Land Cruiser history Lesson

Posted by Cruiser Gear on

The 20 Series, 40 Series, and beyond

Let’s go back to post-Korean-War Japan, 1955.  

While Toyota had been building and selling cars since 1936, it hadn’t yet emerged as a competitor in foreign markets. 

The U.S. government needed a reliable off-road vehicle to use during the war that was manufactured closer to the front and tasked Toyota to reverse engineer a Willys Jeep to meet their needs and manufacture in Japan. This is how the “Jeep BJ” model was born. The Jeep BJ had proven to the U.S. military its prowess as an overland vehicle, and Toyota was ready to begin overseas exportation and sales. 

In 1954 the name Land Cruiser was coined to describe these vehicles, and this would change Toyota’s destiny forever.

Transformation from military use to civilian use 

In November 1955, Toyota began production for its second generation of Land Cruisers and the first Land Cruisers that would eventually be sold in the United States and beyond, called the 20 Series.

A bit about Land Cruiser model numbers: Vehicles had either a B-type engine (3.4-liter) or an F-type engine (3.9-liter) and that was the first identifier of each model number — for example, FJ20s and BJ20s. The second letter of each model, “J,” designated its belonging to the Toyota “Jeep” family (though Toyota officially rebranded to Land Cruiser after copyright infringement claims in 1954). The first number indicates the series — “2” for the 20 Series — and the second number is the unique wheelbase within that model series.


20 Series models were available in two types, a short wheelbase (2,285 mm) and a long wheelbase (2,430 mm). Compared to the 2,400 mm wheelbase of the Jeep BJ, the short model had improved maneuverability, and the long model had a higher loading capacity. Body types included a pickup truck, soft top, 2- and 4-door van, and fire truck.

By mid-1956, the engine lineup was consolidated to just the Type F unit. The Toyota Land Cruiser FJ25 was produced for model years 1955-1960. The FJ25 was the standard of the 20 Series and showcased a strategic redesign for domestic use, including the following changes:

  • More comfortable seats 
  • Body styling lines were softer for a unique look 
  • Engine was moved forward, extending the cabin size 
  • Steering was moved further outside so it felt more spacious 
  • Parking rake lever moved from passenger seat side to closer to the driver’s seat  
  • Leaf springs were lengthened and plates reduced to create more cushion 
  • Rubber bushings were added to the pivot to dampen vibrations in the cabin 

And these iterations of the 20 Series stuck around, too. The major changes in the chassis frame of the 20 Series remained virtually unchanged for 29 years, through the transition to the 40 Series.

Due to the FJ25’s limited production, it is now sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike. It also became the first commercial Land Cruiser available in the U.S. market.

The Land Cruiser Strategy 

As of 1956, Toyota had only exported Land Cruisers to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but further expansion plans had begun. 

The Land Cruiser Strategy for foreign markets was Toyota’s plan to pose the 20 Series front-and-center in its lineup of vehicles to sell. It was implemented all over the world, including the United States. 

The first U.S. Toyota dealership opened in Hollywood, CA on October 31, 1957. Vehicle sales began in 1958 and that year sales included a single Land Cruiser and 287 Toyopet Crown sedans. 

Making the excellent even better - The 40 Series

The 20 Series got its first big design upgrade in 1960 with the third-generation Land Cruiser, the iconic 40 Series which came to be affectionately called “40.”

Construction and assembly processes had improved and therefore elevated the quality of each element. 

While the FJ40 and the FJ25 look very similar, changes included the following: 

  • Angular body styling
  • Wraparound rear windows 
  • A flat roof and short overhangs 
  • Stronger frame and body 
  • A two-speed transfer case, which improved off-roading performance compared to the 20’s low first-gear ratio 
  • 125 H.P. compared to 105 H.P. 

The FJ40 was Toyota’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S. from 1960 to 1965 and continued to sell successfully for 24 years and is a coveted model for Cruiser fans today.

Anyone who has owned a 40 series has probably heard “Nice Jeep!” quite a few times. While the FJ25 was the truck that was originally reverse engineered from U.S. Army Willys jeeps, the FJ40 series was much more prevalent and were often mistaken for CJ Jeeps in the U.S. 

The 40 series was offered with both diesel (B/2B and H/2H) and gasoline (F and 2F) engines as well as with varying wheelbases (FJ40, FJ45, FJ47) and though the FJ25 and FJ40 went through several changes since the 1950s they still maintained their reputation for being the toughest four-wheel drive vehicles in the world.

The First Wagon - 50 Series

Next up in the Land Cruiser line was the 50 series. Affectionally known as the "Iron Pig," the FJ55 Land Cruiser was built between 1967 through 1980 because Toyota wanted to offer a station wagon option to their lineup. These wagons differed greatly from what was commonly found in the U.S. as they boasted high ground clearance, 4x4 capability, and the unstoppable F series engines. The FJ50 series 4 door wagons initially featured the same drivetrain (3-speed, F engine, 125 hp) as their FJ40 series predecessors, but in 1975, they received an upgrade to the Toyota 2F engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. These Iron Pigs quickly build a loyal fan base that still exists today and makes these FJ55 Land Cruisers highly collectible.

From Station Wagon to SUV - 60 Series

In the 1980s Toyota decided to compete in the sport utility vehicle market. They introduced the FJ60 and quickly dominated the market. Toyota added more comfort features to the FJ60 (from 1980-1987) and FJ62 (1988-1990) but maintained the four-wheel drive capabilities that the earlier generations had become known for. In the US, the FJ60 Land Cruiser was built with a reliable 2F engine, and outside of the United States, Toyota released the BJ60 and HJ60 diesel engine options. In 1987 Toyota built the FJ62 with a 3F-E gasoline engine making a more modern engine with wider power bands, fuel injection, and automatic transmissions, making them much better suited for road trips. These FJ62s have become some of the most sought-after Land Cruisers in North America as they combine the reliability of the FJ60 2F with some of the comforts of modern vehicles.

Big Improvements But Not For The US - 70 Series

In 1984 Toyota unveiled the 70 series. These trucks were meant to directly take the place of the 40 series with the same off-road workhorse capabilities that Land Cruisers had become known for. While the 60 Series (and later the 80, 90, 100, 120, 150, and 200 Series) developed into more comfortable passenger off-road vehicles, the 70 series stayed true to Land Cruiser roots of rugged and reliable off-road vehicles. The 70 Series was sold throughout the world, but Australia specifically took on the most liking to them. They were well suited to handle the extreme conditions in the Outback like their 40 series predecessors. And while the 70 series Land Cruisers rose to fame in many countries they were not sold in India, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Korea for various reasons, country to country. Older 70 Series have since started to trickle into the U.S due to private owners importing them when possible, and occasionally, you see one parked outside a bar in a mountain town or cruising down the road, but they are much fewer and far between than their FJ40, FJ60, and FJ80 cousins.

The Ultimate Off Road Vehicle - 80 Series

Toyota continued down the SUV path with the FJ80 Land Cruiser and later the FZJ80 Land Cruiser. The FJ80 series was a natural evolution of their Land Cruiser line that offered full time four wheel drive and a new FZ engine which offered more power and torque while also boasting more comfort for the driver. The FJ80 offered the reliability that Toyota had become known for while still being able to tackle just about any road or lack thereof. The 80 series Land Cruisers solidified Toyotas spot in the off-road hall of fame. These vehicles were exported all around the world and adopted by many government organizations as their official vehicle. The aftermarket world saw these vehicles receiving many upgrades that made them practically unstoppable. This Land Cruiser series went on to go down in history as some of the most capable off road vehicles available. They are still highly sought after by collectors and off road enthusiasts alike.

The Modern SUV - The 100 and 200 Series

Toyota went on to modernize the Land Cruiser with the 100 series and 200 series SUVs. These came with modern luxuries like leather seats and backup cameras and so on. These SUVs came with luxury price tags too. Many think Toyota strayed farther and father from their roots with these vehicles but they remained very capable off-road machines. And then in 2021 Toyota announced the retirement of the Land Cruiser series of vehicles. 

However, discontinued or not, the demand for Cruisers and the Cruiser lifestyle will never fade. 


Toyota Pressroom 

Donut Media’s Toyota Land Cruiser overview

Land Cruiser Heritage Museum decoder

Toyota Vehicle Lineage Site: 20 Series | 40 Series

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