Toyota’s off-road Landcruiser is marking its 70th anniversary.
Landcruiser dates back to 1951, when Toyota developed the BJ four-wheel drive for use by Japan’s National Police Reserve.
Powered by a 3.4-litre six-cylinder petrol engine, the military-style 4×4 had few creature comforts, with open sides and a folding fabric roof.
Its capability was proven when Toyota test driver Ichiro Taira drove a prototype to the sixth of 10 checkpoints on the ascent of the 3775 metre Mt Fuji — higher than anybody had thought possible in a four-wheel-drive.
In 1954, the name was changed to Landcruiser and the following year, the second-generation was launched with a redesigned look better suited for civilian use.
Greater choice was offered with three wheelbase lengths and configurations including a soft-top, pick-up, two-and four-door vans and even a fire engine.
With this generation, Toyota started to eye potential export markets and a small Melbourne-based importer called B&D Motors became the first company to sell the vehicle in Australia — in the form of the FJ25 model.
But the vehicle’s fame in Australia came in 1958 when construction magnate Leslie Thiess imported several Landcruisers for use on the rugged construction-site trails of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.
He was so impressed with the vehicle’s capability in harsh terrain, that he applied to Toyota in Japan to become an official distributor — the first outside Japan.
The arrival of the 40 Series in 1962 helped propel the Landcruiser nameplate to legendary status in Australia as a rugged performer that perfectly suited the Australian environment.
With a 24-year production run, the 40 Series was also offered with a range of bodies and wheelbases, however its utilitarian nature spurred Toyota to develop a more family-friendly iteration, that landed in the form of the FJ55 station wagon in 1969.
With more space and comfort, the FJ55 was designed to be equally at home cruising a sealed highway as it was tackling an off-road track and it excited recreational drivers across the country.
The 40 and 55 Series ran alongside each other throughout the 1970s, while the arrival of the all-new 60 Series wagon in 1981, which introduced new technologies including electronic fuel injection, turbocharging, diff locks and automatic transmissions.
The beloved 40 Series was replaced in 1985 by the heavy-duty 70 Series, bringing improvements to styling, ride comfort and driveability, while building on the Landcruiser’s reputation for extreme durability and reliability.
The following year, Toyota saw a growing recreational market that didn’t need a vehicle as large as a 60 Series but wanted the comfort and style more akin to a passenger car.
This model, with a coil sprung suspension and interior comforts, was sold in Australia as the Bundera – the start of a new line of Landcruisers that would become the Landcruiser Prado.
In 1990, the 80 Series Landcruiser arrived as a successor to the family-friendly 60 Series, bringing a raft of improvements and features.
With its optimal dimensions, coil springs, live axles and optional differential locks, the 80 Series delivered a new high-water mark for off-road ability in the Landcruiser family.
While the first-generation Prado launched internationally in 1990 was not sold here, Toyota Australia picked up the baton left after the Bundera was discontinued with the second generation Landcruiser Prado in 1996.
Offered with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder and 3.4-litre petrol V6, the Prado offered a more affordable and passenger-oriented alternative for Landcruiser fans.
Its bigger brother, the Landcruiser 100 Series arrived in 1998 to replace the 80 Series, introducing independent front suspension to the flagship Landcruiser line-up for the first time, offering better on-road handling and comfort.
The 120 Series Prado landed in 2003 with a new platform and design, finding favour with more and more Australian buyers.
In 2007, the Landcruiser was overhauled with the introduction of the 200 Series. A major facelift for the 70 Series saw the inline six-cylinder engines swapped out for the now-familiar 1VD 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8.
The 150 Series Prado was revealed in 2009 and has proven a hit with Australian families, often topping the sales tables in the hotly contested large SUV segment.
Regular upgrades include the 2015 introduction of a high-torque 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that now generates 150kW and 500Nm.
With the all-new 300 Series around the corner, the next chapter of the Landcruiser story will soon be written, building on the legacy of its forebears while making wholesale improvements to technology, performance and luxury.
A special-edition model will be offered to mark the 70th anniversary of the vehicle, available in single-cab, double-cab and wagon variants.
Just 600 examples of the 70th Anniversary Landcruiser will be produced, 320 double cabs, 200 single cabs and 80 wagons — available in three colours: French Vanilla, Merlot Red and Sandy Taupe.
Arriving in dealerships in September, the Anniversary models are priced from $80,050 (single cab), $82,600 (double cab) and $78,500 (wagon).