4×4 legends and luxury icons, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Series models set the benchmark all other SUVs are judged by.
The success of the Willy’s Jeep in WWII spawned not one but three iconic off-roaders. Coming out of the war, Jeep became a catchall for small, rugged, 4×4 capable vehicles. Not only did the Jeep become a staple of the US military and beyond, British and Japanese versions of the classic design went on to become automotive legends in their own right.
Today, the Toyota Land Cruiser and original Land Rover (series I, II, and III) are synonymous with off-road adventure and far flung, globe-trotting exploration. Their combination of capability and reliability made them the go-to vehicles for traveling the world’s toughest terrain.
The first Land Rover was built by the Rover Company in England following WWII. The economic devastation of the war had left the Rover Company in dire straits. The Wilkes brothers, Morris and Spencer, were looking for a suitable vehicle for export. Morris’ love of his US Army surplus Jeep gave them the basis for their own version of the rugged, go-anywhere, do-anything 4×4. Their “Land Rover” debuted at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948. Early Land Rovers were built with aluminum body panels due to the scarcity of steel.
Just as the Land Rover saved the Rover Company, so too did the Land Cruiser save the faltering Toyota Motor Corp. In post-WWII Japan, Toyota found itself struggling to compete against cheaper import cars from Ford and GM. But that changed with the advent of the Korean war in 1950. A contract with the US military to produce a variant of the Jeep was just what Toyota needed.
Orders from US military for BJ “jeeps” and trucks saved Toyota from collapse. In 1953, wider scale production of the B-Series began, supplying the Japanese National Police Reserve with a new official vehicle. The first FJ25/Land Cruiser “20 Series” followed soon after in 1955. In the 50s, Toyota successfully marketed the Land Cruiser alongside their passenger car the Crown to lend credibility to their meticulous engineering.
The Land Cruiser didn’t get its name until 1954, when Willy’s claimed the Jeep trademark. Toyota referenced their other rival, the Land Rover, in dubbing their “jeep” the Land Cruiser.
Safaris in east African savannah, mud tracks in thick and steamy jungle, swiftly flowing rivers in rocky mountain passes, these are the places where Land Rovers and Land Cruisers earned their reputations for go-anywhere toughness. But daily driving, no matter how demanding, can’t satisfy that competitive itch. As with just about every motorized vehicle, Land Rovers and Land Cruisers also beg to be raced.
Long distance endurance racing goes back to the very earliest days of the automobile. (Just check out our history of Rolls Royce for just one example.) Land Rover’s first foray into endurance racing goes all the way back to the Oxford and Cambridge trans-African and Far Eastern Expeditions of 1954 and ‘55. The Trans-African expedition ran from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa and back, a journey of 25,000 miles. The Far Eastern Expedition was even more ambitious and ran from London to Singapore.
Camel Trophy ran from 1980 to 2000 and was sponsored by the Camel cigarette company. It featured an international assortment of teams driving wide array of Land Rovers including Defenders, Series IIIs, Range Rovers, and Discoveries. Locations over the twenty-year run of the race included Borneo, Mongolia, Papua-New Guinea, and Siberia to name just a few of the exotic and challenging locales.
Land Cruiser, for its part, has proven credible in 4×4 racing, posting 7 wins in the Dakar Rally since 2006. The Dakar Rally (1979 to Present) traditionally ran from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, but transitioned to South America in 2009 and then jumped back to the desert in Saudi Arabia for 2020. Wherever it’s being held, the Dakar Rally features some of the toughest terrain on earth. But the Land Cruiser has consistently proved its capability and durability at every turn.
The first Land Cruiser sold in the US, starting in 1957. The FJ25 featured a 3.9L inline 6-cylinder producing 105hp and was paired with a 4-speed manual transmission.
One of the last production years for the 20 Series, the 1960 FJ28V featured a longer wheelbase (now 95.66”) and the options of a cloth or hard top. Most importantly that longer wheelbase allowed for four doors for the first time on a Land Cruiser.
Sold from 1960-1984, the 40 Series eventually featured 3-different engines, the F-type inline-6 petrol, B-type inline-4 diesel, and H-type inline-6 diesel. Sadly, the diesel versions were never sold un the US. The 40 Series sported the now iconic Land Cruiser white grille.
Want international cache and off-road cred in the same vehicle? You need the Land Cruiser Prado. The Prado was rebadged for the US market as the Lexus GX.
The OG Land Rover had an 80” wheelbase, a 1.6L gas engine, and a 4-speed manual transmission.
The longer wheelbase in the 86” Wagon featured lengthwise bench seating in back and a vented “safari” roof to help combat humidity and condensation in balmy environs.
With the creation of the Land Rover Discovery, the original Land Rover needed a new moniker to differentiate itself. Enter the Defender to carry on the torch for all the Series I, II, and IIIs that came before.
Land Rover has long been considered a luxury brand. Back when the company was still simply Rover, the Wilkes brothers had transitioned the company to building upscale autos in the late 1930s. Following WWII, the Wilkes wanted to continue their work in the luxury car business, but economic devastation of the war forced them to take up a more practical project, the Jeep based Land Rover.
It didn’t take long for buyers of the Land Rover: construction foreman, wealthy landowners, and off-road hobbyists to request a more comfortable version of the Land Rover. The Tickford couch-builder company was brought in. They added an ash wood frame, cushioned leather seating, and a heater. The bulk of the Tickford Land Rovers (700 in total) were sold outside of England. Despite these forays into the luxury market, the Land Rover remained primarily a bare-bones practical vehicle until the introduction of the Ranger Rover.
Today, Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors) is firmly situated in the luxury market. Range Rovers are today seen as luxury SUVs analogous to the the Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes-Benz GLS. But the transition away from legit off-roading isn’t complete. We’re still holding out hope that the new Land Rover Defender can keep those embers of 4×4 glory still burning.
2020 Land Rover Defender – landroverusa.com | Shop Land Rover Defender on Carsforsale.com
It took a good deal longer for the Land Cruiser to transition into a “luxury” vehicle. Despite all the luxury comforts it’s accrued over the years, the Land Cruiser remains, at its heart and in its bones, one of the toughest, most durable, most capable off-roaders around.
Starting with the 60 Series, Toyota began adding luxury features to their stalwart 4×4 the Land Cruiser in a bid to compete with Land Rover. Later versions like the 80 and 100 Series would add still more comfort features like, get this, air-conditioning!
Today, the Land Cruiser remains not only one of the most capable off-roaders but also one of the most durable and reliable. All this while serving as Toyota’s most expensive and prestigious model.
Toyota hadn’t stopped serving up Land Cruisers for folks who needed them for backroad and off-road daily use. They offered these folks the 105 Series, with additional features to the suspension like gas-pressurize dampers, live front and rear axles, and coil springs.
2020 Toyota Land Cruiser – toyota.com | Shop 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser on Carsforsale.com
Land Cruisers continue to be known for their combination of rugged capability and reliability. Modern Land Rovers still tackle tough terrain with the best them, but their reliability has suffered over the years. Today, Jaguar Land Rover resides at or near the bottom of reliabilities rankings.
Part of the problems at Land Rover might have something to do with the company being tossed around like a hot potato from one corporate owner to the next in recent decades (from Ford to BMW to Tata). Toyota, by contrast, was able to refine its processes to the point of becoming a standard bearer for manufacturing efficiency. Case studies of Toyota’s 14-Principles becoming a staple of business and management schools. Little wonder that the often decade long stints between generations of the Land Cruiser (current generation starting back in 2007) have yielded a super refined and consistent product.