In Gauteng we found a collector who mainly specialises in one model, the Toyota Land Cruiser. He walks us through his collection of pristine Land Cruisers.
Words and images: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
It could just as well have been part of Toyota’s own collection in Japan. In front of me is not only one of the largest 4x4 collections I’ve visited, but also one of neatest and most pristine. It is a working collection, but this could just as well have been a Land Cruiser museum.
The owner, Johan, has been spending his time, money and effort restoring these cars for a long time. Before I walk through the collection, I first sit down with him to listen to his story.
“My uncle farmed in the Ladybrand district. On the farm, in the shed, was a couple of Land Cruiser 45 Series models. I was too small to open the doors myself, but I always peaked through the opening to look at them. That, specifically, is where my love for the Land Cruiser started. They were the workhorse bakkies on the farm.
“The Land Cruiser I’ve owned the longest is actually parked outside. It is a 2004 Land Cruiser bakkie which I bought that year. Around 2009 I imported my first classic Land Cruiser from Japan. I stripped it and restored it completely. Over the years I’ve bought, restored and sold tens of the these 4x4s. I don't have space for all of them and when I have doubles I sell one.
“I’ve nailed a restoration down to around six months. The car goes to a central place where it is stripped and all the parts are outsourced to specialists for the respective work that needs to be done. When the body is done, everything is returned and the car is put back together. What helps is the fact that these are simple cars.”
As is often the case, there are sometimes intriguing stories behind finding a car. “I heard about an interesting car standing in Winterton. It was a very rare 1966 FJ45V, the first station wagon. After close to ten years, the owner phoned me and said I could buy it. I fetched it and as with nearly all these cars, stripped it and restored it. Only 5 080 were made - in fact it is the rarest Land Cruiser that has been manufactured.
“If I had to choose only three to keep in the collection, it would be my first one, the 2004 bakkie, the 80-Series from 1994 and my 1981 BJ40.”
Over the years Johan has learned the finer details about restoring these 4x4s, the unique specifications of each model, the history of these models and which models were and which were not available in South Africa. Johan uses his Cruisers for shorter trips in and around Gauteng as well.
“The highlight for me about the collection is actually the search for a model, or when one crosses your path and then buying it. And then the challenges start immediately! When you buy a car from overseas you don’t really know what you are buying until it arrives home. Then you can have a closer look and analyse it. Rust is a problem on the older cars though, especially those coming from Japan.
“The sad part is when a car is finished and you have to sell it. Especially if it has been a part of the collection for a while, as each car has a different personality.”
It also important for Johan that these Cruisers go to good homes. The last thing he wants is to sell a car to someone who is going to chop the roof off for game viewing.
At the entrance of the building a few sports cars are parked, but I can sense these are interesting cars for him, but not his true passion.
“I’ve always had one or two sports cars in the collection. In the past I’ve had a 1967 Ford Mustang, I’ve owned an E-Type and also a 1979 Aston Martin V8. They come and go, it is pure coincidence that there are currently four sports cars in the collection.”
These cars include a 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL (Pagoda), a 1971 Aston Martin DBS, a 1982 Porsche 911 SC and a 1969 Pontiac GTO.
Back to the boxy Land Cruisers and Johan explains the reasons why he continues to focus on 'Cruisers. “Reliability plays a significant role and also the ease of finding and ordering parts. More importantly, the access to adventure. You climb behind the wheel and you simply head to Botswana or Angola. You are not worried about the car breaking down. And if something should break, it is usually easy to fix or to find a part.
There is still one 'Cruiser he would like to add to his collection. “The first Land Cruisers that were manufactured from 1951 to 1955 were called the BJ, but they are very scarce. Finding one is on my bucket list. I’ve recently imported a 25 Series which was manufactured in the late-50s. It came from Australia, and it is currently being restored." Once that 25 Series is completed, it will be the oldest Land Cruiser in Johan’s collection.
I walk through the collection and look at each vehicle, seeing the different specifications of each and how they have changed over the years. The short-wheel-base versions seem like those most eager for adventure, while most of the station wagons I’ve never laid an eye on – truly rare 4x4s.
As is so often the case, that evening I searched for second-hand Land Cruisers in Japan and Australia, seeing what is available on the market. These truly are vehicles that entice you to head off the beaten track.