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Mama Says: The Land Cruiser Is The Perfect Project Car*

Editor's Note: Meet Motorhead Mama, a new contributor here at DrivingLine. You'll quickly notice her quick wit and keen sense of automotive humor and I know you'll love her articles as much as I do! Look for more of her "Mama Says" pieces in the future!

A few years ago, I became, as I often do, the automotive Sherpa to a friend of mine who was hunting for a project car.  Being a Sherpa basically entails driving them around to see various random cars, while providing whatever the emotional, physical and nutritional support necessary.  And while we did eventually find the perfect vehicle, the search was exhausting. However, in hindsight, I think that it was worth it because we got him a FJ40 Land Cruiser (1960-1984) and it’s quite possibly the world’s most perfect project car. Here are my top 10 reasons:

10. You can still get them under $5k. Maybe even $3k if you’re lucky and willing to pick one up outside of California. Trust me, my buddy ended up getting his in Arkansas. Not necessarily on his list of places to visit, but it’s one way to see our beautiful country — with a trailer & a flashlight.

9. They’re easy to work on. The Land Cruiser was originally born when Toyota reverse-engineered a Jeep. And thus it’s just like working on an inline 6 Chevy motor. So if you can work on a Chevy pickup, you can handle a Land Cruiser.  And if you can read this article, you can work on a Chevy pickup.


8. Parts are relatively cheap. While the popularity of the Land Cruiser is driving up the cost of parts, they’re still relatively inexpensive compared to restoring another vehicle. Also, because their engines are similar, you can often use Chevy parts, particularly bolt-ons.

7. It isn’t fancy. Of course, fancy FJ’s do exist but that isn’t really the point. It didn’t even have power steering until 1979, not to mention disc brakes in 1976. This utilitarian nature is great when you’re going under the hood—less time scratching your head, more time greasing your fingers.

6. You can really use it. Let’s be real, it’s a truck. And because the FJ40 often lacks fancy stuff, like a/c, it’s probably not going to be your daily driver. But it’s a great second car and if the apocalypse comes, the old Land Cruiser will be great because you can fix it using chicken bones & duct tape.


5. It’s sexy. My first boyfriend had a Cruiser. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s not just me. The South Americans call it “El Macho” — need I say more?

4. It doesn't have to be original. Very often car purists get really caught up in a vehicle’s original upholstery, paint, parts, etc. But FJ people are less picky. Because if you really use it like you’re supposed to, it should be pretty trashed.

3. It ages well. Unlike a muscle car or an exotic that’s gonna go in and out of favor, the Land Cruiser’s styling is so basic that it’s fundamentally cool. So unlike whatever you did last night, you’re never gonna wake up, look in your garage and say “what was I thinking?”


2. It appreciates well. It’s hard to mention a FJ40 without mentioning ICON, the Southern California shop that’s turning these classic rides into gold. Hey, you may not command ICON pricing, but knowing that someone else is fetching from $80 - $120,000 for the same vehicle, sure couldn’t hurt!


And the #1 reason the Toyota Land Cruiser is the perfect project car is... you’re gonna love it! You never hear anyone say “I gotta get rid of this old Land Cruiser” or “this Land Cruiser is bleeding me dry” or “my wife’s making me get rid of the Cruiser”, it’s just easy to love. *Note: My buddy wants me to tell you to never buy a Land Cruiser, especially if it’s clean, cheap and in his neighborhood. If you do find one like this, you should give him a call to discuss…

What's your perfect project car? Leave a comment, maybe we'll feature it in the future!

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