Land Cruiser. Perhaps the most legendary name in motoring. Its story reads unlike any other as perhaps, the most fascinating automotive narrative you’ll ever find. It’s a story of trifle to triumph – and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
In short, the Land Cruiser started out as the BJ in the early 50’s, built as a police-use 4x4 for Japanese law enforcement. They didn’t like it so Toyota decided to repurpose it for civilian use and guess what? Not much happened. It didn’t sell well at all…until it did. Renamed ‘Land Cruiser’ in 1954, the nameplate would garner monumental success all across the world to become Toyota’s longest running production model.
To celebrate its 70anniversary last year, Toyota created a special anniversary edition of the current Land Cruiser 79 in single and double cab options. These special models that sit alongside the rest of the 79-series Land Cruiser range are only available with the 4.5-litre V8 diesel.
For this special edition, Toyota has replaced the emblem on the grille for bold T-O-Y-O-T-A lettering and heritage emblems and 70logos around the vehicle. Tubular rear and front bumpers have been added with winch prep at the front plus some 3mm rubberising in the rear has been thrown in too.
The subject of our evaluation is the flagship and most expensive Land Cruiser 79 Double Cab that retails for just under R1-Million. Not much has changed on this car as it has progressed through the decades. It remains as analogue as ever taking me back to the 80’s with the very same door handles, aircon switches, door holds and layout as the car from my childhood.
It’s bewildering at first because we’re so used to the progression of technology and its application in absolutely everything, the interiors of modern cars being the most obvious.
Yet, the LC79’s interior remains very simple. Every button and switch and lever is there for one purpose and with one ultimate objective. It does the one thing it is supposed to – and it will work - forever and ever.
The celebratory 70th Anniversary edition is very much the same as before but for a few added niceties to set it apart from the other models. On the interior, you’ll find 70th Anniversary embroidered seat covers and doormats as well as a tiny touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and navigation. That’s it (no other fancy computers and screens).
Driving the car in urban Johannesburg is hard work. The steering play is laughable and every gear change sets some muscle growth. Anything over 110 km/h on the highway feels slightly wrong. 3-tons of steel construction shows up every time you brake, corner and accelerate. Yet…
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Toyota Land Cruiser over the years. I’ve traversed long and rutted dusty roads. I’ve spent hours in low range in 4 gear climbing to the top of the most spectacular mountains. I’ve waded through mud and tough 4x4 terrain to emerge the other side only to wait and watch very modern 4x4’s barely make it through or fail midway. I have learned and gained a lot of respect for the old thing.
I’ve also spent a lot of time with some of Toyota’s loyal LC customers and their reasons for ownership are the same: it’s mechanically sound with a powerful, utilitarian diesel V8(they say you must get the diesel V8), heavy-grade steel to dozer your way through anything and a capable 4x4 with low range – without any fancy computer software to go wrong in the middle of the bush. That’s the recipe that Toyota has maintained for decades and will continue to do so for longer than we’d imagine.
The demand of the Land Cruiser hasn’t waned in all these years. They’re still hard to find and that price, as shocking as it may seem to some, is the real answer to demand outweighing supply. It’s also the price of achieving legendary status. The Land Cruiser is the most sought after vehicle on the African continent for a start – and it is sold in over 170 countries worldwide so despite Toyota building over 400 000 a year, that demand still outstrips supply.
If you can find one, it’s a worthwhile investment should the strength, reliability and go-anywhere ability be key requirements. Farmers, miners, safari operators etc. But, seemingly there’s a far larger contingent of people who see the LC as an investment and a sure-fire ticket to very long-term ownership. A car that won’t break down for a very long time sounds great to me.
Land Cruiser is an institution in South Africa. I have not received as much praised attention in any other car this year and the demographics of those praising me for my choice were of much variety. Some were ladies in the parking lot at my local hardware store; and some were fellow LC or even Hilux drivers passing me on the highway giving me waves and thumbs-up signs. I even got some applause from a guy in a Ferrari 458.
Is the Land Cruiser the ultimate bakkie in South Africa? Maybe. It’s not for everybody of course, such is its hardcore nature and technology-free age. But maybe this is what the world is missing – simplicity, pure function and trust. If attention and sales demand is a measure then maybe simplicity is where it’s at.
That’s the Land Cruiser 79’s calling card – absolute reliability. The Land Cruiser is the car that cemented Toyota’s bold claim of reliability. Its analogue nature means it will go further and longer and harder than anything else on earth.