The Rover from so many lands
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.