Toyota engineers had been exposed to the U.S. Military Jeep, a sparse, utilitarian vehicle designed for a purely military role. They recognised the potential to improve on this product and extend its usage into the civilian market. Work on this effectively new generation 4×4 utility, one that would offer improved power and efficiency, began in August 1950. Five months later, in January 1951, the first prototype Land Cruiser, the Model BJ, was rolled out.
This prototype boasted a healthy, for the day, 64 kW from its 3.4 litre six-cylinder engine, initially designed for use in a four-ton truck. The chassis too came from an existing Toyota product – the SB truck. A tough and effective 4×4 drive train was added to the package that, with its rugged chassis and powerful engine, would prove to have exceptional off-road capabilities.
Within six months of the release of the first prototype the pre-production Land Cruiser was shown and demonstrated to the Japanese National Police and other government departments. Not shy of an extreme challenge and with full confidence in their vehicle, Toyota engineers chose to pit the prototype Land Cruiser against the slopes of Mount Fuji. The challenge was to overcome the steep gradients that led up to the “sixth station” on the climb up Mount Fuji, a stage up the volcano that no vehicle had reached before.
Naturally the Land Cruiser delivered and in the process wrote itself into Japanese automotive folklore.
With its reputation established in its formative years Toyota engineers continued to evolve the Land Cruiser. By 1953 the vehicle, now known as the BJ25, was in series production and 289 of the soft-top 4×4 utilities were delivered that year. In 1954 Toyota adopted the Land Cruiser name as it sought to distance its product from the American Jeep.
A year later Toyota adopted its new “F” Series six-cylinder engine for the Land Cruiser FJ-25. This new engine provided a power increase of 24% with 79 kW now available. Also new on this model were steel doors in place of canvas covers first used as doors. A shorter wheelbase for improved manoeuvrability and a revised suspension for better ride comfort.
A pick-up version was released in 1959 and with this model, still designated the FJ-25, came the introduction of a two-speed transfer box providing a choice between high and low ratios for demanding off-road conditions. Further comfort enhancements were also introduced at this time.
The first Land Cruiser one-ton pick-up was announced in 1961 as the FJ-45 with an extended wheelbase. At this time the FJ-40 Hardtop model was also introduced. The first Land Cruiser Station Wagon, the FJ-55V, was introduced in 1967 and soon became a legend in the USA, Australia and South Africa. The dream of Toyota engineers to establish a range of tough, reliable, and durable 4×4 vehicles had been realised.
A process of evolution has continued throughout the life of the Land Cruiser, a brand name that is synonymous with extreme terrain motoring throughout the world. Continual improvements have added value, comfort, and performance as new technologies are developed and implemented by Toyota to continually enhance this king of 4×4 brands.
The Land Cruiser played a major role in establishing the Toyota brand in export markets as the company took on the then established brands of Jeep and Land Rover. The success of the Land Cruiser can best be gauged by the sales history.
Toyota delivered its 50 000th Land Cruiser in 1965 and the 100 000th vehicle just three years later. This figure had trebled by 1973 as the Land Cruiser became popular in 120 countries. Land Cruiser sales moved past the one million mark in 1981.
Toyota has continued to build on the reputation of the Land Cruiser and to expand the range as market conditions demand ever increasing diversity in the 4×4 market as it rides the wave of explosive interest in Sport Utility Vehicles. The original Land Cruiser utility is augmented in Africa by the Prado, the Land Cruiser 70 Station Wagon, a full utility type station wagon suited to the roughest terrain, and the Land Cruiser 200 which has set new standards of off-road capabilities and comfort in the 4×4 SUV market in South Africa.
The history of the Land Cruiser in South Africa dates back to 1971 when Toyota South Africa imported a batch of 12 Land Cruiser FJ-45 pick-ups. Typical of the time these were strictly utility vehicles devoid of creature comforts, and fairly basic in terms of specification compared to today’s high-tech offerings. In those early 4x4s a three-speed transmission was the norm and power steering was a pie-in-the-sky dream on this type of vehicle. The focus was purely on durability and rugged off-road performance.
A far cry indeed from the sophisticated specification of the Land Cruiser in South Africa today where sophisticated light weight, electronically controlled engines that offer exceptional efficiency and performance are now the norm. The concept of the two-speed transfer case introduced on the Land Cruiser FJ-25 back in 1959 has survived but today it is linked to advanced five-speed manual or electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmissions.
Advanced differential technologies allow the use of full time four-wheel drive on the Prado and 200 series wagons. Differential locks provide enhanced grip in extra difficult terrain. Advances in drive train technology have enhanced off-road capability to an awesome level.
The development in the areas of suspension, steering and brakes has been just as intense. Gone is the worm and sector-shaft system used to steer the early Land Cruisers. Advanced power assisted rack and pinion systems are now used for precise and effortless steering.
Significantly improved suspension systems offer not only a more comfortable ride but long travel as well to ensure that all wheels remain on the ground when the going gets tough.
Acceptance of the Land Cruiser in South Africa reflects the popularity of this range of vehicles worldwide with sales of over 5 000 000 vehicles to go with sales of Land Cruiser 4x4s in South Africa that fast are approaching 100 000 units too.