The History of the Toyota Land Cruiser: How the Iconic SUV Has Changed Over Time

The Land Cruiser cemented Toyota’s self-described reputation for “quality, durability and reliability.”

everything you need to know to buy a toyota land cruiser gear patrol lead full
Toyota

The Toyota Land Cruiser is an iconic SUV with a complex history. The Land Cruiser name has been applied to everything from a spartan amalgam of spare truck parts to a ponderous land vessel over its 70-plus years of production. But its perpetual charm has helped Toyota sell more than 10 million of them worldwide.

These days, nearly every Land Cruiser generation offers something to interest collectors. This guide covers the history of the Toyota Land Cruiser and its evolution over time.

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Land Cruiser Origins

Toyota grew into one of the world’s largest automakers in the years after World War II. The Land Cruiser, the company’s iconic off-roader, set the table for that rise to power. It was the first Toyota seen in many parts of the globe — at times because it was one of the few cars that could reach those places.

It cemented Toyota’s self-described reputation for “quality, durability and reliability.” Indeed, the Land Cruiser defined itself by its ability to do just about anything…except consume gasoline efficiently.

toyota jeep bj early origins of toyota land cruiser
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1951-1960: Toyota Jeep BJ & 20 Series

The Toyota Jeep BJ (1951-55) emerged from military prototypes made during the Korean War. The “B” came from Toyota’s B-Series engine; the “J” came from jeep. That name quickly became problematic (no, not for that reason; get your head out of the gutter): Willys, as it turned out, had trademarked “Jeep” in 1954. Toyota went with “Land Cruiser.”

These found steady employment as military, police and fire vehicles. Toyota eventually modified it into a civilian version in the form of the 20 Series Land Cruiser (1955-60). It had rounded, more stylish bodywork, a more spacious cabin, a better suspension and a shorter wheelbase for better maneuverability. It used the bulletproof F-Series inline-six engine that would remain a mainstay of the model until 1992.

The 20 Series was the first Land Cruiser exported to the United States. Toyota sold one of them alongside 287 Toyopet Crown sedans in 1958, its first year selling cars in the U.S.

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1960-1984: Land Cruiser 40 Series

Formidable off-roader
Minimal passenger comfort
Durable engine

Toyota replaced the 20 Series with the 40 Series, also known as the FJ40 Land Cruiser. Like the Jeep CJ and the original Land Rover, it was a vehicle built for conquering terrain, figuratively or literally. It was the first Land Cruiser to offer low-range gearing, a noteworthy improvement for off-roading. The original had two doors, a column shifter and rear jump seats for maximum versatility (and minimal comfort).

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Significant upgrades came in the mid-late 1970s. The FJ40 got its first diesel (1974), four-speed manual (1974), a bigger 4.2-liter engine (1975), disc brakes (1976), power steering (1979) and air conditioning as an option (1979). While prices climbed significantly for a hot minute, the FJ40 market has since settled. There are a lot of them on the market.

One common modification involves swapping the stock engine for a General Motors V8; Toyota’s famed powerplant lasts forever and provides decent low-end torque, but its power output is a bit feeble by modern standards.

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1967-1980: Land Cruiser 50 Series

Funky, two-tone wagon aesthetic
Propensity to rust
No rear hatch

For a time, Toyota produced a funky, four-door wagon version of the Land Cruiser called the 50 Series, also known as the FJ55. Toyota intended it for both the U.S. and Australian markets, so it had to both survive the Outback and keep up on American freeways. It was more family-friendly than past versions. It had two-tone paint, a sort-of-wonky-looking front end and a great nickname: “the Iron Pig.”

Clean FJ55s are relatively rare, as this car has a propensity to rust. The FJ55 is also the only Land Cruiser not to offer a rear hatch; the back window rolled down into the tailgate.

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1980-1990: Land Cruiser 60 Series

More family-friendly design
Still a tough off-roader
Indestructible
FJ62 goes automatic

The 60 Series replaced the 50 Series as the four-door wagon Land Cruiser. From 1984 onward, it was the only Land Cruiser on sale in the U.S. Consider it the nexus of Toyota truck enthusiasm and vintage off-roading. It was much more family-friendly than the FJ40, with a more comfortable interior, standard AC, rear heating, and power windows, but it kept the Land Cruiser’s typical off-road capability.

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There are two versions, the FJ60 (1980-87) and the post-facelift FJ62 (1988-90). The FJ62 switched from a four-speed manual to a four-speed automatic transmission. It upgraded to the 3F inline-six engine, which offered about 20 more horsepower. It also exchanged round headlights for dual square ones.

60 Series Land Cruisers are nearly indestructible. Well-kept ones are still out there living the sweet life with astronomical mileage counts. Transmission swaps to a five-speed manual are common for FJ60s; Toyota built it with a five-speed manual transmission, but did not offer it in the U.S., and four-speed versions turn into high-revving, fuel-guzzling ogres at highway speeds.

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1985 - Now: The Forbidden Fruit

The “Land Cruiser” broke off into different lines in the 1980s. Some did not make it to the U.S. market. The 70 Series (1984-present) remains in production; just check out this cool South African pickup. It more directly replaced the FJ40 as a bare-bones, off-road workhorse. (America got the 4Runner instead.)

There’s also the Land Cruiser Prado line (1990-present), which is smaller, lighter and less powerful than the 200 Series. Spawning from the 70 Series, it has gone existed in J90, J120 and (the current) J150 generations. Lexus sells the J150 as the GX 460 here in the U.S.

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1990-1998: Land Cruiser 80 Series

Bigger and rounder design
Full-time 4WD
End of the old engine

The 80 Series replaced the FJ62 and expanded on the family wagon concept — literally. The J80 was five inches longer, five inches wider and about 600 pounds heavier than its predecessor. It received some slick 1990s styling.

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Enthusiasts respect the J80 for its off-roading chops. It was the first Land Cruiser to employ full-time all-wheel-drive, a coil-spring suspension and optional locking front and rear differentials.Toyota ended the “F” engine line in 1992, swapping it for a 1FZ-ZE inline-six that added about 60 more horsepower.

In 1995, Toyota added airbags and anti-lock brakes. In a controversial aesthetic decision that same year, the “sombrero” logo replaced the block caps reading “TOYOTA” on the grille. The 80 Series also boasted a rebadged Lexus variant: the LX 450.

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1998-2007: Land Cruiser 100 Series

First model with independent front suspension
First with a V8 engine
Sold as a Lexus variant too (LX 470)

Toyota kept the 80 Series’s general appearance around for the 100 Series, but there were momentous structural changes. The Land Cruiser switched from a solid axle to an independent front suspension for the first time. This shift sacrificed some off-road capability in favor of on-road ride quality. (Some foreign markets got a “105” version that kept the solid axle.)

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The 100 Series was also the first Land Cruiser to offer a V8 engine. Later models packed 275 horsepower. It needed it; this Cruiser added another 400 pounds on top of the 80 Series’s mass. Toyota also continued loading the vehicle with luxury features and tech that now seems incredibly dated (DVD navigation, anyone?). The J100 was also sold as the Lexus LX 470.

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2007-Now: Land Cruiser 200 Series

The biggest of them all
Expensive, coming in at early $90,000
Plenty of modern safety and off-roading technology.

The 200 Series is the current luxury behemoth, also known as the Lexus LX 570. In the U.S. market, It has generally come in one trim (though Toyota has a limited-run Heritage Edition in recent years year) with a 5.7-liter V8 engine. A 2015 facelift upgraded the transmission to an eight-speed automatic.

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The 2020 Land Cruiser weighs in at a staggering 5,815 pounds, making it one of the heaviest cars on the road. It has a price tag to match, coming in at nearly $90,000. Major additions to the 200 Series include advanced off-roading tech such as crawl control and hill descent control and Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of technologies. This Land Cruiser generation, already aging, could be the last when Toyota retires it early next decade.

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