While there might be more cars like Miuras and Diablos on bedroom walls of kids growing up, and not many LandCruiser laps have been logged on Gran Turismo, Toyota’s all-conquering four-wheel drive holds a special place right amongst the soul of Australia’s identity.
Indeed, it’s a vehicle that sits right at the genesis of success for what is now the world’s most successful and largest carmaker.
The story of Toyota’s early days, and the start of its popularity goes back to the LandCruiser. And more particularly, the LandCruiser in Australia.
Firstly, a quick refresher on the history of Toyota. Like Suzuki, the beginning of Toyota starts not with cars, but with loom production.
Sakichi Toyoda, from Kosai, Shizuoka, patented his first hand loom design in 1891 at the ripe age of 24. It required only one hand for operation, and increased efficiency by 40 to 50 per cent.
Sakichi was said to be industrious and resourceful at this young age, studying international loom designs voraciously before designing his own.
Next, Toyoda designed a profitable winding machine, which allowed him to spend two years designing a power loom. This steam-powered design was a big step forward for Toyoda; relatively inexpensive compared to other powered looms but with great improvements to quality and efficiency.
From there, Toyoda’s business of invention, development and manufacturing grew steadily, until its most advanced 1924 Automatic Loom patent was sold to British company, Platt Brothers & Co., Ltd. in 1929.
While Toyota still produces textile machinery to this day, the company began diverting its attention to the car through the 1930s at the behest of Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro Toyoda.
Toyota’s first car engine came in 1934, copied from a Chevrolet ‘Stovebolt’ engine. It was a 3.4-litre, six cylinder unit that made 46kW. This was a couple of kilowatts better than the Chevy motor, even though major components were interchangeable between the two.
This engine went into the Toyota A1 medium-sized family car, with three prototypes built in 1935.
Unfortunately, none have survived.
The earliest surviving example of a Toyota is a 1938 Toyota AA model, which was found languishing in a barn in Russia (of all places).
As a car company, Toyota Motor Corporation officially came into being on 28 August, 1937.
Something that did survive however, are the so-called Toyoda Precepts: Five guiding principles, handed down from Sakichi Toyoda and still serving as the cornerstone of Toyota’s business dealings to this day.
Why change the company name from Toyoda – the family name – to the Toyota that we know today? In search of good luck: Toyota can be written in Japanese with eight strokes of a pen, something of a good omen for the company.
This decision was made as Toyota Motor Corporation came into being. And who are we to say it didn’t work?
It took some years for Toyota to arrive in Australia. Something called the Second World War slowed progress for the Japanese company, as it focussed on building trucks for the Imperial Japanese Army.
Another large-scale war was unfolding in 1950. Actively backing what is now South Korea, the USA Armed Forces requested Toyota build quarter-tonne and three-quarter tonne four-wheel drive trucks for the Korean War.
This experience building wartime trucks, as well as experimenting with some reverse-engineered light truck designs during the 1940s, gave the company a solid footing to build upon.
That initial building contract – which culminated in the Toyota BJ – effectively sowed the seeds of today’s LandCruiser. It used Toyota’s own 3.4-litre B petrol engine, which made 63kW and 215Nm, with a part-time 4X4 system, three-speed gearbox but no low-range transfer case.
|1951 Toyota BJ|
|Engine||Type B 3389cc inline six cylinder|
|Power / Torque||63kW / 215Nm|
Next came the FJ25, a simple four-wheel drive based on the BJ, but built for consumption wider than just military contracts. ‘F’ refers to the F motor, while J refers to the jeep-style vehicle. The new F motor made more power and torque, but the rest of the running gear carried over.
A small Melbourne-based importer called B&D Motors sold the first LandCruisers in Australia: FJ25 models, in relatively small numbers.
After which, high-profile civil works contractor Leslie Theiss imported thirteen Toyota FJ25 LandCruisers for use on the massive Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. It was a small initial contingent, used to bolster a large fleet of American and British trucks already working in the steep and rugged conditions.
Toyota’s initial LandCruisers were not perfectly reliable straight off the bat. FJ25 models did suffer mechanical breakdowns at places like the Snowy Hydro, with the front axle and gearbox in particular proving fragile.
The strength of Toyota stemmed from its reaction, however. A philosophical approach to problem-solving, now known as Genchi Genbutsu was evident in those early days.
This translates roughly into ‘go to the source’, and solving problems there instead of from behind a desk.
Toyota executive at the time, the late Alex McArthur explained in Toyota Australia’s book The Long Run:
“We had problems with the vehicles we put into the Snowy Mountains fleet, mostly front axle and gearbox troubles, because the conditions were very hard and difficult.
“We had Land Rovers, Willys and Austin Champs and they all broke too. If anyone could break a vehicle, it would be a Thiess construction crew.
“But the difference was that, when we had trouble, the Japanese immediately came out.
“They didn’t hesitate, dispatching engineers who lived with us on site until the problems were rectified.
“They’d fly out parts and send broken pieces back to Japan for analysis, to rectify the problem at the source.”
This ‘go to the source’ philosophy still runs deep at Toyota, where Australian and Japanese engineers spend significant amounts of time interviewing end users, and understanding the kind of environments vehicles operate in.
While the LandCruiser has always been made in Japan, it’s one of the few four-wheel drives made for Australian conditions.
It’s also undoubtedly the most important element in Toyota’s ongoing success in Australia, both with the LandCruiser and more broadly.
Things snowballed quickly from there. As more miners, pastoralists and other industrialists found themselves behind the wheel of this Japanese four-wheel drive, its reputation for quality and durability grew.
Thiess began importing and distributing Toyotas into Australia, with almost 4000 vehicles sold by 1964. Half of them were LandCruisers.
At the time, Australia had the same overall population as that of Tokyo, but a landmass 16 times larger than all of Japan. Despite such huge geographical, environmental and cultural differences under the shadow of the Second World War, the LandCruiser quickly became the four-wheel drive of choice for Australians. And in that process, it left Nissan Patrols and Land Rovers in its wake in terms of sales.
After the 25 Series came perhaps the most iconic of the LandCruiser models, or any Toyota for that matter: the 40 Series. This long-serving model launched in 1960, and went all the way through to 1984, and hung on as a Bandierante in South America up until 2001.
The 40 Series was powered by a range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines over the years, along with four- and five-speed manual gearboxes. But perhaps most importantly, the LandCruiser picked up a low-range transfer case with the 40 Series.
There was also a growing range of body styles: short wheelbase FJ40s with hard and soft top options, as well as 45 Series utes and 47 Series troop carriers. Less common body styles were the mid-wheelbase 43 Series and five-door 45V wagons.
The FJ45V is a rare beast these days, thanks to its short production run. It was replaced by the so-called ‘Iron Pig’ 55 Series in 1967, which was the first LandCruiser with a passenger-focussed twist. This kind of LandCruiser grew increasingly popular and important in export markets, and signalled an evolution in the LandCruiser recipe.
The 60 Series (1981-1990) added higher levels of comfort and modernity, along with disc brakes, turbo-diesel and fuel-injected petrol power. In the same year, the 100,000th LandCruiser arrived in Australia.
The 80 Series LandCruiser (1990-1997) adopted coil springs for the first time, and continued with torquey straight-six petrol and diesel engines under the bonnet.
The 100 Series LandCruiser arrived on the 40th anniversary of the marque, (1998-2007) bringing with it independent front suspension in higher grade models, along with petrol V8 (2UZ) and turbo-diesel (1HD-FTE) power.
At this time, Toyota made another, more subtle split in the LandCruiser lineup. While 100-series LandCruisers carried more powerful engines and torsion bar independent front suspension for better on-road comfort and handling, there was also a 105 Series LandCruiser.
A more utilitarian spin on the 100 Series, the 105 retained a coil-sprung live axle up front, which was regarded as being more capable and durable off-road. It also kept simpler, less powerful six-cylinder petrol (1FZ) and indirect-injected diesel (1HZ) power.
During this evolution, the LandCruiser developed an unassailable market position as the vehicle of choice for farmers, miners and adventurers alike.
A 2005 press release from Toyota gives one snapshot of the LandCruiser’s popularity in Australia, with market research indicating that “52 per cent of Sahara Turbo-diesel buyers considered no other vehicle when making their purchase, while 40 per cent of Sahara petrol V8 buyers considered only that model before buying".
Nowadays, the long-serving and successful 200 Series LandCruiser (2007-2021) is about to hang up its boots as the new 300 Series LandCruiser arrives. Powered by a 4.5-litre twin turbo diesel 1VD-FTV (as well as a 3UR petrol V8 for a shorter period), it has seen a spike in sales popularity as the ‘300 Series’ rumour mill swirled.
Considering the LandCruiser’s history, perhaps the true heart of the LandCruiser lies with the simpler, less populated side of the family tree.
After a huge production run, the 40 Series LandCruiser was finally replaced by a new 70 Series model in 1985. There was a new look, but the recipe hadn’t really changed: live axles, leaf springs, five-speed manual transmissions, low-range transfer cases and tough drivelines.
The 70 Series encompassed short wheelbase (70), mid wheelbase (73) and single-cab ute (75), with Troopcarrier (78) following afterwards. And don’t forget about the Bundera!
Changes came around less often for the 70 Series. While a steady procession of newer and more powerful engines found their way under that squared-off bonnet, the only other big mechanical changes were introducing coil-sprung front suspension in 1999, and a new look for the V8 model in 2007.
Shorter wheelbase variants didn’t last, but the 76 Series five-door wagon turned up in 2007 also.
The double-cab 79 series – introduced in 2012 – proved to be incredibly popular with four-wheel drivers.
As other brands have departed the heavy-duty utility four-wheel drive segment with more comfortable and advanced models, it has effectively left the 70 Series with a monopoly over this small (but important) segment.
Its not a Bradbury-esque scenario however. While the 70 Series hasn’t enjoyed billions of dollars of upgrades and changes over the years, its continuing devotion to the simple tenets of reliability, capability and durability have seen it succeed continually in Australia.
Now, 2021 marks a big year for the LandCruiser, as the incoming 300 Series LandCruiser looks to continue those important traits of the breed, albeit it in more complex and challenging times. The 70 Series LandCruiser will look to continue forging onwards with its more basic and proven technology.
But, increasingly stringent requirements around emissions and efficiency – coupled with users' ever-growing expectations of comfort and refinement – will test the engineering of the new LandCruiser more than ever.
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