The Toyota Land Cruiser. Known worldwide for its unmatched reliability and off-road capability, with each generation of the car developed and built to last for over twenty five years. The dominant nameplate of the scorching Sahara and the tepid Tundra, crossing through sand dunes, rocky hills and icy glaciers for over half a century, while keeping the driver and their passengers cocooned in comfort and luxury.
Being Toyota's longest running production car, the Land Cruiser has a rich history trailing behind it, along with being the cornerstone of Toyota's reputation of reliability and durability. It immediately gained the respect of its rivals, from competitors being the Land Cruiser's benchmark, to the Land Cruiser being the benchmark to competitors. Its what made Toyota a big hit in the United States and in other markets. All starting from when a few Japanese soldiers found an old Jeep Bantam Mark II in the Philippines...
Saga of the Land Cruiser
Back then in 1941, during the Imperial Japanese army's occupation of the Philippines, some soldiers stumbled across an old Jeep Bantam Mark II lying around, and sent it to Japan for research. The Japanese had commissioned Toyota to build a vehicle similar in characteristics to the Bantam in order to support Japan's war efforts. Toyota developed a light truck called the AK10 by reverse-engineering the Bantam, powered by a 4-cylinder Type C engine from the Toyota AE Sedan.
5 years after the war was over in the year 1950, the Korean War had come about, a fight for the Korean Peninsula between the USSR who occupied the North, and the United States who occupied the South. The US government had commissioned Toyota to build 100 of their Willys off-road military vehicles. One year later, the Toyota Jeep BJ prototype was developed, derived from the AK10. The BJ was bigger and more powerful than the US's Jeep, powered by a 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine producing 85 horsepower, and 159 newton-meters of torque. It shared the part-time four-wheel drive system with the original Jeep, but had no low-range transfer case.
One year later in 1952, while conducting testing in Mount Fuji, the National Police Agency of Japan witnessed testing going on, and ordered 289 of them, making it their official patrol car. , Regular production began a year later. The name Land Cruiser was given, in order to not sound less dignified than its closest competitor, the British Land Rover.
Evolution of the Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser had undergone a refresh with the J20 series. Designed with a more civilian appeal in mind, it was meant to be exported out of Japan to tackle newer markets. The overall car looked more stylish and more road-going compared to its predecessor, along with packing a smoother ride thanks to longer four-plate leaf springs. In 1957, the first Land Cruiser Station Wagon was introduced for the Australian market, with bodies built in Australia. The Toyota Bandeirante, a Land Cruiser named after old Portuguese explorers, was introduced in Brazil in 1959.
In the 1960s, the FJ40 generation of the Land Cruiser was introduced to the public, offered as a 2-door soft-top, 2-door hardtop, a pickup and a station wagon. Many modifications were made to the car in order to be more durable, such as a new 125 horsepower F-series Toyota engine along with low range gearing as an option. The FJ40 would be introduced to a wider variety of markets around the globe, including the United States. Toyota had come up with a strategy called the Land Cruiser strategy to debut their brand in new markets. They would prove the Land Cruiser's reliability to the public, then sell other models afterwards using the Land Cruiser's reputation as a vital marketing tool.
In 1968, global production surpassed 100,000 units, and the Land Cruiser became Toyota's best selling model in the US. Several updates were made to the FJ40 Land Cruiser throughout the course of its production, such as a new 4.2-liter engine, an optional H-series Toyota Diesel Engine, and front disc brakes. The Land Cruiser had also been a big hit in the military market, with the Irish army taking delivery of 77 Land Cruisers in 1977.
The J70 Land Cruiser
In 1984, the J70 generation of the Land Cruiser was introduced, still keeping its wide variety of body styles, offering as soft-top 2-door, a hardtop 2-door, a 2-door pickup, a 4-door pickup, a 4-door wagon, and for the first time, a 4-door van. The petrol engine in the outgoing J40 model was replaced with a 4.0-liter 3F engine, along with adding four-wheel coil spring solid-axle suspension for better off-road capability and ride quality. The J70 light was also introduced as a lighter duty variant of the Land Cruiser, which would become the Land Cruiser Prado.
In the year 1990, new diesel engines were introduced to the Land Cruiser, including a 3.4-liter 5-cylinder engine, and a new KZ 3,0-liter turbocharged diesel engine for European markets. In 1993, the 1FZ-FE engine was introduced, and five years later, the car had undergone a heavy refresh, with new coil-spring suspension, lengthened rear leaf springs, five-bolt wheels, and an entirely new driveshaft for long wheelbase models.
Almost a decade later, in 2007, Toyota's first turbo diesel V8 engine, the 1VD was released in some countries for the 70 Series Land Cruiser. Other changes include a new 4-door medium wheel base model and a face-lift. In 2012, the new 79 series double-cab pickup was introduced in South Africa and Australia. The J70 series Land Cruiser is still being produced today for African and Latin American markets.
The J50 Land Cruiser was unveiled in the year 1967, being the first proper station wagon in the Land Cruiser's history. Several firsts for the Land Cruiser were a fully enclosed box frame, along with a hatch and tailgate with an electronically operated window. However, the first true luxury-oriented Land Cruiser was the J60. Toyota's competitor, Land Rover, had just recently launched the Range Rover, a luxurious alternative to the Defender while still keeping the same off-road capability. Toyota thought they wanted to join in on the fun, and sent the J60 Land Cruiser to compete with the Land Rover in the emerging SUV market.
The J60 featured creature comforts such as air conditioning, a rear heater, and an upgraded interior. It still carried over the 2F petrol engine from the J40 series, with six-cylinder and four-cylinder engine options added later. In 1981, the Land Cruiser had surpassed one million units sold, and a high-roof version was introduced to the South African market. The J60 Land Cruiser would compete in several off-road rallies such as the 1000 kilometer desert race in Botswana, stock.
The J80 Land Cruiser
The Land Cruiser would evolve once more into the J80 generation, launched in the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show. It was the first Land Cruiser to have the iconic two-way tailgate and rear hatch. The J80 came in three trims, the top-spec VX, a base model with a vinyl interior, and the mid-spec Autana variant, with power driver seats and air conditioning. The J80 was powered by engines ranging from a 4.0-liter inline-six to a 4.2-liter inline-six turbo engine.
In 1996, a pair of stock-spec Land Cruisers competed in the gruesome Dakar rally, and achieved a photo finish, first and second place in the unmodified production class, which was an amazing feat by Toyota. Also at the time, the Lexus brand, Toyota's luxury subsidiary, had just launched with the LS sedan. The Lexus LX Full-Size SUV was launched alongside the J80 Land Cruiser to better compete with offerings such as the Range Rover.
In the year 1998, the Land Cruiser J100 had been introduced, replacing the outgoing J80 series. Two variants were available to the public, the J100 and the J105. Both look similar, but significant differences lie under each car's bodywork. The 105 series carried over most of its chassis and power-train from its predecessor, the J80 Series, with coil suspended solid axles on both the front and rear, with a range of straight-six engine options. On that same year, the J100 had received a new suspension system, combining Active Height Control and Toyota's Electronic Modulated Suspension.
In 2002, Toyota introduced its Night View night vision system on the Land Cruiser, the first of its kind to be mass produced in the auto industry. Using infrared lights aimed in parallel with the car's high beam headlights, a CCD camera captures the reflected radiation, and processed by the car's internal computer, producing a black and white image on the lower section of the windshield. Soon after, the V8 was introduced to the Land Cruiser for the North American market.
The Land Cruiser Today
Today, the newest variant of the Land Cruiser, the J200, along with its counterpart, the Lexus LX, is sold to American, Asian, African and Australian markets worldwide. Unveiled in September 2007, it featured a whole new body frame from the ground up, derived from the second generation Tundra, shortened and strengthened by 20%. New, bigger brake rotors and calipers were also added to the front suspension, which made the Land Cruiser significantly more heavy-duty and capable than its predecessor. New roof pillars were also implemented to protect the driver and occupants in case of a rollover.
The J200 series drops the V6 engine in favor of an all-V8 lineup. Various driver assist technologies could also be found, such as CRAWL, Toyota's off-road cruise control, Downhill Assist Control, ABS, Kinetic Dynamic Suspension, along with a 360 degree camera with leather interior as optional. And of course, the reliable, durable and off-road capable legacy of the Land Cruiser nameplate continues with the newest generation, with one being engineered and developed to last over 25 years.
The Land Cruiser's reliability and durability continues till today, being a vital part to most presidential motorcades and military VIP vehicles, along with being the vehicle of choice for most governments, the United Nations and NATO. With a legacy spanning over sixty years, the Land Cruiser had built Toyota's reputation on reliability, trickling down to other models in the Toyota global lineup. Toyota's lighter-duty variant of the Land Cruiser, the Land Cruiser Prado also shares the same legacy as the original Land Cruiser.
The Land Cruiser nameplate is one of the longest running nameplates in the off-road SUV industry, respected for its capability and durability, with some over 40 years old still running today. Respected by most off-road enthusiasts, as it could tackle most surfaces on Earth with ease, while still being comfortable to drive.
In the end, if you want to cross the Sahara, get a 4x4. If you want to return in one piece, get a Land Cruiser.