FINALLY we get to drive it!
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This 70 Series Landcruiser occupied me (and you?) all winter. Hopefully we learned some things along the way, and had some fun doing it. But I didn’t get this rig to take up space, right? Time to drive it, and see exactly what we are dealing with…
All right. Hop in. Depress the clutch pedal. Extend that leg waaaay in… Now, go ahead and turn the key halfway. The glowplug light is illuminated. Good. Turn the key and crank the starter… Yes, it starts that quickly. You get what sounds like half a turn before it clacks to life. The 24 volt system, for all its quirks, is a dream setup for a diesel cold start.
The first thing you notice is that it’s loud. Like, Cummins 12 valve loud. It certainly sounds different from the typical 4 cylinder Japanese diesel. Which is appropriate, because this one is an in-line 6 cylinder. Just off idle the 1HZ quiets down considerably, and has a really nice undertone, playing back up to the clatter of the valve train.
Maybe put the windows up so we can get the full experience? Or, maybe a little less of the full experience? Reach out your left hand and find first gear. Wait! Not the door handle! This is RHD remember! Your other LEFT hand. Okay, good. Now, fair warning: first gear is more like a hint, or an encouragement to go forward than it is any real forward momentum. But give it a try anyways. Here we go – clutch out, a little throttle, and… SHIFT AGAIN. You heard me. First gear is done. In future, unless you’re on a hill, we might be better off to just go for 2nd from the beginning. Maybe we can call first and second gears 1A and 1B? All right, we are now moving forward in second gear. I purposely don’t use the word “accelerate” since that would imply that we are somehow moving with rapidity, and that clearly isn’t the case. Like else everything about the 70 Series: solid, stolid even, and dependable, but never quick. Forget zippy. Look! We’ve reached about 2500 rpm and the engine noise has convinced you that another gear change is necessary, even if our rate of speed isn’t all that impressive. Don’t confuse “naturally aspirated” with flatly accelerated.
All righty: go for third gear. Nope, further. One can’t be blamed for thinking you’re already there. The gear stick rivals a school bus in it’s linear proportions, not to mention the sheer distance from the bottom of the shift gate to the top. This isn’t a paint mixer. More like the actual act of painting itself, floor to ceiling! In case you haven’t put it together, Toyota’s H55 transmission doesn’t ship with a factory short shift kit. LOL.
Once we have reached cruising speed, and have settled down in fourth gear (we’ll save fifth for flat highways), it’s time to take a minute to enjoy the experience. The steering is nicely boosted, but won’t be accused of being overly sensitive. Between the stock steering stabilizer and the recently adjusted steering box, it at least reacts when you turn the wheel more than an inch in either direction. And my fresh wheel alignment has improved the tracking to the point where you can actually let one hand off the wheel without changing lanes.
UNTIL you hit a pothole.
This rig is stout. Bottoming out (like the Kia in front of you just did) isn’t going to be a problem, but don’t be misled into thinking you’ll be coddled in satin and cotton batting. Not even close. A large bump in this rig is a seismic event. It induces lateral bodyroll and steering feedback while simultaneously propelling you toward the headliner, since you’re sitting on spring suspension seats. After the first few bumps though, you realize you don’t really need to do anything beyond preparing for the experience. Nothing will break, and if you don’t exaggerate your steering inputs, you’ll track mostly straight down the road directly afterwards. Leaf springs, remember, suspended the Corvette for decades. So how bad can they really be? (That question was rhetorical, by the way).
Where’s the Upside?
So, we’ve dealt with the wagon suspension, the lack of acceleration, the numb steering, and the ponderous gear changes. You might be re-reading to try to find the upside? Admittedly, comfort, convenience, and acceleration may be lacking, but in their place is a no-nonsense mechanical simplicity, a greenhouse of windows, and sightlines that rival a glassbottom boat. This thing gives you the confidence to drive it around the world. The seats (at least in the 77 Series version) are surprisingly comfortable, and have both side bolster and lower back adjustments. The driving position is very natural, and there is actually a place to rest your elbow, on the door side, anyways. If one can get past the idea that once your left foot comes off the clutch pedal, it has no place to rest in this rig, then it’s a pretty nice place to spend time.
Yes, it’s a little loud. Sure, it’s more (or is it less?) than a little slow, and okay, its solid-front axle is neither nimble nor forgiving, but still… It’s a special rig, with a feel all its own, and a reputation for durability and unbreakable-ness that is unmatched on every continent. Perhaps this is why the 70 Series Landcruiser is still the platform of choice to this day for mining companies and overlanders the world over. And for me.
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