“Is that a monster truck?” The neighbors’ toddler, who loves to climb on me and look at my computer when I’m working in the courtyard, had become fixated by the pictures I was editing. I didn’t want to bore her with semantics, but no, it wasn’t. It was an old Toyota Land Cruiser. Duh. It forced me to introspect, though, and I see where she’s coming from. The second generation of Toyota’s venerable Land Cruiser series does have an imposing, even monstrous presence.
This Japanese-imported HJ61 (keen enthusiasts will note that the ‘H’, rather than the more common ‘F’ designates that it was fitted with a diesel engine, and therefore an imported model) had a stance that was magnified by its fatigue-green matte paint job, slight lift, and rhino-lined bumpers. The whole vehicle was an orchestration of prepared excellence, but could easily appear overbearing or intimidating to an adult, much less a toddler.
I always considered the Land Cruiser 60-series to be the goldilocks of the utilitarianism found in the sparse FJ40 and the plush FJ80. A pleasant balance between gravel and pavement. Not to say that an FJ40 can’t be comfortable, or that an FJ80 isn’t capable off-road, but it seems that the 60, both in design and application, strikes a perfect balance between the two. This particular build impossibly seemed to lean more in both directions, simply improving on the already excellent recipe with a small lift and bumpers from outfitter OME, a roof rack, and small light bar.
Interior / Exterior
The trucks presence was equal parts humbling and empowering. I’m not afraid to say that I’m biased. I’ve long been a fan of the exterior, two-box design of these vehicles. It was a massive shift from the typically diminutive FJ40, and yet out of the gate it aesthetically blew away its competitors like the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Chevrolet Blazer, and International Scout Travelall. The slick, utilitarian look of the matte paint and rhino-lined bumpers and door handles give way to comfortable, ribbed leather seats that were supportive and comfortable. I knew the Cruiser was right-hand drive before arriving, but it was still immensely unnerving to step left-foot-first into the cabin while maneuvering around the wooden steering wheel.
My initial impression was shock; the cabin was well preserved, as nature and Toyota had intended, and the simple styling has held up remarkably well. I was pleasantly surprised by the weight and action of the doors. The hinges were smooth, and the door-closing sound was unexpectedly thud-dy. The steering wheel was beautiful wood, the seating position perfectly angled my 5’8, pudgy frame to see just far enough over the hood without scraping my head against the roof. It’s worth pointing out – if you’ve never been in an FJ60 – that the interior basically goes on forever. A large front seat and lots of rear foot-space is followed by a truly massive trunk area. This car’s owner, ever the countryman, kept a packed, mil-spec backpack and some assorted fluids and gear that seemed to take up a mere 1/10th of the storage area. It is endless. If I were to find something to complain about in the interior, it would be the gauges. They were overly-spartan, not super easy to read, and probably could have been improved. It seemed like there was a glare at practically any angle; not good if I’m on a safari and need to check my oil pressure. In some 1987 Toyotas, your dash options varied widely, and were much more 80s-flavored.
Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack. As someone who has never spent considerable time in a diesel (especially an older diesel) this sound took an extra bit of getting used to, but the torque that it was associated with the sound quickly made up for it. Compared to the inline-six motor available stateside, this was a welcome change to move this monster up and down the road. While I wasn’t distracted by the diesel motor clacking away, it was tough to keep focused on the road. Instead, I was trying to simultaneously get used to sitting on the right hand side, shifting with my left hand, and adjusting to the up-take point on the clutch pedal.
I think I’m turning Japanese
Man. Right hand drive in a car this big is stressful. Actually, it was my first right hand drive experience, so I have no idea if the size affected it. But damn. I’m lucky that there was a center turn lane, because I feel like I spent most of the time straddling that yellow line, until I got the hang of things. Shifting left handed was surprisingly easy to adapt to (when you learned to snap your fingers with your dominant hand, didn’t it become easier to figure out in the other one?), but the clutch also took some serious work. This truck’s clutch uptake was so high that I genuinely believe that it was impossible to stall. The first hundred times I hit the gas, I burned the clutch a little bit. Having just driven up in a car with the certifiably lowest and most numb uptake point ever (Mazdaspeed), this was a tough transition.
Man in the box
Once things began to work in harmony, though, I started to understand why these cars are creeping up in value across the board. An FJ60 by itself is excellent, but its two biggest drawbacks come from a relatively anemic inline-six, and atrocious gas mileage. With a diesel engine improving its two biggest faults, it’s really hard to find something to dislike about this vehicle. It’s a big, comfortable, imposing, convenient, and maneuverable box. I actually love it. It was surprisingly adept at traveling both in traffic and on the highway; the steering was tighter than expected, the suspension wasn’t too crash-y (even with the lift) and there wasn’t as much wind noise as expected for something so un-aerodynamic.
Would I Daily?
This is so, so close to a resounding ‘yes’. I love everything about the this HJ61, it is the quintessential, classic full-size SUV, and it’s only made better by the inclusion of a diesel engine. This particular model was clean, well-kept, and drove exceptionally well. But I couldn’t get past the right hand drive. As fun and approachable as the rest of the car was, I found myself constantly stressed – in a state of high-alert – during what should have been a relaxing, enjoyable drive. If I were in its native land or a British colony, this would be a no-brainer. In fact, I wouldn’t be reviewing it, because I wouldn’t have a computer to type on after having sold every possession I own to purchase it.
Aside from the RHD, I could happily see myself driving this classic beast daily. Everything about the 60-series just works so damn well. It’s big, but it’s so well made that it never feels overwhelming. 1980s and 90s Japanese manufacturing is a truly beautiful thing – it’s part of the reason these cars have been able to maintain their value. If it weren’t for the placement of the steering wheel, I would already own it.