History Of The Toyota Land Cruiser
Originally published December 19, 2005
Look at the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser and you see echoes of the classic and much-loved Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40. The FJ Cruiser not only pays homage to the FJ40, it also looks back to the beginnings of Toyota, and to the beginnings of Toyota in the USA.
For not only did the Land Cruiser FJ40 help Toyota develop its engineering, production and sales abilities here in the U.S. and elsewhere, but those abilities, once developed, provided the foundation for the design, production and sales of the automobile lines that followed the Land Cruiser.
While the FJ Cruiser's styling recalls the FJ40, the taproot of its family tree stretches back past the FJ40 to a vehicle called the BJ, which descends from a 1950 4x4 prototype called the AK10. The BJ was Toyota's first 4x4 utility vehicle and was powered by the company's prewar B-type 75 hp engine. This sturdy 3.4L (206.6 c i.) six-cylinder unit, intended for use in medium-light trucks, not only was perfect for the BJ but set a pattern the Land Cruiser line followed for decades.
The BJ and the famed Willys Jeep had much in common. Both were tough, square-fendered utility vehicles that consisted of basic open bodywork bolted to sturdy steel ladder frames. Both used four-wheel drive. One important difference, however, was that where the Jeep used a transfer case that offered low range, the BJ didn't need a low range, thanks to the torque of its engine and a transmission with a low 5.53:1 first-gear ratio.
As proof of the BJ's ability to cover challenging ground, in July of 1951 a BJ piloted by Toyota test driver Ichiro Taira negotiated the trail up Japan's 12,388-foot-high Mt. Fuji all the way to Checkpoint six (there were, and still are, 10 checkpoints on the trail to the top of Mt. Fuji), further up the mountain than any motor vehicle ever had gone. Observers from Japan's National Police Agency liked what they saw. They placed an order for a fleet of BJs. Government forestry and utility agencies took notice and filed their own orders. Eventually 1,300 were built.
It was an important and successful first step, but there was another to come. The vehicle's BJ designation just didn't have much poetry. After seeing the vehicle cruise over the roughest ground they could throw at it, in 1954 company officials came up with a much more musical and fitting name: Land Cruiser.
By now Toyota had developed a company motto that could easily be adopted today. It was, "Good thinking, good products." Part of that good thinking of course resulted in the Land Cruiser, and more of it was evident when company officials decided to begin exporting the vehicle as the Land Cruiser 20 Series, a basic 4x4 with neither top nor doors. Early recipients of 20 Series vehicles were Brazil and Saudi Arabia, which were as ready for the Land Cruiser as it was for them. Its toughness and go-anywhere capabilities immediately were adopted, and the Land Cruiser began developing its reputation.
In 1955 development of the BJ concept led to the BJ25, which featured a metal top and doors, along with roll-down door windows. Amazingly, air conditioning also was available. These attempts to bring a bit of civility to the BJ signaled that Toyota had in mind larger markets than those represented by Japan's National Police or public agencies in other countries. It intended to penetrate the civilian market. And not just with this vehicle. According to the tenets of "The Land Cruiser Strategy," the Land Cruiser was much more than merely another vehicle to be sold. It was the point vehicle that established a base in each new country into which Toyota moved so that the Land Cruiser could be followed by Toyota passenger cars.
Meanwhile the old B-series engine was being phased out of production. Its replacement was the F-type engine, a 3.8L (231.9 c.i.) 105 hp overhead-valve six-cylinder gas unit. Use of that engine, starting in 1955, created the FJ25. For a time, both BJ25s and FJ25s were produced, but with the end of B-series engine production, production of BJ25s came to a close. Much of what the world knows about Land Cruisers came from the 20 Series as it was developed into an impressive variety of types designed to fit the needs of each country into which it was imported. There were the standard hardtop models, of course, but also pickups, station wagons, with long and short wheelbases, with two doors and with four.
Land Cruisers quickly found their way to Venezuela, Malaysia, Kuwait, Jordan, Dubai and Australia, where they were ideally suited to challenging driving conditions in those countries. Finally, in 1958, Land Cruiser came to the United States. Just one unit was sold in that first year.
That was about to change. In 1958 Land Cruisers were known by the model-name FJ28V. But model-year 1960 brought engineering and styling changes that heralded the birth of an icon. That's when the 20 Series took an evolutionary step into the 40-series. The familiar fold-down windshield, solid axles and sturdy leaf springs of the 25-series remained. But design revision provided the FJ40 with its now-familiar flat, white top, angular lines, wrap-around rear windows and fold-out rear doors, short overhangs, a horsepower boost to 125, a three-speed transmission and the introduction of a two-speed transfer case. The change worked, especially here in the U.S. From 1961 to 1965, the FJ40 was Toyota's best-selling vehicle.
Early experience in developing countries amply illustrated the FJ40's suitability as an exploration/expedition vehicle. Only one thing needed improvement: There wasn't enough space in which to haul the fuel and supplies needed for long trips – this notwithstanding the presence of the FJ45V, a long, four-door version of the basic FJ40, which was built alongside the FJ40. So in 1967, responding to calls for a Land Cruiser with more comfort, more capability and more cargo capacity, the FJ45V was replaced with the four-door Land Cruiser 55 Series.
The 55 Series was a development of the 40 Series, using hardware lifted from the 40 Series. But it rolled upon a wheelbase that was lengthened by 16 inches. To satisfy those looking for more comfort than available from the 40 Series' utilitarian interior, the 55 Series offered a padded dash, a fold-down rear seat and seating for six.
The payoff came in production and sales numbers that nobody – at least nobody outside Toyota – could have predicted. By 1968, Toyota had built and sold 100,000 Land Cruisers. Demand for them was so great that assembly was done in a number of countries outside of Japan, including Brazil and Pakistan.
The early 1970s were years of development of existing Land Cruiser models. For instance, in 1975 all Land Cruisers received an enlarged 4.2L (256.3 c.i.) B-series engine and with it, a new four-speed transmission. This engine underscored the Land Cruiser's reputation for unstoppable torque, a critical element that helped provide the Land Cruiser with its ability to crawl over obstacles on challenging trails.
By now, Land Cruisers were an established part of rough-country life in the United States. For miners, ranchers and surveyors, the Land Cruiser was the vehicle of choice. In fact, in 1971 a Land Cruiser was driven the width of the United States while surveying an off-road route.
By 1972, more than 200,000 Land Cruisers had been sold worldwide – and 300,000 by 1973.
There was play, or at least sport, as well as work: In 1974 a nearly stock FJ40 won the grueling Baja 1000 off-road race. Its sole modification involved its conversion for the use of propane, instead of gasoline, as fuel.
As the Land Cruiser's reputation grew, so too did the demand for it. As a result, by 1977 a half-million Land Cruisers had hit roads and trails everywhere. But time was closing in on the 40 Series, and also on the 55 Series. For all the refinement it had received over its life span, the 40 Series remained fairly Spartan. So 1983 was its final year of sales in the U.S. Production of the 55 Series ceased in 1979. Sales numbers, meanwhile, continued to reflect the popularity and success of the Land Cruiser name. By 1980, 1,000,000 had been sold.
Meanwhile, Land Cruiser four-wheel-drive technology was expanding into other Toyota lines. Most notable was the first 4x4 compact truck in the U.S., introduced by Toyota in 1979. This vehicle won not only immediate public acclaim, but also the prestigious "4WD of the Year" award from Pickup, Van & 4WD, a leading off-road magazine of the time. The compact Toyota pickup, equipped with its unbeatable 4x4 drivetrain, remained the best selling compact 4x4 in the U.S. market for the next 14 years. In 1984 the popular 4Runner, developed from the 4x4 pickup chassis, was introduced. Highlighting its Land Cruiser genetics, it was built at the Araco Corp. plant in Toyota City, Japan, the home of Land Cruiser production.
Land Cruisers, meanwhile, rolled on. The Land Cruiser 60 Series appeared in 1980 to replace the 55 Series. Production continued through 1989 and owners found that not only did this larger, more commodious Land Cruiser continue to uphold the brand's ability to cover rough ground, but that with basic maintenance, an FJ60 easily would rack up hundreds of thousands of miles.
As 60 Series sales were growing, the Land Cruiser FJ40, discontinued in the U.S. in 1979, was coming to the end of its road in the rest of the world. While some segments of the worldwide 4x4 market continued to demand heavy-duty vehicles, others, especially recreational users, made it clear they wanted a vehicle that offered a bit more comfort than the 40 Series offered. Against these conflicting notions and with very little in the way of a final flourish, Land Cruiser 40 Series production ceased in late 1984. The trusty old 40 Series immediately was replaced by the much more modern 70 Series, production of which continues.
The basic Land Cruiser 70 Series had the two doors, solid axles and leaf springs of the 40 Series, and it was engineered to be just as tough and durable as the 40 Series, but it received a five-speed transmission and rode upon a 91-inch wheelbase – a four-door version received a 107-inch wheelbase. More important, its interior was much more commodious than that of the 40 Series. It was built in a variety of types and styles, each specific to its market and the needs of its buyers.
The 60 Series wagon, meanwhile, underwent a complete makeover in 1989. It became the 80 Series. This happened after company product planners noticed the 60 Series increasingly was being used as a family vehicle. Owners wanted off-road capabilities for active family weekends, but they also wanted the comfort and practicality of a family sedan during the week.
The Land Cruiser 80 Series met those needs. With its launch in 1990, owners could enjoy a comfortable ride, thanks to coil springs up front, as well as to leather-trim seats, air conditioning, entertainment systems and mobile communications. Safety also became more important with the adoption of airbags and ABS braking systems.
Clearly, Toyota was doing something right: By 1990, it had sold 2 million Land Cruisers worldwide.
In 1993, the 80 Series Land Cruiser was upgraded with a 24-valve, DOHC inline six-cylinder engine displacing 4.5L (274.6 c.i.). This engine produced 212 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, and was more than capable of pulling Land Cruiser's 5,153 pounds of curb weight. The 80 Series Land Cruiser, with its smooth ride and comfortable interior, seemed a long way from the FJ40 paradigm. But when pointed down a rough trail, it displayed the same competence and reliability that helped the FJ40 cement the Land Cruiser name into the public consciousness.
For the 1996 model year, Toyota launched a third Land Cruiser line, to be sold alongside the 70 and 80 Series Land Cruisers. This was the Land Cruiser 90 Series, also known as the Prado. The 90 Series was an evolutionary branch of the 70 Series. It therefore offered Land Cruiser's legendary capabilities, both on the highway and off the road. But it was enhanced by independent front suspension and coil springs in place of the solid front axle and leaf springs that had provided suspension for so long. It also offered available fulltime four-wheel drive with a locking center differential, a four-speed automatic transmission, stability control and traction control. The appeal of the Prado/90 Series was so great, and the demand so intense, that following its introduction, the Tahara plant, in which it was built, operated 24 hours a day for six months straight.
It was this line that in 2002 was developed into the Land Cruiser 120 Series, which includes the current 4Runner and Lexus GX470, which are not marketed in the U.S. as Land Cruisers, but which share and benefit from Land Cruiser philosophy and four-wheel-drive technology. And, in an interesting bit of family planning, the 120 Series provides the foundation of the FJ Cruiser.
Beginning in 1998 the luxurious Land Cruiser 100 Series replaced the 80 Series. It was larger, structurally more solid and substantially more powerful than its predecessor. It featured the first V8 engine in a Toyota vehicle, a 4.7L (286.8 c.i.), 32-valve DOHC producing 235 hp. For the 2006 model year, that figure reached 275 hp. Plush though it may be, the 100 Series retains its Land Cruiser credentials. For instance, it still has 80 percent of its torque available at 1,100 rpm, and it still has the steep approach and departure angles required for rough-country travel. But it also has high-tech touches like stability control, anti-lock brakes and automatic vehicle height adjustment.
So there they are – the roots and branches of the Toyota Land Cruiser family tree. The tree developed an amazing variety of branches, and each branch was fruitful. It bore that original BJ and a long line of descendants that include not only the fabled FJ40 and every Toyota 4x4 pickup, but also a well-developed line of capable, comfortable Land Cruisers and their upscale Lexus 4x4 siblings – and, finally, the new 2007 FJ Cruiser, a vehicle that carries within it the technological DNA of that first Land Cruiser.