72 Years of Toyota’s Iconic Off-Roader – The Land Cruiser

Launched originally as the Toyota BJ in 1951, the Land Cruiser series is now 72 years old and continues to dominate on and off the road

Since its launch, the iconic off-roader has fulfilled its mission of delivering safety and security to all kinds of people in places that can only be reached in a Land Cruiser. Toyota Global Design Head Simon Humphries shares the inspiring history of the Land Cruiser.

‘When the Land Cruiser legend was born 72 years ago, it was the time of Kiichiro Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. The company was only 14 years old, a disruptive “start-up” in the automotive world. Corolla and Crown were still to come, and Toyota was hardly known outside Japan. Fast-forward to today, and the Land Cruiser is sold in 170 countries and regions around the world. Literally, the Land Cruiser put Toyota on the map.

‘Lifelong bonds are often formed in the most demanding of circumstances, and our customers have experienced the extremes of life alongside their Land Cruisers. From prairies to deserts, from the North to the South Pole, it is safe to say the Land Cruiser has seen more sides of life than any other automobile in history.

‘At Toyota, we like to say “the road makes the car”. With the Land Cruiser, the car makes the road. These roads connect communities and enable irreplaceable ways of life. In rural Africa, a doctor rushes to a patient through floodwaters. In the Australian outback, an elderly woman takes a two-day roundtrip to the nearest town. In Antarctica, an observation team works in a minus 45-degree blizzard. Indeed, one of the first cars to conquer Antarctica was a Land Cruiser 40 Series.

‘The first exports of the Land Cruiser were to the Middle East in the mid-1950s. Thanks to Saudi Arabian car distributor Abdul Latif Jameel, local folklore now says “only a Land Cruiser, or a camel, can get you over these dunes”. But it was in Japan, in an area only accessible on horseback, that the story began. In 1951, on the steep volcanic slopes of Mount Fuji, development of the first-generation Land Cruiser, the Toyota BJ, [for use by Japan’s National Police Reserve started at their request]. This sounds like the perfect story, but in reality, it didn’t get the job.

Simon Humphries

‘But like any good recruit, it set out to prove itself and became the first-ever vehicle to reach Mount Fuji’s 6th Station, an altitude of 2,700m. This resilience paid off: it got its first commission as a police patrol car, and its goal in life became clear: to protect livelihoods.

‘What unites these examples of Land Cruisers throughout the years is their ultimate mission to take you wherever you need to go, and always bring you back. The value of the Land Cruiser comes down to one word: trust.

‘The Toyota BJ that laid that foundation of trust has a direct descendant, the 70 series. This may be a workhorse, but it has become an icon, a legend itself. We received many comments from fans on social media pleading with us not to let it go: “Don’t change a thing”, they said.’

Raw and utilitarian

‘We listened and I’m pleased to reveal that we committed to updating the 70 to keep that legend alive. Seeing this refreshed Land Cruiser 70 next to its ancestors, there is no questioning its loyalty to its roots. Under the revised bodywork, we made just the functionally necessary updates: a new, more-efficient engine and transmission, and advanced safety features.

‘If the 70 is the essence of the Land Cruiser, then the flagship Land Cruiser 300 is the pinnacle. But what lies between those two worlds? It is all about defining the core of the Land Cruiser.

‘The Land Cruiser has special meaning for our chairman, Akio Toyoda, whose grandfather first introduced the vehicle. When it came to developing the new core model, his task to us was simple: Genten Kaiki. Taken literally, this means “back to the origin”.

‘He was giving us a chance to hit the reset button – a chance to reassess the real meaning and values of the Land Cruiser in the Toyota portfolio, and a chance to create a vehicle that distilled those values so they would act as a foothold to the future. We embraced that chance to define the unwavering core beliefs of the Land Cruiser and put them into a form that would transcend trends, a product in which all our customers could place their unconditional trust.’

The Land Cruiser 70

The new soul of the Land Cruiser

‘We reassessed every past aspect of the Land Cruiser for its relevance and redesigned it from the ground up to embody Land Cruiser values for the modern day. These are the five key areas that make this model the true soul of the Land Cruiser.’

1. Capability

‘At the heart of this is the GA-F platform. Reliability and durability are built-in, and performance over rough terrain is on par with the flagship Land Cruiser 300. This is the first Land Cruiser to have electric power steering (rather than hydraulic), which improves ease and comfort on-road, and reduces kickback off-road.’

2. Choice

‘The powertrain line-up reflects diverse regional requirements, and for the first time, this includes a hybrid powertrain. This tried-and-tested technology increases fuel efficiency as well as performance, with no compromise on durability.’

3. Intuitive operation

‘Vehicle control is fundamental to building trust between driver and machine. The cockpit is designed to be easy to identify and operate by feel alone. Here we sought the expertise of Dakar Rally champion Akira Miura, no stranger to driving under pressure in extreme environments. He told us it’s crucial that the interfaces support the driver, with maximum accuracy and minimal effort, whatever the conditions.’

4. Beauty is function

‘Every aspect of the design is based on the premise that beauty comes from functionality. Proportions are calculated for manoeuvrability in extreme environments. But the objective approach to design and functionality is not the whole story. Great effort was placed on creating a subjective feeling of trust. For example, the wheel-to-body offset imparts a feeling of strength and stability, giving the driver confidence in the capability of the vehicle.’

The all-new Land Cruiser Prado has made its world premiere, bringing with it significant mechanical upgrades, enhanced performance and rugged styling changes ahead of its arrival in South Africa next year. Further details, including local specifications, will be made available closer to the launch in 2024.

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The Land Cruiser: A Journey: Part 1

Toyota recently unveiled the all-new Land Cruiser 300 Series to a global audience, in a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the Land Cruiser.