Having completed our thrash in the brand new Land Cruiser, we try our hand at some 1980s Toyota off-roadingWe cannot display this gallery
I’m laying here on the dunes, a moment of quiet contemplation as Yazan continues his thrash of the new Land Cruiser a few hundred metres of way. The late afternoon sun bounces off my sunglasses as my head tilts back further into the sand, the unmistakable feeling of sand digging its way between the stitches on my shirt, and an Emirates plane flying just low enough overhead for me to make out the emblem.
It’s at this moment that two thoughts cross my mind: firstly, the scene in 28 Days Later where Cillian Murphy spots an overhead plane and realises Britain has been quarantined during its ‘Rage’ epidemic really was pretty epic. And secondly, this is probably the oldest 4×4 I’ve driven since my first driving lesson. Aged 14.
Bunny hops and multiple stalls suddenly come flooding back, my brother the candid instructor on that day on an empty stretch of land in my native UK, my parents none the wiser until they read this feature (yep, I’ll phone you tonight), and my test model, an old school Land Rover. It looked archaic, made from solid steel, and quite frankly, fun.
Fast forward 17 years and I find myself in a similar situation with today’s test model, a 1980 FJ 56V. The last bastion of Toyota’s Model 55 Series – production of which ended that same year after 23 years on the conveyor belt – both the FJ 56 and the 55 on which it was built sported a much larger wheelbase over the outgoing model without sacrificing its 4×4 capabilities: off-road prowess with a dash of utilitarian practicality, demand immediately rose for Toyota’s newly developed ‘passenger car’. It also helped Japan’s domestic annual automobile production exceed to 10,000,000 units, even though there are few pristine examples remaining today (you’ve probably noticed the Japanese-spec right-hand drive configuration).
It’s a model that’s interested all of us, crankandpiston.com colleague AJ and special guest Ahmed (whose 1957 Mercedes 220S you can read about HERE since they’re both off-road nuts: me, since the FJ 56 is only three years younger than me. Mercifully, before I start thinking too much about how I’ve changed over the past three decades, I’m roused from my contemplation by a bootful of sand. The guys want me to have a closer look.
The exterior you could easily classify as ‘built for purpose’, given the boxy styling, floating bumpers and circular headlights: it’s as far removed from the comparatively brash 2016 Land Cruiser as you could get. The rustic nature on the outside has transferred unhindered to the inside, save the Sony aftermarket CD changer trying it’s best to hide in the passenger footwell. There are no individual seats, just one bench capable of fitting three were we all to breathe in a lot. Said bench is on runners, but this requires unlocking a lever at both sides of the bench, no little amount of elbow grease, and ultimately, failure. In what is becoming customary this month, I find myself with an enormous, and delicate, steering wheel clamped to the top of my legs.
“There are no individual seats, just one bench capable of fitting three were we all to breathe in a lot”
Key in the ignition, the FJ56’s 2F-type engine splutters into life after a few hair-raising moments of lifeless turnover. We’re starting to wonder how long it’s been since this particular Toyota left the showroom, a question answered moments later when we see the fuel gauge. Probably enough for a 20 minute run before it conks out. No pressure…
Back in the Land Rover, 14-year old James is having little issue with space, there plenty of room for both legs and steering wheel to co-habit even if the actual of shifting said wheel requires more muscle mass than I’d anticipated. The interior is stripped, my brother’s surround system and a wheel lock in the passenger footwell the only ‘luxury’ items. The gear lever is enormous, the clutch pedal requires the assistance of at least two people to use properly, and all about the cabin is noise from, well, everything. This drive might be trickier than I thought….
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