From a single U.S. sale in 1958, Land Cruiser has become a Toyota market mainstay

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Vintage Toyota Land Cruisers, such as this 1977 Series 55 version, have become sought after by car collectors | Toyota photos

In 1958, Toyota sold exactly one — that’s right, just one — Land Cruiser in the United States. 

“But then,” Toyota’s U.S. division notes, “legends sometimes get off to a slow start.”

For the 2020 model year, Toyota will offer this limited-production Heritage Edition of its Land Cruiser

That said, Toyota recently sold its 10-millionth Land Cruiser since the vehicle launched, to a customer in Australia.

“As one of today’s most luxurious full-capability SUVs, the 2020 Land Cruiser might seem to have little in common with the bare-bones Land Cruiser models built through the late 1970s,” Toyota continued in its celebration of the model. 

“Yet, Land Cruisers new and classic are connected through the decades by world-renowned capability, an adventurous streak, and the shared Toyota core values of quality, dependability and reliability.”

The 2020 Heritage Edition in action

The company announced a limited 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition honoring the model’s debut in the U.S. market. The new limited-edition model will be available only in Midnight Black Metallic or Blizzard Pearl exterior, with bronze-tone BBS forged aluminum wheels, and exclusive interior appointments.

The Land Cruiser dates to 1950 and a vehicle developed for Japan’s National Police Reserve Forces and the need for a rugged, locally built all-terrain 4-wheel drive vehicle. Toyota responded with the BJ, powered by a 75 horsepower 6-cylinder engine and proved its mettle when test driver Ichiro Taira made it to the sixth checkpoint on the road up 12,388-foot Mt. Fuji.

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“That was further up the mountain than any motor vehicle had ever gone,” Toyota noted. 

1977 FJ40 version is particularly popular with car collectors eager for go-anywhere vintage SUVs

In 1954, the vehicle was renamed as the Land Cruiser, now with a 3.9-liter inline-6 and solid not only in Japan but in South America and Middle East.

Toyota established Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., in late October, 1957, in a former Rambler dealership in Hollywood, California. Sales began in 1958 with 287 Toyopet Crown sedans and a single 20 Series Land Cruiser.

Things changed with the introduction in 1960 of the FJ40 with a new chassis, fold-down windshield, wraparound rear windows and an engine that provided a class-leading 200 pound-feet of torque. The FJ40 was the first Land Cruiser with a 2-speed transfer case for improved off-road capability. It was Toyota’s best-seller in the U.S. market through 1965.

The Toyota Land Cruiser family reunion photo


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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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