It was the 40-series from 1960s that made the Toyota Land Cruiser famous, but it was the BJ and 25 series, in the 1950s, that made it all happen.
The Toyota Jeep BJ came to be during the Korean conflict in 1951 when the US military, which heavily influenced the Japanese economy after WWII, requested large numbers of military vehicles. Toyota produced a vehicle similar to the WWII American Jeep and named it the Toyota Jeep BJ.
The letters noted the type of engine, B-type, and the J denoting it as a Jeep model.
Following claims of trademark violations from Willys Jeep, producers of the original Jeep, the name was changed in 1954 to Land Cruiser.
It was at this time that Toyota decided to expand their 4WD range from military into commercial and recreational vehicles and the FJ20 series was launched, with the F-type petrol engine.
The FJ25 was the standard vehicle but, in all, there were ten variations from the FJ20 to the FJ29, produced from 1955 through to 1960, when the FJ40 series was introduced.
Due to the Korean war and the strong U.S. presence in Asia, Japanese automakers were invited to bid to meet further demands for military vehicles to the U.S. Army Procurement Agency in Japan (APA).
Toyota supplied test vehicles to the U.S. military but the Land Cruiser was not selected. However it is possible that one of the trialled vehicles has now made it to New Zealand or that the U.S. military did use a small number of the Land Cruisers.
Prafull Thakur, or Archie to his friends, has recently moved from the U.S. to N.Z. permanently and he brought with him a 1959 FJ25, soft-top, Land Cruiser. This is now probably the oldest Land Cruiser in N.Z.
Archie, who is originally from India, became interested in the Land Cruiser and more specifically the FJ25 while in East Africa and Tanzania.
Upon moving to the U.S. he looked around for a FJ25 and eventually found a 1959 left-hand-drive model. It was first registered in the U.S. in 1962, when three years old and some two years after the FJ20 series ended production.
The history prior to the first registration is almost non existent but the first owner supposedly purchased the vehicle from an ex-military auction in the U.S.
Given the evidence that it was originally painted in olive drab, which is the paint usually favoured by the U.S. military, it points to the FJ25 having had some form of military history.
Since then, the vehicle has had a few changes; the original 3878cc 6-cylinder engine has been replaced with a Chevy 6-cylinder, which some would argue is the precursor to the Toyota engine anyway.
The steering had also been changed or upgraded with the addition of power assistance. The original wheels have also been changed and are fitted with 32-inch 11.5x15 Remington Wild Brute tyres.
Researching the web revealed that only 223 FJ25s were imported into the U.S. in 1959 and 1960 and few of those survive today, so it is a rare vehicle, indeed.
Given the rarity of the vehicle, Archie is in the process of restoring the FJ25 to original specification but he still has some way to go. Fortunately the body is in very good condition and has no signs of the rust that is often found in the newer FJ40-series Land Cruisers.
While at first glance, the 20-series Land Cruisers look the same as the 40-series, there are many differences. Most notably are the front grille and headlights. The 20-series headlights have chrome surrounds and the grille consists of three horizontal chrome slats.
The windscreen has a vent opening underneath and theres a deeper under-door lip on the FJ25 and the 20-series has rounded rear wheel arches whereas the 40-series are squarer.
The recessed fuel-filler has an extension tube that pulls out to allow easier filling. The rear tailgate is a one-piece, drop-down, with separate hinged spare wheel carrier and jerry can cradle, as opposed to the later models twin side hinges doors.
The swing-away jerry can adds further weight to the possible military history of Archies FJ25, as such a holder mounted on the left rear was common on military vehicles.
Also unique is the special pourer extension in the can and that the petrol can carries the Toyota genuine parts logo from that era.
Other differences are that the rear differential is in the centre, rather than offset, on the 40-series rear axle. The diff ratio is 4.11:1.
Physical dimensions like wheelbase, overall length and width are the same but the overall height increased by 100mm on the 40 series. This was partly due to the increase in tyre size from 600x16 to 700x16. However, the FJ25 actually had better ground clearance at 210mm.
The biggest mechanical variations between the two models are the gearbox and transfer case. The FJ25 has a 4-speed gearbox but only a single speed transfer case; no low range. Instead first gear was a very low 5.41:1 and, for on-road use, you normally started off in second gear.
Apparently, this early 4-speed gearbox proved very popular with the rock crawling enthusiasts because of the low first gear; probably with the later 2-speed transfer case.
There is also a pintle hook mounted on the rear, also favoured by the military, although Toyota did list these as an optional accessory for the 40-series Land Cruisers too.
While the seats have been reupholstered and the soft top bows returned to original specs, Archie still has some way to go with his restoration. He still needs to source a full set of the original Toyota 16-inch rims (non split rim type).
So, if anyone knows where he can find a set, Archie has a few beer tokens ready. Also required are an original engine, a front bonnet emblem and the front bumper.
When NZ4WD visited him, the Land Cruiser had been parked in the garage since arriving and the brakes had seized. So, we were unable to drive it outside for photographs.
There is still a lot of work to be done and some of it will need to done by specialists. If you, or anyone you know, can assist in the restoration work, let us know; Archie would appreciate it..: