I’m sure you’ll all be aware of the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Clearly, it’s one Toyota takes very seriously when it comes to the 70 Series LandCruiser – a vehicle that has continued to boast continued popularity with farmers, miners, and hardcore off-roaders across what’s now five different decades here in Australia.
First launched all the way back in 1984 – that’s 36 years ago for those not mathematically inclined, making it one of the oldest new cars on sale anywhere in the world – it’s staggering to think that the example you see pictured here is, indeed, a brand new 2020 model, but as I hopped into the big burgundy beast on a grey Wednesday morning and fired it into life, the odometer showing a mere 450km on it was clear confirmation of just how fresh it was.
And that, it must be said, was a truly strange moment. The contrast of hopping into something that looks and feels like a product of the ’80s but is practically fresh off the production line takes a while to wrap your head around. Good thing I was fortunate enough to have it in my care for two weeks to put it through its paces, then.
In the 70 Series range, there are three distinct chassis codes and four different body styles – the ’76’ wagon, the ’78’ Troop Carrier, and the ’79’ ute in both single and dual-cab body styles – with each offered in base WorkMate and premium GXL specification, along with a middling GX option solely for the single-cab ute.
The model I had the keys to for the fortnight was the most civilian-focused option in the range – the beautifully boxy GXL wagon finished in lovely Merlot Red which retails for $69,090 plus another $600 for the paintwork – and when I say keys, plural, I really do mean it as the separate small key for turning in the ignition and massive fob for the remote central locking was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the time warp the 70 Series feels to exist in.
While you may think that for someone who gets to drive the latest stuff all the time, it’d feel like a downgrade getting into something this outdated by the present day’s standards, it actually had me getting giddy with excitement and grinning from ear to ear as it felt homely for me as someone only actually able to afford to buy old rubbish personally.
Compared to the base WorkMate – which is about as well-equipped as a call centre cubicle and really only aimed at being used in places like mines – the GXL specification gains a number of features, some of which I’m betting you mightn’t have thought about in a long while such as a powered antennae. Yep, we’re going that far back in time. And no, making the antennae go up and down does not get old.
Power windows, a combination clock and external temperature gauge, carpeted floors, and very ’80s-feeling patterned velour upholstery on the seat and door cards are among the other upgrades over the mine-spec model – along with the 16-inch diamond cut alloy wheels and chromed and painted bumpers on the outside – although features like cruise control, air conditioning with manual slider controls, and the ultra-basic head unit with a CD player and Bluetooth are at least standard. Shame it only has a four-speaker stereo though, which truly does sound like it comes from the time this car first launched.
It may sound like I’ve got a bit of a downer on it, but really that’s not the case – it’s refreshingly basic in a way next-to-no modern cars are, and with common it is for 70 Series owners to modify their vehicles, so as to say it’s rare to see an unmodified example, most people will throw things like the rubbish head unit in the bin and replace it with a touchscreen unit anyway.
Furthermore, while the materials are far from the most plush, the seating is comfortable, there’s enough interior space to get nice and comfortable in it, and everything feels to be made and bolted together in a way that lets you know it’s been built to last. The boot on the wagon tested here is truly massive, too, and the 865kg payload is also impressive.
With that being said, more than just the one afterthought cupholder wouldn’t go amiss, and in fact a proper centre console would be a decent thing to incorporate, but that I can live with.
More difficult to live with in today’s age if you’re a family buyer, however, is the complete lack of safety tech. Obviously, the tech-free nature of the 70 Series is a big drawcard for its typical sorts of buyers – fewer features means less stuff to go wrong – but with no safety features beyond anti-lock brakes and only a lap-belt for the middle rear passenger, you’ll want to look elsewhere if you’re looking for a car to ferry your kids around in.
If you’re looking for an unbelievably tough off-road machine, however, that’s where it’s time to really get talking when it comes to the 70 Series, as its the rugged capabilities of it that continues to sell these things despite just how old it is.
Under the bonnet of all 70 Series models is the same basic 4.5-litre V8 diesel known as the 1VD-FTV that you’ll find under the bonnet of the 200 Series LandCruiser, although here it only features one turbocharger and makes 151kW at 3400rpm and 430Nm from 1200-3200rpm.
A five-speed manual gearbox channelling the power to a proper lever-operated dual-range four-wheel drive system is the only drivetrain option you have. Front and rear differential locks are standard on all GXL models along with being optional on lower-spec’d 79 Series utes as well, it should be noted, and front locking hubs are standard on all models, too.
Showing this is a true off-road machine, all 70 Series’ feature live axles both front and rear with coil springs up front and leaf springs out back, although it should be noted that the specific chassis dimensions of each particular chassis code is different.
In the case of the 76 Series on test here, it rides on a 2730mm wheelbase and has a 40mm wider wheel track both front and rear as a GXL model, while for the 78 Series ‘Troopie’ the wheelbase grows to 2980mm and for the 79 Series utes it extends to 3180mm. For the 78 and 79, running ground clearance is up to 235mm, too, compared to this 76’s 230mm.
Hitting the open road, the best way I can describe the 76 Series as feeling is like a bigger and far more powerful Suzuki Jimny. With a completely unaerodynamic design and live axles both front and rear, encounter a crosswind on the freeway and you’ll feel it being blown about, although with the big V8 under the LandCruiser’s bonnet, you do at least have the power to overcome it.
This brilliant engine that was added for the Australian market back in 2007 when the LC70 received its most substantial update in its history is honestly one of the biggest selling points for the LandCruiser as it’s an absolute peach. With such a wide band of torque and so much of it, it pulls this 2265kg behemoth along effortlessly well across the whole rev range in any gear. Despite being a diesel, it emits a fantastic V8 rumble as well – in third gear between 2500-3500rpm in particular, it sounds particularly meaty and aggressive.
With how short first gear is, and how much torque there is so low down, the smoothest way of driving it definitely relies on starting in second. The clutch, thankfully, feels progressive and very easy to judge as well, which is not only ideal for driving it more smoothly, but also when off-roading as the strong bottom-end allows you to simply feather the clutch when in low range, with more than occasional light throttle inputs simply unnecessary when at lower speeds.
Do keep in mind though that the clutch travel is quite long, although it at least isn’t too heavy, and the shift action is similarly far in distance, too, although this does help it feel nice and deliberate as you slot it into each gear.
It must be said, though, that while the twin-turbo version of this engine in a 200 Series sounds quiet and docile at freeway speeds, the lack of a sixth gear and the relatively straight-through exhaust of the 76 Series means that it does drone a bit when you’re doing 110km/h on the freeway at 2300rpm for hours on end. The almost complete lack of sound insulation – there aren’t even wheel arch liners – and wind-noise from the standard-fit snorkel don’t exactly help matters either.
Get past the noisy cabin ambiance, however, and the 76 Series does make for an otherwise fine touring vehicle. For something still riding on ox cart axles and leaf springs in the back, the ride quality is great on all but the worst of roads, and while its incredibly slow steering and laughable turning circle makes it cumbersome around town, it helps it feel relaxed out here.
The cruise control is dead accurate as well, completely unwavering from whatever speed you set it to even when going uphill or down, and despite the big V8 it’s not even too inefficient for what it is, using a verified 11.5L/100km over the course of 1410km behind the wheel against a claim of 10.7L/100km, marking around a litre shaved from that figure compared to the twin-turbo version of this engine in the 200 Series.
Realistically though, the real reason the ageing 76 Series still sells well is not because it’s simply okay on the open road, but because it makes an excellently competent off-roader, and particularly in Australian conditions.
While car journos like myself may love the gadgetry more modern and expensive off-roaders deliver, they are all simply more things that could possibly go wrong when you’re out tackling trails, and while in some smaller nations where you’re never that far from civilisation, in a country like Australia that’s a vast and largely uninhabited land, even the simplest of electronics poses risks if it goes wrong.
An electronic selector for engaging four-wheel drive and low range, for instance, is something you don’t want to fail in the middle of the bush, so the 70 Series has a manual lever for selecting it instead. The front and rear diff locks are engaged with a dial rather than simple push-buttons as well, and the manually locking front hubs, while a clear indicator of this car’s age, are exactly the sort of thing hardcore off-road enthusiasts want. Even the dual live axle setup is simpler, tougher, and as a result more preferable to modern and sophisticated independent suspension.
Unsurprisingly, it’s perfectly competent off-road even in stock form. With a 33-degree approach angle, 230mm of running clearance, and unparalleled visibility around you thanks to its massive glasshouse and thin pillars, tackling tricky obstacles is done with ease in the LC76.
Despite the leaf springs, the rear axle has a decent amount of articulation to it as well – on par with many modern coil-sprung 4x4s like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, although not quite as much as its modern counterpart the 200 Series LandCruiser or even the similarly leaf-sprung current HiLux.
If there is a weak point, though, it’s the 23-degree departure angle that doesn’t feel quite as equally impressive as the rest of the numbers on the spec sheet. On more than a few occasions, then, I felt one of the relatively short mudflaps touching the ground, although the fact many owners will lift their LandCruiser if it’s going to see regular off-road use will alleviate any of the minor clearance issues present on this stock example.
For the most part though, the 76 Series fails to struggle with much off-road – partially because it puts you in control of everything given it’s a manual-only proposition with no more driveline tech than a rudimentary traction control system only added a few years ago – and feels right at home in the Aussie bush, and I don’t doubt also does on mine sites and farms across the country, too.
And that’s exactly why the 70 Series LandCruiser still holds relevance here today, 36 years after it first hit what was a very different scene at the time. Sure, it’s not exactly sophisticated and is expensive for such a basic piece of machinery, but given how fit for purpose it is and how long-lasting and indestructibly well-built it feels, why would Toyota bother upgrading it any more than it has needed to?
Plus, while it’s always held relevance with its core buyers, for private buyers, this 76 Series wagon in particular now has another advantage up its sleeve – it plays on the current retro trend by being truly retro. People love big boxy off-roaders with historic designs – the new Suzuki Jimny, Land Rover Defender, Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, along with the upcoming Ineos Grenadier, are all clear proof of this – but all are now more modern and packed with tech.
For as good as that is – and it is good when it comes to making these cars more civilised on sealed roads – there are still buyers out there looking for rugged simplicity as much as there are some looking for a modern car in a retro wrapper. If you’re in the former camp, it’s honestly hard to go past the 70 Series as there’s truly nothing else like it out there these days.
Plus, with the variety in this classic LandCruiser’s range, there’s one to suit everyone’s needs. While this 76 Series wagon will be best if you’re after something more car-like, you can have a single-cab 79 Series with a massive tray if you need to haul stuff on a farm, while the 78 Series ‘Troopie’ makes an ideal vehicle for a camper conversion.
The real thing to keep in mind now in particular, though, is just how long you’ll still be able to buy one for. With the 200 Series soon set to be replaced with a V6-powered ‘300 Series’, which will mark the end for the V8 LandCruiser as we know it, surely the 70 Series lineup can’t be long for this world either as part of that plan. Tightening safety and emissions regulations are also likely to stifle any future plans for this ageing model, as well.
While I’ve already written that it’ll be sad to see its younger brother, the 200 Series, be put out to pasture, the 70 Series will be the saddest goodbye of the two. Sure, it’s far from perfect, especially today, but it’s an iconic design and perfectly suited to doing what it does, and if you’re in one of the few parts of the world it’s sold and are thinking of buying one, I don’t doubt this could be the next Mk1 Land Rover Defender – pricey to buy now, but almost certainly set to go up in value beyond that.
2020 Toyota LandCruiser 76 Series GXL List Price: $69,090 | As Tested: $69,690
Pros: Fantastic V8 diesel engine, tough and timeless looks, incredibly capable off-road with dual diff locks and locking hubs, immeasurable amount of character, excellent resale value
Cons: Laughably basic and under-equipped by today’s standards, lap belt only for middle rear seat, incredibly noisy on the move, slow steering and bumpy ride, silly price tag
In a nutshell: Ignore the overall score here as the 70 Series’ almost complete lack of tech, a drawcard for its primary customer base, brings it down with our scoring metric. What you really need to know about this thing instead is that its performance is very strong, its looks are timelessly cool, and it’ll probably outlast you. For the sort of person who’ll buy one of these, it’s an easy ten.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for two weeks with fuel costs covered. Additionally, our friends at MPF Detailing gave it a complimentary Express Detail for us prior to our photoshoot.