Nearly 50 years ago, Toyota delivered the first Land Cruiser to U.S. shores. What we would now consider a significant point in automotive history occurred with no fanfare, flashy photo shoots, or primetime radio spots. That '58 FJ25 was just the beginning of what would become a half century of building one of the most robust and reliable vehicles in the world.
1997 marked the end of the 80-series Land Cruiser, and the successful shift up-market for the Land Cruiser brand in the U.S. The completely redesigned '98 UZJ100 was Toyota's attempt to offer class-leading luxury and refinement, while still retaining the unmatched reliability and durability of the previous Land Cruisers. Most who own these luxury four-wheelers would agree that Toyota has hit the mark.
Just driving to the trailhead in John and Becky Shotts' '01 Land Cruiser was impressive. The supportive leather captain chairs made for a comfortable place to spend time, with the seat heaters taking the chill off the cool Tucson morning. There was little noise from the 35-inch BFGoodrich tires as we entered the highway, the smooth and powerful 4.7L V-8 easily maintaining faster-than-legal speeds. There was no wind noise either, making conversation easy and enhancing the clarity of the factory 300-watt JBL stereo.
The last few miles to the trail included a narrow, winding dirt road with heavy corrugations in the corners. The long-travel IFS with Old Man Emu shocks was incredibly smooth and controlled, complemented by the coil-sprung, solid rear axle. Sharp impacts barely registered in the cabin, not to mention to the venti coffees we had purchased a few minutes earlier.
The trail John chose to showcase his impressive machine is called Chivo Falls and is known for its steep, technical climbs and crossed-axle challenges. After airing down the 315/75R16 BFGoodrich ATKO tires to 18 psi, we proceeded to the trail's gatekeeper, a series of technical descents called Three Feathers. John engaged the 2.44:1 Low range and locked the center differential, and the truck made controlled progress down the series of ledges and embedded boulders. When using the brakes was required, the large front and rear disc brakes were smooth and powerful, requiring very little pedal force to bring the 5,500-pound machine to a stop.
To protect the expensive bodywork, John installed one of the first ARB front Sahara Bars to be brought to the U.S. The stout front bumper houses a Warn 8,000-pound winch and IPF 900 driving lamps. To protect the sides and rear of the truck, he enlisted the help of Christo Slee of Slee Off-Road for the design and fabrication of rock sliders and an impressive rear swing-out tire carrier.
The Land Cruiser sits 2.5 inches over stock with the help of Sway-A-Way PowerBarz torsion bars and Old Man Emu 863 coils. Additional suspension travel in the rear was achieved by using longer OME N74L shocks. The Old Man Emu shocks also do an excellent job of controlling suspension compression, minimizing bottoming.
For traction, John has several tools at his disposal, including front and rear ARB locking differentials. In situations where the spooled effect of the ARB is not desirable, he can utilize the excellent factory traction control. John has found that locking the rear ARB and using the traction control in the front provides the best overall traction and steering performance; however, if the challenge demands it, all three differentials can be locked to ensure maximum control.
As we were driving back from the trail on the graded dirt road, John decided to demonstrate the vehicle stability control (VSC) system by attempting to drift the heavy 'Cruiser through a corner. Within moments, and with little drama, the brakes and throttle had corrected for the skid.
Back on the pavement, I asked John why he chose the UZJ100. He responded saying, "I wanted to be able to drive the vehicle every day, to work or to the trail, and not have to worry about breaking down. I wanted reliability and capability."
Even 50 years later, the reasons to buy a Land Cruiser haven't changed.