New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Ash­ley Webb Pho­tos: John Galvin


The road into this story is a long and wind­ing one, which be­gins when three of the Muir brothers — Tony, Neville, and Guy — be­gan de­vel­op­ing a 121-lot sub­di­vi­sion in Ngaio, Welling­ton, in 1970. Tony ini­tially owned a 1965 Land Rover, and, in 1968, he and Guy pur­chased two new Austin Gip­sys, orig­i­nally de­signed as com­peti­tors to the Landy. In 1976, the brothers re­placed the Gip­sys with two new Toy­ota Land Cruis­ers (these days re­ferred to as ‘FJ40S’), and, in 1978, the three brothers formed a new com­pany, Rid­van Gar­den De­vel­op­ments Ltd.

The Toy­ota FJ40S proved to be the most re­li­able, ca­pa­ble, and tough ve­hi­cles the brothers had ever owned, and they kept them for more than 20 years. Both fam­i­lies trav­elled all over New Zealand tow­ing car­a­vans, driv­ing thou­sands of kilo­me­tres, get­ting off-road when­ever they could, and gen­er­ally us­ing the ve­hi­cles as they were in­tended, long be­fore the days of main­stream SUVS.

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing they were so im­pressed, given that the Toy­ota FJ40 Land Cruiser is pos­si­bly one of the best off-road ve­hi­cles ever pro­duced, and ar­guably stands alone as the most re­li­able, long-last­ing, and vir­tu­ally un­break­able ve­hi­cle, one

which can get you any­where you need to be. This sturdy ma­chine has an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion for need­ing lit­tle-tono mod­i­fi­ca­tion straight out of the fac­tory, as its stock four-wheel drive is ca­pa­ble of over­com­ing just about any ob­sta­cle in its path. Even to­day, FJ40S can be found just about any­where in the world with sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand kilo­me­tres and the stock en­gine still run­ning strong.

Through­out the ’ 70s and ’80s, Tony and Guy were heav­ily in­volved as vol­un­teers in Civil De­fence. Tony was a war­den for One Mike (the Ngaio area) and, later, north­ern sub­urb con­troller at Sub-area One. On a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, Tony or­ga­nized Civil De­fence ex­er­cises and demon­stra­tions at school fairs and Wahine com­mem­o­ra­tions, as well as emer­gency-ser­vices train­ing ex­er­cises at which both Cruis­ers were front and cen­tre, kit­ted out with sirens and bea­cons. And when a civil emer­gency was de­clared dur­ing the floods of De­cem­ber 1976, the FJ40S were put to work do­ing what they do best.

Tony’s son Doug pur­chased a 1981 BJ40 (the diesel ver­sion of the FJ40) in 1990, and used it as his daily run­about for more than 15 years.

The ve­hi­cles proved their worth time and again, but, un­for­tu­nately, their only flaw — their ten­dency to rust — reared its ugly head, so, af­ter many years, this is­sue meant that the Land Cruis­ers were even­tu­ally all sold.


Guy and Neville had re­tired in the early ’80s; Tony and Judy had be­come sole own­ers of the com­pany; and, even­tu­ally, they em­ployed their sons — Ant and Doug — and their nephew, Gary. Rid­van Gar­den De­vel­op­ments be­gan de­vel­op­ing a new 78-lot sub­di­vi­sion in Crofton Downs, Welling­ton, in 1999. The ter­rain was rugged farm­land, and they needed a ve­hi­cle to get down into the deep­est, dark­est gul­lies on the Down­ing Street prop­erty. As luck would have it, one of the earth­works op­er­a­tors was sell­ing his 1977 FJ40.

It was a no-brainer — Rid­van pur­chased the truck. Once it had been changed to run mud tyres and the front pas­sen­ger and rear seats had been pulled out, leav­ing only the driver seat (so more gear could be loaded), the ve­hi­cle was put to work load­ing and mov­ing pipes, ce­ment, mor­tar, tools, and even drainage metal all over the sub­di­vi­sion. It was a de­mand­ing role, but the FJ40 was more than ad­e­quate for the task. Dig­gers would make a rough track through the bush, and, loaded with ma­te­ri­als and equip­ment, the FJ40 would be driven down into the gul­lies to start sub-soils and drains.

The years passed and the FJ40 never missed a beat, start­ing first time ev­ery time, tes­ta­ment to the Ja­panese ap­proach to engi­neer­ing that rested en­tirely on the re­lent­less

pur­suit of per­fec­tion. It was never an op­tion to adopt the phi­los­o­phy of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, as the com­pany would pre­fer that it never broke at all. Af­ter all, why re­place some­thing when you can build it right the first time? This is un­doubt­edly why the qual­ity and dura­bil­ity of the FJ’S trans­mis­sion and sus­pen­sion are leg­endary. Take the leaf-spring sus­pen­sion, for ex­am­ple — it’s ab­so­lutely suited for a heavy ve­hi­cle like the FJ, spread­ing the weight around evenly; plus, it ac­tu­ally ob­vi­ates the need for ad­di­tional weight from the ex­tra parts that you would need with coil sus­pen­sion.

Sadly, af­ter re­ceiv­ing as much pun­ish­ment as Rid­van’s harsh­est driv­ers could throw at it, the body­work had taken a pound­ing and rust had set in.

Then, tragedy — parked on a va­cant sec­tion sur­rounded by fin­ished and half-built houses, the FJ was stolen. Po­lice were in­formed, but ad­vised that the chances of re­cov­ery were vir­tu­ally nil.

FJ re­cov­ery

How­ever, on Fa­ther’s Day 2009, a friend was at his lo­cal church when he looked over the fence into the neigh­bour’s prop­erty and saw, par­tially hid­den un­der an old tar­pau­lin, an FJ40. Af­ter look­ing at it a lit­tle more closely, he rang Doug, who went around to the church and ver­i­fied it was Rid­van Gar­den De­vel­op­ments’ miss­ing Cruiser. Po­lice were told, and the ve­hi­cle was re­cov­ered, and started first time once a new bat­tery had been in­stalled. The stolen ve­hi­cle had been driven from Crofton Downs to Ti­tahi Bay. For two years, it had been parked un­der a tar­pau­lin just 800m, as the crow flies, from Doug’s back door.

With earth­works on the sub­di­vi­sion com­pleted, the ve­hi­cle was no longer re­quired for its work­horse ca­pa­bil­i­ties, so the de­ci­sion was made to re­store the FJ40 to its for­mer glory. Doug sourced body pan­els and many other parts from all over New Zealand and over­seas, of­ten drop­ping in on a Sun­day evening to show Tony and Judy his lat­est find. Fi­nally, all the parts were lo­cated, and the skilled team at The Surgery in Tawa went to work.

Brand-new or bet­ter

Mike Baucke and his team at The Surgery knew right from the start of the project that the FJ40 was some­thing very spe­cial to Doug and the rest of the Muir fam­ily. It may have been just an FJ40 to most peo­ple, but, to the Muirs, it may as well have been an F40!

The ini­tial brief from Doug was, “Can you bring her back from the dead and make her like a brand-new ve­hi­cle, or bet­ter?”

The an­swer from The Surgery was a def­i­nite, “Yes —we would love to take up that chal­lenge.”

When the Land Cruiser ini­tially ar­rived at The Surgery, it was in an ex­tremely sad and rusted state — some would have called it a bas­ket case. Ev­ery panel, in­clud­ing the chas­sis, had se­vere rust, so the de­ci­sion was made to com­pletely dis­as­sem­ble the FJ40 down to ev­ery last nut and bolt, and then com­pletely acid-dip strip all the body and loose pan­els back to bare steel.

Very early in the project, they dis­cov­ered that there were very few new steel pan­els avail­able for the many rust re­pairs needed, so the mis­sion was to fab­ri­cate 99 per cent of all the new pan­els re­quired for the restora­tion.

While the body strip­ping was un­der­way, the en­gine, driv­e­line, sus­pen­sion, and brakes were re­moved from

Fi­nally, the fin­ish­ing touch — a re­con­di­tioned fac­tory winch assem­bly

chas­sis. The en­gine and trans­mis­sion, clutch and dif­fer­en­tial were com­pletely stripped and re­con­di­tioned, while the en­tire brak­ing sys­tem re­ceived a com­plete over­haul that in­cluded all new parts, mas­ter cylin­der, booster, brake lines, wheel cylin­ders, calipers, discs, drums, and fit­tings. In ad­di­tion, new springs and shock ab­sorbers were fit­ted, the power steer­ing was over­hauled, and the en­gine re­ceived a new car­bu­ret­tor, an en­tire new ex­haust sys­tem and a com­pletely re­fur­bished cool­ing/ heat­ing sys­tem. A new wire loom was fit­ted, and all the dash gauges and switches were metic­u­lously pulled apart and over­hauled back to orig­i­nal con­di­tion.

The chas­sis was com­pletely re­stored and painted in high gloss black, and the body re­ceived a full re­paint in a fac­tory-for­mu­lated colour us­ing all PPG two-pack prod­ucts. The in­te­rior also got the same treat­ment, with new in­te­rior up­hol­stery to fac­tory spec and seat belts.

Dur­ing re­assem­bly, the FJ40 re­ceived a new set of rub­ber seals, new chrome work, glass, lights, badges, catches and latches, and a full set of Dun­lop tyres. Fi­nally, the fin­ish­ing touch — a re­con­di­tioned fac­tory winch assem­bly.

The only changes or im­prove­ments from the orig­i­nal ve­hi­cle were the de­sign and in­stal­la­tion of re­mote cen­tral lock­ing, a GPS alarm, and a colour change to a fac­tory op­tion, Free­born Red — with the help of Union Hard­ware and PPG, Mike had man­aged to track down the orig­i­nal fac­tory for­mula.

A com­plete and com­pre­hen­sive rust-proof­ing treat­ment was also car­ried out, some­thing which the FJ40S never had from new — which is why they rusted so badly! — and, to top it all off, the fin­ished painted sur­faces were coated with a ce­ramic-paint pro­tec­tive coat­ing, so, 20 years from now, it will still take pride of place in the Muir fam­ily garage, as a fit­ting trib­ute to the sev­eral Land Cruis­ers that helped build the Muir fam­ily busi­ness.

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