Choose Your Own Off-Road Adventure: 1983 Toyota Land Cruiser vs 1973 Land Rover Series III

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Happy Friday, Autopians! Today, I decided that if we’re throwing out the price limit on Fridays, we might as well break the imaginary bank and just go for it. So both of today’s choices are from that bastion of all things cool and unaffordable, Hemmings. It’s not the same brown phone-book-sized tome that we all loved to leaf through at B. Dalton’s while Mom shopped for the latest Dean Koontz thriller (that wasn’t just me, right?), but in digital form, it’s still a storehouse of wonders. And there’s another book tie-in to today’s choices that I’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s see who won our hatchback battle:

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And there you have it. Always bet on red velour. That little Datsun would be a fun cruiser, if only for all the “Wow, I haven’t seen one of those since…” comments.

When I was a kid, the only things I ever asked to spend money on were model cars, and books. (Actually, not much has changed.) My universe revolved around the Scholastic Book Fair at school, and the release of the new MPC and AMT model kits for the year, usually coinciding with the autumn release of the actual cars. Five bucks either way, and I was a happy camper. Naturally, I gravitated towards books about cars, but for kids, those are few and far between. The Phantom Tollbooth is a road-trip story, but there isn’t much about the actual car in it. And Encyclopedia Brown, Fudge, and Beezus and Ramona all walked everywhere.

So when I found book number seventeen in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, The Race Forever, I devoured it. I learned how to win both races, and how to get killed, in each of the four cars, and I researched the hell out of the cars. (In the original, it’s a Lancia Stratos and a Saab 900 Turbo for the speed race; apparently those were changed to more modern rally cars for the re-issue.) I still have my orignal copy of it, and a few years ago I decieded to pay tribute to the book by building radio controlled models of the two off-roaders.

And today, we’re going to take a look at those two vehicles. Except that you can actually get in these and drive off on a grueling multi-day off-road adventure. Just watch out for puff adders and river ferry saboteurs.

1983 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 – $55,000

Fj 1

Engine/drivetrain: 4.2 liter inline 6, 4 speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Savannah, GA

Odometer reading: 10,900 miles (since restoration, total mileage unknown)

Runs/drives? I should hope so, for that price

Like so many other small 4WD vehicles, the Land Cruiser can trace its roots back to the good old Jeep. Toyota reverse-engineered a captured Jeep, and then, as they are still known for doing, improved upon it. They may not always be innovative, but they keep ironing out kinks until the resulting vehicle is as good as it can be.

Fj 2

The FJ40 iteration of Toyota’s famous off-roader is still, after all these years, the mental image most people see when you say “Land Cruiser.” It’s instantly recognizable, and still looks good. And with a long history of reliable service all around the world, it’s not just another pretty face.

Fj 3

Fj 5

This Land Cruiser has been restored, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous. It’s only done 10,000 miles in the past eleven years since being restored, but I’d like to think it covered a couple hundred thousand before that, and in some harsh environments. Of course, we get none of its prior history, but if these four wheels could talk, I’d love to hear the stories they’d tell.

Fj 4

The trouble with this truck for someone like me is that it’s literally too good for me. I would want to use it as intended, and ruin all that pretty restoration work. This Land Cruiser is a great starting point, but it needs some dents and scrapes and wear and tear to make it truly perfect. There’s a reason I write a feature called “Shitbox Showdown.”

1973 Land Rover Series III 109 – $69,998

Lr 1

Engine/drivetrain: 2.25 liter inline 4 (assuming it’s stock), 4 speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Jacksonville, FL

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? I assume

The Land Rover was designed to be a cross between a small truck and a tractor, to help get Britain back on its feet after World War II and keep Rover afloat. The original Land Rovers had aluminum alloy body panels to save on steel, and were all painted various shades of green to use up surplus military paint. The alloy stuck around, but luckily the color palette expanded.

Lr 5

This restored Land Rover is about as far from farm work as you can get, but all the capability is still there. It has a gorgeous wood-trimmed interior, comfy-looking leather bucket seats, and assorted electronic bric-a-brac stuck in the dash, but you can still connect a winch or a water pump or what-have-you to the power take-off in the back and get some actual work done.

Lr 4

Not that a Land Rover this clean will ever see anything more grueling than a Starbucks parking lot, but again, I like to think it got nice and dirty in its previous life. There’s a maddening lack of information in the ad, and not even any underhood photos, so I can’t be sure if it’s still powered by the original 4 cylinder or something more potent, and if it is the original engine, whether it’s petrol or diesel. You could probably call the dealership and get more info, but then you’d have to talk to the dealership.

Lr 2

Lr 3

I do love the details of these old Land Rovers. The odd set-back grille, the slide-open windows, the surprisingly elegant curve of the door handle cutouts. It’s a handsome machine. But again, it would look better beat-up.

So, to help us make this choice, I propose this scenario: whichever truck you choose, you have to take it on a grueling multi-day off-road rally. (Not in Africa; the logistics are a nightmare.) You’ll bang it up, get it stuck, sleep in it, and generally use it as intended. The race director is holding two sets of keys; which one do you take?

(Illustration from The Race Forever by R.A. Montgomery, illustration by Ralph Reese, published by Bantam Books, 1983.)



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58 Responses

  1. As much as I love The Toyota Land Cruiser; and I really love the Land Cruiser; I have just always loved those old Land Rovers, I just love the way they look, so I vote Land Rover, and feel like an asshole. Looking at the votes though, I should have gone Land Cruiser.

  2. “Toyota reverse-engineered a captured Jeep, and then, as they are still known for doing, improved upon it.”
    not…really. The reality is that even the AK10 prototype which was based on the MB was only roughly similar. Completely different looks, completely different domestically produced drivetrain, etc. And the BJ which eventually became the Land Cruiser shared no parts with the AK10. To say the Land Cruiser started as a ripped-off Jeep is a little misleading.

    1. Thank you, yes. Especially since it’s completely and utterly bogus.

      Japan actually got the Jeep. The real thing. Legitimately. In addition to all the abandoned and locally sold surplus, post-war, Willys issued a license to manufacture the genuine article to Mitsubishi in 1953, and that license was continued until I believe it was 2002 expiry. (Production ended in ’98 for emissions reasons.)
      In fact, Willys licensed the CJ family down to every last nut and bolt to anyone with a manufacturing plant and the cash. Mitsu’s entire Fuso engine line can trace it’s roots to the Willys Hurricane; the KE family were developed as a diesel version of the JH4.

      And the AK10 wasn’t even based on the Willys MB. It was based on the Bantam GP. Which has very little in common with the ubiquitous Willys MB/Ford GPW.

    2. The Land Rover was the one that was a rip-off/inspired-by the Jeep. Maurice Wilks had a war surplus Jeep on his family farm, loved it, and long-story-short, designed his own version for Rover.

      That said, the original Jeep showed many manufacturers that a small, utilitarian, AWD vehicle was a great idea, so I’m sure it inspired the Toyota as well.

  3. Toyota all day. Land Rovers are just garbage unreliable piles of crap. How they got a reputation of being unkillable off roaders is beyond me. I worked a few years restoring these things. They look cool as hell but the mechanicals are absolute garbage.

  4. I expect the Land Cruiser to win the vote, and it probably deserves to, particularly if actual money is on the line. That said, I voted for the Land Rover. Always thought they were cool. The Land Cruiser ticks all the right boxes and looks awesome, but has no particular pull on my heartstrings. Plus, I’d much rather deal with a dank British summer than roast in a desert somewhere.

  5. I think a lot of people are missing the scenario at the bottom of this article.

    Toyota all day long and twice on Sundays. It’s reliable and easy to repair since these things were practically everywhere around the globe. I may have to drop the front passenger seat down if I’m required to sleep in it, but I’d be a lot more confident in it’s ability to get the job done. It being smaller also gives it an advantage of being able to traverse enclosed areas like forests or jungles.

    1. Which presumes you’d actually get to drive it. My Land Rover Airportable got driven about an hour for every month it spent in my garage on jackstands until I got fed up with it and gave it away. $13K down the drain (in 1990s money).

  6. As the owner of a 74′ Series 3, Toyota all day for these prices. Unlike the Defender, the petrol Series Rovers will barely do 55-60 on flat ground with a slight tail wind. Most parts are super cheap though, and you can keep them running without mad wrenching skills, but you can daily-drive and highway-trip the Land Cruiser, whereas the Series is more of an off-road or short drive around town affair.

    1. I’ve owned around thirty cars over the last [unintelligible number] years and I, too, have cumulatively spent less than the cheaper of these two in purchasing them. Let’s not discuss repairs…

      Still, the obvious answer here is the Land Rover, as there’s a better chance it will deliver the levels of comfort, reliability, ease of maintenance, and parts availability to which I have grown accustomed.

  7. I need to know more about this “sleep in it” part. Cause I’m leaning towards the Toyota because I6>*, but the interior space on the Rover is vastly superior.
    Can I have a tent? Some sort of lean-to?

  8. Being a sorta-taller guy (6’2″ish) and having sat in several FJ40s, I can say they are not friendly to the vertically-blessed.

    I’ve never sat in a Series III, but being somewhat familiar with British vehicles, I believe it would be a better fit, even if it’s at a greater cost. With rigs like this, daily drivability and supreme reliability is likely within spitting distance.

    A Vote for the Rover.

    1. Came here to post this exactly. I used to say if I had to drive a car from my birth year of 1977, it’d be a FJ40. Then I put my 6’6″ frame in one and wow – I mean, I’m used to auto manufacturers having no regard for someone my size (see: any car with a sunroof) but the FJ40 was comically small. I simply could not get my legs in it in any way that they would be able to operate the pedals.

    2. Yep. I can’t drive my CJ5 for long stretches because I am generally too big for it. The seat doesn’t move, and the gas pedal is real close. My calf cramps up from having to hold my toe up on the gas pedal. The FJ40 is about the same size.
      I will gladly putter along slowly and comfortably in the Rover.

  9. Absolutely the Land Rover. If I’m going to spend imaginary money, I want the best. Having four doors and useable load space is a huge plus. I also like the esthetics of the Rover. It just screams competence. Much as I would hate to scar up that wonderful tan paint, for the purposes of this exercise, I would drive the wheels off it exploring little known sites of interest in central Southeast Kansas.

  10. I gotta take a pass on both.

    They’re good cars. They’re fine cars. There’s nothing wrong with either of them that I can see – granted, I’m not an expert on either. But they both look like quality cars in fine mechanical and cosmetic condition.

    The problem is they’re both at the absolute top of the pricing curve. The absolute top. The Land Cruiser is literally at the top valuation Hagerty lists, and the Land Cruiser is MILES above the pricing curve – it’s a $40k car tops, not even remotely a $70k car. And that’s per Hagerty.
    But more importantly? Prices are only going to fall from here. As of today, prices are only going down. Unrest and uncertainty is bad for the market.

  11. This was the day for a ‘neither, thanks’ option. I understand these are both popular. They were both excellent for their intended purpose when they were built. Now they are poor driving museum pieces. If I’m spending that sort of money and space on something to look at, there are much better choices.
    If you want vintage off road, pick up a mechanically restored 40 series for half this price and don’t worry about scratching it.

  12. Wow…both dream cars and I should be allowed neither as I would trail ride them and scratch and dent them. First month of buying both my TJ and 2020 Grand Cherokee I had them on trails (both new when bought)…while a bit more reckless with the TJ, I’ve still taken the GC places most people wouldn’t dare…

    But if I can only have one, it would have to be the FJ…Toyota reliability will always win out for me!

  13. I love Land Rover Series vehicles. I also love Land Cruisers. I have a particular fondness for Series IIa and Series III LWB 5 door safari top Land Rovers. However, this one has been ruined with that retro dash, steering wheel and why oh why would you put a touch screen in something that is held together by rivets, rust and prayers. I went Toyota, only because it hasn’t been ruined.

  14. Oh man, I don’t know how many times I read “The Race Forever” CYOA book when I was a kid! I imagine that book is what lead me to buying a Saab 900 years ago.

    For these two, I think I’ll go with the Toyota. Provided you don’t take a wrong turn and get killed by a rhino, it should lead you to finding a gold vein and allowing you to fund your own rally series.

  15. This was really fun. Thank you. I had read through just living the idea of either of these machines when I got to the surprise twist ending. Had to go back again thinking about some multi day Enduro thing. That made the Toyota an easy win. Cubes. Durability (in operation as opposed to repairability). Working electrics with meaningful lights. Off road chops. All favor the Toyota.
    I’d rather have my picture taken with the Rover though.

  16. I…. would rather be in that Starbucks parking lot than any rally, but I would still take the Land Cruiser for having to do work. The Land Rover is gorgeous and I much appreciate it. But I’m vaguely playing along to hypotheticals for vehicles I will never own.

  17. Toyota, thanks.
    Maybe it’s the odd times we are in, but I saw $55k for the FJ40 and thought wow, that’s a bargain….
    I thought these had gone stratospheric like original Bronco’s

  18. Land Cruiser, obviously. Much better built, cheaper, and not a pig in a poke the way the Rover is in this ad. I’ve always thought the Cruiser was the better vehicle anyway—I have a lot of respect for durable engineering, which the Cruiser has and the Rover just doesn’t.

  19. I got to experience both of these in HS back in the ‘80s. The Rover was a year-older party buddy’s, and we took it up a few logging roads-even did some power lines with the local 4wd club. Wasn’t cushy, but DAMN was it capable! With the narrow stockish tires it pissed of the local Chevy & Ford guys no end. It could go laterally along inclines which would have me about pissing myself sure we were gonna tumble. Nope: just ground on ahead.

    The FJ belonged to a kid who moved from AZ to SW Va and was experiencing serious culture shock. As I was a transplant myself, we hung out. He was used to running hard in the desert, and we had some mishaps here in the woods & mud because he couldn’t seem to slow down much.

    I can’t give much in the way of driving impressions, tho: these were party buddies and I was always fried. I was more comfortable in the Rover because it was so agricultural you didn’t try to carve corners or any such nonsense. The FJ was kinda a glorified Jeep-with-bikini-top & chrome wheels of the ‘80s: it invited shenanigans.
    So I voted for the Rover

  20. I would go for the Land Rover, but that price gives me pause. The Toyota has more grunt, a shorter wheelbase for when the going gets real bad, and it’s cheaper. Plus it’s a Toyota, and a simple one at that, so maintenance will be infrequent and relatively affordable, which is something that can’t be said for a lot of classic cars.

  21. Need to add a couple of additional voting buttons to these:
    None of the above, for vehicles like this that are absurdly overpriced.
    Both, for vehicles that are such good bargains that they bring our our inner DT.

  22. For the purposes of today I’ll pick the Toyota. Looks better, strikes me as more reliable and more capable, and somehow less imperialistic. But in the future I much prefer we stick to the shitboxes, where a mere C-note might tip the scales one way or another.

  23. Land Rover because I have wanted one for 50 years. I know it’s less reliable than a Toyota but they are infinitely repairable with minimal tools and mostly don’t rust. Plus the tropical roof keeps them cooler.

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