The Rover from so many lands

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

Cruiser. A vul­ner­a­ble Ja­panese gov­ern­ment des­per­ate for 1000 mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles re­sulted in the un­for­tu­nately ti­tled ‘BJ’ in 1951, later to be­come known as the Land Cruiser.

Land Rover didn’t seem par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the new­comer at first – the re­mains of the Bri­tish em­pire loy­alty to UK prod­ucts seemed unas­sail­able af­ter all – but with Toy­ota pro­duc­tion so close to Aus­tralia, im­port charges were lower, leav­ing the Land Cruiser too cost-ef­fec­tive to ig­nore. Land Rover’s oily bub­ble burst al­most overnight. The 90% mar­ket share once en­joyed by Land Rover Aus­tralia fell to just two per­cent fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the Land Cruiser, which was cheaper to mend, built prop­erly and a whole new prospect. The Land Rover Se­ries III and Land Cruiser FJ40 bat­tle reached boil­ing point when the African mar­ket fol­lowed Aus­tralia’s lead. It was time to fight back.

Land Rover of­fered a Se­ries III pow­ered by a de­tuned Rover V8 from 1979, but to no avail. The in­tro­duc­tion of the Range Rover made lit­tle dif­fer­ence ei­ther, since it ap­pealed to a very dif­fer­ent class of client. It wasn’t un­til the launch of the coil-sprung 90/110 that Land Rover got it­self back in the game, but on­go­ing short­com­ings con­tin­ued to let it down. The situation re­mains largely un­changed today, and with no De­fender re­place­ment on the hori­zon, Land Rover’s op­por­tu­ni­ties are un­likely to im­prove.

And yet today the Se­ries III Land Rover is sim­ple, charis­matic and charm­ing fun – whereas the Land Cruiser FJ40 isn’t. It may have ironed out a few of the Land Rover’s me­chan­i­cal mal­adies, but the Toy­ota has very lit­tle else in its favour. It didn’t, for ex­am­ple, ap­peal to Euro­peans or Amer­i­cans – it only sold strongly in mar­kets close to home. The Land Rover Se­ries III, on the other hand, has fan clubs thriv­ing all over the world.

The rea­son the FJ40 failed out­side Aus­trala­sia and the Mid­dle East is sim­ple – it’s rather soul­less. Tak­ing the Land Rover recipe and suc­cess­fully im­prov­ing it stripped the FJ40 Land Cruiser of all char­ac­ter. Even its name was a Land Rover fac­sim­ile. The Land Cruiser only took off in Aus­tralia – then the rest of the south­ern hemi­sphere – be­cause a coal min­ing deal led to in­creased de­mand for Ja­panese cars and trucks in those re­gions. Some say that, had it not been for this gov­ern­ment deal, the situation would have been wholly dif­fer­ent for Toy­ota and Land Rover.

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