By on September 18, 2010

References to the “DNA of a brand” is a long overused cliche, and perhaps finally on the way out. But it can be a valid consideration, depending…In thinking about Toyota and its early genetic roots, one might well conjure up images of the first Corona, or the Corolla, whose modern descendants (Camry/Corolla) still reflect the basic mission of their ancestors. But isn’t the true Urquelle of Toyota’s reputation its legendary reliability and durability? Well, the following historical tidbit may cement the idea of where I’m going: in 1965, the year this FJ40 Land Cruiser was built, it was Toyota’s best selling vehicle in the USA as well as the rest of the world outside Japan. This is the car that Toyota sent out to conquer the world. And this well-worn original example typifies it better than any other I’ve ever seen: it’s literally exuding ruggedness through the pores of its patina. How many folks has it sold on the brand over its long life? Hang on for a longish bumpy ride as I recount the history of the FJ and my own initiation into the cults of off-roading, hitchhiking, and Toyota.

I knew right away that this was a particularly old FJ as soon as I spotted those hubcaps. All the ones I’ve usually seen have a different dog-dish, with a cut-out for the front hubs. I’m not sure exactly when the switch was made, but it probably was fairly soon after this. I found it in a hiking trail parking lot on the coast, and the young couple that owned it were enjoying the 360 degree views on a drive down from Portland. It had recently been relocated from Colorado, where it spent its long life in the mountains. The Rockies and the  Sierra Nevada are where the FJ first cut its well-hardened teeth in the US; an appropriate testing ground of its toughness.

I decided to reacquaint myself a bit with the origins of the LC, and here’s the tweet-length version:  according to legend (repeated by wiki), the Japanese Army got its hands an early American proto-Jeep, the Bantam MK II in the Philippines, and gave Toyota the orders to essentially reverse engineer it, but not to make it look like a copy The KA (above) was the result. As best is know, few were ever built or used in the war. And it did use Toyota’s engine (a four) which in turn was based on a Chevy.

1951 is when the true Land Cruiser DNA first replicated itself. Admittedly influenced very heavily by the Willys Jeep and perhaps even more so by the 1948 Land Rover, the  Toyota BJ series spent several years evolving before it went into actual production in 1953.

But its trial by fire was an assault on Mt. Fuji, and the BJ went higher than any vehicle ever before. With its new moniker “Land Cruiser”, Toyota placed its ambitions in it, an set its sight on global expansion. Toyota’s very early efforts at importing the Toyopet sedan into the US had not been successful, so the Land Cruiser was sent out to prove its mettle. Mission Accomplished: the LC found a loyal following in the most difficult terrains of the world, and nowhere more so than Australia, which quickly embraced it, and eventually Africa, where the LC slowly pushed the Land Rover aside. Around about 1960, the BJ morphed into the definitive FJ as we see it here.

Let’s spend a few minutes paying our respects to the legendary F-Series engine that powered Land Cruiser from 1955  all the way through 1992, quite a run. Especially  so, since it was based on GM six cylinder engines first designed in the thirties. That alone may be something of a record. Anyway, the F’s predecessor, the B engine, was a license built metric version of the original Chevy six dating from 1929. And the F reportedly was also built under a license from GM, although not quite so precisely. Its block was loosely based the old GMC six, and the head on the gen2 “Stovebolt” six (1937-1962). Unlike in the B engine, corresponding Chevy parts (generally) aren’t interchangeable. But it sure looks familiar.

A long-stroke torquer, it was eminently suitable for the tasks that any LC owner could throw at it, all the way into the nineties, when it finally got fuel injection. And although the old Chevy six has a terrific rep, Toyota’s persnicketiness with material and production quality probably give the Toyota version the edge, if you’re crossing the Kalahari. Ironically, many of them have of course have long made way for a real Chevy small block V8.

Now there’s one thing that Toyota didn’t copy from either the Jeep or Land Rover: the shifter. Yes, that’s a column mounted “three-on-the -tree”. Later versions had a four speed stick in more familiar territory. With its stumpy torque curve, the extra gear probably wasn’t missed that much. Well, actually, I remember the owner telling me this thing is geared mighty low (high numerically), and doesn’t really like to go much over fifty. Perfect for winding Hwy 1, or the forest roads that branch off from it.

My seminal off-road memories are also part of my first hitchhiking adventure, and involve an FJ. It was the summer of 1970, and a pretty young lass I knew at Towson High suggested we hitchhike together out to Ocean City, where she knew someone with an apartment we could stay at. I didn’t have to mull that proposition over long. And I had plenty of experience packing up my old Boy Scout backpack quickly. Unfortunately, that “someone” turned out be her love interest, not me; I was just the traveling escort to safely deliver her to his bedroom.

I grabbed my pack, walked out, and headed south, on foot, until I hit the turnoff to Assateague Island, a road-less sliver of sand some twenty-five mile long. I had never been there, just heard about it. This was my first time savoring the freedom of the open road, without an itinerary or a plan. I headed down the sandy road, and shortly before it ended, an open red FJ40 stopped and its driver offered me a ride. Things were looking up, even if it wasn’t a girl behind the wheel.

He stopped when the road ended, lowered the air pressure in his tires, put it in low range, and we hit the sand. It was an exhilarating alternative to Tish, and probably a more memorable one. I had never experienced the freedom of off-roading before, and it planted a seed that I finally harvested when I bought a Jeep fifteen years later.

He was heading all the way to Chincoteage Island at the south end, and returning that way via Virginia. So somewhere about half way down, in the last light of day, I hopped out, and he drove off, leaving me to hear the distinctive murmur of the Toyota six pushing against the soft sand. And when the sound of the six was finally drowned out by the surf, I was all alone, in the middle of an island, now quickly darkening. So what did I do? I hopped in the dunes, spread out my sleeping bag under the stars, I pulled out my trusty Craig audio cassette player/recorder (the iPod of the times), and filled the vast empty space of the wilderness preserve with…Led Zeppelin! Being completely alone in the world is not actually all that appealing to a seventeen year old.

In the gray wee hours of the morning, I was jolted out of my slumber by foot steps. I opened my eyes to see a handful of the wild ponies ambling just a few few feet away, their hot horsey breaths blowing puffs of steam in the cool pre-dawn air. I suddenly realized I wasn’t really alone, anywhere, and never quite felt that emptiness again. Nevertheless, I do generally prefer sharing nature’s solitude with the right companion.

Well, I’ve managed to get seriously off-track here, but then that’s what vehicles like the FJ are all about. The freedom to take the road (or beach) less traveled, although I can’t but wonder if Assateague Island is still open to vehicles. But then that’s what the West is for.

The FJ didn’t just find its niche off-roading though; in Iowa City in the early seventies, they were the vehicle of choice for the hip young guy. The kind of guy who probably also ended up hauling his kids in a big Land Cruiser perhaps until fairly recently, when he might have traded it in on a Prius. It’s an interesting arc: the two vehicles that most represent Toyota’s DNA then and now.

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29 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1965 Toyota FJ 40 Land Cruiser...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    A vehicle ruggedly engineered to do a job and do it well.  Much like the original Jeep and the Model T.  Although I have a friend with one of the mid 90s more luxurious Land Cruisers with the straight six, I can’t help but ask him how he likes his “Land Bruiser.”

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    The reason so many have V8′s is because the 6 is a POS, GREAT engine if your idea of fun is pulling the head every 20K for a valve job! That engine is proof that by copying old technology, you still have old technology. Great write up on an awesome rig; I did shed a tear when they stopped selling them here, and the day they stopped making the solid axle 4WD pick-up is the day I stopped being a Toyota fan. And I have never missed them, they can quietly disappear from these shores for all I care.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    It’s the FJ40 on which Toyota also cemented its reputation in Venezuela.
    There are still some long wheelbase being used on barrios (or favelas) to take people up to their homes. Most have been replaced by its successor, the FJ70. It is so important that Chavez threatened Toyota to nationalize their plant, as reported here. The one in the picture is just one block away from where I live. As you can see, it has seen better times.

    http://i273.photobucket.com/albums/jj225/athos_2008/100_5930.jpg

    That thing has a bulletproof drivetrain, BUT, their bodies were famous here for rust. They rusted very quickly.

    It was locally assembled until IIRC, 1986. My dad had one 78 hardtop for some months, and it leaked water inside, he sealed all the leaking (ventilation inlets) points. Ride was harsh. My uncle was a lover, having a pickup in which he put power steering and air conditioning… and taking it to serious off roading, I guess he took it to Gran Sabana.

    I myself went into one of those long wheelbase versions for years to get to my home, and also taking rides in others with platforms used as trucks from local farmers. I was on the platform, which was cool.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Not to turn this thread political, but damn, Chavez is a first-class, grade A jackass. It’s like his goal is to be seen as the mutant offspring of Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe.

      In more on-topic news: fantastic article. They keep getting better and better.

      Oh, and massive sympathy for the girl story. That’s cold. You just don’t do that to a guy, you know?

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      You made me laugh with the mutant stuff. No he doesn’t want to be a mutant offspring of Castro. He wants to be is successor or the modern Castro.
      The thing is he’s not as smart as Castro. In fact, he do what the Cubans tell him to do. I guess what will happen when his “mentor” dies.
      /offtopic

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Oh, he -wants- to be Castro… But he’s gonne -end up- being Mugabe. It’s kind of depressing to watch it happen.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Nah, he’s going to end like Chavez.
      Having seen how it was before and how it’s changed during his 11 years of “administration”… yes, it’s depressing, frustrating… This country will be studied in future history books as one foolish enough to CHOOSE communism as government system.
      The sad part is that in South Africa there’s one that’s copying him (happily not ruling), then there’s Evo, Correa and so on.
      And we are not even going to start with him wanting to copy Ahmadinejad/Iran about alcohol (beer)/cigarette/play policies.
       
       

  • avatar
    obbop

    Never seen one used as a lawn ornament hereabouts so unable to ascertain the utilityness of the vehicle in a middle-America manner.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Is this one 2WD or 4WD? How do you lock the front hubs with the caps?

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      zbnutcase

      Its 4WD; they didn’t have locking hubs yet, just splined bolt on caps to lock axle to hub, and that lever on the dash that kinda looks like a parking brake is the t-case shifter.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The land cruiser was the only thing toyota ever made that had a bit of character to it. The fj cruiser isn’t bad looking either.

    • 0 avatar
      thebeelzebubtrigger

      Lots of Toyotas have had character — just not in the past 15 years or so.
      http://bringatrailer.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/1969_Toyota_Corona_Delux_Hardtop_Front_1.jpg
      http://toyota-supra.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/toyota-supra2.jpg
      http://www.classycars.org/Toyota/toyota.1961.toyopet.jpg
      http://www.ritzsite.nl/Archive/Toyota_2000_GT_1968.jpg
      http://www.sportscaradvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/classic-car-toyota-celicagt.jpg
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_AA
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Classic
       
       

  • avatar
    jimble

    Assateague Island is indeed still open to 4WD vehicles, but you can’t cross from the MD end into VA, you have to turn around and exit the way you went in.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Yes but I still want a Land Rover Defender… and yes I know about all their faults, but I don’t care.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      My dad has a 75 Range Rover too. And although it overheated (solved with electric fan) and didn’t start everyday when bought (solved again replacing the points with an adapted Ford electronic ignition)…
      The Rangie beats the Toyota hands down.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Back  In 78, I was working  for  a  local  carpenter. One  other  the  other  guys had  a 68 LC. He had adapted  a Rochester from a Chevy  235 Blue  Flame 6.  I  was  impressed. You  can  definitely  see  Jeep influence. But  Toyota had  done  the  job  a little  different.  I  always  liked  My  50s  Chevy  sixes.  My  12  yr  old  older  brother  used  to  keep the folks’ 54  Suburban   humming.  The  next  step  up  from  fixing lawn mower engines.  I much  prefer an inline  6  for this  kinda vehicle.  V8 torque is  really  suited  for  lugging  around  on  dirt.  Besides that,  Jeep V8s  sucked. 4s didnt  have  the  top  speed.  I  still see a LC of 60s vintage  with  pine  outlining  the  doors  and  body. It was  the inspiration for  me  to make up  wood  paneling  for  the  doors , quarter panels  and  tailgate  out  of  oak  and  5/16 AC plywood on  my  very (t)rusty  Willys  Overland  do Brasil Rurale station wagon. It  was  hauled  off  15  yrs  ago, but  I saw  the  FJ40 last  summer  still  looking  spiffy.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    ok, i give… urquelle?

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Those cars are really the ‘soul’ of japanes auto making. Ever-lasting rip-offs of other car makes, made to a standard us Europeans and Americans could never achieve at such a low price. Amazing and annoying at the same time.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I forgot yesterday, but some time ago I found this cool local commercial
    The last for a FJ40 I remember http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt3Hi_TNqKY
     
     

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Too bad Toyota didn’t opt to build a modern version of the FJ40 instead of the plastic laden bloated gorp mobile which sees more use taking Millie and Mabel to the mall than any serious off roading . The yellow and light blue FJ Cruisers look like something Bozo might drive . And I don’t mean Bozo the accountant !

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      Have you seen the inside of the new 4 door Wrangler?   As much as we all say we’d like to have them simple and rugged like the good old days, I really don’t think there is much of a market for that or someone would be filling it.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    I was just hoping for something Jeep Wrangler like , no matter how modernized  , not a SUV Hummer wannabee which is exactly what the FJ Loser is . And no matter how plain some think Wranglers to be they are still around because people buy them in numbers large enough to keep making them . Don’t even know why they built a 4 door Wrangler  though .  It was never meant to be a brat bus hauling the kids off to soccer practice , play dates  , or whatever sissy thing parents do to spoil and wimpify their kids these days . Jeep and other manufacturers make plenty of other luxury filled 4 wheel drive living rooms on wheels that never go off road to do THAT !

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      I probably see more hardcore 4x4ers in old Toyota pickups around here more than anything else.  I do see a lot of “bubba jeeps” here (East TN) on the street,  CJ’s with Chevy smallblocks and more chrome and stainless than you can shake a stick at, but I doubt they see much mud these days.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It appears that the 4 door wrangler has been catching on with hardcore jeepers, I see a lot of them in rural areas with the tops and doors off, covered with mud like they just came from the trail.
    I always liked the wrangler, but never owned one because they were too small for what I use a vehicle for. I used to own a ramcharger that I took off road for hunting in wva. It was perfect because I could bring along a couple of hunting buddies, we had room for all of our gear and there was plenty of room for us all to sit.
    The 4 door wrangler isn’t as big as the old ramcharger, but I could probably use it for the same thing.

  • avatar

    Thanks guys
     
    It is my truck, nice meeting with ya a while back man.
     
    Cheers
     
    Destin

  • avatar
    tejasjeff

    I have had two of them and they were both  Bulletproof with the exception of rust in the  FJ40.
    I disagree with the assertion  that  they needed constant  valve  jobs.
    I never saw this in the ones I had and the many that friends had.
    The many  V8 swaps are understandable to get more HP and parts availability and the relative ease of the conversion.
    Restored FJs bring  better money with the original 6 in my experience.
    My fond feelings for my  FJ40 are from the many off road adventures in Hunting camps in North Mexico and South Texas.
    One one memorable occasion , 8 inches of rain fell in as many hours and turned the whole 20000 acre ranch into a  muddy  slick mess
    You literally could not walk without falling on your ass.
    My Father fell deathly ill and the only way out was  via the the FJ.
    That little monster chugged and spun its way 20 miles to the nearest paved road in the face of a rare winter storm  and we were on our way home.
    Dad and the FJ are  both  gone now  and both greatly  missed.


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