As I headed out of town on Highway 82 on a recent afternoon in the passenger seat of a 1981 FJ40 Land Cruiser, time started to reverse as we made our way up Independence Pass. On what was one of the first bluebird days in awhile, the sun was strong, the air crisper than usual, the wind blowing through the open soft-top, and the engine humming to a happiness-inducing rhythm.
In Aspen, vintage Toyota Land Cruisers are a common sight—the quintessential mountain town ride, they're also legendary across the globe for their longevity and off-roading capabilities. But I’d never seen one cruising the streets in such perfect condition until now.
Behind the wheel that day was Juan Diego Calle—one of three co-founders behind the brilliant idea of classic restoration shop the FJ Company. For Calle, who launched the company seven years ago with his brother, CEO Nelson Calle, and their cousin, chief restoration officer Jaime Calle, Land Cruisers are a part of their family legacy.
“My grandfather had two cars during his lifetime, and they were FJ40's,” Calle says. “When he passed away, the three of us got together and restored his 1982, which was essentially the founding of the company. When we finished that truck and started driving it around, it became an immediate hit. Our friends all wanted one, so we started building and then took a few to auction. Then the calls just started coming.”
Since then, the Calle crew has steadily grown the business from “your typical restoration shop” to a full-fledged FJ factory with a staff of about 60 on and off the assembly line at its Miami headquarters. Inside, they’re taking the rarest of the often rusty trucks through a streamlined restoration process, which, on average, takes nine months. The result? A like-new vehicle restored to its original condition. There's also the option to fully customize a ride from the company's deep inventory of FJs. And if you already have a dream FJ mind, they’ll even handle the search for you.
With a window sticker starting at $55,000, the FJ Company’s 4x4’s are more affordable than others offered by companies like LA-based ICON—and Calle and his partners are the only ones completely honoring the manufacturer's original componentry. “We get a lot of requests for upgrades—like five-speed transmissions, slightly more powerful engines, or custom paint jobs," says Calle. "And we’ll do that, but it’s all going to be Toyota parts. There are companies out there that can do what we do, but they’re mostly focused on conversion—they’ll put a V8 in it, but that’s not our thing.”
The FJ Company provides a one-year warranty plan and will help clients source parts if future issues arise. Admits Calle, “Service is a challenge for us, so our goal is to open a second facility in Denver by the first quarter of next year.”
It’s just one of the reasons that Calle recently relocated with his wife and two daughters (a newborn and a four-year-old) to Aspen full-time. “My father-in-law, he’s been an Aspen guy for awhile, so I started coming out here every winter when I first started dating my wife ... she was my high school sweetheart. We’ve been spending more and more time here over the past few years and are really excited to make this our new official home.”
It was only two years ago when Juan sold his Internet business in Miami to focus on the FJ Company, where as president, he also oversees its digital platform and strategy while managing and sourcing inventory.
“We're getting to the point where we have a lot of leads, but finding the trucks with original parts is very difficult,” he notes. “Most of them are coming from Latin America, which happens to have a huge supply and without rust.”
Calle adds that the most coveted models are ones from the early 1980s through 1984, when the production of the FJ40 series ended. The FJ Company sells an average of five trucks a month, and everything has already sold in the current production line—which includes the $200,000 1967 FJ45LV, one of only 5,000 produced in the world. Before it heads to its new home in Dubai, the vehicle will be on display at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (August 21) and at the SEMA show in Las Vegas in November.
Perhaps surprisingly, Calle acknowledges, “the really expensive, exotic models like the LVs—they’re not as fun. They’re just collectors' items, sitting in a warehouse next to a Ferrari. Beautiful pieces of art, but what's really fun is something like this [the model that we're in], when you take it out and the whole family is in the back.”
A rain shower hit just as we pulled back into Aspen. As we made our way around Original Curve, he added, “When was the last time you pulled a knob to start the windshield wipers? I just love that.”