We are heading straight for a cliff’s edge. As blue sky fills the windscreen, my wife, Heather, is sitting in the passenger seat, instinctively reaching out to press her own imagined brake pedal. Leaning on the brakes and yanking the steering wheel to the right, I increase the amount of adrenaline coursing through my body until the passenger-side mirror is almost touching the sheer rock wall that separates one side of the trail. It is preferable to hug the cliff because the other side of the trail is abrupt, empty space. As we descend from 13,114-foot Imogene Pass to 8750-foot Telluride, I downshift a gear in low range and manage to traverse the dizzying switchbacks of Tomboy Road. Locals describe Tomboy as an intermediate path, although that assumes you don’t tumble off of it, of course.

Land Cruiser

Plot a route through the Colorado Rockies from Durango up to Boulder if you only have five days to spend in a single state and want to see the best scenery, highways, and cities. You can locate 14,000-foot mountain summits that are covered in picture-postcard landscapes and have the alpine roads that you fantasise about on your everyday commute. In an adventure that visits Telluride, Crested Butte, and Aspen, I enlist Heather’s assistance. In these locations, you can get away from civilization while still finding a good steakhouse if you arrive at nine o’clock at night.

I know exactly where I’m heading since a few days ago, I travelled 50 miles, or so, in a Hummer H3T Alpha, nearly fully off-road, from Telluride to Lake City. There should be plenty of time for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and off-roading with a daily distance of less than 200 kilometres. The final activity influences the choice of vehicle for this undertaking. What I really want is a vehicle that combines the off-road prowess and fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, but none of the new cars even come close to doing that. But there is another way: going back and changing the past.

An ancient FJ is like a Massey Ferguson tractor crossed with Iron Maiden in terms of livability, but anyone who has driven a classic Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser would extol its practical, go-anywhere abilities. The Icon is essentially an original FJ40 that has been stripped down to its bare frame and rebuilt with contemporary comforts and unique touches like handcrafted, etched, and enamelled stainless-steel dash knobs. TLC, a tiny firm based in North Carolina, specialises in recreating the FJ as the Icon. TLC currently provides a four-cylinder turbodiesel that enables the Icon to average between 22 and 28 mpg as part of a new drivetrain that is included in the package. Not bad for a car with heavy winch bumper, locking differentials, and 33-inch tyres. Should we happen to pass any of Willie Nelson’s petrol outlets, the diesel also uses biofuel.

Heated seats, a powerful stereo, and a Power Tank CO2 reservoir for inflating the tyres are just a few of the gadgets that come included with this specific Icon diesel. Despite the car’s luxuries and six-figure price, driving is still a vintage experience. The soft-top lets wind, road, and engine noise in, the five-speed shifter has throws longer than an Olympic javelin throw, and the steering is rather slow on these winding roads. Yet there are no signs of the typical creaks, squeaks, or moans that indicate an old car, such as calcified bushings or damaged seals. It might be vintage, but it’s certainly not dated.

I’m eager to test the Icon off-road, where it belongs. Off-road enthusiasts are drawn to Telluride as soon as the snow melts and the challenging tracks outside of town are navigable. I pull the e-brake and leap out of the car as we approach the Imogene Pass trailhead, which is only a quarter mile off the main road. On an old-school 4×4, manually locking the front hubs has a satisfyingly substantial, tactile feel to it. We start moving once I engage the front axle with the floor-mounted, short transfer case lever. In order to increase traction in rocky terrain, Heather offers assistance blowing down the tyres. But I decide against doing this because I don’t anticipate running across any terrain that will be difficult for our Icon. This turns out to be a beginner error because I rapidly discover that airing down your tyres won’t improve your off-road performance. You do it for comfort as well. Particularly if your passenger isn’t thrilled about the combination of solid axles, leaf springs, and bumpy roads that makes your kidneys shake.

When Heather steps outside to watch me attempt to climb a difficult rock shelf, she is relieved from the continual jostling. Although there is an easier way around, where is the pleasure in that? I successfully claw my way up by gearing down into low range, using the ARB locking diffs, and driving. Imogene Pass is where we arrive after approximately an hour. Imogene offers amazing views of the surrounding peaks, which are dotted with abandoned mining operations from a time when off-roading was a necessary part of travel rather than a fun diversion, in addition to a bullet-riddled mailbox at its summit. However, since we had already opened the windows from the soft-top back in balmy Telluride, where the temperature was at least 25 degrees warmer than it is up here, we don’t spend much time there.

Heather looks at the whining orange truck outside the cafĂ© after a filling breakfast and inquires, “Why’d you leave it running?” I show my pocket for the ignition key and explain that there wasn’t really much of a choice. There is a short in the ignition switch. See, production icons undergo break-in mileage to reveal any kinks or defective components; however, in the case of this brand-new model, we are conducting the shakedown in the field, so to speak. Additionally, we have a kink on our hands. I make a game-time decision: We’re not shutting this thing off until we get to Aspen since I’m not sure whether the switch will still start the starter. Thus, the idle Icon’s constant grumble can be heard as we stroll around a beautiful mountain lake. The sound of compression ignition fills the hills.

I inquire about a route that connects Crested Butte and Aspen with the attendant at a nearby gas station while I fill up. “Oh yeah, the Schofield Pass,” he adds. That trail is absolutely gnarly. Then, seeing that he may have underestimated the amount of gnar, he adds, “Mega-mega gnar.” He looks at the Icon who is working the pumps. “That thing would make it, but if you put a wheel on wrong, you fall 40 feet into the river.” I inquire as to whether there may be a gentler route for this $122,000 vehicle that is not mine, a trail graded single-gnar or less, and he suggests the Kebler Pass, another dirt route. I inflate the Icon’s tyres to soften the impact of the jarring bumps on the Kebler Pass, which resembles a dirt road more than a path. The trip is now much smoother, and I deliberately decide not to tell Heather how much better the drive up Imogene Pass could have been if I’d thought of it sooner. The aspen forest serves as a stunning backdrop, and the woods are alive with all manner of creatures, including, strangely, cows. According to Heather, while cows and trees are both commonplace, placing some cows among the trees creates an odd and unusual scene.

We arrive in Aspen a few hours later, and as I pull into the Gant Hotel’s parking lot, I depress the brake with my right foot and engage the clutch with my left. For the first time in the previous seven hours, the motor stalls and chokes itself to quiet. The true test is about to begin as I turn the key to see whether it will start up once more. The motor roars to life as the starter turns, and we are up and running. We have a workable plan for continuing our journey, but after shutting down once more, I unplug the battery to prevent the accessories from draining it overnight. This is an advantage of earlier designs: problems may arise, but solutions are far easier to come up with than they are in modern automobiles. No OBD II trouble codes exist, and no electronic security systems can malfunction. defective ignition switch? Hold it off.

I spot a banner advertising performers at an underground club as we stroll around Aspen. I point out that Ice Cube performed here and say, “Hey, look!” Ice Cube, of the N.W.A. and Friday movie fame, playing a little pub in Aspen seems implausible, but it did happen. Heather says, “Look at the date. He won’t be performing there tonight; he hasn’t yet. We ended up seeing Ice Cube play “Straight Outta Compton” live in Aspen because of this. That kind of incident can subsequently make for an interesting story. In the same way that when you try to go mountain riding, your bike flies off the vehicle rack at 50 mph.