A few years ago, my wife Michelle and I found ourselves stuck in a small town called Louth, in western New South Wales.
About 100 kilometres southwest of Bourke and 820km northwest of Sydney, this little Outback town consists of one great pub (Shindys Inn), and not a lot else. The population of 43 (according to the 2016 Census) mostly live beyond the outskirts of town.
Two days of solid rain turned all roads into (and out of) town into mush. Instead of ripping them to shreds, we chose to do the right thing: wait, and let them dry out. And where better to camp out than across the road from the pub?
As luck would have it, there was a funeral and wake in town. And as is tradition, anybody who was anybody within the local area descended upon the local pub for a customary tipple.
I rubbed my eyes, trying to count the number of four-wheel-drives parked around the pub, in a sea of white, beige, brown and grey. Out of the 50-odd vehicles, I picked out two lonely Nissan Patrols. The rest were all Toyota LandCruisers. While many were 100 Series and 200 Series LandCruisers, the majority were 75 Series and 79 Series workhorse utes.
Even as a keen four-wheel-drive enthusiast, I didn’t completely understand the stranglehold the humble Toyota LandCruiser had on outback and regional Australia – until the stark display at Shindy’s Inn.
The Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series has been a long-serving and dominant four-wheel-drive ute in Australia. And despite being overtaken by the rest of the segment in terms of refinement, performance, off-road capability, technology, safety, and a few other important areas, it remains a surprisingly strong seller.
It plays to a different set of rules: rather than adopting suspension and interior designs that lend themselves to comfort, the LandCruiser 70 Series has stoically stuck to its guns.
Does the 70 Series LandCruiser sell well?
The first half of 2020 is a strange experiment in terms of new-car sales, with the coronavirus crisis throwing a spanner in the works. So far this year, the LandCruiser 70 Series has proven resilient in a shrinking market. With 3540 four-wheel-drive ute sales on the board, the LandCruiser ute has outsold cheaper, safer and more refined rivals such as the Nissan Navara (3264), Volkswagen Amarok (2319), Mazda BT-50 (2426) and Isuzu D-Max (3458).
It’s strange, because while other models are on a constant march towards improved refinement, safety efficiency and comfort, the LandCruiser spurns such things in favour of more traditional segment values: durability, simplicity and a very raw sense of utility.
That’s not all 70 Series sales accounted for, either. The 76 Series and 78 Series LandCruisers get lumped in with the 200 Series in official sales numbers. We sourced separate numbers from Toyota, which shows 517 examples of the 76 Series and 78 Series were sold in the first half of 2020, and a total of 1185 for all of 2019. Not huge numbers, but still more than a Skoda Superb and BMW 5-Series, and similar to a Volvo XC90, Land Rover Discovery.
That means in total for 2019, Toyota managed to sell 10,407 examples of the 70 Series LandCruiser in Australia. Not too shabby, for an old design with lots (and I mean lots) of carryover parts. It’s a cheaper way to build and sell a car, sure. But it also gives the 70 Series LandCruiser direct and palpable lineage to the grand-daddy 40-Series of the 1960s. And while newer-design 4WDs might have many advantages, the LandCruiser is undoubtedly more heavy duty.
What do all of those letters and numbers mean?
While we are on the subject, a quick decoder for the uninitiated: While the range is more broadly referred to as the 70 Series, there are some additional numbers worth knowing. The current range consists of 76 Series (5-door wagon), 78 Series (Troopcarrier) and 79 Series (single and double cab ute). The 79 Series overtook 75 Series in 1999, as the single-cab ute variant.
Over the years, the LandCruiser range has been mostly single-cabs and 'Troopies', although there has been some variants with different wheelbases, body styles and drivelines variants for short periods. The 79 Series is the most popular these days, especially with the double-cab ute becoming available in 2012.
The 78 Series Troopcarrier runs on the same wheelbase as a 79 Series, running two doors (plus barn doors at the back), and seating aboard for five. Plus, it gets 180 litres worth of fuel capacity and a taller roofline.
The five-door 76 Series station wagon LandCruiser is on a shorter 2730mm wheelbase, but has a more typical ‘SUV’ bodystyle with second-row doors. It also ‘only’ has 130 litres of fuel capacity.
And if you want to get more technical, the full nomenclature also includes a reference to the engine: VDJ79, for example, is a 70 Series ute with a 1VD-FTV diesel V8, while a HZJ78 would be a Troopcarrier with the six-cylinder 1HZ under the bonnet. Or, HDJ79 would be a single-cab ute with the 1HD motor. The first one or two letters refer to the engine, and then'J' references a LandCruiser. Finally, the number is the chassis and body style. This same naming system runs right back to the start, with the FJ40 and BJ40 LandCruisiers of the 960s.
Since 2007, the only choice of engine is the diesel V8, which makes 151kW @ 3,400rpm and 430Nm @ 1200-3200rpm. This runs through a carryover five-speed gearbox, with a part-time 4x4 system and low-range transfer case. In an effort to fit a V8 ( in place of the many, many inline six and four cylinder diesels that came before it), Toyota widened the front wheeltrack, as well as fitting flares. Unfortunately, the rear wheel track was left unchanged, which means all 70 Series LandCruisers with a V8 have a 95mm disparity in wheel track. And once seen, it cannot be unseen.
Otherwise, the 70 Series LandCruiser remained mostly the same. While the look and interior did get some updates, the suspension (front coils and rear leaf springs, since 1999) remain unchanged. It has remained the same recipe of heavy-duty driveline and ladder chassis, simple suspension, torquey high-capacity engine, and low gearing.
There was a raft of updates brought to the LandCruiser 70 Series in 2016, including revised gearing in that five-speed gearbox. Addressing high revs at highway speeds, taller second and fifth gear ratios were used. The diesel engine got new piezoelectric injectors and a diesel particulate filter (DPF). There was also a more aggressive, new bonnet design.
Single-cab 70 Series LandCruisers also scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2016, through some additional airbags, traction aids and structural changes.
Despite having so much engine under the bonnet, today’s LandCruiser’s outputs are quite modest. For example, Ford’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel (157kW/500Nm) makes more power and torque, from less than half of the capacity. Plus, it's more refined and more efficient.
What you want to pay attention to is the rev range that peak torque comes in. This engine is the absolute epitome of a traditional under-stressed diesel donk: between 1200-3200rpm, literally off idle and through to the top of the operating range, you’ve all of that torque at the ready. And peak power is similarly low: 3200rpm. Most petrol engines haven’t even developed peak torque by the time this engine is bouncing off the limiter.
Plus, the low gearbox and differential gearing means the LandCruiser feels incredibly unfazed from take-off, even when loaded and towing. Analogue anti-stall.
Its an engine that has bucked the trend of diesel downsizing: going up by 300cc and two cylinders when the now legendary 4.2-litre 1HD-FTE was retired in 2006. And that is a large part of the LandCruiser’s enduring appeal.
On a side note, 70-Series LandCruisers with a 1HD-FTE fitted seem to hold their value incredibly well, with perhaps the best residual prices in Australia.
Although many lament the low-slung location of the alternator, and some oil consumption issues early in the days, the V8 diesel has proven to be a mostly reliable and endearingly likeable engine. It has proven to be a exploitable from a tuning point of view as well, giving the 4WD aftermarket industry plenty of fodder for performance upgrades and replacement parts.
Undoubtedly, the biggest slice of the LandCruiser’s Venn Diagram of appeal comes under heritage and history. It's a facelifted and updated 40 Series, not a new model like everything else. The LandCruiser name runs a rich vein in Australia, where an inherently capable and reliable vehicle has built an all-time reputation over decades of trust building. Mining, exploration, farming and industry often found itself behind the wheel of a LandCruiser. Make no doubt: this is a tree-topping aspirational vehicle for many Australians.
Through the crystal ball
What’s in the future for the venerable 70 Series? The market share isn’t going anywhere, and commercial vehicles like the LandCruiser are less restrained by emissions and safety targets. In typical Toyota form, what they are truly planning remains a secret. 70 and 200 Series LandCruisers often share drivelines, so reports that a new line of V6 powerplants means the LandCruiser might lose its beloved V8.
In terms of chassis and suspension, Toyota’s whole ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ philosophy has served them well so far. However, constantly tightening safety standards could make adapting the archaically old bones for new standards too costly, and could force Toyota’s hand into a new platform. Toyota has shown they're not immune to spending some money on development when they need to, provided that it makes good fiscal sense.
Whatever it is, Toyota won't take the opportunity lightly. While other models in their range sell with much more volume, the brand undoubtedly hangs its hat of heritage, reputation and track record of their humble, hard-working 4x4. In many ways, the LandCruiser is Toyota's true halo car.