I had a chance to go behind the wheel of a Trail Teams edition FJ cruiser for the first time in 2013. Around August of the following year, I was given the keys to a TRDPro 4Runner to drive around town and dirt roads. After handing back the keys of the TRDPro, I knew that it was a trap – Now I’m hooked and suckered in by these Toyota off road warriors. It was clear to me that I will have my own truck or SUV one way or the other. It may not be a brand new one straight out of a Toyota show room floor but I had made up my mind that it would be a Land Cruiser. I always had my eye on FJ80 or 80 series cruisers or 1990 – 1997 Land Cruiser. Even with time they still look good and very capable of kicking dirt from weekend road trip. During my initial search I did not find a truck that had an acceptable mileage and within my budget. Also, gas prices were still on the high $4 range that I could not pull the trigger on one.
2015 TRD Pro 4Runner – Behind the Wheel
FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Edition – Behind the Wheel
Beginning of 2015, gas prices was gradually going down so I re-started my search and now I’m equipped with an option after doing some research on the Land Cruisers. The 80 series is a great vehicle that comes with factory front and rear lockers -they are just about unstoppable off road. As an option I had the 100 series on the back of my head. For what I have read and learned, it brings power, comfort and more room while still capable of doing off road or exploration duties. Let’s just say that I found the one after searching for months. I ended up with a 100 series in a Lexus badge, the LX470. The most significant change from the Toyota counter part was its front fascia. It is also equipped with an Active Height Control (AHC) and automated folding side mirrors; other than these features the interior, engine and transmission all are 100 series components.
After owning the LX for a little over a year, the itch to make changes started – well the itch to make modification after a few months of owning it was already there but I held myself from doing so to enjoy the ride and comfort that it brings. It just rides like a huge comfortable sedan or limo. I was so hesitant to make changes specially to the suspension but if I was to take it out on rough roads I need to put a little more ground clearance to the truck. Also, it does look like a soccer mom’s SUV with the stock trim all intact.
Browsing through my Instagram feed, I found RPM Auto Center (@rpm626) owned by Mr. Steve Lam. I found out that it was a local shop located in Irwindale, CA that works on various cars and trucks. After being an Instagram-stalker for a while, I learned that the owner also had an LX470 that he had been working on and had been taking it out on the trails. A few DMs and email here and there, I found myself one day at the shop dropping off my LX. Looking around while at the shop, I noticed that a lot of customers were a good mix of young and older generation – taking their vehicles for a simple oil change or doing some upgrades on a rig. The customers seemed really satisfied with the service provided. In the back of my head, I felt that I took my truck to the right place. After running the Lexus AHC suspension for a little over a year, it was time to upgrade the stock suspension. Steve recommended the ARB / OME suspension kit that will provide the truck a 2.5″ lift, a Slee Offroad front Diff Drop and SCS wheels with BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2 tires. He runs the same suspension set up in his own rig and had been satisfied with how it handles on regular streets and trails.
Steve had organized a July 4th trail run and invited a few recent and old customers to join in. I knew that this will be a good test for the LX after its few upgrades. It will be a good learning session for newbies like me since I’ve only taken a truck on dirt roads. Tagging along in the trail run was the only female driver in the group, Ms. Eliza Alonzo in her 2013 Trail Teams Edition FJ Cruiser. July 3rd came and we met up with the people joining in on the run at Yi Mei in Monrovia, CA. I was anticipating a small group but ended up with at least 15 to 18 trucks lined up in front of the restaurant early in the morning. It was decided that with the big group that we had, it would be best to go to Silverwood Lake, CA or Cleghorn trail to easily guide and control the drivers that joined. Part of the group and acted as one of the mentors on this trail run was Mr. Steve Chow who owns a 100 series. He has mentored and organized a number of trail runs even during his Nissan Xterra days but now owns and drives a hundy for a good I believe 10 years now. He still manages to keep it running strong after all these years.
With a few stops along the way to pick up more people joining in, it had at least 18 trucks. At the beginning of the trail, we were asked to prep our trucks and deflate our tires to about 25 psi to get more traction and control going over some rough terrain. A driver’s meeting was also held to share pointers, do’s and don’t on the trail. The group was also divided into 4 groups so that one experienced driver will be with the trail newbies as an adviser / spotter or guide during the run.
As much as I enjoyed the bump and grind of the trail, I definitely enjoyed meeting new folks as well as seeing some greenery from a higher elevation. Half way through the drive, not only did the elderly statesmen enjoyed the ride but even the young ones were enjoying the sun.
Don’t be surprised, even a brand new LX570 was in it for the fun. It caught a few bushes and dips along the way but it was more than capable going through the trails. The bruises and scratches will buff off.
I was surprised with Ms. E. Alonzo on the trail. Driving alone and at times just following the lines of our mentors – the two Steves, she was able to pick up right away at times doing better than me on her FJ. I think on the back of her head she’s thinking, “I can do what these fools are doing…”
On the side note… the pinstripes are definitely real.
At the end of the day, it was a great learning experience for me and everyone else that joined the run. I learned new driving techniques off road and even with its age, the LX held up pretty well. It was my first organized trail run and it did not disappoint. I would like to thank Mr. S. Lam of RPM Auto Center for organizing this event as well as the elderly and experienced drivers that help guide us newbies at the event. Hope to join in on the next trail event.
Until the next one… Peace!
Mr. Steve Lam
626-445-0519 RPM Auto Center, Irwindale, CA
626-303-2486 RPM Garage, Monrovia, CA