The Build Toyota FJ
Part 15
The Build

After months of working on a project, the moment of truth arrives. Your heart skips a beat as you turn the key for the first time. Your excitement knows no bounds. You'll feel a similar thrill when you nose it out of the driveway to captain its first real voyage.

But let's back up a bit. There's other excitement to be had earlier in the game. Probably not when you pull back some carpet to find that a previous owner has screwed a cookie sheet over a gaping hole in the floor. And definitely not when you're yanking greasy parts out of the engine compartment to get at the big stuff.

Nope. Before the light at the end of the tunnel even shows itself, there's a phase that I like to call “Gearhead Christmas.” This is when you get to order a huge pile of shiny new parts.

Why not Gearhead Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or Gearhead Festivus?

Either way, we're Americans, and we love to buy shit. How are gearheads any different from outdoorsmen who shop at Cabela's, or cyclists buying the latest carbon-fiber frame online, or computer nerds geeking out at Microcenter? Or even those zealots who spend all their money supporting overseas ministries and buying devotional materials at little shops in Queens? See, we're all the same. Nutjobs, all.

Great.

It is! Parts themselves can be awe-inspiring. For instance, since we're building a Chevy V-8 for our project Land Cruiser, there are all kinds of goodies we've purchased to make the lump faster, louder, and stronger. But it's not just the parts, it's packaging, too.

That’s stupid.

No, it just sounds stupid. These aftermarket parts companies, the ones that market to weak-minded people like myself, know exactly what to put on a box to initiate Pavlovian slobbering. Big yellow letters are good. Bold background colors work well, too. So do shiny, full-color pictures of gleaming new parts on wild-looking racecars. My favorite is when there's an extra piece of cardboard inside the cardboard box, and its only purpose is to display a wind-rippled American flag and the printed promise that the parts were made in the U.S.A. It's enough to make everyone from Donald Trump supporters to the people they hate swell with American pride. Heck, I think I just saw a bald eagle!

Benjamin Preston/TheDrive.com

No, that was a plastic bag blowing past a street lamp.

Killjoy.

Anyway, what all did you buy?

There's been so much. It’s been a daily cascade of boxes from UPS, FedEx, the US Postal Service. And parts manufacturers send mail-order items like they’ve been packing in the dark. So you'll get a giant box with one lousy part and a bunch of packing peanuts, then a smaller box crammed to the gills with cast iron suspension parts the next day.

That’s, like, super wasteful.

Sure, but it also adds to the mystery and excitement of receiving something new in the mail every day!

Fine. Enough about the boxes. What was inside of them?

Let's start with the super shiny stuff. After I got the bottom half of the engine back from the machine shop, I called up Edelbrock and asked for what effectively amounts to the rest of the engine. They obliged. There's a pair of aluminum E-Street cylinder heads, an aluminum intake manifold, a camshaft and lifters, timing chain and gears, water pump, an electric fuel pump, and a nice, shiny, off-road carburetor to top it all off.

Benjamin Preston/TheDrive.com

Wow. That’s actually pretty neat. Is that everything you need to finish the job?

Not by a long shot. But part of the fun is filling in around the big parts with lots of other little parts. I’ll need pushrods, but what kind? How long? How hard? A little research revealed the answer: The cheapest ones, hardened, 7.8 inches long. What sort of rocker arms should I use? The cheap ones, thankfully. Then there’s the oil pan, oil pump and pickup tube, and all the fittings where cooling hoses connect the engine to the radiator and heater need to be found. We also needed something shiny to cover the timing chain. Done, done and done.

I really don’t want to get you back on the subject of boxes and shipping, but…

BOXES!

Right. Why did you do all this through the mail?

With every project, the goal is to spend less time making "emergency" runs to the parts store during its final stages. Having everything planned out is just way less stressful. I like to make a pencil sketch of the vehicle, along with a blown-up drawing of the engine, so that I can visualize everything I'm going to need. I also break the vehicle down into systems and make lists of what it'll need in the margins of my sketch.

Benjamin Preston/TheDrive.com

Sounds like a lot of work just to buy stuff.

Yes and no. For me, the planning is just the precursor to buying lots of fun, shiny things, so there's joy associated with it. The difficult part is picking the correct parts. There are so many options, and a surfeit of options induces stress and self-doubt. Every change you make to the vehicle or engine you're working on will have effects. You have to know how to compensate for those effects, and if you don't, who to ask for help. Online forums can be helpful, but you’ve got to have a keen bullshit detector, lest you get drawn into some hillbilly remedy that’ll cause problems later.

Says the guy in the camouflage trucker hat.

The hat was a gift.

Sure it was. Well, at least you’re making progress on truck.

Definitely. All those shiny new parts from earlier are sitting at Brooklyn Motor Works, where we're rebuilding the Land Cruiser. And as fun as pulling apart the truck was, putting it back together is much more gratifying. Everything looks so nice and fresh. I can't wait to see what it looks like when we're done with it!