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RETRO RIDE I 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ

11 July 2016

The start of something epic

It all started with a chance find in the Philippines. A seed was planted and the idea progressed to a Japanese military 4×4, and soon, a civilian version of that 4×4. It’s the story of Toyota’s iconic Land Cruiser. And this is the story of a 1974 Cruiser that travelled halfway around the world and has found a new home in Klerksdorp.

The Toyota Land Cruiser FJ’s history is fairly well known among those who adore it. But just in case you haven’t heard the story, it all started when the Japanese army found a World War 2 Jeep (made by the Bantam company) in the Philippines.

The army bigwigs liked this small military vehicle so much that they packed it up and sent it home. They then told Toyota to work on something similar, but with its own unique Japanese styling.

The first prototype was completed in 1951, after which a Toyota test driver drove it further up Mount Fuji than any car had gone before. The Japanese police were impressed and put in an order for a few.

By then Toyota had noticed how well Land Rover was doing in Britain, so it decided to offer a civilian version of its 4×4. The chosen name was Land Cruiser, because Toyota’s boss wanted everyone to know that its car was just as good as anything made by the British marque.

To call it a sales success seems like the understatement of the century. By 1965 Toyota had sold 50 000 units and by 1973, this number surpassed 300 000. A year later, the Cruiser you see on these pages was born.

It’s a 1974 FJ40 and it belongs to well-known 4×4 and off-road racing personality Deon Venter, who is also the chief executive officer of the 4×4 Mega World chain of stores. He is a Toyota fanatic and owns a huge collection of models, including a few Corollas, a modern FJ, two Toyopets and three classic FJs.

The oldest of the classic FJ trio is a 1964 model, but since it was being restored, we rather focused on what Deon refers to as his ‘daily’ when he’s in Klerksdorp.

These models are rather special, because they were never sold in South Africa and our import laws make it nearly impossible to import one as a private person. Deon managed to import three FJs as classics and he has another three on the way.

Interested in buying one? Sorry, they’re already all sold, and Deon is definitely not interested in getting rid of his. He has received offers as high as R300 000 for this 1974 model, which isn’t half bad considering that it only cost him R170 000 for the trio.

In any case, this particular FJ looks slightly neglected but there’s a very good reason for this. Deon found it on a farm in Australia, standing out in the open, exposed to the elements. It had been standing there for seven years without ticking over once.

The rust had started taking its toll and the rats had already feasted on what used to be a front seat, but he paid the farmer anyway and loaded it and two others in a container bound for Africa.

Upon the vehicles’ arrival, the 4×4 Mega World technical crew did a few basic checks and started her up. There were no problems whatsoever; in fact, they never even bothered bleeding the brake lines, or checking the tyre pressures. Deon still drives around in it exactly like it came from the farm. Even the headlights are still operational.

Okay, so there have been a few modifications. Those black doors were stored in the boot, but they were quickly bolted in place. Having noticed a lack of door panels, Deon bought a new set. To add a final touch of extravagance, the front seat upon which the rats had so merrily feasted, was reupholstered. That’s it.

It uses the exact same drivetrain it was blessed with the day it rolled off the factory floor. It’s a 3.9-litre straight-six petrol engine that, at the moment, produces an unknown amount of horses. According to Deon, there’s still some dirt in the system, which often leaves the old FJ stuttering for a few seconds before it soldiers on again. After seven years of immobility, that’s hardly surprising.

It’s obviously not going to stay that way, but it also won’t be some over-the-top job either. Deon plans to restore it to mint factory condition and that’s as far as it will go. No suspension lifting, roof-racking or chipping here, folks. Once it’s completed, it will essentially be a brand-new 42-year-old FJ. After all, it only has 83 000km on the clock, which is hardly on its last legs as far as Cruisers go.

To complete this task, Deon will be using the know-how of his 4×4 Mega World team and a supplier of original FJ parts in Texas, USA. Once it’s done, it’s going to be a moving work of art.

How do we know this? Well, let’s just say that we were lucky enough to get a preview of the 1964 diesel, which is 99% completed. It’s going to be used as a show model and will soon start a nationwide tour to a 4×4 Mega World location near you.

If that model is anything to go by, the 1974 model is going to be an absolute stunner.

Engine Straight-six petrol
Capacit 3 900cc
Power 93kW @ 3 600r/min
Torque 280Nm @ 1 800r/min
Fuel system Carburettor
Gearbox Four-speed manual with transfer case
Drive system Full-time 4×4
Suspension Leaf springs
0-100km/h It’s possible (in theory)
Top speed Faster than Usain Bolt

Text: Gerhard Horn
Photographs: Deon van der Walt