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The New York Times
AUTOS ON MONDAY | COLLECTING

Like the Jeep,
Toyota's  FJ  Is Much Loved

By LINDSAY BROOKE

Published: February 14, 2005

IIn South America it is called El Macho for its rugged looks and go-anywhere capability. Across the Australian outback, it is known as the "troopie" for its versatility in hauling people - soldiers or civilians - and cargo over extreme terrain. Safari guides in Africa, miners in Canada and farmers in California all have relied on it for decades.
Early Land Cruisers helped
establish Toyota's durability
reputation.

The Toyota Land Cruiser was conceived in the years following World War II, when Japanese companies urgently needed products to sell in export markets. Modeled after American military jeeps and British Land Rovers, the Land Cruiser models produced from 1954-84 have reached collectible status, acquiring a devoted following among restorers and off-road enthusiasts.

"People fall in love with the old Cruisers because they're so utilitarian," explained Tony Twiddy of Healdsburg, Calif., a collector and past president of the 4,000-member Toyota Land Cruiser Association.

"The vehicles are simple and strong, and Toyota didn't change the basic appearance for over 30 years," he said. "It gave them a lasting identity."

Last week Toyota acknowledged the importance of the Land Cruiser FJ series to its identity, announcing that it would bring back some of its design features for the new FJ Cruiser model that will go on sale in 2006.

Starting with the FJ25 and evolving into the FJ40 that made its debut in 1961, Land Cruisers were offered in many body styles over the years. There were hard- and soft-top models, station wagons and pickup trucks, short and long wheelbases. All were descendants of the jeeplike BJ series army vehicles that Toyota developed in 1950, hoping to win contracts with the American military forces then occupying Japan.

While no deal was struck, the FJ25 became the basis of Toyota's postwar strategy of entering a new market first with the Land Cruiser and following later with passenger cars. Many were sold in developing countries, where the Land Cruiser's ability to survive poor driving conditions helped establish Toyota's reputation for durability.

Among Land Cruiser enthusiasts, the prevailing opinion is that although early FJ's were as Spartan as the civilian Jeep CJ (and even mimicked its basic shape), they were better than the American vehicle in some ways. The Land Cruiser's in-line 6-cylinder engine, a Toyota-built take on the Chevrolet "stovebolt" six, was smoother and more powerful than the standard 4-cylinder of the Jeep CJ. And the Toyota's longer wheelbase improved its ride.

Much like the Jeep, improvements came slowly to the Land Cruiser. For example, it wasn't until 1979 that Toyota moved the FJ40's fuel tank from below the front passenger seat (where occupants would occasionally get a whiff of its vaporous contents) to a less intrusive location beneath the floor.

The relative rarity of some FJ models, particularly the FJ45 pickup trucks and wagons, has helped increase collectors' interest in those models, said Greg Mushro, owner of vintageoffroad.com, a Detroit business that restores, modifies and sells Land Cruisers and other S.U.V.'s.

"Our Land Cruiser customers are what I call the new-age buyer - they want four-wheel-drive but they're sick of driving the same S.U.V. as the guy next door," said Mr. Mushro, who has collected FJ's for more than 30 years. "To them, the early Cruisers represent unique style."

Toyota first imported Land Cruisers into the United States in 1958. Because they were so basic, the earliest ones are not highly desired by collectors and can sell for less than $5,000. The FJ40 of 1961 and later- the most recognizable version - is more preferable, commanding as much as $40,000 for a fully restored example. Variations like the FJ45 pickups and wagons are scarce, especially in original form, and bring top prices.

"While some collectors seek totally stock vehicles, most FJ buyers desire one that's stock-looking but more comfortable and capable on the highway and the trail," Mr. Twiddy said.

For those buyers, the ideal Land Cruiser combines modern conveniences and performance upgrades with the FJ's military-inspired look. This can be accomplished by fitting improved parts from later FJ's, like disc brakes and 4-speed transmissions, to the earlier models. Also popular is the installation of a Chevrolet V-8 engine and an automatic transmission, while maintaining the FJ's original exterior appearance. 

The passion for vintage Land Cruisers has also helped sustain a cottage industry of specialists who track down specific models for customers and undertake show-quality restorations. And steady demand has made it practical for companies to reproduce many parts, including large body panels.

For some collectors, variety is indeed the spice of life.

Paul Decker has been a Land Cruiser zealot since he bought his first when he was 19. Now 52, he has assembled a collection of vintage FJ's that is the envy of the community of Land Cruiser collectors.

Mr. Decker owns at least one example of every Land Cruiser model produced since 1959. Keeping dozens of old trucks in various states of repair is only possible, he explained, when you live on 10 acres and have a new 50-by-144-foot shop for maintenance and restoration.

Mr. Decker echoes other Land Cruiser collectors when offering tips for finding a vintage FJ: "Only consider rust-free trucks, which are typically found in California, Nevada and the Southwest," he said.

His favorite models for regular use are the FJ40's built in 1978 and later, because those had disc brakes, a 4-speed transmission and a more desirable rear window layout. For his collection, he searches for examples that are as close to original condition as possible.

"Land Cruisers will run forever," Mr. Decker said. "In most cases, when you find an old one you can get it running with fresh gas and a new battery."


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