Happy Spring Sale

Special Price Only Now

Don't miss out on Happy Spring Sale for our signature models until Apr 27.

See What’s Available

The History of the Toyota Land Cruiser Series: Navigating Through Time

Land Cruiser Articles

  • Twitter
  • Facebook

The History of the Toyota Land Cruiser Series: Navigating Through Time

The History of the Toyota Land Cruiser Series: Navigating Through Time

Meet the Land Cruiser

1951 was the dawn of the Land Cruiser. First developed as a military vehicle for Japan’s National Reserve Police (NRP), this versatile and iconic SUV made a mark in the 4WD industry that stands firm today. It is the longest-running series for Toyota. If you look back further at the Land Cruiser’s bones, you’ll see a hint at the light truck military Model AK from the 1940s used as a base vehicle for the Land Cruiser.

Toyota Land Cruiser Series Overview

The Land Cruiser was derived from a reverse-engineered America Bantam Jeep after Japan took the Philippines from the U.S. in 1941. Toyota called the new vehicle the Toyota Jeep, which eventually caused Willys Jeep to force a rename due to trademark infringement. Toyota settled on Land Cruiser for its BJ model, which gave a nod to the well-known Land Rover from the U.K. and solidly seated Toyota at the overlanding table.

Inception and Early Models (1950s-1960s)

The 1951 to 1954 models included the following:

BJ-T – touring

BJ-R – radio

BJ-J – cowl chassis for fire engines

These 2-door soft-top vehicles were powered by a 3.4L B inline-6 paired to a 4-speed manual transmission. The wheelbase was 94.5 inches, and the weight was 3,141 pounds. The Type B motor was capable of 84 horsepower and 159 pounds of torque.

1954 saw the introduction of the name Land Cruiser for these vehicles and the addition of the Type F 3.9L inline-6 engine, but only in the fire engine model, the FJ-J cowl chassis fire engine.

The Type F motor was capable of 123 horsepower.

1954 Land Cruiser

Toyota introduced the J20 in 1955 by creating the second-generation Land Cruiser. It was less military and more civilian in its appearance with the addition of a 2-door hardtop, a 2-door pickup, and a 5-door station wagon to the stable as the years progressed. It was powered as the previous generation but had three wheelbases to choose from.

The FJ25 became the first Toyota vehicle produced outside of Japan, originating in the Brazilian marketplace and available between 1958 and 1965. There were less than 1,000 units produced.

1960 saw the introduction of the J40, which carried the Land Cruiser through the 1960s and into the 1970s. This 20 Series replacement was equipped with a 3.9L F with 125 horsepower and low-range gearing for the first time. It kept the 3-speed main gearbox, and in 1965, it became the best-selling Toyota vehicle in the United States. By the late 60s, Land Cruiser sold 100,000 SUVs globally.

Taking a Look at the Early Models

As you can see, Toyota focused on off-roading and durability during these early years. It may have lacked passenger comfort, but it met the demand for reliability from everyone from the military to the police to the fire department.

Innovations and Changes

The biggest changes from its humble beginning to the start of the 1970s may have been the move from military and police use to public appeal. Even with its rudimentary build and lack of real creature comforts, people who needed an off-road vehicle turned to these 4WD SUVs.

Because Toyota moved to focus on civilian use with the 20 Series, it gained an early foothold in the U.S. 4WD scene.

Era of Growth and Diversification (1970s-1980s)

As the Land Cruiser gained more followers thanks to its popularity, Toyota turned its attention toward a laser focus on popularity rather than the military. In 1972, the J40 sold 200,000 units; the following year, in 1973, they sold 300,000.

Toyota introduced the diesel for export on their long-wheelbase model, and in 1974, the 4-cylinder 3.0L B diesel was powering the Japanese models. This gave Land Cruiser even greater popularity because it reduced the tax status as opposed to the gas-powered model. Everyone likes lower taxes.

Toyota Land Cruiser 40

The Land Cruiser Expansion

Significant changes happened in the late 1970s when the U.S. version was equipped with front disc brakes, power steering, and optional air conditioning. These changes geared the 4WD to a different audience other than rock crawlers and farmers. It offered families a different option for traveling highways than trying to put everyone into a domestic station wagon that had no hopes of traveling off-road. This helped open up the recreational use of the Land Cruiser to middle class families.

Milestones

The technological advancements during the early years may not seem all that exciting compared to how advanced vehicles have become in today’s market. However, this was when vehicles were still in their infancy, so additions like disc brakes were innovative.

Other advancements include diesel-powered motors, air conditioning, power steering, and automatic transmission. In the U.S., only half of the cars built in the 1960s offered factory air, and even then, it was an expensive option.

Toyota Land Cruiser 40

Notable events include:

1965 – Global production surpassed 50,000.

1968 – Total sales hit 100,000.

1972 – The 200,000th Land Cruiser was sold.

1973 – Sales hit 300,000 total units.

1973 – The first diesel Land Cruiser for export was produced.

1974 – The 4-cylinder B diesel engine put the Land Cruiser in a different tax bracket in Japan.

1975 – The FJ55 was equipped with front disc brakes.

1976 – The U.S. FJ40 was equipped with front disc brakes.

1979 – The U.S. Fj40 front end was revamped, and Toyota added power steering and A.C. to it.

1980 – The H diesel engine was replaced with the 2H engine.

1980 – The Land Cruiser 60 Series was introduced.

Toyota Land Cruiser 60

1981 – The diesel version had disc brakes added and another engine upgrade with the addition of the 3B.

1983 – The FJ40s were no longer imported to the U.S.

1984 – The BJ42 was the only model imported to North America and only available in the Canadian market.

1984 – The J70 was introduced and was equipped with a 4.0L 3F gas-powered engine and coil springs on a solid axle.

Toyota Land Cruiser 70

1989 – The Land Cruiser 80 Series was added to the lineup.

1990 – New generation diesel engines were under the hoods of the latest Land Cruisers. Engine options included the 3.4L 5-cylinder 1PZ and the 4.2L 6-cylinder 1HZ. Both were naturally aspirated SOHC motors.

1993 – The 24-valve 1FZ-FE 4.5L 6-cylinder gas engine was introduced.

Toyota Land Cruiser 80

1998 – The Land Cruiser 100 Series began.

2002 – The 1HD-FTE, a 4.2L 24-valve 6-cylinder turbo EFI engine, was introduced in Australia.

2007 – The first turbodiesel V8 was available in limited countries.

Toyota Land Cruiser 100

2014 – 2015 – The 30th anniversary 70 Series was available in Japan as a 4-door wagon or a 4-door pickup.

2008 – The 200 Series was introduced with highly advanced technology like CRAWL control and KDSS for handling.

Toyota Land Cruiser 200

2016 – The Land Cruiser incorporated advanced safety features like pre-collision systems and lane departure warnings that hinted that it was built for driving more on-road than off.

2020 – The 70th Anniversary of the Land Cruiser marks the end of the 200 Series.

2021 – The 300 Series arrives.

Toyota Land Cruiser 300

Iconic Models and Design Evolution (1990s-2000s)

As you look through the body styles and design changes over the 1990s and 2000s, you may still be able to see some of the elements of the early years. As the years progressed, the body styles became rounder and smoother. However, they never lost their off-roading capabilities. For a complete overview of the trajectory of the Land Cruiser design, visit our article on the subject.

Iconic Models from the Past

Here are some iconic models from the early 1990s to the 2000s.

Becoming a Global Icon

When the Land Cruiser was introduced to the global market in the 1950s, it was more than the exportation of a vehicle; it was about giving the world a chance to show off Toyota’s engineering expertise. When the 40 Series was launched, it quickly became a favorite for anyone who needed a rugged and dependable vehicle for traveling overland. Humanitarian and U.N. fleets included the 40 Series in their fleets.

Toyota Land Cruiser 100

As technology advanced, so did the Land Cruiser, and the global market was the perfect place to demonstrate that it was more than an off-road master; it was a comfortable family vehicle, too. By upgrading its interior design and suspension, Toyota grabbed a bigger percentage of the market looking for a sturdy yet comfortable family car.

The 80 Series brought luxury to the Land Cruiser, turning it into a premium SUV capable of traveling to remote destinations and able to cruise at highway speeds in style.

Yes, the Land Cruiser is comfortable to ride in, but its presence in some of the most challenging places solidified its spot in the world. Seeing a Land Cruiser on the front line during disaster recovery or humanitarian efforts is not unusual. The U.N. still has a fleet of Land Cruisers.

Modern Innovations and Technological Advancements (2010s-Present)

The 200 Series began production in 2007 and was accused by Land Cruiser fans of being bland looking for trying to fit into the cookie-cutter SUV landscape and move away from its more traditional appearance. It also received negative reviews from the EPA for its poor fuel mileage from the 5.7L V8 engine. We compared the Land Cruiser to other popular North American SUVs in this article.

Toyota Land Cruiser 200

Negativity aside, Toyota did much to upgrade it to meet modern standards and appeal to buyers who never might consider a Land Cruiser. The driver assist tools, once optional, are now standard, so CRAWL control, downhill assist control, ABS, and KDSS are included. The 200 Series is powered by an all-new Toyota VD engine, a twin-turbo diesel derived from the 70 Series, and all models receive automatic transmission. 5-speed manual transmissions were available on select models and in certain regions.

A range of gas and diesel options were available starting in 2011, including the 362 horsepower 3UR-FE, the 271 horsepower 1GR-FE, and the 304 horsepower 1UR-FE across Europe and Asia. The North American market received one trim level and one engine: 381 horsepower 3UR-FE V8.

As the decade progressed, Toyota included upgraded luxury options as standard equipment. Push button start, power moonroof, heated seats, rear DVD entertainment system, and more are now on every Land Cruiser. In addition, multi-terrain selection is now standard.

2015 saw a facelift of the J200 from Japan, and was available in the U.S. in 2016. Toyota changed the transmission to an 8-speed ECT-i and left the engine the same 3UR-FE V8. The axle ratio changed to 3:30:1 as opposed to the previous 3.90:1.

Toyota said the Land Cruiser would be discontinued in North America after 2021.

Today’s Modern Land Cruiser

As you can see, the Land Cruiser during these years looked more and more like their competition and no longer had the traditional Land Cruiser appearance. You can always get a more traditional Land Cruiser appearance by retrofitting it.

Toyota Land Cruiser 250

Photo by TOYOTA

Meeting Contemporary Automotive Standards

In order to be competitive, Toyota had to make changes to fit into the global market. Since regulations are different worldwide, for Toyota to sell in the North American market, they had to reduce the choice to one model and one engine, which is what they did in 1958. Otherwise, they would need to tweak and change all engine options worldwide to suit one market.

Off-Roading Heritage

The Land Cruiser cannot put its heritage aside even though it blends in with the SUV crowd. Anyone who knows the Land Cruiser knows its real power lies when the rubber leaves the road. This overlander was raised to create havoc wherever it wanted to go.

Iconic off-road moments and capabilities through the years

Don’t take Toyota’s word for it when they say their Land Cruisers are built to conquer territories and go for miles. If you’re curious, you can check out these five challenges the Land Cruiser excelled at.

Dakar Rally

The Land Cruiser has been a fixture on the Dakar Rally desert course since 1996. This 5,280-mile course is meant to make or break a 4WD with its 15-day challenge. The Land Cruiser has won its class more than once.

Around the World

Paul and Brigitta Bohlen Jüni of Switzerland have driven their 70 Series around the world. Literally. They visited 63 countries and drove 174,000 miles.

The Longest Drive

While the around-the-world trip was impressive, Emil and Liliana Schmid gained an entry in the Guinness Book of Records by driving almost 30 years non-stop in their 60 Series. They live in their Land Cruiser and have driven 430,130 miles since 1984. All in the same vehicle. 430,130 miles is a testament to Toyota’s durability.

Back to School

In 2013, Graham Durgan drove his son, Ed, to school in his 100 Series Land Cruiser. The trip started in Berkshire and ended in Montreal, where Ed was enrolled as a political science student. The trip took them to 40 cities and 14 countries and onto a cargo ship, where they disembarked in the United States and kept on driving to Canada.

Driving for Awareness

Mission Motorsport is a charity that raises money and awareness for the recovery of ex-service personnel. Domenic Senger-Schenk drove his Land Cruiser through 17 countries to arrive at the Festival of Speed in Goodwood with 4,600 more miles on his odometer.

These feats of endurance and power are not isolated; Toyota is known for building a reliable vehicle.

Cultural Impact and Popularity

Since the first climb up Mount Fuji in 1951, the Land Cruiser has been eagerly tackling any terrain worldwide. You’ll find specialized versions of the Land Cruiser that are as far away as Iceland and as close as Saudi Arabia. The Iceland and Greenland Land Cruisers have balloon tires and auxiliary fuel tanks to ensure a trip out and a trip back.

Toyota Land Cruiser 200

Just because the Land Cruiser can be found in garages in the suburbs doesn’t mean it doesn’t like to get its feet dirty by crossing the desert and climbing dunes in the Middle East or the African plains.

In June of 2023, Toyota sold 11.3 million Land Cruisers globally over the years, and Americans are buying more than 15,000 Land Cruisers a year. The Middle East buys about two-thirds of the outgoing 200 Series models, significantly higher than the U.S. purchases.

Global Popularity

The Land Cruiser knows no boundaries, from the military to governments to farmers to off-road enthusiasts, and the international sales prove its popularity. If you’re wondering how popular the Land Cruiser is in Japan, let’s say there can be up to a four-year wait for delivery of the newest 300 Series models.

In 2023, Toyota re-introduced the 70 Series to the Japanese population, and it is a return to the simple look that made it a popular vehicle upon inception. It is made for working people who need big jobs done by a tough, reliable SUV. Toyota upgraded the safety features in the latest 70 Series, so you get the best of both worlds. The 70 Series is selling around 400 units a month in Japan.

Collector’s Editions and Limited Releases

There is an elite side to the Land Cruiser, which is why many fans customize their Land Cruisers or have people who specialize in retrofitting their Land Cruiser to create a special edition for them. Toyota has its own commemorative models.

1997 Toyota Land Cruiser Collectors Edition

This limited run had Collectors Edition badging, embroidery, custom wheels with dark gray “D” windows, gray side molding, and black pearl badging. The package was available in several of the 1997 Land Cruiser colors.

1997 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80 40th Anniversary Limited Edition

This FZJ80 Land Cruiser was adorned with apron badging, serial number badges on the center console, embroidered floor mats, and many other trim additions that set it apart from the rest of the crowd. Toyota sold 4,744 of these Land Cruisers in the States.

Toyota Land Cruiser 80

2024 First Edition

The re-entry into the North American market after its exit three years ago is marked with a blast from the past. The 2024 First Edition Land Cruiser is a limited edition Land Cruiser – only 5,000 made – complete with a two-tone paint scheme on a couple of paint colors like Heritage Blue, a roof rack, and other features like retro headlights and a tall windshield, as well as the most updated safety features.

The Limited Edition 70th Anniversary

Toyota celebrated the Land Cruiser’s 70th birthday, and the production was limited to 600 special editions and found in Australia. Three hundred twenty of those special editions were of the 79 Series dual-cab ute, 200 were 79 Series single-cab chassis ute, and 80 were 76 Series wagons. Each vehicle had distinct trim, premium options, a Heritage trim package option, and 70th Anniversary badging. The collectible factor of this vehicle and its formidable performance has driven the price skywards.

FJ45LV

According to Motor Trend, when it comes to rarity, this 40 Series Land Cruiser from the early 60s seems to be the hardest to find. It was manufactured between 1963 and 1967, and it is said that only around 1,000 of these found their way to the United States, and some were sent to Australia. Even though they are hard to find, some people manage to get their hands on one and bring it back to life.

Collectors Editions and Customizations

Here are some of the most visually appealing collector’s edition Land Cruisers we could find to showcase the owner’s individuality and the Land Cruiser’s timeless good looks.

Toyota Land Cruiser 70

Limited Release Milestones

Anniversary editions like the 70th Birthday Edition always mark change and growth within the model’s history. Look at the 40th Anniversary Edition FJ80s with only 4,744 units made. The 50th Anniversary Edition in UAE was marked with gold emblems and a 50th Anniversary badge on the front fenders. Every significant anniversary edition marks the passage of time and is a milestone in Land Cruiser’s long history.

Customization Culture

Off-roaders are a culture of customization, and it’s no more prevalent than how Land Cruiser owners spend their time looking for parts, reading about new products, chatting on 4WD boards, and working on tweaks, changes, and upgrades to their rides. Customization is a lifestyle for off-roaders looking for mods for their vehicles.

Owner Modifications

Modifications play a big role in the life of a 4WDer. It’s not as if the Land Cruiser didn’t come equipped to handle off-roading; it most certainly did, but like everything else, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, which is where customizations come in.

Some people want to focus on camping, so they will equip their Land Cruiser with roof racks, popup tents, and other trail-friendly equipment that makes their stay in the wilderness more comfortable. Other people know they will spend a lot of time blazing trails and forging streams, so they want heavy-duty extras like winches and grilles made to plow through the brush.

With so many companies turning the Land Cruiser into a cottage industry, it’s easy to find any accessory you want that will complete the transition of your SUV into a formidable machine.

FLEX Automotive and the Land Cruiser

With the long history of the Land Cruiser, it’s easy for people to look at the changes Toyota has made over the years. Every change from the short Jeep-style body to the station wagon helped bring the Land Cruiser into the global mainstream.

What do you do if you want all of the comforts of today’s vehicles yet the look of the past? What do you do if you have an older model and want an upgrade to the interior to match today’s technology?

Fortunately, we, FLEX Automotive, can accommodate you with either request.

Land Cruisers lined up at FLEX Automotive in San Diego, CA

FLEX Automotive Solutions

Land Cruiser fans know what they want from their Land Cruiser. We also know that some models are difficult to find, while others are unavailable in the United States. You should understand that FLEX Automotive offers solutions if you find yourself in either group.

FLEX Automotive Options

Once you decide you want a Land Cruiser and determine which model you would like, let Flex help you get it.

Why Choose FLEX for Your Land Cruiser?

We have been a giant on the Land Cruiser retrofitting scene since 1967, and have access to a large selection of used Land Cruisers ready to become your next ride.

Our Advantages

We have access to hard-to-get older models, like the JDM cars, and can also make something new look old through their Renoca program. As importing experts, we’ll do all the paperwork and handle the import for you, which means you get the vehicle you want from a trustworthy source.

In addition to handling all of the import issues, we have access to the latest mods, the best aftermarket parts, and the newest technology. We also work with professional craftsmen to ensure every vehicle meets their high standards before revealing your new Land Cruiser.

Staff at FLEX Automotive in San Diego, CA

Summary

Whether old or new, the Land Cruiser has a storied history that spans generations of cars and generations of people.

Land Cruiser History Overview

From its military-inspired background to today’s workhorse and luxury SUVs, the Land Cruiser has taken a road less traveled. It has climbed Mount Fuji, run races in Dakar, taken U.N. workers to disaster relief centers, put out fires, and taken you to remote locations where you can enjoy a sunset perched on a pinnacle or wake to a mountain vista morning.

With a few turns along the way that brought expansion to the family, like the Prado from the 70 Series, the Land Cruiser is a solid force in the world with no sign of slowing down. 2024 will bring the next step in the journey when the Land Cruiser 250 arrives in the States.

Turn to FLEX Automotive for Land Cruiser Options

It might be hard to decide which Land Cruiser is right for you, but it should be easy to figure out once you choose what you want from a Land Cruiser and how you intend to drive it. From there, all you have to do is call or contact us to get started on your journey to living a life of adventure.

Julie Cleveland

Julie Cleveland

Julie Cleveland grew up with an interest in cars, racing and anything with wheels. She even tried her hand at driving stock cars and drag cars, but found out that walls hurt. She has been writing for over 40 years with articles in a number of publications and newspapers, including National Dragster and Daytona News Journal. She spent 15 years working in the F&I and sales department of manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo. For 10 years, she worked for newspapers in both the marketing and editorial departments, and she has been freelance writing automotive make and model overviews, parts and “How To” articles, and general articles about the automotive industry for 12 years. She has authored four non-fiction books and enjoys writing trivia. She still likes cars and is always interested in new ideas and technology.