The Beginning and End of an Era: Toyota’s Legendary Land Cruiser

October 8th, 2021 by

A white 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser is shown driving down a dirt path after leaving a Indiana PA car dealer.

When you can’t have something, does that make you want it more? As a kid, your parents might have said “no” to more cookies, but that only made you want a cookie even more, right? Toyota fans experienced this firsthand in late 2020 when the automaker announced the final call for the Land Cruiser would come in 2021. Over the next two months, Land Cruiser sales skyrocketed to a decade high as drivers rushed to get their hands on the last “new” model before it was gone. As your Indiana PA car dealer, we understand the bedlam around the Land Cruiser because of everything Toyota’s legendary and rugged SUV has to offer. That’s what inspired us to take a trip down memory lane to look at the beginning and end of the Land Cruiser era.

How It All Started

The Land Cruiser was born out of necessity in the early 1950s at the outbreak of the Korean War. When South Korea was invaded by North Korea, American troops stationed in Japan were ready to support their allies. However, they desperately needed military trucks and knew that locally sourcing these trucks would be the most economical and practical solution. Toyota was tasked with developing a military truck prototype, which the automaker initially named the Toyota Jeep BJ after its 3.4-liter B-type engine and the Jeeps driven by the American military in Japan. The name, however, wouldn’t stick as Jeep’s legal team urged Toyota to rename their model or face a lawsuit over trademark infringement. Thus, the Land Cruiser was born.

The Land Cruiser served a vital purpose for the American military and was later adopted as the patrol vehicle for the National Police Agency in Japan. In 1958, Toyota began selling its first vehicles in America, with a lineup consisting of the Toyopet Crown sedan and the Land Cruiser. The Toyopet Crown proved to be an epic failure and was withdrawn from the market after just two years, but the Land Cruiser was an unexpected success.

Although the Land Cruiser was in short supply, word of its rugged capability and versatility quickly spread. The Land Cruiser was soon in high demand and became the best-selling Toyota in America from 1961 to 1965. Its bare-bones design is a stark contrast to the luxurious Land Cruiser we see today, but drivers didn’t yet know what they were missing in terms of luxury, safety, and tech. At the time, the Land Cruiser was the top of the line with models like the 60 series of the 1980s equipped with four-wheel-drive and powered by a 4.2-liter engine that delivered 135 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque.

A close up shows the black interior and gauges in a 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser.

Cruising Into the 1990s and New Millennium

By the 1990s, the Land Cruiser was internationally known for its prowess both on and off the road. The SUV saw many updates throughout the decade, including the addition of the longer Land Cruiser Prado to markets abroad. The 80 series Land Cruiser stretched longer and wider than previous models and focused more on off-road capability with a full-time four-wheel-drive system, a locking center differential, and optional front and rear locking differentials for extended capability on the trail. These features made the 80 series so popular that Lexus, a division of Toyota, adopted the Land Cruiser as the luxurious LX 450.

The Land Cruiser enjoyed another boost in power in the late 1990s with the introduction of the 100 series in 1998. Powered by a 4.7-liter V8 engine, the Land Cruiser delivered 230 horsepower before another round of upgrades in 2006 added 45 more ponies to the SUV. Along with more power and capability, the Land Cruiser also saw the addition of new luxury and tech features, which sent its price higher along with its Lexus siblings – the more opulent LX and GX. Despite this, drivers continued to shell out top dollar for the iconic SUVs from both brands.

By the new millennium, Toyota threw drivers a curveball with the introduction of the FJ Cruiser, which was inspired by the 40 series Land Cruiser of the 1960s. Smaller than the Land Cruiser 100 series, the FJ shared the Land Cruiser’s capability and many design features unique to the 40 series, like the clamshell rear doors and three windshield wipers. These features, however, weren’t enough to make up for the FJ’s cramped cabin and rough ride. Toyota discontinued the model in 2014.

The End of an Era

Despite the Land Cruiser’s legendary capability, sales continued to decline in the 2010s and 2020s because of the SUV’s high price tag and more affordable alternatives like the Toyota 4Runner, which is easy to modify, offers great value, and handles exceptionally well when the pavement ends and the trail begins. Toyota, however, continued its efforts to transform the Land Cruiser into the ultimate luxury SUV. The goal was to prove that roughing it on the trail doesn’t have to be rough at all.

We see this epitomized in the 2021 Land Cruiser that prioritizes luxury and opulence, as is apparent in its nearly $90,000 price tag. It’s an off-road capable SUV that comes with leather heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, four-zone automatic climate control, 28 air vents throughout the cabin, and a refrigerator in the center console. It’s a far cry from the bare-bones Land Cruiser of the late 1950s, ultimately taking the SUV even further from its roots.

A black 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser is shown parked next to a white & 1950 Land Cruiser.

2021 Land Cruiser

The 2021 Land Cruiser sets the benchmark for the luxury off-road SUV segment. The latest and final model prioritizes luxury across its two-trim lineup from the base model to the Heritage Edition. The Heritage Edition celebrates the SUV’s history in America and outfits the SUV with exclusive design features, dark exterior accents, a 14-speaker premium sound system, and bronze 18-inch wheels. The base model is anything but basic and comes with leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, four-zone climate control, a 9-inch touchscreen display with an infotainment system, wireless smartphone charging, and three rows of plush seating.

The 2021 model’s high price tag, along with its breathtaking opulence, is enough to make any driver hesitant to take it on the trail and get a little mud on the tires. But, if you’re brave enough, you’ll certainly have enough power with the 5.7-liter V8 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission that deliver 381 horsepower, 401 lb-ft of torque, and a maximum towing capacity of 8,100 pounds. Also equipped with four-wheel drive, the Land Cruiser is responsive and agile. It’s fun to drive, and you’ll undoubtedly feel like a king or queen in the driver’s seat.

Is It Truly the End?

It’s hard to imagine the American automotive landscape without the Land Cruiser. Is this truly the end of the legendary luxury SUV, or will it make its way back to the Toyota lineup in America? After all, it’s the cornerstone of Toyota’s success on American soil, and that certainly leads to speculation around its future return. Will that return come in a hybrid or electric option, or is the Land Cruiser truly gone for good? We’ll simply have to wait and see.