I knew little about the Toyota Land Cruiser before I moved to Utah. More than anything, I knew the models by their design features — the cool vintage ones with their round headlights, those with the ‘TOYOTA’ wordmark across the grille, the one with the weird little trapezoid-shaped vent behind the rear windows, and then the bulbous new one that nobody buys. Once I finally decided to head west to Salt Lake City, which is almost certainly the Land Cruiser capital of the country, I quickly became familiar with all the different generations and model codes — and it was then that I realized these vehicles are more than just full-size SUVs. Indeed, they’re pieces of history, and they’re designed and built to a standard unrivaled by just about any other automobile. With some change saved up and after a few brief love affairs with other 4x4s, I finally decided to join this exclusive club and buy a Land Cruiser.
This wasn’t going to be my primary vehicle — I have a trusty 2011 Volkswagen GTI for daily driver duties. No, this was to be an adventure-mobile. It was to indulge childhood 4×4 fantasies and afford me all the exploration I could manage in my new surroundings. Backcountry trails, national parks, overlanding trips — I was going to take Utah for all it was worth, and it would be from behind the wheel of this vehicle.
At first, picturing myself as a hardcore off-roader, I started off looking for an 80 Series (1990-1997) for its solid axles, available factory locking front and rear differentials, and massive aftermarket parts catalog. Then I realized that its successor, the 100 Series (1998-2007), came with heated seats … and a V8 … and it was designed in the late 1990s rather than the late 1980s. When you plan on driving a few hundred miles to your destination, comfort and drivability should always be a consideration. Lacking the mechanical acumen required to do home repairs, nor having the financial freedom to constantly be paying someone to do them for me, the more modern 100 Series seemed like the best option.
A few weeks after I reached this conclusion, I found a 1999 example, with 214,000 miles, located an hour and a half away. While this odometer reading may seem like a lot to you, 214,000 miles is nothing for a Land Cruiser. I liked the 1999 model year because it was the last year to be offered with an electronic locking rear differential — a carryover feature from the old 80 Series. This one also happened to be white, which I wanted, and it had a relatively pristine interior for its age. It was a perfect match.
In just over a year of ownership, I haven’t done a whole lot to my Land Cruiser beyond just the basics. The first order of business was to remove the running boards and swap the pedestrian-looking Yokohama Geolander tires for some beefy 285/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2s. I also deep-cleaned the interior to get it up to my standards, removed the bubbling wood interior trim and painted its classic 1990s gold emblems a more modern gunmetal gray. I rounded it all off by removing the factory mud flaps, painting the wheels black and applying a pair of TRD Off-Road stickers to the rear quarter panels, just to make sure my intentions were clear: This isn’t a ‘Mall Cruiser.’
Another reason I chose a Land Cruiser is that as far as used cars go, it’s a relatively sound financial decision. Already almost fully depreciated, it should hold its value at right around what I paid for it for at least the next few years. Since most owners keep their Land Cruisers for a long, long time, supply tends to be pretty low on the used market, keeping resale values high and depreciation slow, even for 18-year-old examples like mine. I’ve also been reluctant to spend too much on costly modifications that almost never increase the resale value of a vehicle, and I’ve cleaned it up considerably and completed all the preventative maintenance that should keep it on the road well into 300,000-mile territory. I’ve done this all with the hope that my wallet won’t take much of a hit, if any, when it comes time to resell.
Admittedly, there have been a couple of costly repairs necessitated by what I believe to be oblivious previous owners. With that said, the Land Cruiser hasn’t left me stranded yet … and either way, it’s the adventures that matter. In just over a year of ownership, the Cruiser has already taken me on half a dozen road trips across the region and several national parks, along with a handful of camping excursions — with more to follow this summer.
So to anyone out there with the need for a little adventure now and again … if you’re looking for a way to get out there and attack mountains, plow through streams and take impromptu excursions down unmarked dirt roads impenetrable by commoners in front-wheel-drive compacts and car-based SUVs — the answer, I promise you, is always the Toyota Land Cruiser. Find a 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.