Land Cruiser Legends


from Samurais to surfers, we chart the evolution of the ultimate in off road rigour

When the zombie apocalypse arrives we’d rather be in a Cruiser than a Rover.

Devotees argue they’re stronger than the Land Rover. More reliable than the Land Rover. Better designed than the Land Rover. They might not have the current cool of the recently passed Defender – but we reckon the Land Cruiser is the definitive all-purpose vehicle. It’s been through myriad evolutions. And with the interest in retro 4×4 cars peaking, there’s never been a better time to record the evolution of the Land Cruiser.

In the beginning, was the Willys Jeep.

Then in 1950, during the Korean conflict, American-occupied Japan was granted limited re-armament.

Toyota had been supplying the US military with vehicles since the end of the war so it seemed natural that it would pick up the reigns for the new Japanese order of one thousand 4WD-capable jeeps.

They put together a Frankenstein number – based loosely on the Willys Jeep – but with local parts. Built on the chassis of their one-ton truck, this hybrid machine was powered by a huge 3.4-litre/6-cylinder petrol engine from one of their four-tonners.

The customer – The Japanese National Police Reserve – was not impressed, preferring to stick with their Mitsubishi-built, licensed version, of the tried and war-tested Willys.

Toyota held their nerve and newer, better versions were produced. The company realised that to take on the old Willys combat veteran they would need to show that their new machine had a warrior soul.

And so they did. The new prototype would face two mountain climb tests that had only ever been completed on horseback by the ancient warrior caste of the Samurai.

It passed the legendary initiations and so, with its Bushido credentials established, the National Police Reserve accepted delivery of the one thousand ‘Model BJs’ in 1951.

Over sixty years and thousands of variants later the Land Cruiser is still the vehicle of choice for those who live by life’s more extreme codes.

From desert to sea – and all that is in between – this is a production vehicle unmatched in the world’s toughest terrains.

From the early photos below, through to the short film of the latest Cruiser, it’s clear that in all its iterations it has always been tough, always been trusted and has always looked bloody good in your driveway.

Model BJ Series (1951-1955)

born of Samurai military metal


Model 20 – 30 Series (1955-1960)

more civilised for the civilian punter


Model 40 Series (1960-1984)

taking on a Tonka vibe


Model 55 Series (1967-1980)

in the ‘wish I could own’ stakes this one comes first for us


Model 60 Series (1980-1989)

and this a close second


Model 70 Series (1984-)

gone a bit boxy for our tastes


Model 80 Series (1989-1997)

the classic adventurer


Model 90 Series (1996-)

modern bells and whistles


Model 100 Series (1998-)

a vaguely retro feel


Model 120 Series (2002-)

more county set than wild one


the latest Cruiser goes coastal