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.
However, 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.
The Land Cruiser 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 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.
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.
You see, Americans already had passenger cars that they liked from Chevrolet and Ford. Why consider Toyota?
The idea was that the reputation of the Land Cruiser — specifically the FJ20 and the BJ20 — would help sell their passenger car, called the Crown.
And it worked.
The launch likely would not have been nearly as successful without the durability of the Land Cruiser giving the Crown credibility.
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 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 until the Corona passenger car took that title. But it continued to sell successfully for 24 years and is a coveted model for Cruiser fans today.
The 40 had upgrades of its own over those production years, including a 4.2-liter engine and a 4-speed transmission.
Toyota retired the FJ40 in the United States in 1983 and stopped production of the model in 1984.
Rugged meets luxury
The 40 left nothing to be desired as far as all-terrain capability. But with neither power steering nor air conditioning, there was potential for another Land Cruiser iteration.
The successor was the 70 Series, which focused on usability and comfort for both personal and commercial passenger transport. Styling, driveability, cabin space, and ease of use were all adjusted according to the demand to move lots of people — comfortably.
But, predictably, these changes were never at the expense of offroading performance.
And that’s still the case.
We think the decades-old Cruiser models have a particular magnetism.
Even with the addition of all the technological bells and whistles of the more recent models (fingerprint scanner and 4WD switch, anyone?) Overlanding and off-roading are the heart of the Land Cruiser.
And, discontinued or not, the demand for Cruisers and the Cruiser lifestyle will never fade.
Donut Media’s Toyota Land Cruiser overview
Land Cruiser Heritage Museum decoderToyota Vehicle Lineage Site: 20 Series | 40 Series