While Toyota had been building light 4x4s since 1951, it wasn’t until 1954 that the Land Cruiser brand arrived. Toyota’s technical director Hanji Umehara wanted a name that would convey off-road ability but sound dignified; important to a Japanese company.
The range of vehicles made under the Land Cruiser name is bewildering. Toyota attempted to cover all requirements of a light utility vehicle by making a wide range of variants rather than a few highly adaptable models, which was Land Rover’s approach.
The FJ40 Land Cruisers and Series IIa and III Land Rovers competed for the same world markets at the same time. In damp climates at least, a hard-worked Land Rover could hide myriad mechanical and structural sins under its rustproof alloy body, while a Land Cruiser might wear a rusty body over healthy components, leading to unfair comparisons.
By the 1980s there was a significant swing away from utility 4x4s towards recreational off-roaders. In 1985 Toyota released an all-new, expanded range of vehicles that, although still marketed as Land Cruisers, bore little resemblance to the boxy original.
With prices for some FJ40s hitting substantial six-figure sums in recent years, the market has settled and prices now compare favourably with classic Land Rover and Jeep models. Bought carefully, an FJ40 is an intelligent, achingly cool and functional choice.
Which classic Land Cruiser to buy?
The definitive ‘classic’ Land Cruiser is the short-wheelbase J40, otherwise known as the 40-Series. Built in Japan between 1960 and 1984, it lived on as a Brazilian-manufactured model until 2001. While its predecessor, the J20, looked quite similar externally, the J40 had improvements in every area, with more power, better performance and build refinements.
Engines were designated ‘F’ for petrol models, which were six-cylinder units and initially of 3.9 litres capacity, then after 1975 4.2 litres. ‘B’ designates the four-cylinder diesel engines available only after 1974, and ‘H’ was used later for six-cylinder diesel units. The earliest transmissions were three-speed; later, four- and five-speed ’boxes were introduced, each having a high- and low-ratio transfer box and selectable two- and four-wheel drive.
Front disc brakes were added in 1976 and 1979 saw the introduction of power steering and air conditioning as options.
During the J40’s production run there were few external changes and, inside, things were kept fairly utilitarian. Later, LX trim gave the lucky owner stripy seats, a dash panel pad, carpeting, tachometer… and a digital clock.
FJ40s are the ones to have, being petrol-engined and compact. Powerful, flexible, capable and seemingly unbreakable, their only drawback is an inevitable thirst.
Performance and specs
Engine 4230cc, in-line six-cylinder
Power 135bhp @ 3600rpm
Torque 210lb ft @ 1800rpm
Top speed 65mph
Fuel consumption 16mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1848kg
• Like so many steel cars of the period, the FJ is manufactured in such a way that there are many seams: water gets in, with catastrophic consequences. Vehicles driven on salted roads or used for hauling boats are likely to have suffered the most.
• Running gear is pretty bomb-proof, as you’d expect of a utility product from Toyota. Chassis, engines, gearboxes and axles are simple and very strong, and, while the basic leaf-spring suspension is antique, so is a Land Rover’s. Diesel-engined BJs are pedestrian.
• Undeniably thirsty at around 18-20mpg, many FJ40s have had modifications to try to improve fuel economy: freewheeling hubs fitted to the front axle were a common addition. A rare option is an additional overdrive unit made in the United Kingdom by Fairey, which allows for more relaxed cruising.
• Service items aren’t hard to come by and Toyota can supply much, but at a price; other parts including brakes and suspension are catered for by aftermarket suppliers.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Anyone following auction results, particularly in the US, will have seen stratospheric rises after 2012, with some early Land Cruisers making six-figure sums. This excitement brought hundreds of them to market. Saturation has a lot to do with it settling back now and means it’s a better time to buy.
With over-exposure of early Land Rovers, they’re also way cooler. Buying rules are simple: go on condition and originality, and buy to use. A really good FJ40 should be £25,000, an excellent one £40,000.
Words: Julian Shoolheifer