The history of the Land Cruiser
Powerful, reliable and durable – there is a reason why the Land Cruiser has become a legend in the past 70+ years. It has proved its versatility in the Atacama Desert, the Rocky Mountains, the dunes in Dubai and the Australian Outback. Basically there is no impossible terrain for it if there is wide enough space. And how did it conquer the world?
It is simple: behind every little part, there is the determination of Japanese engineers as they strive for perfection. This was the key for the founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, to make a Japanese car a global success for the first time - the model with the longest running history in the Toyota lineup.
The first model, the Jeep BJ, was born as a result of the 2nd World War, in January 1951. Interestingly, the car almost lost to the Willys Jeep at a procurement by the police, but test driver Ichiro Taira didn’t let that happen: he climbed to the 6th checkpoint of Mount Fuji with the vehicle to prove how tough it was. This was the first car to reach such a height, and after that it was obvious that it should be the new patrol car in Japan. One last task was to rename the model: since 1954 it has been known as the Land Cruiser.
The second generation came soon after that: the more “civilian” J40 came out in 1955. With more elegant bodywork, easier drivability and a more comfortable interior, they tried to attract another segment, and also started exporting: for some models, cabs were produced in Australia as well, and the first Toyota to be produced entirely outside of Japan was made in Brazil. Numbers started to increase rapidly: In 1965, there were 50,000 Land Cruisers on the roads, and by 1968, it had gone up to 100,000 and the growth was not slowing down.
The next significant change came in 1980, when the J60 was introduced to the market. This Toyota model soon became widely known in the off-road world, and even though production was officially halted in 1990, in Venezuela brand new cars were produced as late as 1992. This was the first model to feature air conditioning and a rear heater, and the interior was also improved.
The J70 series, which has been in production since its introduction in 1984, was a milestone in the history of the Land Cruiser. The hard-core off-road vehicle - available in many versions - is one of the most versatile vehicles, and thanks to its reinforced running gear and drivetrain it is suitable for the toughest terrains, and both for work and travel. This was the first Japanese car that came out with automatic transmission as well. The series had a makeover in 1999, the front axle received coil-spring suspension and the rear leaf springs were lengthened for increased ride comfort.
The Tokyo Motor Show in October 1989, where the J80 premiered, was another milestone. In some countries in South America the model was nicknamed the “Bubble”, and in North America and Europe all models had a full-time four-wheel drive system. A special feature of this model was that it already had airbags and ABS, the seat belt could be adjusted at shoulder height, and the trunk, which originally opened sideways, here opened upwards.
The logo also changed with this model: In 1995, the TOYOTA badge was replaced with the well-known oval logo, which is often referred to as a "bean with a hat" and a "sombrero”. In 1997, a limited run of Land Cruiser 80s was built specifically for collectors, which featured special badges, floor mats, and decorative items on the exterior and in the interior that show that it is more than an ordinary car. This model also sported automatic air conditioning, and even though production was halted in Japan in 1997, it kept going in Venezuela again, where the last model of the 80 series was manufactured in 2008.
The Toyota went down in the history of motor racing with the 80, as in 1996 it sent two vehicles to the Dakar rally, which finished first and second in the unmodified production class. Similar results have since been achieved by Toyota cars in the toughest rally raid race 6 times - even though with later models.
After 8 years, it was time to refresh the 80 series - the challenger was J100. Surprisingly, the development of this car began in 1991, but the process was stalled. The modern and overpowering off-road vehicle with unparalleled luxury was introduced in Tokyo in 1997 as the Grand Cruiser.
In 2007, the 200 series demonstrated how far the one-time military behemoth had come. Before it was introduced, there had been a 5-year design process and 2 years of testing, and even though the new design was criticized, it remained the NATO vehicle of choice for military tasks, which proves that it is still a competent off-road vehicle. An all new option in this model is the V8 engine, and it exceeds all safety requirements. In addition, it features many smart solutions for the drivers’ convenience, such as a keyless ignition system, rain sensors, cameras, built-in navigation and a braking system that adapts to the terrain. Since 2014, the 200 series has been available almost everywhere, except for Canada and Hong Kong, - where the Lexus LX is available instead -, and North and South Korea.
The factory paid tribute to its history in 2014/2015: it brought out anniversary editions of several models to mark its 70 years.