Toyota’s 40 Series Land Cruisers come back to the States

Photo: Toyota 40 Series Trucks Photo 1

The FJ Company does brisk business in Land Cruisers

If Japanese collector cars in the U.S. have a mascot, it is the venerable Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser. The classic 40 Series trucks were one of the most popular exports for the automaker worldwide; they enjoyed strong sales on our side of the Pacific as well, with Toyota shipping the 4×4 to the United States through the early 1980s.

Even as these basic trucks were supplanted by powerful luxury SUVs, enthusiasts still carried a torch for the classic FJ—which is why, if you’ve thumbed through catalogs of major U.S. auctions in the last 10 years, you’ve noticed that they are obligated by federal law to offer a classic 40 Series Land Cruiser (legislation recently reinforced by the “No FJ40 Left Unrestored” mandate).

Miami-based restoration specialist The FJ Co. is a part of the thriving cottage industry catering to the powerful nostalgia for these old Toyotas. It has been in business for just four short years, and as its name suggests, Land Cruisers are all it does.

It isn’t the only company churning out minty FJ40s. ICON 4×4 in Los Angeles specializes in modified—wholly redesigned, even—40 Series trucks with modern gas and diesel engines, as well as updated creature comforts. In essence, the Land Cruiser Industrial Complex now provides those nostalgic for the 4x4s of yesteryear a greater variety of Land Cruisers than Toyota dealers had sitting in their lots.

Photo: Toyota 40 Series Trucks Photo 18

1981 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 Freeborn Red

But The FJ Co.’s game plan is somewhat different: It offers three different FJ “models” made to order, from the nearly-stock “Classic” (from $55,000) to the beach-ready “California” (from $65,000) to the mildly modernized, off-road-oriented “Sport” (from $75,000). Custom one-off projects include special bodies and powertrain swaps.

Brothers Nelson and Juan Calle, the men behind The FJ Co., got into the business very “organically,” as Nelson puts it. Their father and grandfather drove FJs on their farms, with one of the trucks becoming the duo’s first restoration project some years ago. Soon, their friends started asking them where they could get one, and finding and restoring FJs became more than just a hobby.

Sourcing old trucks can take them far afield. “I would say half of the cars come from outside of the country—a bit more like 60 percent,” Nelson says. “And I have to say that that’s more because there has been a lot of interest in the (medium-wheelbase) FJ43, and those cars are mostly in South America. So we find those—we find good running cars. We stick to areas that are not on the coast so there’s the least amount of rust possible. We search the dry, mountainous areas of Colombia, Costa Rica and Venezuela.”

In South America, the classic FJ is not really a classic—they are still in use as indispensable daily drivers. This stands in sharp contrast to the settings in which we tend to see Land Cruisers in the U.S. these days: gleaming, better-than-new specimens rolling down the Pacific Coast Highway with a surfboard on the roof or gently purring across the carpet of the auction block.

Photo: Toyota 40 Series Trucks Photo 21

1978 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 SkyBlue

But The FJ Co.’s customers do get their cars dirty from time to time, even though Nelson admits most lead a charmed life. ”I would say that 80 percent of the buyers are weekend users. Of those, 30 percent of the cars will be used off-road, and the remainder of the cars will be used more like at weekend houses, golfing communities, beach communities, surfing communities,” Nelson explains. “So (it’s) more like a weekend-fun driver. Not too much on the highway, but more so on back roads.”

The FJ Co. is now on track to deliver 40 Land Cruisers over the next 12 months, with most of their restorations being one of the three basic models. Each project takes nine to 12 months.

Nelson is optimistic about continued demand for the FJ40 (and other Japanese classics) as the kids of the 1970s grow up to buy the heroes of their youth. He is skeptical, however, about other vintage Japanese 4x4s becoming the darlings of the auction circuit in the States. Even the 40 Series’ successor—the 70 Series Land Cruiser—is virtually unknown in the U.S. outside of enthusiast circles. The Nissan Patrol is an equally niche vehicle despite a biography similar to that of the 40 Series.

No, it seems there’s a certain charm unique to these rugged old Toyotas—and that just so happens to translate into thriving business for The FJ Co.

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