From the scorching heat of the Sahara sands to the mountain passes of Mpumalanga in South Africa one car has stood the test of time. War zones, drought-stricken countries to disease smitten areas the land cruiser has seen it all in Africa. It's continued use to this day is a living testimony of the legendary status it has created in the off-road market.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, this proverb cannot suit the origins of the land cruiser any better. When Imperial Japan invaded Taiwan in 1941 they found an American Jeep, the Japanese army was impressed such that they sent it back home right away. Toyota was then given the task of reverse-engineering the Jeep to produce a Japanese version of the car. Thus the Toyota model AK concept was conceived. Later that year the company would then go on to produce the model AK10 for the army which is the ancestor of all land cruisers.
The war continued to shape the early models of the car. In 1950 during the Korean war there was a need for a light utility vehicle, the US army ordered 100 jeeps from Toyota thus the Toyota jeep BJ was born in 1951. Later that year Ichiro Taira the second-generation test driver of the jeep BJ climbed mount Fuji becoming the first vehicle to climb that height. Post-war period left Toyota with a highly capable jeep which could be modified and sold to the general public. 1954 saw the birth of the name "Land Cruiser", named by the technical director Hanji Umehara to rival the British Land Rover.
Development of the land cruiser has given Africa the iconic J70 model which was introduced in 1984. If you're truly African you have seen the J70 whether as a safari truck, Red Cross ambulance, a farm truck or in the United Nations convoy. The affordability of the Land Cruiser J70 series coupled with its easy maintenance due to it's rather simpler design compared to its competitors has put it on top of the off-road competition. The J70 series also have high resell price, it has a very low rate of depreciation, therefore, you find old J70 models still running around all over Africa.
In the 1970s if you wanted a four-wheel-drive Toyota you had to make one yourself, Toyota saw this market and responded by producing the 4×4 pick-up truck in 1979. Later in 1984, the system found it's way to the new Land Cruiser J70, this system would then lead to its popularity in Africa as the absence of road infrastructure or dusty roads and rugged terrain required a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The comfort-oriented Land Cruisers also found their way to Africa. Today they are still being used by non-governmental organisations to navigate the African continent.
To add to its fierce reputation the Land Cruiser holds an impressive record in the Guinness world record book. In 1984 a Swiss couple Emil and Liliana embarked on a journey that took them across 186 different countries, driving 473 000 miles in a period of 34.5 years. The couple drove a 1982 Land Cruiser FJ60.
Up to this day, the Land Cruiser continues to dominate the continent of Africa whereas competition from it's old nemesis the British Land Rover Defender has died. The Land Cruiser is truly the King of Africa.
By Kevin Mbekezeli