After spotting an old Land Cruiser for sale recently, Izak Breytenbach recalled an interesting encounter with this iconic vehicle a few years ago
I recently drove past a venerable old Toyota Land Cruiser parked next to the road. Displayed in the windscreen was a large “For Sale” sign, marking a sad day in the vehicle’s life. The sight of the old Cruiser as I paused at a red traffic light brought back some fond memories…
In 2012 a client asked me to do an urgent project on a farm near Augrabies. Such was the haste that I flew to Upington and hired a car to get to the farm. The agreement was that the client would supply a suitable vehicle for me to use on site, which constituted a mixture of untouched Karoo and Namaqualand, along with the odd sunbathing adder.
Upon arrival in the late afternoon, I was presented with a dapper mid-seventies model Toyota Land Cruiser. It had been restored at some point and was adorned with a shiny white coat of paint. It was now a farm runabout, doubling as a game drive vehicle on the odd occasion. To my surprise, there was only about 167 000km on the clock after nearly four decades. Nevertheless, I was handed the keys and set to start at dawn the following morning.
The first day of site reconnaissance commenced with rudimentary instructions on how to start the Land Cruiser. I have often heard people referring to the original VW Beetle as “temperamental”, but compared with this Land Cruiser, a Beetle was a paragon of virtue.
The Land Cruiser’s starting sequence was very specific. Tap the accelerator twice and then crank the starter once. Tap the accelerator three times, and then crank the starter once. Finally, pull out the choke and crank the starter once more. If this sequence was followed in a correct and flawless manner, you were rewarded with the welcome sound of the engine coming to life… under protest, mind you. Failing to complete the sequence perfectly would result in the carburettor flooding, and you would be left admiring your surroundings for some time.
The scenario reminded me very much of a certain lady I very much fancied during my high school days. Wooing her in the correct manner would reward you only with a forced and lackadaisical response; failing to woo her at all left you with a taciturn expression and a complete failure to acknowledge your existence. I therefore immediately named the Land Cruiser after the said lady.
Setting out on the 18km gravel road to the site entrance, I discovered that the Cruiser had a peculiar safety amenity, which has not yet been implemented on modern cars. Of the four drum brakes, only the front left one worked well (or at all), so the vehicle would automatically swerve if you braked hard. The same road also revealed why the vehicle had so few kilometres registered on the odometer. As with many older vehicles, the 100m interval dial of the analogue odometer was coloured red (as opposed to the remaining black and white dials). The red dial would increase from 2 (i.e. 200m) to 6 (600m), at which point the rate of revolutions would slow. At 7 (700m), the dial started to reverse, winding backwards to 2 before commencing the same sequence again. As a result, the remaining dials remained stationary and no more kilometres were registered.
A few days later, one of my sub-contractors arrived on site along with two of his assistants. They recognised me, but were surprised that I was not driving my usual vehicle. One assistant asked why I was driving “die sprinkaan” (the grasshopper). The reference seemed apt and the name struck a chord, so the Land Cruiser was renamed.
The project proceeded to its last day and with the final few hours of site work approaching, a thunderstorm was brewing over the Orange River valley adjacent to the farm. Coming from the Highveld, I was not perturbed as I am accustomed to thunderstorms and so we carried on working, completing our task just as the first raindrops reached the parched earth.
With all the equipment stowed, we vacated the site. However, die sprinkaan had only one windscreen wiper and it was fitted to the passenger side. I soaked up a substantial number of raindrops while fitting the wiper arm and blade to the driver’s side.
Upon arrival back at the farmstead, we found that all the farm workers had taken shelter from the seemingly apocalyptical shower, which ultimately amounted to 18mm (or roughly one third of their annual rainfall).
…The traffic light changed to green and I set off past the Land Cruiser parked next to the road, still thinking about die sprinkaan. Surely by now its red odometer dial must be somewhere between 2 and 6, assuming that the starting sequence had been performed impeccably and the auto-swerve feature had allowed the driver to evade any antelope wandering across the gravel road.