Like it or not, the manual transmission is going the way of the dodo, at least when it comes to new vehicles. According to a study by CarMax, only 2 percent of the vehicles sold by the company in 2020 had manual transmissions, a number that has plummeted from 27 percent in 1995. For most drivers, it’s less hassle to simply press the gas pedal and let a computer do the shifting, but for those who enjoy modulating the clutch and smoothly changing gears, this extinction feels tragic. Tim Seargeant, a lifelong sports car enthusiast who has never owned a vehicle with anything but a manual transmission, is firmly in the latter category. When Tim decided to purchase a truck, he knew it had to have a six-speed, but he also wanted something relatively new and reliable enough for long road trips with the family.
Above: These forged 17-inch Titan7 wheels are significantly lighter than the FJ’s factory wheels, so it retains most of its acceleration and braking performance, even with larger 34-inch all-terrain tires. (Photos by Tim Seargeant and Evan Ohl)
After plugging in the requisite filters on AutoTrader, Tim soon learned that the Toyota FJ Cruiser fit the bill and found roughly 40 manual-equipped FJs that fit his criteria in the United States. Luckily, one of them was only a short drive from his home in Southern California. Five hours later, he drove away with a new truck, already thinking about modifications to make it more capable on- and off-road. The next week, the build began.
The first phone call was made to Tim’s friend, the founder of Titan7 wheels. Although the company primarily makes lightweight forged wheels for motorsport applications, they offer one model for off-roaders. Tim wrapped the 17-inch Titan7 T-AK1 wheels in 34-inch Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires. These were paired with Bilstein coilovers and upper control arms in front, as well as Bilstein shocks and leaf springs in the rear.
Above: This FJ Cruiser came with Bilstein shocks from the factory, so when it was time to upgrade, Tim decided to swap them for some aftermarket Bilstein suspension parts.
At this point, Tim wanted a more distinctive look, so he decided to enlist the help of a friend and cover the original silver paint with MultiCam Alpine vinyl. Next, a Front Runner roof rack was installed, along with a retractable awning, mount for the Smittybilt jack, stowable folding table, and even a rack-mounted bottle opener. To protect the FJ from damage on the trails, the front bumper was replaced with a Smittybilt M1 metal bumper, and a set of DeMello Offroad rock sliders were installed.
Above: A BOSS StrongBox drawer, Tactical Walls VMod door panel, and Refined Cycle window MOLLE panels offer plenty of storage for guns, recovery gear, and camping supplies.
According to Tim, he knew he wanted to upgrade the truck’s light output, but he intentionally put this off. He wrote, “Wiring, electronics, splicing, and soldering intimidates me … it was the most challenging part of the build.” After talking with more experienced friends and putting himself through “YouTube University,” he was able to successfully install an array of Baja Designs lights, including LP6 Pro driving lights on the front bumper, Squadron fog lights and ditch lights, and S2 auxiliary lights around the perimeter of the roof rack. Everything is wired to CH4x4 push switches that match the amber interior lighting. A Pioneer touchscreen stereo with Apple CarPlay, speakers, and a secondary backup camera were also added to modernize the truck.
Above: Although Tim was intimidated by the prospect of learning how to wire these Baja Designs lights, the results were well worth the effort.
Since he works in the gun industry, Tim wanted a secure way to carry guns and gear, so he ordered a 40x22x10-inch locking drawer system from BOSS StrongBox and bolted it to the floor. Additional storage options come by way of a pair of Refined Cycle rear window MOLLE panels and a Tactical Walls VMod rear panel. These hold an Urban Medical Gear trauma kit, recovery tools, and other accessories, many of which are attached to Vanquest Gear hook-and-loop panels for quick tear-away access.
Above: The Pioneer NEX stereo head unit offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which make it more convenient to navigate on long road trips.
Tim says he has had many memorable experiences with this FJ Cruiser, including a recent trip with his wife and sons to Utah. During that trip, they hauled all their guns and gear to a Fieldcraft Survival course, tackled some challenging rock crawls in “Little Moab,” and even fired up the Baja Designs lights to drive through an abandoned train tunnel carved into the mountains. Knowing that the days of new manual transmission vehicles — not to mention fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in general — are likely numbered, Tim takes every opportunity to row through the gears and enjoy the old-school ruggedness of his truck. He'd like to thank his friends Gene Y., Randall T., Don N., Josh E., Kento K., Michael E., Mark H., and Chris F. for donating their time and expertise to help him complete the build.
Drivetrain: 4.0L V-6 with 6-speed manual transmission
Suspension: Bilstein B8 8112 front coilover shocks, upper control arms, 8100 rear shocks, and B12 1.5-inch lift rear leaf springs
Wheels & Tires: 17×8.5 Titan7 T-AK1 wheels (-8 offset) and 305/70R17 Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires
Body Modifications: Front Runner Outfitters Slimline roof rack, 2m awning, jack mount, and stainless steel folding table with under-rack mount; Smittybilt M1 front bumper and Trail Jack, DeMello Offroad rock sliders, MultiCam Alpine vinyl wrap
Electronics & Lighting: Pioneer NEX 7600 stereo head unit, 6×9 speakers, and backup camera; Baja Designs LP6 driving lights, Squadron SAE fog lights, Squadron Pro ditch lights, and S2 Pro side and rear auxiliary lights; CH4x4 push-button switches, Blue Sea 12-circuit fuse block
Interior Modifications: BOSS StrongBox 7126-7611 gun safe drawer, Tactical Walls VMod rear door panel, Refined Cycle RM3 and RM4 rear window MOLLE panels, Vanquest Gear MOHL-AIR tear-away panels with Urban Medical Gear TRK-1 IFAK and other MOLLE accessories