Custom FJ55 Spare Tire Carrier

Tech information furnished by Maxwell Balmain

Some background on my FJ55:

After a long search I found this one that belonged to a military eye surgeon that was suddenly relocating to the Midwest. He owned two other cruisers and was planning on restoring it before his relocation orders came.

It is a 1976 model, had less that 114k miles, was strong, and had an Eaton overdrive bolted in front of the stock H42! Engine checked out OK. The Pig had the usual rust: Holes in the front fenders, spot rust everywhere(not that bad though), the tailgate was a mess, and there were a few impact dings. The doors, rockers, wheel wells were good though. I decided to do some work to get it into somewhat better shape. I kind of got carried away at that point. I replaced the tailgate with a donor and found a new right lower fender(from Toyota no less.) I fixed the dents, cured the rust and did about a zillion hours of sanding and prep work. I then decided to paint it myself with good PPG paint. That was a project from hell but I am glad I did it. Next I upgraded the coil, wires, distributor, and generally got it running much better. I had the front bench rebuilt(one of the more expensive projects and one of the few that I had a professional do.)

After all that I finally started driving it! I quickly met other Seattle area cruiser nuts, made some new great friends and did some exploring. I hooked up with a couple of local off-road clubs and then started upgrading the suspension, got bigger tires, Rancho 9000's etc. Just recently I replaced both manifolds, gaskets etc. Next week I get a complete exhaust system with a Flowmaster. Then comes the install of a Toyota power steering system that I have had sitting in a box forever.

Quite a few people have told me that they would never wheel this rig. I am having none of that though. I did realize that I wanted to protect the work that I had done(as best I could) and also wanted a better solution for the spare tire now that I was running 33/12.50's. Dragging the spare from under the rig in Northwest mud is no fun.

I went to Todd Dietrick for help. Todd is a friend(even though he is a Jeep guy) & and we are in the same club together. Todd has been wheeling in the Northwest for years. He is known to be one of the best drivers around. He is the best driver I have seen to date & he is also a really clever fabricator.

We set about making plans for the Pig. I had already dumped the stock rear bumper in favor of something heavier and stronger. The stock rear bumper is the FJ55 part that I think is really week and of poor design. The end caps always smack into the quarter panels. I replaced this design with a simple 4"x3" steel tube with a 1/4" wall thickness. It is heavy but it is really strong! I secured it with 18 strong steel bolts, two L shaped braces and had it all spot welded in place. I then placed a section of diamond plate on top of this new bumper and ran it under the tailgate section. I secured this plate with rivits. It makes a nice step plate for a possible roof rack. Todd designed and built the spare carrier on top of that. We looked at several gates that others have built. Most had one hinge low down with a vertical section connected to a single crossbar. Todd was doubtful about that working for a heavy bouncing tire. We considered creating two swinging gates that met in the middle. We instead went for a single gate that had two(upper and lower) hinges with lots of cross support strength. Having the upper crossbar allowed for brackets that would have good support for a Highlift and a gas can. Both the Highlift and gas can have large threaded bolts that anchor them down to the gate. Two large custom hinges with bushings are on the right. The weight of the gate rests on a bracket on the left vertical support bar. You have to lift the gate a bit to get it to rest on this support bracket. This is part of the design. A heavy adjustable Desatco pull action clamp holds it all secure. Todd designed it so that the clamp handle sits backward. We had to shorten the handle to position it snug to the quarter panel body with out making contact. Positioning it in this manner means that there is much less chance of brush catching the clamp and springing the gate open. Thick brush is a concern in these parts. It feels very tight and secure once the gate is closed. There is no bounce or rattle from the spare when driving. I just added a Detroit Locker so I need a full size(currently 33/12.50) spare back there. It opens easily and there is a secure pin on the hinge side that prevents the gate from swinging to far to the right when in parking lots. The entire gate does not interfere with the tail gate itself or the rear lights etc. It also feels great to have the spare and Highlift jack out of the cab area in case of an accident. A good friend recently rolled his FJ40 three times. During the repeated roll the one thing that terrified him was the possibility of getting hit in the head with the Highlift that was stashed under the seat.

I also wanted strong rock sliders: No "peel and stick" nerfbars that sells to the SUV crowd. I knew that best way would be to cut into the sheet metal and anchor them to the body. I just couldn't bring myself to cut into the rocker panels though. Todd designed these heavy duty sliders that would stick out far enough to catch rocks without sticking out too far. Rather than have the bars to large in diameter we opted for smaller rectangle tubing with 3/16" wall thickness. Todd made them with very strong brackets that he welded to the frame. Me made all contact sections cut with small 45 degree angles to allow for strong welds. He then made similar rock sliders for the rear quarter panels. These he welded to the rear bumper for added strength. He also capped the open ends of the bumper tubes. We tested the rock slides by jumping on top of them. You can also jack up the entire rig from any of these sliders without any visible affect.

I have not tested these mods on the trail yet. The rear overhang may concern some. But I think these sliders are strong enough that I can drag the rig over obstacles from the front tire, then under the rocker panel to the rear tire, then bouncing it onto the rear quarter panel rock sliders without suffering to much body damage. The rear quarters on a FJ55 are vulnerable by design. I hope that this design will go a long way to prevent damage and maintain a fun outing without having to listen to that sound of screaming sheet metal. I will get out in the next few weeks to see how they perform. After that I plan on finally installing the power steering and then acquiring lower gearing now that the first gear on my stock four speed is acting up.

I hope this will be useful information to someone. Feel free to email me with questions etc. If you are interested in having Todd do some work for you I can pass along your questions to him. Todd plans and executes this kind of work very well and I recommend him highly.

Hope to meet you on the trails someday...

Maxwell Balmain
1976 FJ55

Posted November 5, 2001

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