reserve the right to change our mind on this point as the vehicle evolves.
Project FJ - Areas For Improvement
Continuing with this effort, we wanted to define some additional capabilities that the rig should have when we are done, so that we could continue with the shopping list. Some of these things we know for sure we're going to do immediately, and others may have to be modified as we spend more time out in the field.
- Engine - Intake and Exhaust - We always believe an engine is more efficient if the intake and exhaust are given some attention, and the V6 in the FJ is no exception. We chose to have the Toyota TRD Performance Exhaust Cat-back system installed, and the TRD Performance Air Filter. Technically the FJ is already a Cold Air Intake system, and the performance system just enhances that CAI by adding a larger filter and filter box.
- Tires & Wheels - The factory tires were the first thing to go, as were the factory rims. While we expect to run several different sets of tires as we evolve the vehicle, our first set was biased slightly towards better on-road characteristics, as we're in the early stages of development here and don't see ourselves getting into much hard core off-road stuff until we get a few more mods done.
- Interior Comforts - While the factory audio system met our needs for tunes, we expect to spend a lot of time running down the road getting to destinations, and we do take kids with us a lot of the time, we we decided it made sense to install some form of entertainment system to keep them from hounding us with the old "are we there yet?" line. Our installation is a low end DVD system, consisting of one DVD player and two Headrest mounted Display units. We also decided while we were in there to install some Dynamat to the interior, just to see if we couldn't quiet the highway ride down just a bit.
- Suspension - While the first set of tires we added fit easily into the stock setup, we do expect to install a leveling kit just to level things out and give us the option of running full 33" tires if we decide we need them. One thing we would like to maintain as long as it doesn't compromise the rig is the ability to park it inside a normal garage. This is for reasons other than just that we don't like to scrape windows in the winter, we would like to keep the rig "stocked" as much as possible, and much of the stuff we take with us when we're out researching destinations to be covered in this site is expensive photo and video gear, so secure indoor storage whenever possible isn't really just a luxury. We're not totally convinced that car alarms do anything more than annoy people these days, but if the rig outgrows our indoor storage facility we may add an alarm to our list of requirements.
- Recovery and Extraction - We will be carefully planning out our recovery and extraction additions. Most likely, we'll take a long hard look at winches, as we expect to be out on the trail alone as often as we expect to be in a group, so we want to insure a fair amount of ability to "unstick" ourselves. This gets us into the whole front bumper swap out arena, so we are going to look at all the options here before we jump in. We have so far at least added a receiver hitch loop and tow strap, and they've already been pressed into service during one of our snowstorms this winter to pull a friend out of the ditch.
Here's a big picture of our Project FJ before any major modifications. All we've done at this point is the Intake and Exhaust System and replaced the factory Tires and Wheels. Oh, and just in case you're wondering where we took this picture, this was taken at the top of a dirt road just near the top of South Pass in Wyoming.