Updated: Aug 31, 2022
As long as I’ve been interested in vintage Land Cruisers the debate has raged on. What year is the best Land Cruiser FJ40? It really depends on your criteria and what you value.
Earlier model years are coveted for their thicker sheet metal, 4:11 gears, classic rounded headlight bezel and no nonsense design. Land Cruisers produced in the 60’s and early 70’s are basic. They have a front bench seat, 3-speed transmissions that are not fully synchronized, drum brakes and the 3.9-liter 1F engine.
If you live in California, 1975 is the “magic year” after which all vehicles are subject to emissions testing. Finding later model FJ40’s that will pass smog tests can be a challenge.
There are some features most all agree they would like to have on an FJ40 including a roll bar which became standard in 1974 and front disc brakes in 1976. Other significant features include the switch to rear ambulance doors in 1975 and newly designed front doors with vinyl covered door cards vs. the earlier “all metal” doors. Rear wing windows in 1977 and the addition of fully electronic ignition in 1978 .
In 1979, factory power steering and air conditioning were offered as options. The fuel tank was relocated from under the passenger seat to a safer location underneath the vehicle that allowed fuel capacity to be increased from 16 to 21.6 gallons. The seats became reclining, the jump seats were given metal U-shaped legs for added support (late 78). Toyota switched to 3:70 gears, which gave the FJ40 better highway speed than the earlier 4:11 gear ratio models. Then in August of 1980 we saw the change to the split transfer case and updated four-speed transmission, which was considerably smoother and quieter than it’s predecessor.
Many note Toyota’s continual improvement to the Land Cruiser and agree that the final few model years (81-83) represent the best of the breed and the most modern. The odometer was upgraded from five digits to six-digits in 1981. The choke received a lighted knob, as did the headlight switch. The cabin courtesy light came on when the doors are opened. The center console, which was a simple metal and then plastic box, was upgraded with an ashtray and integrated rear heater.
I personally rank FJ40's as follows:
8/80 - 1983 - Great drivers with split transfer case and updated four-speed transmission
1979 - 7/80 - New body style and several improvements over 78
1977 - 1978 - 78 edges out 77, but only for the electronic ignition
1976 - Front disc brakes but still has fixed windows in back
1975 - 2F engine
1973 - 1974 - Bucket Seats, 1.5F engine, roll bar in 74
Pre 73 - Still iconic and nostalgic trucks and some are factory soft tops.
In most cases, the best FJ40 appears to be the one YOU OWN! All the Land Cruisers are great vehicles. Some are more modern than others but NONE could be defined as modern by todays standards.