The automobile has played a pivotal role in human history over the past 120 years or so. Used for transporting everything including vegetables to market and soldiers to war, form has followed function in many cases.
Occasionally, cars manage to transcend their original purpose and become part of pop culture. Having previously driven a Willys Jeep thanks to the good people at Freight Factory, the opportunity to experience Toyota’s equivalent product was irresistible.
Classic 4×4 is another world entirely. Far away from the smell of burnt rubber and the sounds of historic racecars bouncing off the apex, overlanding enthusiasts take on the epic challenge of driving across vast landscapes in cars that are almost as old as they are.
In overlanding, the journey is the point of the trip, rather than the destination. The cars are designed for the family to sleep on the roof, while mom fills the water tanks and dad fends off lions in Africa.
Each to their own.
If you’re going to dodge lions and African police roadblocks, you’ll want something reliable. Something that doesn’t leak oil along the way, like Hansel leaving breadcrumbs on his trip into the forest. Something that can be fixed by three industrious souls and a box of spanners.
In the same way that the Japanese built the best British roadster of all time in the form of the MX-5, the Land Cruiser makes a strong claim for being the best interpretation of a Land Rover or a Jeep.
The Jeep similarities aren’t by chance. The J in FJ is a nod to Jeep.
The United States even used the FJ in the Korean War in the early 1950s. This was probably influenced by supply chain convenience, but quality would’ve played a role too. Considering Pearl Harbour was just a decade prior to the Korean War, it’s quite something that the Americans chose a Japanese product to transport their troops.
This decision was a financial lifesaver for Toyota, which was facing insolvency at the time. It’s an incredible piece of history.
The Land Cruiser’s origin is in the Toyota BJ, which subsequently became the FJ. The name change wasn’t in time to prevent a rather unfortunate situation in history, where the Japanese National Policy Agency decided to switch from the Willys to the BJ.
Unlike track tests that would drive such a decision for racecars of the period, the decision was made based on a showcase run in 1951 to the 6th station of Mt Fuji. In 4×4 and police vehicle markets, you climb on Sunday and sell on Monday.
Produced en masse from 1953, the car was initially called the Toyota Jeep. It’s a better name than BJ, unless you are the Willys Company which promptly sued for trademark violation. As a result, Toyota decided to rename the car as the Land Cruiser.
The rest is history. Based on the success of the Land Cruiser, Toyota decided to develop passenger cars. Their name choices never seem to age well, as the first iteration was called the Corona.
When looking at these Toyotas, the first letter in the name indicates the family of engine. J4 indicates that this is the 40-series and the last number is the chassis length (0, 1 and 2 are short wheelbase, while 3, 4 and 6 are mid wheelbase and 5 or 7 represent long wheelbase cars). So, this HJ47 is a very long car with an engine from the H family that forms part of the 40 series.
To the owner’s knowledge, the South African market only had the long wheelbase cab and pickup, with other options available globally including soft top and hardtop (like this Troop Carrier or “Troopy”). The South African farming community endearingly refers to it is as the “kanniedoodnie” (cannot die) and while some pickups were creatively converted into hardtops locally, they are not original.
Chances are very good that you’ve never laid eyes on a classic FJ before. In the flesh, this particular car (a 1983 HJ47 Troopy) immediately invokes thoughts of a Defender 110. The green colour adds to the British feel.
A quick check on the driveway confirms that this is a Toyota product though, with the paving unaffected by the world’s oil supply. This is written with great love for the Defender, but the Land Rover build quality vs. Japanese quality isn’t a matter of debate; it’s a matter of fact.
The engine in this car is the 2H (a 4l diesel), boasting either 77kW or 80kW depending on the production year. Power really isn’t the point here. Torque certainly is, as we experienced on an exceptionally steep and hidden “road” in Noordhoek that morning.
Predictably, the experience in the car is very tractor-like. It’s much more comfortable than the Willys Jeep, although it’s an unfair comparison as this Land Cruiser is a much later model.
Interestingly, the Jeep is more fun on the road and truly brings a smile to your face. As a car to add to a collection for a giggle on a short Sunday drive, it’s the one you want. The Toyota is the car you would put your family in and go on holiday with.
Creature comforts like aircon are achieved by opening a flap in the footwell for passenger and driver, which lets the air in. This car has had electric power steering fitted, sourced from a Dutch company called EZ Power Steering. Beyond that, the interior is sparse but functional, with the fuse box as a particularly charming feature with Japanese labels.
It gives the same warm and fuzzy feeling as seeing benzina under the fuel gauge in a classic Italian car. Interestingly, the owner also has an Alfa Stepnose in Europe. This is a man with fine taste.
The car has genuine mileage of around 180,000kms and is now with its fifth owner. It started life as an emergency services vehicle in Tasmania, saving people from the 7,000 different species of animals that can kill you in Australia.
Bought in February 2018 and shipped to South Africa, it spent a year with Snyman 4×4 being restored to the gorgeous condition that it is in today. The winch from Brisbane is a lovely reminder of its Australian heritage.
Far from being a garage queen, the plan with this car is a multi-year overlanding trip through South America. One can only respect someone who truly lives a full life like this.
Such was the success of the FJ that Toyota introduced a retro version in the mid-2000s. The attractive design has aged favourably and they hold their value exceptionally well. Pulled from the US market in 2014, there are countries where you can still buy brand new FJ Cruisers. South Africa is one of them, with a list price of around R720k.
That’s less than the properly sorted classics are going for.
If Land Rover has annoyed you with the latest Defender, it’s possible to build the perfect 4×4 garage with FJ products. Honestly, this car is just as endearing as any Defender.
Planning an overlanding trip? Freight Factory have a wealth of experience with this. Visit their website and contact them to find out more.