Billy McKinnon doesn’t care about automotive purists. He’s a doer. And his FJ45 Troopy was built his way.
When you save a shell from rusting to nothing, you’re allowed to do whatever you want with it, and that’s exactly what Billy did.
“Three hundred bucks I paid for it,” he recalls. “Fella dragged it up from down in his paddock on a trailer axle. It caved all the sides of it in, but for three hundred bucks it was a good starting base.”
To a lot of die-hard ‘Cruiser fanatics, original early-girl FJs are sacred things in need of preservation. But a restoration was never in the cards for Billy.
“I don’t think old mate I bought it off had any clue what I’d do with it. He was just thinking I’d restore it. I’d love to see his face now. It’d be pretty funny, I reckon.”
In just a few short months, Billy’s FJ went from stripped-out bare cab to ribboned-up wedding car.
“Over three months we did all the bar work on it. We were getting married, so I decided it would be a perfect car for all the groomsmen to go in. So me and the boys, we hooked into it.”
“We did 14- and 16-hour days on it for three weeks, me and two mates, and we got it done. I got it engineered on the Monday, registered on the Tuesday, and then took it to my wedding on the Thursday.”
It was a significant achievement for Billy to have his FJ there on his big day. It was a nod to his love affair with off-roading, started at eight when his dad bought him a Suzuki Sierra 4×4 to get around the family farm.
“It was just a ’91 model, narrow track Sierra. Someone put a Corolla motor in it – a little 4A and a five-speed – and I think we paid a thousand bucks for it. It was pretty rough, but it did the trick.”
Billy’s dad passed on his DIY attitude, and it was almost inevitable that Billy would one day follow his old man into early LandCruiser ownership.
“Dad always had [FJ]40s. We built probably nine over the years, pretty much all shorties, and all of them had V8s. Never six cylinders, if they had them they were going in the bin. This is the first Troopy our family’s had. It’s good to have a bit of room.”
Room, and – just like his dad’s 40s – a V8.
Under the bonnet is an LS1 V8 from a VZ Commodore, boosted by a monster turbo setup that Billy lists as one of his favourite things about the FJ.
“When you look at the car, it looks fairly stock-ish at a quick glance. But then you hear it driving and you think, ‘Oh, it’s a V8,’ and then you get up it and it cracks ‘gate and screams its head off. Yeah, she goes like clappers. It’s a sleeper. No one expects it.”
You might also be wondering about the coil suspension at all four corners…
“It’s an ’84 FJ45 cab on a ’91 FJ80 chassis,” explains Billy.
The swap may not be to the purists’ tastes, but no matter what they think, the truck is built to last. Almost all of the work was done by Billy himself.
“Dad’s a big believer of doing your own thing and being self-sufficient. Growing up we were doing engine conversions on EH Holdens off a grapefruit tree. I liked it. It’s good being able to do your own stuff. If I can’t do it, I try and learn.”
Just like any project, there’s still more to do on the FJ. The motor’s supporting mods and fuel system are setup to make 600hp, and Billy reckons it won’t need much more to get it there from its current 450hp figure.
“I’d like to pull the motor out, put a cam through it, head studs, set of gaskets. Just tidy it up a bit and bump a bit more power into it. At the moment it’s good, but you can never have enough power.”
Of course, it’s hard to commit to taking it off the road now that it’s registered and being driven – and driven hard. It goes everywhere and does everything.
“Fraser, Moreton, Glasshouse, Janowen Hills… I want to do Vic next year. Before that there’s a run with the Classic LandCruiser Club in Queensland. We’ll go up there and run amok for the weekend… Probably a few more trips to Moreton. It’s good fun on the beach.”
As for his Sierra?
“I’ve still got it down the back. She’s rusty but she’s still there.”
Billy has his own son now who has been hanging around the shed since he was nine weeks old. There are a few years yet before his boy’s eighth birthday.
Plenty of time for it all to come full circle.