Not pictured: Gary’s ute
Gary lives out in the bush, way out west. He wears Akubras, and his skin is rough and tanned from years under the hot Aussie sun and a rather stubborn refusal to follow the “Slip, Slop, Slap” sun safety ads. At the end of a long day of work, he likes to sit on his verandah and crack open a cold one. I see him out there as I drive up the long, dirt road to his house. I’m here to ask him about his work ute, a 70-Series LandCruiser. Gary swears by Toyota.
“How are ya, Gary?” I ask.
“Wouldn’t be dead for quid,” he replies, offering me a beer. I ask him if he plans on getting another LandCruiser, seeing as his current one has 400,000 kms (248k miles) on the odometer.
“Mate, I’ve been drivin’ LandCruisers for 30 years. I’ll prob’ly be drivin’ this one ‘til I cark it.”
While driving through his small country town, I saw a lot of four-wheel-drives. They were almost all 70-Series LandCruisers like Gazza’s or like these ones I photographed back in the city—Australia is the biggest market for these after the Middle East and Africa. Additionally, there were plenty of the more modern 200-Series models and the smaller but still eminently capable LandCruiser Prados (related to the North American Lexus GX). His town is full of HiLux utes, too, as well as a handful of the HiLux-based Fortuner. The latter is the only Toyota truck in this Toyota-mad country to be struggling. And we are Toyota mad—the Japanese brand has a whopping 18.2% market share, well above runner-up Mazda with 9.8%.
Toyota offers a wide range of 70-Series LandCruisers in Australia: single- and double-cab utes (we call all pickups ‘utes’ here), the 7-seater wagon, and the 11-seater Troop Carrier. All of them have a live axle suspension front and rear and use a 4.5 turbo diesel V8 with 202 hp and 317 ft-lbs. There’s only one transmission available, a 5-speed manual.
“It’s a bit Spartan inside, isn’t it?” I ask Gary as I peek through the window.
“Spartan? Well what the bloody hell else do you need in a work ute? I don’t need all that fancy shit like touchscreens and arse warmers. It was 40 degrees here yesterday!” He chucks me the keys. “Go on, give it a burl.”
The Troop Carrier
I turn the key and I’m greeted by the pleasantly gruff rumble of the V8 diesel. Looking inside a 70-Series LandCruiser, or just looking at its sheetmetal, is like looking back in time. That’s because these off-roaders look basically the same as they did when they launched in 1984. Don’t let that fool you, though: these have received improvements along the way, including the aforementioned TD V8. Dual airbags were added a while ago, although Toyota saw fit only to pack in another three in the single-cab utesa couple of years ago . It wasn’t worth the cost to add them to the other variants, apparently.
Why’s that, you ask? Simple. The single-cab utes are enormously popular with fleets, such as those of the big mining companies. But owing to their workhorse status, precious little else has been updated inside the cabin. There’s no automatic transmission and you have to go up to the top-of-the-line models to get amenities as mainstream as power windows.
“There’s thousands of these utes just like her bein’ driven by BHP Billiton blokes,” Gary says. “But you notice somethin’ else when you go out to those mining towns. Lots of young blokes new to FIFO work, they start pulling in the big bucks and they go out and buy the Double Cab GXLs with all the chrome trim. Think they’re top shit.”
He puts his beer down so he can mockingly do air quotes. “Status symbol, and that.”
An older 70-Series is photobombing this one.
If that sounds like a certain brick-shaped German off-roader, think again. While the G-Class Benz is popular in the cities with the rich, the 70-Series seems to have little crossover appeal with urban and suburban folk. That’s where the Prado and the 200-Series LandCruiser dominate. Still, you’ll see the odd 70-Series around, such as this one down by a rowing club.
“Say you wanted to get a new 4WD wagon, Gazza. Would you get a LandCruiser as well?” I ask him. He pauses. “My mate Rod, he’s had a few [Nissan] Patrols. Reckons they’re alright. They don’t make the utes anymore, it’s just one big 4WD now with all the mod-cons. No diesel either. I don’t want to live at the servo!”
“And what else is there? A [Mitsubishi] Pajero, I don’t reckon they’re as tough as my Toyota.”
“What about Jeep?” I ask.
“Mate,” he says dismissively. “I wouldn’t touch a Jeep. Where the bloody hell are ya gonna get one serviced around here? Besides, the missus has a cousin in Kalgoorlie who got one of them Grand Cherokees. He says he’s had recall after recall. He got up the dealer about it, said he was sick of his poxy truck.”
He shakes his head in disbelief. “They said on the telly Jeep set a record a year ago. ‘Most recalls in Australian motoring history’. Look mate, the Yanks don’t know what’s what when it comes to building 4WDs.”
An older 70-Series
He continues, “Look around, mate. Nothin’ but Toyotas out here. There’s a reason for that. When others pissed off, Toyota kept makin ‘em. Ford had the Bronco, back in the day. Then they buggered off, brought over that shit heap Explorer years later. I think that was around the time Holden brought the Yank Suburban here, the thing was the size of a bloody barn.”
“Ford’s got those new Rangers, they say they engineered ‘em here.” He raises a finger in the air to make a statement. “I might consider one, if I was looking for a new ute.”
“There’s the wagon version of it too, the Everest,” I offer.
“Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em at the Ford dealer in town. But really mate, a 4WD isn’t what I’d be after. All I need is a ute, it’s just me and the missus out here.”
“Holden has their Colorado and TrailBlazer, too. And Isuzu’s D-MAX and M-UX are the same underneath.”
“Yeah, Isuzu makes good trucks so I reckon their utes wouldn’t be half bad,” he replies, dragging out the first syllable (“Eye-sue-zoo”) as Aussies do.
He looks wistfully at his loyal truck. “But I’m happy with my Toyota. It’s built like a brick shithouse. And ’bout the only thing as good off-road as these are the Wranglas and, well…” he trails off.
“And a Wrangler is a lot cheaper… What, around $20k cheaper? I mean, you don’t get a tray or anything, not yet anyway, but still. A brand new single-cab 70-Series like yours, you’re looking at $65k” I argue. “That’s a lot of money.”
“Yeah but I’m not goin’ around trading in my ute every three years. And you get what you pay for. It’s a tool. It’s a work horse. I’ve had mine for 10 years now, I reckon she’s got another 20 in-a! Mate of mine up the track, his LandCruiser’s got 650,000 kays on the clock. Still tickin’. He’s real crook, poor bugger’s probably gonna croak soon. His truck’s gonna outlive him. Someone will buy it, and I reckon I’ll see it around town for years yet.”
That’s when it all clicks for me. People, for the most part, don’t buy these trucks because they’re the most comfortable or the most affordable. They don’t buy them because they’re status symbols – well, except for some cashed-up miners – and they don’t buy them to keep up with the Joneses. The 8000 or so of these sold in Australia each year are sold to people who see them as being an utterly dependable, reliable, trustworthy tool. And for the private buyers, these Toyotas will be counted on for many years of faithful service.
I bid farewell to Gary the larrikin as I get back in my car. He watches me as I electrically adjust my seat and then put my car in reverse, the infotainment screen displaying an image from my car’s back-up camera. He chuckles. “You wouldn’t last a minute out here, mate. Go on.”
He’s right. And the 70-Series LandCruiser was never a truck built for me.