Meet Uncle Chris, Our 1967 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser

Brian Berdan

My best friend Chris was amazing with machines. I think for him they were just more predictable than people. He wasn’t a loner and had a bountiful laugh, but I think he was happiest with a project in front of him, a tool in his hand, and a beer in the other. Chris taught me to drive a stick—he was 15 and I 16—when we worked one summer on a farm his family owned in Iowa. And his mechanical abilities, inherited from his father, made me feel confident when we took a two-week trip to the tip of Baja California in our senior year of high school, off-roading on some really desolate and beautiful stretches.

His family purchased this Land Cruiser in the mid-1980s from his father’s friend, a doctor who kept it in a barn at Mammoth Lakes, California. After college, Chris took it when he moved to Washington, along with motorcycles and his dad’s classic Manx dune buggy.

1967 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser front unrestored
Brian Berdan

I didn’t take it personally when, the same year I decided to move my family to Washington (I caught the Evergreen bug from him), he disappeared for seven years to ride his BMW touring bike to the tip of South America and back, a rich experience that taught him that the poorest people he met (and lived with along the way) were also the happiest.

To my great sadness, Chris died in 2016. His family passed the Land Cruiser to me, knowing it would be a cherished reminder of our friendship, which started when we met in seventh grade. As we helped his family clear out his home, they loaded up the Land Cruiser with several boxes from the garage. I had no idea, but Chris had been amassing a collection of new, mostly OEM, parts for what we assumed, judging from the range, would be a pretty thorough refurbishment.

Included were complete gasket sets for the engine, transmission, and axles; all possible rubber weatherstripping; upholstery for the well-worn seats; and front and rear bumpers, as Chris had had a couple of fender-benders (which is all that was harmed; the robust frame was found to be spot-on straight). 

Despite having never done anything like this, in honor of Chris’ intentions, my wife and I donned our coveralls and began loosening bolts until the whole truck became a giant kit of labeled Ziploc bags and boxes sorted by finish (paint color, zinc, powder-coating). Luckily, the engine was deemed in great shape, just leaking from every seam and seal, as was the transmission.

So over three years, with the help of a couple of talented local car gurus, new rocker panels and a rear sill were welded, extraneous holes were filled, and we sandblasted, polished, and painted every bit back to showroom shine. We matched the color from a bit of protected paint under the dash back to the original Horizon Blue. Much of the hardware was re-zinced, with the rest replaced by correct Japanese metric type. In a nod to safety, we added headrests and a dual-system brake hydraulic circuit. The nifty spotlight, which was added very early on, just needed a couple of small parts, which amazingly are still available from the manufacturer in Chicago.

1967 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser
My friend Chris.Brian Berdan

We named the truck “Uncle Chris,” as that is what our son called my friend, and in 2019 year it had its debut at our local car show, where it won the audience favorite award.  After that we took a shakedown cruise around the Hood Canal and gently up a couple of forest service roads where I swear I could hear Chris laughing at us: “You just spent all that time cleaning her up, and now you’re out slinging rocks around!” Yes, Chris, and it’ll last another 50 years, for sure.


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    Update: This article was written a couple years ago. We just sold “Uncle Chris” back to my friend’s brother… who lives in Mammoth Lakes, California, where the truck started its life. It has a lovely big garage shared with other cherished machinery. So happy about this new chapter in the story.

    Nice story, but why would you sell it after all that effort? This Toy’ is identical to the one I had, and still regret selling – fifty years later.

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