Thursday 22 July 1999
Toyota's 80-Series LandCruiser which landed here in 1990 really couldn't have arrived soon enough.
Basically, the old LandCruiser was well past being a design of the times (it had arguably never been an
especially good thing in many ways) and the Nissan GQ Patrol (still quite new then) was giving the 'Cruiser
all sorts of grief in the marketplace.
Not only did the Patrol have a better coil-sprung suspension system than the Toyota's old leaf-spring
set-up, the Nissan also had a better engine line-up. On top of that, the Patrol was at least as good off road
(actually, it was a bit better) as the Toyota and a heck of a lot easier to live with around town.
All of which made the LandCruiser look pretty silly.
And while Toyota four-wheel-drive owners are a pretty committed lot, the Patrol was edging its way into
the psyche of even the most hardened 'Cruiser buyers. Then along came the 80-Series.
With an all-new body that incorporated a smoother, more up-to-date look, the first of the old car's hurdles
was addressed. Dig deeper and you soon discovered that Toyota had retained the live axles front and rear,
which is the best setup for really heavy off-road work, but had moved - like Nissan - to coil springs at both
ends of the vehicle.
Three trim levels were offered, the base model, mid-spec GXL and range-topping VX Sahara. Two distinct
four-wheel-drive systems were on offer too; a part-time set-up with manually locking free-wheel hubs for
the base model, and a centre diff-equipped full-time system for the other models.
The full-time system is really all about convenience, as there's no requirement to get out in the mud to lock
in the front hubs or mess about with extra gear levers. But the cheaper to build part-time system (since
there's no centre differential) made sense in the context of the base model which still got rubber floor mats.
Off-road, the new vehicle soon showed itself to be a match for the Patrol (if not actually any better) and all
of a sudden, LandCruiser devotees were happy again.
At least they were if they could live with a diesel engine.
Toyota launched the 80-Series with a choice of diesels and a single petrol engine. But it was quite obvious
from the start that Toyota itself thought diesel power was the way of the future for big off-roaders, because
it tipped considerable resources into getting both diesels right, while simply using the carry-over petrol
The petrol version was also compromised by the fact that it was only available as an automatic. Along with
any gearbox choice, the petrol 'Cruisers also missed out on the long-range fuel tanks of the diesel models,
which was a shame because the engine was a thirsty blighter. It was also - without putting too fine a point
on it - a nail.
Sluggish and underpowered, the petrol engine won very few friends and it wasn't until the 4.5-litre
twin-overhead camshaft petrol engine arrived in 1992 that Toyota had a petrol-engined contender worth
But the diesels were another story. Both were 4.2 litres and the main difference between the 1HZ and the
1HDT was a turbocharger fitted to the latter.
Even the non-turbo version, however, was a willing worker which revved nicely (especially for a diesel) and
gave adequate performance. It was good off-road too, and that legendary diesel engine pulling power was
But the glamour engine was the turbo-diesel, which turned the big 'Cruiser into something of a hot rod by
four-wheel-drive standards. Initially available only as a five-speed manual, an automatic version landed
about 12 months after the initial launch.
Either version is a strong performer with lots of acceleration for overtaking and towing big loads
(something four-wheel-drives are often called upon to do). In the bush, a turbo-diesel 'Cruiser was all but
unstoppable since it delivered its power where it was needed and made sure there was always lots of it.
Even on bitumen, a turbo-diesel 80-Series would hammer some passenger cars at the lights - much to the
surprise of those driving the cars. Of course, even a turbo-diesel 80-Series is still a heck of a big vehicle
and requires some adaptation of one's driving style to suit. In fact, it's still - like others of its ilk - a bit of a
truck really, and I don't care what fashion dictates, there are more sensible ways to get kids to school and
groceries home from the shop.
But point an 80-series at a bush track, and that's a different story...
What to pay
The most popular version of the early 80-series was the GXL, and it remains the version that makes most
sense to us. Prices start from about $27,000 for the normally aspirated diesel, while a petrol version is
about $2,000 less on a weight for age basis. The one you really want, the turbo-diesel - starts around
$35,000 for a 1990 model in good condition.