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The auto industry has many great designers, but only a few have become so well known that fans know them by name. Jin Won Kim, the mastermind behind the iconic looks of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, is one of them. His inspiration for designing cars is unusual, but the results speak for themselves.

Meet the Toyota FJ Cruiser’s designer

Toyota FJ Cruiser designer
Toyota FJ Cruiser | Juancho Torres via Getty Images

Kim has been designing cars for several years. But when Toyota tasked him with updating the FJ40, he had graduated from the Art Center College of Design in California only two years earlier.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser was meant to be a tribute to the FJ40 Land Cruiser, which had just retired in 2001. Kim was only 25, and his inspiration for car design came from a TV series.

According to CNET, “Jin Kim designed the exterior of the original FJ Cruiser concept. He became interested in car design after watching Asphalt Man, a ’90s Korean TV serial about a young car designer.”

The FJ Cruiser was designed with off-roading in mind, and the interior was made to be spartan so that owners could hose it out after a day on the trails. The SUV’s body is easily recognizable at a glance, and no one needs to look for the badge to know which automaker produced it.

Toyota liked the FJ Cruiser’s looks so much that when it went into production, few changes were made to the design. Although this does happen in the auto world, it’s rather unusual, as someone always has new input that is inevitably implemented. This was a huge win for Kim, and it wasn’t his last.

Jin Won Kim has designed many cars over the years

Kim may have been young and relatively inexperienced when he took on the FJ Cruiser, but that is no longer the case. He is now a veteran designer and has overseen several projects you might recognize.

Kim spent several years working at Toyota Calty Design Research in Southern California. During that time, he headed several design teams and played a pivotal role in the decision-making for highly recognizable cars. Vehicles he has helped oversee include the Corolla Furia, the 2011 FUN-Vii, and the Lexus LF-C. 

In 2016, Kim moved to Faraday Future, an American technology company specializing in EV development. But his legacy at Toyota endures in the FJ Cruiser.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is an icon 

The FJ Cruiser has become a collector’s item for enthusiasts who never wished to see it go. It’s been out of production in the States for years, yet Toyota kept the FJ Cruiser rolling off the production line for fans in the Middle East. That seems to be over now, and it’s a shame.

This beloved off-roader officially retired in the U.S. in 2014 but continued production in other parts of the world. If you want one now, you’ll have to settle for a used FJ Cruiser.

But it boasts some impressive specs. The 2014 FJ Cruiser packs a 4.0-liter V6 gas engine generating 270 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. It pairs with a five-speed automatic transmission. And this four-wheel-drive beast can go from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds.