Department > Old Iron
FJ-40 Land Cruiser
A Legend from the Far East
story by Jim Allen
Photos by Jim Allen and the
National Archives or courtesy Toyota Motor Company
Toyota’s first try at producing a military vehicle for post-war Japanese Defense Forces, then called the Japanese Police Reserve Force, as well as for in-country use by the U.S. military. It was built on the Toyopet model SB truck chassis and had a 28-horse, 995cc flathead mill. The command car lookalike didn’t make the cut.
There was a time in the early 1960s when the mighty Jeep was challenged on its own turf and given one heck of a run for its money. The Land Cruiser came about in response to a 1950 procurement order for 1,000 vehicles by the American army occupying Japan. The specs called for a small jeeplike 4x4 for local use. In just five months, the Toyota Model BJ was born to answer that call. It used an updated version of a “cloned” six-cylinder engine (that’s familiar to Americans) mounted in a modified one-ton truck chassis, with four-wheel drive and a utility body added. It had a single-speed transfer case with a truck-type four-speed and a deep 5.53:1 first gear. The axles were narrowed truck axles and a lot beefier than they needed to be.
The BJ was Toyota’s first production SWB 4x4. In light of the competition only offering four-bangers, equipping this rig with a big (105 horsepower) six seemed like overkill, but it later proved to be a good choice. Diesel engines were also offered. The BJ was built until 1955.
Production of the BJ models, proudly called Toyota Jeeps, began in 1953 — though Willys-Overland had something to say about that name, much to Toyota’s embarrassment. Confusion over language probably had to do with trademark faux pas, especially given that the wording of the American procurement order mentioned something about “jeeps.” On June 24, 1954, Toyota formally changed the name of the BJ from Jeep to Land Cruiser, and now, as Paul Harvey says, you know the rest of the story.
The BJ evolved into the FJ in 1955 with the introduction of the F-series engine, another evolution of the copied six. New variations were developed on the same basic platform, and, to differentiate between them, they carried a different designator. In 1955, there were 10 models, FJ-20 to 29, the FJ-25 being the standard SWB model. The Toyota model codes (BJ, FJ-25, FJ-40, etc.) used the engine series as the first designator, the chassis as the second (could the “J” be for “Jeep”?), and the various model numbers followed to indicate the exact version built on that chassis.
By way of contrast to the 1966 shown nearby, here’s Tim Jonet’s 1977 ragtop. It not only represents the final years of the SWB Land Cruiser, but it shows how the FJ-40 remains a player in the wheeling world with buildups from mild to wild. The later years not only brought a bigger 2F engine (258 cubic inches, 145 horses), but also a four-speed tranny, improved axles, power disc brakes, and such creature comforts as air-conditioning.
The FJ-25 was the first Toyota 4x4 exported to the USA, 62 units for 1958 and 1959. In 1960, the FJ-40 made its worldwide debut, and Toyota Motor Sales USA (established in 1957) began offering them as special-order units at its handful of dealerships. For a short while, the FJs were offered alongside the Crown and Toyopet cars, but those cars were soon withdrawn from the market due unsuitability for the American freeway system, and, from 1961 to 1965, the FJ-40 was the only Toyota on the market.
The FJ-40 differed from the FJ-25 in that it had a two-speed tranny (three-on-the-tree) and a two-speed transfer case with a shifter on the dash. The FJ-40 could be configured as a metal hardtop with full doors and roll-up windows or as a soft-top and doors with body cutouts, a la Jeeps. Later in production (1963 or 1964), the separate soft-top variant was discontinued and the door-opening design was consolidated for hard- or soft-tops.
Toyota Motor Sales, USA, still owns one of the first imported FJ-25s. This 1959 soft-top was sold new to a Yuba City, California, hunter. After three decades of service and 93,000 miles, Toyota bought it for restoration. It resides in a small museum at one of Toyota’s California offices. Though the look is reminiscent of the later FJ-40, the giveaways are the round rear fenders and the grille.
In its early years, the now legendary Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-40 set a performance standard for short-wheelbase 4x4s. The Cruiser in that era cranked out 125 horses from its 236-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, which beat the 72-horse four-banger Jeep, the 77-horse Land Rover four, the 93-horse Scout four, and even the 105-horse Bronco six. It wasn’t until the V-6 Jeep (followed by the V-8 Bronco) made its debut for the 1966 model year that the FJ-40 was finally beaten for power, except by another Japanese import-the 145-horse 1961-1969 Nissan Patrol (but that’s another story).
The FJ-40 wasn’t the only Land Cruiser. In 1963, the FJ-45L (for long) pickup and FJ-45V (for very long) four-door station wagon came to the market and stayed until 1967. A new and more stylish FJ-55 four-door station wagon came along in 1968 and stayed through 1979. It was replaced by the FJ-60 in 1980, and that rig was the last wagon to be offered at the same time as the old FJ-40. An FJ-80 appeared in 1990, and the current FJ-100 series came along in 1999, but the later rigs bear no resemblance to the original.
The pre-1960 F-series engine was about 30 cubic inches and 20 horses bigger than the original B-series unit. By the standards of the day, this FJ-25 was a powerful bobtail 4x4.
Now to answer the burning question: Were the B, F and 2F engines Chevy clones? Yes...sorta-kinda. In the early 1930s, the founding company of the Toyota Motor Company, the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, a designer and builder of textile-weaving machines, got into the business of building cars and trucks. That event started with Kiichiro Toyoda reverse engineering a Chevrolet six in 1934 and producing a prototype engine. A fully developed version of this engine, called the Model A, was eventually used in a number of Toyota cars and trucks and was updated at least once before 1950. So, yes, the Toyota Land Cruiser engine could be considered a copy of an early 1930s Chevy six, but, like twins separated at birth, it developed independently from there.
Toyota, watching carefully, evolved the Land Cruiser to suit the market. More powerful engines, four-speed trannys, creature comforts, and the necessary emissions controls all served to cement the Land Cruiser in the American market. The high point came in 1972, with almost 12,000 Cruisers of all types brought in. Still, compared with the growing multitude of other 4x4s in the market, that was a drop in the bucket. As the 4x4 craze grew, the FJ-40’s share in it decreased. Sales soon began to drop, historians concluding that Toyota bears much of the blame for the situation. Toyota started focusing on the small car market, which it soon dominated due the gas crunch of the 1970s. The Cruiser was neglected, and, with its price list abnormally high for the market, sales slowed even more.
Okay, you tell us. How much Chevy stovebolt DNA is in the early 1950s B-series engine? In the beginning days of this engine, many parts were said to be interchangeable with Chevy stuff. The rumor mill has it that the same thing happened in the 1970s. True? We don’t know.
By the time the 4x4 Toyota pickups appeared in 1979, Cruiser sales had dropped to 5,700. The next year sold only 3,058, and down they went. The Toyota 4x4 pickup sounded the death knell for the Land Cruiser, and sales ended after the 1983 model year. FJ-40 production ended at Toyota a year later when it was replaced by the SWB FJ-70, but that model was never brought to the U.S. License-built versions of the FJ-40 live on in other parts of the world, however.
Over 121,000 FJ-40 Toyota Land Cruisers were imported from 1960 through 1983. They soon became, and still are, one of America’s best-loved 4x4s. Like many similar rigs, they’re popular with builders and restorers. Restored older Cruisers are now bringing prices in the high teens, and built FJ-40s are still forcing other-make owners to grit their teeth in envy.
This is almost an original 1965 FJ-40 Land Cruiser hard-top, complete with the original winch. Though it’s showing age at the time it was photographed in 1997, it was still in the McOllough family, who’s had it since new. This was the last year for the dinky side window, with the corrugated look and an accordion-like upper tailgate lid with another dinky window. This rig still has a three-on-the-tree three-speed shifter, dash-mounted low-range lever, and vacuum-operated engagement for four-wheel drives.
|Engine:||236.6ci OHV 6-cylinder|
|Power:||135 @ 3800 rpm|
|Torque:||217 lbs-ft @ 2000 rpm|
|Transmission:||3-speed manual, Toyota J30|
|Transfer Case:||2-speed, 2.31:1 low-range|
|Rear Axle:||Toyota Dropout|
|Curb Weight:||3410 pounds|
|Fuel Capacity:||18.5 gallons|