Toyota LandCruisers on site during the building of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme in the 1960s.

How a dozen LandCruisers became 1 million

Riley Riley

Toyota is turning 60 and to celebrate it’s looking back over the early years, with a series of retrospectives.

The company traces its history in this country back to 1958 and construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Thiess Holdings became the first Australian company to win a construction contract on the huge Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

The company’s owner, Leslie Thiess, who was later knighted, privately imported about a dozen LandCruisers to use on the site.

He was so impressed with the vehicle’s capability in the harsh terrain, that he applied to Toyota in Japan to become an official distributor — the first outside Japan.

Following its appointment as Queensland distributor, Thiess Toyota moved quickly to establish dealerships to service its growing customer base, with one of the first being Rockhampton Car Sales, owned by George Jamieson.

A Thiess sales rep had taken a new LandCruiser to display at the Rockhampton Agricultural Show and asked Jamieson to put it on his stand, which he did – and promptly sold it to a local farmer on the same day.

Rockhampton Car Sales was one of 12 dealerships established in Queensland in 1959 that combined, sold a total of 69 LandCruisers that year.

Last year, Toyota sold its one millionth LandCruiser in Australia with the global tally recently topping 10 million.

Thiess also used the cars for its own growing construction business, that ranged from the 1960’s Beef Roads Project, through some of the remotest parts of Queensland, NT and WA — to the 1977 Sugarloaf Dam project that still supplies Melbourne with drinking water.

The success of the car also spawned the Toyota LandCruiser Club which this year celebrates its own 50th anniversary.

Australia’s own government science agency, the CSIRO, also found plenty of use for LandCruisers with Murray Upton working in the organisation’s Division of Entomology undertaking several long distance scientific research surveys through NSW, SA, WA, Queensland and NT in the 1970s at the wheel of an FJ55.

Writing in March 1974, Mr Upton noted that the LandCruisers proved vital for the expeditions.

“The trip to western Arnhem Land to study the insect fauna was a two-part survey carried out both before and after the wet in two Toyota FJ55 station wagons and an FJ45, with all three towing caravans. Conditions in this area were extremely hot and dusty before the wet with the only serious hazard the dry creek beds and bulldust,” Mr Upton said.

“Getting into the area immediately after the wet was a different proposition altogether but with the Toyota vehicles, the party was still able to get the caravans to all the required sites.”

In its first chapter, Toyota plans to tell the stories of these people, whose work, leisure and community activities were enabled by Toyota on social and other media.

Over the next 12 months, as part of its 60th Anniversary social history project, Toyota will also explore the role it played in individuals’ aspirations in motorsport and its movement for the masses courtesy of a long history of Australian-built passenger cars.

Sir Leslie Thiess in 1981, alongside the first and the 100,000th LandCruiser sold by Thiess-Toyota.

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