We drive every Toyota Land Cruiser generation—and pick a favorite

The Land Cruiser debuted in 1951 as a prototype built for the Japanese National Police Reserve. According to Toyota, it was a parts-bin special, using the chassis of Toyota’s one-ton Type SB truck with the oversized 3.4-liter Type B six-cylinder gas engine of the four-ton truck, suspension from the Toyopet passenger car (!), and a rudimentary open body.
It looked like a Jeep. And to add insult to injury, the Police Reserve went with Mitsubishi’s officially licensed version of the real Jeep. But Toyota was undeterred and kept pumping out those little Jeep-like BJ-model 4-bys. Now, almost 70 years later, Toyota has sold 10 million Land Cruisers over seven main model upgrades and in numerous different configurations.
I got to see just about every single one of them this week at the fabulous Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake City.
“We got a tour of the Toyota Museum in Japan,” said founder Greg Miller, whose family owns over 60 car and truck dealerships across the West, several of them Toyota. “I asked, ‘Where are the Land Cruisers? The guy said they didn’t have any.”
Indeed, after a couple more tours of Toyota museums elsewhere, Miller saw that if he didn’t build a museum, no one would. So he did. And what a museum. In a brick building in downtown Salt Lake City are 60 historical Land Cruisers in as good a shape as you’ll ever hope to find anywhere. The collection covers the spectrum, from one of those crude, original Jeep-like BJ models, up to and including a 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition SUV, with all the comfort and convenience features found on modern crossovers. Best of all, Toyota had arranged with the very generous Miller to let me drive around examples of each major model, from the nameplate’s U.S. introduction in 1958, on up.