When you think of the 1950s, what do you think of? Do you think of people drinking milkshakes in a diner while dancing to this new devil’s music called rock and roll? Times were different, there’s no doubt about that, and many aspects of life from the 1950s are just plain dissimilar now. Do you know what has remained with us since that period? Not just milkshakes and rock and roll, but the famous Toyota Land Cruiser. That’s right, the Land Cruiser is, to date, the longest-running model in the world-renowned manufacturer’s lineup, with its history spanning back to 1951. Before you go searching for a Toyota dealer, we have a story to tell, so sit back, and take a ride with us on a journey through time.
Before we go on this journey, it’s important to know why we’re doing this. Not only is the history of this SUV a long one, but it’s not over yet. Toyota recently announced the next-generation Land Cruiser earlier this year, kickstarting the tenth generation of this seemingly ageless SUV. And, while we are waiting to get behind the wheel of this new and exciting release, we want to go back to when it all started.
Like off-road vehicles from Jeep, the Toyota Land Cruiser was first built for the military – in fact, the Land Cruiser was originally known as the “Toyota Jeep” before the American company forced them to rename it. With the Korean War in full swing, the military needed reliable trucks and the task of constructing land vehicles was given to a reputable manufacturer. However, Toyota wasn’t the same manufacturer that we know today, as at this point, Toyota had only been in business for a little over a decade and had yet to become a household name in Japan, let alone on an international scale.
Like the Jeep vehicles before it that aided in battle, the design philosophy of the Land Cruiser eventually was brought to the masses in the form of consumer-grade automobiles. Of course, these Toyota vehicles never made it overseas, at least not at first. Instead, the Land Cruiser was exclusive to the Japanese market for over the first five years of its existence. While a majority of Americans have never seen one of these first-generation Land Cruisers, they helped put Toyota on the map.
Several years after the launch of the first Land Cruiser, the American market would finally receive the improved 20-series model in 1958. This was due to the formation of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., which had opened its doors just a year prior. While not an immediate best-seller, the Land Cruiser slowly gained popularity, and by the early 1960s, the hard work began to pay off. However, it was the updated 40-series that became a staple on American roads alongside a growing lineup of Toyota vehicles.
Interestingly, there was a moment in time when the only Toyota being sold in the United States was the Land Cruiser. After the commercial failure and discontinuation of the Toyopet Crown sedan in 1961, the Land Cruiser was left as the sole product in Toyota’s lineup until 1965. Of course, without any internet to read about new vehicles, it was word of mouth that helped Toyota grow. It may have taken some time, but Toyota soon gained international prominence by the early ’70s. According to Toyota, 1972 was the year when they would officially reach the milestone of 1,000,000 vehicles sold, with the Land Cruiser playing a big role in that success.
The Legacy Continues
While Toyota continued selling the 40-series Land Cruiser until 1983, the bare-bones off-road model was supplemented by more luxury-oriented models. This new version of the Land Cruiser, known as the 60-series, was launched in the year 1980. By this point in time, Toyota wasn’t the new kid in town and instead was standing strong amongst other vehicle manufacturers, both from America or otherwise. The 60-series was received fairly well and gave the Land Cruiser a much-needed makeover by that point. Another decade onwards, the Land Cruiser received another noteworthy upgrade in the form of the 80-series.
Comparing the 60-series to the 80-series is a night and day comparison. While the new version retained most of the design elements from the models that came before it, we feel that this was when the modern Land Cruiser began taking shape. When looking at the 80-series and 60-series side by side, one of the first major design differences that you’ll notice is the headlamps. Whereas the older Land Cruiser models utilized circular headlamps, this was the generation when they would be replaced with the far more modern rectangular headlamps that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing over the years.
It wouldn’t take another ten years to see a new generation of the Land Cruiser, but it did take a lengthy eight years for the 100-series to hit the scene. While the 100-series may sound old given that it didn’t launch until 1998, this generation remained in production until 2007 before being replaced. This long production run means that many older 100-series Land Cruisers are still sold today on various used car lots, and you can find them at quite a low price.
For the most part, the 200-series is arguably the most popular Land Cruiser to date. There’s no denying that if you were to go to a dealership looking for a used Land Cruiser, these models are a very common option, and this is because the 200-series was in production right up until earlier this year. That’s right, even the 2020 Land Cruiser with its large 5.7L V8 is still part of the 200-series line. With its discontinuation, however, the 300-series is the newest Land Cruiser, and if history is going to repeat itself, you better get used to it because it’s going to be here for quite a while.
Going Strong or Losing Steam?
It’s not often for a manufacturer to keep around a vehicle that has actively been in production for nearly three-quarters of a century. When it does happen, however, it’s not for nothing, and in the case of the Land Cruiser, it doesn’t take much to see that Toyota still has huge plans for this flagship SUV. While the Land Cruiser has the benefit of being one of the oldest models that still appears on our roads today, its strength has arguably never been as apparent. Toyota knows this better than anyone, and from the looks of the new Land Cruiser, this doesn’t seem to be a concern of theirs.
However, you might not find the latest Land Cruiser at your local Toyota dealer. The rumor is that the 300-series is embracing its more luxury-oriented roots and will only be available in the American market as the Lexus LX. Still, I digress. The Land Cruiser is one of the best SUVs that you can purchase today, no matter what badge it wears and what generation you are looking at. These legendary Toyota SUVs are built to handle anything and last forever. Starting your shopping is as easy as visiting your local Toyota dealership.