Toyota trucks are well-known for their ruggedness, and off-road capabilities — a reputation the vehicles have earned by conquering countless thousands of miles over some of the world’s most dangerous trails. Toyota learned to build amazing off-road vehicles by first building military vehicles. In the same vein as the Jeep and Land Rover, the Toyota Land Cruiser got its start as a dependable vehicle in service of the Japanese Army, where it proved to be tough, efficient, and versatile. These early examples are major collector’s items today, and it’s rare to see a vintage Land Cruiser out banging steel on a trail these days. This article will take a close look at the development of the venerable Beast from the East: the Toyota Land Cruiser.
December 8, 1941, Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on the United States and Filipino armed forces in the Philippines. One of the most essential pieces of equipment the Japanese found was the Willys-Overland Jeep. The quarter-ton 4×4 was agile, had good torque, and enabled rapid reconnaissance and troop movement. Toyota was immediately tasked with building a similar vehicle, known as the AK10.
By 1950, Toyota began building its own military vehicle at the request of the Japanese National Police Force — the Toyota Jeep was born. The first two years of production were strictly to-order, but in 1953, Toyota began mass-production. The name became Land Cruiser in 1954, and one of the world’s best off-road vehicles of all time was born.
Initially, the BJ was available with a 3.4 L inline-six cylinder engine producing 63 kW (84 hp; 85 PS) at 3,600 rpm and 215 Nm (159 lb-ft) of torque at 1,600 rpm. However, Toyota added the Type-F engine to the line in 1954, but it was only available for fire truck chassis.
Four models were built based on the BJ and FJ platform:
BJ-T (Civilian Touring Chassis)
BJ-R (Radio Chassis)
BJ-F (Fire Truck Chassis)
FJ-F (Fire Truck Chassis)
The BJ-series were built on a Toyota light truck frame that was equipped with part-time four-wheel-drive. The BJ did not have a low-speed transfer box, so gearing was the same in two- or four-wheel drive. A three-speed manual transmission with no synchronizers was the only available transmission.
The BJ was a spartan vehicle and did not feature any creature comforts we would recognize today. The BJ was intended for use in military service and for off-road purposes, so accessories are nonexistent.
The 1955 to 1960 Toyota Land Cruiser was a redesigned version of the original, with mass-production for the civilian market in mind. It was slightly longer, taller, and had a completely redesigned front end. In 1958, the first Land Cruisers were introduced to the United States, and the model was now designated as the FJ20.
Earlier models use the 3.4L Type-B engine from the initial series. FJ20 models began to use the new, larger displacement 3.9L Type-F engine producing 75 kW (105 hp) in the middle of the 1956 model year.
Three wheelbases were offered — 90”, 95”, and 105” — and 4 different configuration — 2-door hardtop, soft top, pickup, and later, a 5-door station wagon.
The FJ20 series continued to use a three-speed manual transmission but gained synchronizers on second & third gear. There was still no low-speed transfer case. Variations were made in both part-time four-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive models.
In 1959, Toyota began constructing Land Cruisers in Brazil, marking the first Toyota built outside Japan. The Brazillian FJ models are known as Toyota Bandeirante. They are exceedingly rare and highly collectible.
The restyled FJ40 Land Cruiser is the model most often associated with “vintage ‘Cruisers” in the U.S. The FJ40 was immensely successful and became the best selling Toyota in the US in 1965. The FJ40 proved to be a trustworthy and reliable machine capable of going almost anywhere.
Numerous chassis options gave the Land Cruiser the ability to work as a snowplow, fire truck, dump truck, or weekend convertible. When it was introduced, the FJ40 was larger and more powerful than its competitors. By the time the model was replaced in 1984, vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco had time to adjust accordingly and then provided larger, more powerful engines, more numerous options, and better fuel mileage.
The Type-F engine continued to be the primary gasoline engine in the series but with power output increased to 93 kW (126 PS; 125 hp). A 4.2L inline-six engine replaced the 3.9 L engine in 1975. The engine is coded 2F and makes 101 kW (135 hp) and 271 N·m (200 ft·lb) of torque. A diesel variation was available in some markets, including Japan, Brazil, and the Middle East.
Models available include the FJ40 in two-door soft top and hardtop, the FJ45 pickup and cab-chassis model, and the FJ55 station wagon.
The FJ40 continued on with the three-speed manual transmission but introduced a two-speed transfer case. All models were part-time four-wheel drive.
The FJ40 model features many upgrades over the years. Some of the features the vehicle gained include a factory roll bar (1974), front disc brakes (1976), as well as air conditioning, and power brakes (1979). Models were also available with a removable hardtop, removable soft top, fixed hardtop, and a truck cab. Center-facing jump seats in the rear of the FJ40 are a notable difference from other production off-road vehicles.
When the FJ40 series was finally replaced for the 1985 MY, the nameplate was split into two different series. The J60 became a comfort-oriented Land Cruiser, while the J70 carried on the earlier models’ phenomenal legacy. The J70 was never commercialized in the United States, as the model was replaced by the Toyota 4Runner.
Petrol variants for the J70 include the 3F and 22r engines, while various markets worldwide various diesel engines. The J70 was primarily marketed for official and government use, and it is not common to see a J70 in the US.
The J70 had a 5-speed manual transmission and a three-speed automatic available. It became the first four-wheel-drive Toyota to have an automatic transmission.
Thousands of aftermarket and factory options are available for the numerous types of J70 models. The J70 was available as a two-door hardtop, soft top, and pickup. A three-door wagon and a four-door van version were also built at some point. The J70 was created as a troop transporter, and some models even feature bullet-proofing. Today, the J70 is only available in a few African countries and Latin American regions.
The FJ40, imported to the US between 1965 and 1984, is the most common variant of the classic, off-road-oriented models. Market values have been on the rise in recent years, with prices increasing for both museum-quality originals and banged-up machines that have worked hard. The FJ40 remains one of the most capable factory-built off-road vehicles around. The engine and transmission are robust, and axles and suspension components are durable. Off-road performance is outstanding, and with most models prior to 1975 having factory 4.11:1 rear axle ratios, the Land Cruiser could go just about anywhere without modifications.
With that being said, driving around town in a vintage Land Cruiser is not for the timid. The suspension and steering systems are simply not engineered for on-road performance. However, if you are really up for it, keep in mind that models equipped with disc brakes and power steering are more practical for driving on the street. And the really good thing is that, since the FJ40 remained popular for so long, Toyota still stocks replacement parts for the model.
Toyota built a winner when it created the Land Cruiser. And even to this day, the off-road-oriented versions remain iconic throughout the world for their ability to go anywhere and get back home in one piece.