Part 2: A 70 Series made for the JDM, but revived in Canada.
As I alluded to in PART 1, I recently acquired a 1991 Land Cruiser 70 Series. More specifically, it is an HZJ77, with the HZ indicating a 1HZ N/A in-line 6 cylinder 4.2L diesel engine, and the 77 meaning 70 Series, long wheelbase. This particular model officially existed only in the Japanese Domestic Market, and ran from 1990 until around ‘98 or ‘99 when it was replaced by the HZJ76, front coil spring model.
When the Toyota Land Cruiser 70 first came out in 1984, I was still carrying a ghetto blaster on my shoulder, and “Synchronicity” was spinning on a cassette tape (as long as my D batteries lasted), rather than via an elaborate Ford Infotainment system, coincidentally named “SYNC”.
Nowadays, modern vehicle’s acronyms are baffling, and the options even more so: ASC. SRS. ABS. CVT. Autonomous braking. Lane change departure warning. Automatic parking. The Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) may have had all these things in the 80’s, but it was in the minority.
So if you want, (or need) to take a step back in automotive history, this is a pretty good way to do it.
My particular 70 series’ list of features are more notable for their absence, even among it’s contemporaries. It has no ABS. No SRS (supplemental restraint system, i.e. Airbags). No sign of cruise control, let alone radar guided! What it does have is a body on frame construction, full floating rear axles, straight axles front and rear, and leaf springs holding it up.
This model also has the much coveted manual transmission, a must-have in my estimation, behind a naturally aspirated diesel. As a concession to modernity, there are power windows for ALL four doors. And there is a power sunroof too. Other than that, the power options are things we take for granted these days: power brakes (with discs on all four corners), power steering, and power locks (only for the passengers when you use the key). And yes, I can pop that Police cassette in the onboard tape deck and sing along with “King of Pain” as my leaf springs absorb some of the bumps…
So what’s it like to eschew all the creature comforts in favour of an off-road Legend? In a word:
Let’s start with a walk around. The body is the classic two box shape, with a hint of aerodynamics only on the very edges of the brick. The back windows blend into rear corners, bringing you around to classic 40/60 split rear barn doors. A proper spare tire hangs on the larger right door, in this case a 33 inch knobby. Even with the rear seats functional, there is plenty of room in the cargo area, and a bonus hidden floor compartment at the very back to keep your tow strap, picnic blanket, or large baguette safe.
Coming around the sides, the most prominent body line carries through to the tapered front fenders, and ends in a narrow nose that betrays the fact that this rig was equipped with a long inline engine. The front corners have protruding marker and indicator lights mounted outside the fenders. The most important aspect of the front however, is the headlights – the very ROUND headlights (the Prado 90 shorty also kept this distinct cue). With its lineage tracing directly from the FJ40, this model clearly didn’t stray too far afield with its front end styling cues. Many models, including mine, came with a very large, extremely prominent front bumper, affectionately known as “the front porch”. This housed a mechanical PTO (power take-off) winch, driven via the transfer case. Personally, I think it ruins an otherwise very tidy and tight front end, so I’ve already removed it. Something else will be taking its place, and then I can hopefully reunite the winch with its driveshaft.
Let’s Go Inside
Climbing up into the cab, you immediately know you are not in some crossover cookie cutter. The seat yields under you, owing to a suspension base, similar to those of semi-trucks, and coincidentally, first and early second generation Mitsubishi Pajeros. The steering wheel is large dinner plate diameter, and frames a full set of actual analog gauges, including oil pressure, voltage, and coolant temperature. Looking to your left, a trio of sticks await your command: transfer case lever, LONG transmission shifter, and PTO winch controls. Just above that, two sliders and a fan clicker control the HVAC system. No dual climate zone controls in here, unless someone rolls down a window. At least you don’t have to translate the owner’s manual to get some heat on, since it’d be in Japanese anyway.
Turning the actual all-metal key in the mechanical ignition to the halfway point illuminates the glow plug light, and a few seconds later you get visual permission to crank the engine…
We have (compression) IGNITION!
The diesel starts in under half a turn, owing to its full 24 volt electrical system. (more on that later). It’s not what one would call “quiet”. Reminiscent of a 12 valve Cummins, or maybe a Mack truck, this thing has a
subtle healthy diesel clatter, especially while it’s cold. All those analog gauges start to ascend, and things quickly smooth down from a heavy crescendo to a steady drum beat. Okay, let out that looooong clutch, and we – are – moving!
First gear is more of a suggestion, and is quick to run out of revs. Maybe best to just skip it altogether and go right to second unless starting on a hill. A steady row through the gears, and we are chugging along at 60 km/h, turning under 2000 rpm. The big inline six has a lazy feel to it, like it’s in no hurry and has nothing to prove. If you’re used to whizzy little 4 pot turbo diesels (which I am), this has very little in common with them. The pull is significant, but is not accompanied by sudden acceleration. It is more of an inexorable force, winding you steadily up to the top of each gear, before you complete the 2 foot range of motion required to slip out of one gate, through neutral, and into the next one.
Cleared for Takeoff
We are now at cruising altitude. That sounds dramatic, but this rig is pretty high, and I guess I should mention we aren’t sitting at stock height, either. Old Man Emu springs and shocks, combined with 33×12.50 all terrain tires, have put us a few inches closer to the sky than we would’ve already been. Once at speed, the diesel propulsion system settles into the background, and is more of a distant train sound than a full steam ship off your starboard bow.
We finally have some time to look around. There are grab handles everywhere, if not cupholders. The most prominent of these is a large horizontal bar in front of the passenger, and is in no danger of blocking any sort of gas propelled airbag, in the case of a sudden stop. Comforting, right? The dash is mostly steel, including the glove box, and makes a safe-like clunk when you close it. A few buttons allow control of wipers, defrost, and emergency flashers. But don’t plug your phone into that cigarette lighter socket! Maybe it’s time to charge into that interesting electrical system I mentioned earlier?
24 volts: The shocking truth
The truck is 24 volts. So go ahead and put away your 12 volt accessories. They won’t be necessary (or even safe) here. The headlights are 24 volts. The starter is 24 volts. Ditto for the glow plugs, the alternator, the reverse lights, the relays. Get used to it. 24 volts at the starter means the diesel is a very very good starter. But it does spark a few negatives (see what I did there?) when it comes to anything else you want to power. It also means that your two 12 volt batteries are wired in series, and are likely to need replacing simultaneously.
On the positive side (I just can’t stop myself), when your annoying neighbour asks you for a boost AGAIN, you just need to shrug, point at the truck and say “Sorry buddy. Twenty four volts… what are ya gonna do?” In truth, you can give someone a boost, but it’s more of a process, so better to feign ignorance. And actually, there is 12v provision given for the audio system, which is why the middle of the dash has an incongruous center piece: I’ve already traded my 80’s funk for modern junk. Android Auto is my one nod to the modern tech revolution. It won’t hurt reliability, and Google Maps and Spotify can probably be heard over the engine, if I turn it up?
Okay, if we are being fully honest here, most of these rigs were fitted with an aftermarket 24 to 12 volt buck converter, and this rig is no exception, so no worries. It is likely you can actually still charge your ipad/smartphone/camera/flashlight/usb fan. Just don’t plug them into that dash socket!
Handling if you can handle it
Most solid-axled trucks don’t get accused of being nimble, and this high COG, relatively narrow, leaf sprung behemoth is no exception. The steering, hydraulically assisted, is on the vague side, as the steering shaft reaches out to leisurely chat with the steering box, which then gossips with the steering components via shortwave radio. It’s all akin to maneuvering a large ship. And braking? Well, this truck was treated to front AND rear disc brakes, so it could be worse. But the “anti-lock system” is entirely dependent on your reaction time, and how quickly you can pulse the pedal in an emergency situation. Traction control is similarly specced. You have no illusions about which systems are doing what. You are shifting the transmission, modulating the throttle, and turning the rudder wheel. You are the safety systems, and the terrain response. In short…
You are doing the driving.
The Land Cruiser 70 Series might not be for everyone, but knowing that this vehicle is only just broken in at 239,000 kms gives you the confidence that you can leave tomorrow for any point on the planet, and when you reach whatever you designate as the halfway point, this old school box WILL get you home again. That kind of reliability supersedes every comfort, convenience, and safety system available today, in my not so humble opinion.
You may have noticed that this particular example has a few issues to attend to, which thirty years of environmental exposure have created, but the bones are solid, and the platform is as capable as it was when the first ones rolled off the line in 1984. The fact that they are still rolling off the line in 2020 should be testament enough that in some cases..
..they still make ‘em like they used to.
If you’d like to follow the build of this truck, as I attempt to bring it back to it’s glory days, check out the BUILD THREADS in our TGP Forums. I’ve got lots of plans for this rig, both in and out of the garage.
[…] and imported to Canada. I’ve sort of already let the cat out of the bag on this purchase in “They Still Make ‘Em Like They Used To” but I haven’t yet addressed it’s acquisition, and future […]