Let's Talk About LandCruisers

I spent a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about my rig, redesigning the Tacoma I want to build, and dreaming of adventuring. In one of these recurring dreams, I travel to far-flung places in a decked out LandCruiser 78. You may know it as the Troopy or the J78. I fear this will never become a reality, though, for a few reasons I touch on later. But that feeling did get me thinking. Why did I want a Troopy so bad? What would it take to get one? Would something else serve my needs better? Today, let’s talk about LandCruisers.

The Real LandCruisers #

Toyota sells a few different versions of the 4Runner. In 2018, that line contained the SR5, the TRD Off-Road, and the Limited, to name three. The company also sells a few different versions of the 70 series LandCruiser. In 2019, that line contained the WorkMate (J76), the GX (J79), and the GXL (J78). “70 series LandCruiser” defines a family of vehicles, the J7Xs, just as “4Runner” does. The family name dates back to the 1980s, when Toyota gave the world the J40. This chassis would later become the celebrated J70. The North American market got the less capable J60. The J60 became the J80 in the 1990s, the J100 at the turn of the century, and the J200 in 2007. The J100 and J200 still sell in North America today, but neither of these vehicles hold a candle to the J70s available almost everywhere else.

The LandCruiser's Strengths #

The 70 series LandCruiser has made a name for itself as one of the most reliable, long-lasting, and capable vehicles on the road. Its impressive reputation stems from Toyota’s unique blend of diesel engine, utilitarian design, overbuilt construction, and practical form factor. Although a few other companies manage to tick a couple of those boxes, none check them all — and again, not even Toyota manages that feat in North America. To understand why this package makes the 70 series such a special platform, consider the value of each piece on its own.

A Diesel Engine #

Gas engines produce the most power at high RPMs, while diesels produce the most power at lower RPMs. Because off-road drivers tend to pack heavy and go slow, 70 series LandCruisers — with their powerful V8 diesel motors — excel in this environment. Toyota also updated the platform’s gearing in 2017, making these vehicles well-suited to highway driving, too. This setup gives consumers the best of both worlds, along with unrivaled reliability, longevity, and simplicity. These fantastic engines make the gas motors offered in other, similar vehicles look anemic and incapable by comparison.

A Utilitarian Design #

Modern vehicles have all but done away with any semblance of simplicity. They have become ever more feature-rich and luxurious, which has forced their owners to take on ever fewer maintenance tasks and repair jobs. The masses delight in this shift; car enthusiasts and overlanders despair. The utilitarian design of 70 series LandCruisers means less can go wrong with them, and on the off chance that something does, their owners can fix the problem themselves. This makes the platform a great workhorse, well suited for hash use in even harsher environments.

An Overbuilt Construction #

Most vehicles these days also trade durability for lightweight materials, an advantage that they then cancel out with more safety features and small engines with better fuel economy. This has the net negative effect of making them far less durable, a downside from which the 70 series LandCruisers do not suffer. This platform has a reputation as one of the toughest, most reliable vehicles on the road, in the world. Its simple and overbuilt construction played an integral role in earning it that notoriety. A 25-year-old 70 series with over 100,000 miles on it holds up so well that it will sell for around $5,000 less than a brand new 4Runner.

A Capable Form Factor #

LandCruisers also strike a good balance between form a function. Their compact chassis makes them capable off-road, while their utilitarian designs maximizes interior space. Compare this with the more bloated — albeit more luxurious — design of the modern 4Runner, or the 100 or 200 series LandCruisers sold in North America. In contrast, the J78 Troop Carrier has seating for up to eleven in a bay that, with its seating removed, could hold cargo almost seven feet long and five feet wide. North Americans must choose between trucks for utility and SUVs for function; the 70 series turns this false dichotomy on its head.

Taken on their own, any of these traits would make a compelling vehicle. Several car companies base entire lines on just one or two. With the 70 series LandCruisers, Toyota brings them all together into a powerful platform that can get you and your gear anywhere you want to go, take the harshest abuse along the way, and roll through it all without the slightest complaint. This unprecedented blend makes 70 series LandCruisers the most sought-after adventure platform in the world. Lofty claims like these, though, always lead to someone asking, “Well what about Land Rovers?” The British company has cultivated a similar reputation, but with one key difference.

What About the Land Rover Defender? #

Defender 110s boast many of the same strengths 70 series LandCruisers do. These vehicles also have powerful diesel engines, feature a design even more painfully utilitarian than Toyota’s, and sport a form factor that makes them well-suited to off-road environments. They cannot compete in one crucial area, though: reliability. As storied a reputation as this platform has, it has become just as infamous for poor quality control and fit and finish as well. Die-hard fans love these vehicles, but their argument gets much less convincing when making it against the legendary longevity of a LandCruiser. With all other things equal, it made little sense to go this route. Land Rover also discontinued the Defender in 2016, and its replacement looks like the vehicle’s classic aesthetic collided with the disgusting modern trend of sanding down every edge until auto designers have a soft and inoffensive blob left to sell.

I love the design of a classic Defender 110. If I had the chance to buy a new one today, I would have a hard time walking away from it. When it came to choosing a dream adventure rig, though, I had to take Land Rover out of the running. Toyota has dominated this space for years, for good reason, and its long-time competitor seems to have all but given up trying. Toyota won. This, then, raises an important question: how could I get one?

So how do we get one? #

If you live in one of a handful of blessed countries, you can buy a 70 series LandCruiser at a Toyota dealership. If not, your country may allow their import. Canada limits these imports to vehicles fifteen years old or older, and the United States ups that number to 25. Satisfy these rules, though, and many companies will streamline this process for you — for a price. Many people have done this, and they love their rigs. While I could have gone a similar route, the prospect of buying a twenty-five year old vehicle — with over 100,000 miles on it, without having seen it before, and for even more than the price of something new — made me uncomfortable. What choice did I have, though? I had two: 70 series LandCruisers have remarkable resale value, so it would cost me no matter what; using a third party to get a good one would cost even more. Every time I come back to the idea, I end up debating the benefits of each route over the other until I shelve them again. I did get an idea for an alternative, as I flipped through Tread and OutdoorX4 the other day, but I will leave that for my next article.