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When people of a certain age hear the words 'Toyota LandCruiser', the venerable 40 Series is the vehicle that springs to mind.
There’s a bit of a myth that the LandCruiser was the vehicle that built the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, then the biggest civil engineering project the planet had ever seen. Why a myth? Because it’s just not true. Yes, a handful of (maybe a dozen) LandCruisers were imported by Les Thiess (later, Sir Les) after he scored a contract on the Snowy Scheme, and the vehicles were so good, Thiess later applied to become a Toyota distributor in Australia.
But the four-wheel-drive that actually built the Snowy Scheme? That was the Land Rover, thanks to a combination of being more or less all that was available at the time and the Federal Government’s insistence that the scheme use products from the British Empire where possible. World War II had only finished four years before the first work began on the Scheme, after all. Although, clearly, the government wasn’t so fussy about where the manpower was sourced.
That first batch of vehicles privately imported by Thiess was, in fact, made up of BJ25s, the second generation of Toyota’s rugged off-roader (the first-gen was, allegedly, a reverse-engineered Jeep). But even in the late 1950s in Japan, the 20 Series (of which the BJ25 was a member) was starting to look pretty crude, so a new generation was planned for 1960. Enter the 40 Series.
Like the 70 Series which is made up of different vehicles, the best way to approach the 40 Series is to think of it as a family of vehicles. In Australia, that family included the short and long wheelbase models, a pick up and, later in the model’s life, an 11-seat Troop Carrier.
Far and away the most popular variant was the short-wheelbase hardtop, dubbed FJ40. There was a soft-top, too, but the hardtop was where it was at for the 4WD fraternity back in the early 1960s when the thing first hit the market through the Queensland-based Thiess Motors dealer network. You could also get a single-cab pick-up or cab-chassis called the FJ45, and the two-door Troop Carrier from 1980 to the end of the 40 Series in 1984 was also an FJ45 and used the cab-chassis’ 2950mm wheelbase (just 2285mm for the shorties). The vast majority of sales were to commercial operators as private ownership of four-wheel-drives wasn’t even thought of back then. How things have changed.
At the start, the trusty 40 Series was a petrol six-cylinder engine or nothing, and the 3.9-litre six was worth 93kW (on a good day) and was teamed to a three-speed manual gearbox. A bigger, 4.2-litre six was introduced in 1974 and with it came a standard four-speed manual. A five-speed manual became available for the last couple of years before the 40 was replaced by the 70 Series in 1984.
Diesel engines weren’t such a big deal back then in vehicles of this size, but if you waited until 1977, you could, indeed, buy a 40 Series diesel. In the short-wheelbase hardtop, that amounted to the BJ40, a three-litre, four-cylinder non-turbo diesel good for 57kW. For 1980, those numbers became 3.4 litres and 63kW and the code became BJ42. For the long-wheelbase models - the pick-up, cab-chassis and Troop Carrier - the diesel option was the 2H non-turbo diesel six-cylinder with 72kW from 1977 with a HJ45 code-name that changed to HJ47 post 1980. Got all that? Good.
From the very outset, the 40 Series was a rugged piece of kit and was able to cop the harshest abuse from the most uncaring of operators. Like any off-roader of that time, it used a separate chassis with a body bolted on top, but even then, it was a much stronger chassis than used on the previous 20 Series models. The other big advance was the inclusion of a transfer-case, giving two distinct sets of gear ratios; one for on-road, one for off-road. Believe it or not, the 20 Series lacked this function.
Suspension was a fairly agricultural leaf-sprung set-up and while it didn’t do much for ride quality – especially in the pitchy, short-wheelbase models – it was tough and could be fixed by a blacksmith if necessary. The axles were solid at both ends and, again, this did very little for handling and on-road dynamics, but off-road, the live axles gave plenty of wheel articulation. Which is, of course, the point (back then, people actually bought four-wheel-drives to use off-road).
Inside, things were pretty sparse and anybody unfortunate enough to ride in the back of a short-wheelbase 40 Series will be able to tell you all about passenger discomfort. The only rear seats were, effectively, the metal wheel arches. There were optional jump seats with a thin layer of padding, but they were pretty rare. As with the Troop Carrier - which could fit eight bodies in the back - the rear seats ran north-south along the cabin, so you were sat sideways as that Cobb and Co suspension did its thing.
Up front, there was the familiar dome-shaped instrument cluster which did actually incorporate plenty of info including oil pressure and amps, although you’d have to rate the 160km/h speedo as playfully optimistic. And beyond that it was all metal; later models got a crash-pad of sorts, but other than that, the only plastic on the dashboard was the switch-knobs and a pair of crude flaps to direct air onto the flat, upright windscreen. Ah yes, the 40 also featured a quaint, fold-down windscreen, but we’ve never seen one in the opened position. The rumour is that once the screen has been opened for the first time, it never ever seals properly again.
Performance was leisurely in the petrol versions and downright asthmatic in the diesels. But the four-speed manual gearbox had a particularly sweet action and the trademark squeak from the clutch-pedal return-spring will make old timers smile.
Going off-road was what the 40 Series was all about and to be honest, it was pretty sensational at it. About the only thing to come close would have been a Land Rover which couldn’t tow anything like the Toyota and the emerging Nissan G60 Patrol which was also pretty handy in the mulga but persisted with a three-speed manual until 1980 when it was replaced by the MQ Patrol, and was simply overshadowed by the Cruiser. As was anything else intended to be used in the scrub back then.
These days, the humble 40 Series LandCruiser has achieved the previously unthinkable; it’s now a collector car! Plenty have been re-powered with much more powerful, modern engines and restoring the 40 is a major hobby in Australia where some projects involve 40 Series bodies being transplanted on to 80 Series chassis for the ultimate in off-road smarts and retro cool.
In the US, the scene is even bigger with a raft of specialist companies able to take a standard, worn out 40 Series and re-engineer and restore the thing to better-than-new with a price tag well north of $250,000. Who’d have thought that was possible, back when the 40 Series was a workhorse being used by first responders, mining and construction industries and farmers?