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On Losing the Land Cruiser

·2-min read
Photo credit: Marc Urbano - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

From the June 2021 issue of Car and Driver.

The Toyota Land Cruiser didn't earn its go-anywhere reputation in the United States. "One nice thing about a Land Cruiser is that it has 4-wheel drive and nine-inch clearance and is meant for cross-country bush-busting," New York Times correspondent Charles Mohr wrote in 1972 about driving in Africa. "This means that you can drive it off a road and over the veldt to get close to a lion."

Getting over the veldt—the open grasslands of southern Africa—is a no-sweat task for Land Cruisers. So is trudging through the mud of Asian forests, crawling over the crud of the Amazon basin, and persevering in the brutal, dusty heat of the Australian Outback. Land Cruisers made inaccessible parts of the world accessible, and a white Cruiser with "UN" stenciled along its flanks became an iconic image of international aid finally getting to where it was needed. Jeep will always be American and Land Rover British, no matter who owns those brands. But the Land Cruiser belongs to the world.

This SUV owes its origins to UN-sponsored "police action" in Korea. The U.S. military, which provided 1.8 million troops for the Korean War and was also still occupying Japan in the wake of World War II, needed a vehicle to use in Asia. So in 1950, it commissioned Toyota to build a version of the Willys Jeep. Regular production of the Toyota Jeep one-ton truck started in 1953, at which point Willys, enforcing its trademark, demanded a name change; thus, the Land Cruiser was born.

The vehicle came to the U.S. in 1958, and through 60-plus years of variations, a few things have remained constant: It excels in off-road environments, never sacrifices ability for style, and is always built to a ridiculously high standard. The Land Cruiser morphed into a V-8-powered luxury liner in America around the turn of the millennium. Big, expensive, and intimidating, it sold in modest numbers to the elite few who wanted one of the world's most rugged vehicles but also ultimate comfort. When Toyota stops selling Cruisers here after the 2021 model year, it will isolate America in a particular way. Elsewhere in the world, the Land Cruiser will soldier on. A vehicle as significant as this one shouldn't be gone from our shores forever.

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