When researching a car like the Toyota Land Cruiser, you had better do a decent job, because in terms of customer loyalty, there’s nothing that can touch it.
If we mess up and get one tiny detail wrong, we’re not going to get an e-mail explaining how we got the engine specifications wrong on the second-generation model, but rather a brick flying through the window with a note attached to it. That’s how passionate Land Cruiser owners are about their cars.
That’s why we already started boarding up the windows, because our research showed something quite interesting about the Land Cruiser name. Toyota was not the first company to use it. The very first Land Cruiser badge was glued on the back of a Studebaker in 1934. That’s roughly seven years before Toyota even started thinking about building anything even remotely related to the Land Cruiser.
Not that you’d mistake one for the other, but it is interesting to note that one of the most famous model designations ever fitted to a 4×4, used to be assigned to a humble family sedan.
We weren’t able to confirm this for sure, but legend has it that the Imperial Japanese Army was marching through the Philippines one day in 1941 and stumbled across a Military Jeep someone had left behind. They liked it so much that they took it with them and handed it over to Toyota as soon as they got back home.
The manufacturer was told to develop something similar for the army. A few months later the army got their wishes in the form of a pick up truck called the AK10.
This truck used a four-cylinder petrol engine from one of Toyota’s sedans, coupled to a three-speed manual transmission.
It was certainly suited to the job it had been developed for, but most of the AK10s made never saw military action. It would take another nine years for Toyota to reach the next milestone in the Land Cruiser’s life.
Thanks to another war in Korea, demand was at an all time high for light military vehicles. Toyota was asked to build another light truck to go up against the Willy’s Jeep and the result was the BJ. The BJ was larger and more powerful as well, thanks to a 3,4-litre six-cylinder petrol engine.
In 1951 the BJ successfully completed its first epic 4×4 journey. One of Toyota’s test drivers drove a BJ further up Mount Fuji than anyone in a car had ever been. The police had been asked to oversee this mission and ended up ordering a fleet of 290 vehicles, which turned the BJ into the official transport of the police.
By 1953, the BJ had become a successful model in Japan. There were a few models on sale in addition to the standard military lookalike. You could also have a BJ in touring, fire engine and radio guises. Naturally, Toyota wanted to export this product to other countries around the globe, but before that could happen a new marketing strategy was needed.
Toyota faced stiff competition in England. Once there, the BJ would be going up against Land Rover. Toyota couldn’t hope to win that battle with a car with a silly name, so it had to come up with something equally noble. The name Land Cruiser was chosen.
In 1955 the time had come for a revamp and Toyota used this opportunity to make the Land Cruiser 20 Series more civilian friendly. The engineers added a dash of style and improved the ride quality. Two years later a station wagon, called the FJ35V, was added to the range.
A year later Toyota opened a plant in Brazil for the purpose of building the single cab FJ25. This year marks the first time a Toyota manufacturing plant was ever built outside of Japan.
By 1960 it was time for another upgrade, the result of which was the now famous 40 Series. The Land Cruiser was at the receiving end of a substantial upgrade, including, for the first time, low range gearing.
From there on, the Land Cruiser FJ40 helped Toyota reach milestone after milestone. In 1965 global production passed 50 000 vehicles. Three years later that figure was doubled and in 1973 sales reached an impressive 300 000 units worldwide.
Toyota kept on making small, seemingly unimportant changes to the FJ every year from its initial introduction all the way to 1984 when 40 Series production ceased. The FJ went from strength to strength during this period, which solidified its reputation as a reliable off-roader with a can-do attitude.
The fact that the FJ was available in a wide variety of body styles also helped. The most notable are the 55 and 60 Series. The 55 Series was a four-door station wagon that was built from 1967 to 1980, while the 60 took up the reins after the 55 was retired.
In 1984 Toyota introduced the 70 Series Land Cruiser in various guises. This is also the model that’s still on sale in SA to this day, albeit with a few modifications along the way. During this model’s ongoing lifespan, Toyota introduced a number of engine and suspension upgrades that have made the FJ70 more appealing to the average customer.
It’s not hard to see why this car is still so popular even to this day. The most important factor is obviously reliability and the FJ Series’ solid off-road reputation. They’re basic vehicles tailored to a very basic need and it’s all the better for it.
The rest of the Land Cruiser range moved on to become more luxurious and more technologically advanced, but the earlier models will always be remembered first if someone mentions the Land Cruiser name. It’s a car that deserves to be celebrated.
This is probably why Toyota chose to build the FJ Cruiser after the positive response it received at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. This retro styled beast went into production in 2006, but only reached SA in 2011.
Unfortunately it won’t be around for much longer. Production will cease in the US during 2014 and no successor has been announced. You can still buy it in SA, but it probably won’t stay that way for long.
Not that it matters, because why have a homage if you can still buy the original. Unlike most parts of the world, we’re still lucky enough to have the FJ70 available locally.