The History of The Off-Road King: Toyota Land Cruiser

If you’re a car enthusiast, you must have heard of the Toyota Land Cruiser. But do you know its 60-year-long history?

The Land Cruiser, the top of all SUVs

Toyota’s flagship SUV, the Land Cruiser, has been the best choice for people who needs an affordable but durable off-roader, not only in Japan but also around the world. Born in 1954, the car is one of the longest-running cars in Japan with more than 65 years of its history.

Toyota Land Cruiser J80
Toyota Land Cruiser J80

The history of the SUV dates back to 1950, when the Japanese National Police Reserve, the predecessor of today’s Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, demanded a new type of a small four-wheel drive vehicle to be made in Japan.

The vehicle was also ordered by the United States Armed Forces to be used in the Korean Peninsula. Central Japan Heavy-Industries (today’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries), Toyota, and Nissan came forward to produce the vehicle. And that was when the predecessor of the Land Cruiser, the Toyota Jeep Type BJ was born as a prototype in 1951.

Unfortunately, the BJ lost against Mitsubishi’s Jeep in the competition, but other national government agencies and companies demanded the sale of the BJ. Toyota continued its development and started manufacturing the BJ in 1953. The BJ was also adopted by the National Rural Police (today’s National Police Agency) and making it their own police cars.

The name originally was called the “Jeep BJ” but due to trademark issues, Toyota changed its name to the “Land Cruiser” in 1954. The new name was given to prove its outstanding performance on off-road.

Given its success of the first-generation, Toyota launched the second-generation “J20” model in 1955 for individual customers. The new model was completely redesigned from the previous model which had a typical military look, to a passenger vehicle with a mild appearance.

The J20 series was the forerunner of the famous J40 series, which became a big hit worldwide. In 1960, the J40 series was introduced, and for 24 years the model was Toyota’s long-selling model. The J70 series was introduced after the discontinuation of the J40.

Between the J40 series and the J70 series, a derivative model called the J55/J56 was also introduced. The first-generation Land Cruiser was a car that emphasized practicality, but the J55/J56 models were models that had a luxurious taste.

Toyota later introduced the J60 and J70 series targeting the overseas market. And in 1990, the J80 series, the direct successor to the J60, was introduced with having coil-suspended rigid axles on both the front and rear.

The J80 series was the first luxury SUV in the whole Land Cruiser history, and it featured a number of cutting-edge features at the time.

At the same time, the LX450, Lexus’ first premium SUV based on the J80, was launched in North America. After that, the 100 Series, the first Land Cruiser with a V8 engine, was introduced in 1998, and it has evolved into the 200 Series, which has been on the market since 2007.

As you can see, the Land Cruiser has evolved over the years by adding derivative models like the smaller, light-duty Prado, and another model that shares its platform, the FJ Cruiser.

Looking at the evolutionary history of the Land Cruiser, it is possible to decipher the changing values and market needs for not only SUVs, but for cars in general.

Many people tend to think of the Land Cruiser as hard-edged, rugged, and authentic. But in reality, it has flexibly changed its shape to meet the needs of its users. It is because of this that the Land Cruiser has been loved for over 60 years and has been able to maintain its brand name to this day.

A perfect car both on streets and off-road

Toyota Land Cruiser J200
Toyota Land Cruiser J200

You think the Land Cruiser is too big to drive on the streets? Well, that’s no deal for the car. There is no doubt that the Land Cruiser is still a full-fledged SUV, but it has changed into a more luxurious vehicle than it used to be. The vehicle is large and has poor fuel efficiency. And because of its large displacement, it tends to cost more than other smaller cars.

But what’s more important is something only a Land Cruiser can provide to its drivers. If you drive one, you can easily go on rough roads with no worries, which an ordinary car cannot do.

Sure, if you’re just going out for groceries, then you’re perfect solution could be owning a compact or a sub-compact. But can those little ones go off-roading with like 7 passengers? No. That’s one kind of solution that the Land Cruiser can bring. The car’s also capable of handling road situations you don’t expect usually.

This leeway is the biggest characteristic that a Land Cruiser has. There are places in the world where only a Land Cruiser is allowed to drive through, so you could say that this is the most reliable vehicle in the world.

Although the Land Cruiser no longer has any rivals in the Japanese market, imported SUVs that can be considered rivals are adopting monocoque chassis (a structure in which the body and chassis are integrated) one after another.

In such a situation, the Land Cruiser continues to stick to the traditional ladder frame structure, which is proof that Toyota places the utmost importance on the toughness and robustness of the ladder frame.

The Land Cruiser is a vehicle that has been tested and loved in harsh environments around the world. It cannot be denied that the car is too big in Japan, but as mentioned earlier, it is precisely at this point that the Land Cruiser has its appeal.

As electrification accelerates around the world, it is not surprising that cars with large displacement engines like the Land Cruiser will be discontinued at any time. It might be a good idea to try a Land Cruiser while you can still “have fun with a motor vehicle”.


Evolution of the Land Cruiser over the years!