Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ55) – Soil Tracker!

It’s been a while since a FJ55 Land Cruiser appeared at CC, so I’ll give this one some minutes of attention. An old FJ55 is, after all, a sight that amuses me. Not only because it’s been ages since I’ve seen one, but for the many memories that it brings of my father.

Not that my father ever drove or owned one, since he never learned to drive. Instead, it was in vehicles like these FJ55s or CJ5s that he was always chauffeured all over the nation in order to gather soil samples. Part of his many duties during the years that he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in El Salvador.

The specs of the FJ55 have already been covered at CC a couple of times. Still, I’ll recount some of its background for the uninitiated. The early FJ40 Land Cruiser was Toyota’s first successful product in many foreign lands. Noticing the growing market for recreational 4-wheel drive vehicles, Toyota created the FJ45LV. An impromptu product that made use of a long-wheelbase FJ40 (above).

Always the steady improver, Toyota knew that was a temporary step. Work soon started on a model tailored to the needs of the market. A point at which the Land Cruiser’s history splits; the original Fj40 remained as a heavy-duty off-roader. The new FJ55, on the other hand, would be a sturdy and credible off-roader with a passenger-friendly cabin; less spartan, and offering a few amenities. Though still rather utilitarian when seen from today’s perspective.

As it was Toyota’s wont, the styling was an in-house job. The model made use of the FJ40s genes, adding a boxy modernity to a functional body. The fascia had a bit of the googly-eye look common to Toyotas of the period, and are partly to blame for the vehicle’s “Iron Pig” nickname.

For those who are tired of hearing about Toyota’s vaunted quality, there were a lot of quality issues with these during its early days of assembly. Or so it seems to say on Japanese FJ55 pages translated with the help of Google.

Still, by the time these came to foreign markets, those early stumbles had been sorted out. In the end, the mechanicals proved as sturdy and reliable as any Toyota product, gaining a solid customer base. The one chink in the FJ55’s armor was rust, with many eventually succumbing to the tin worm.

Production of the FJ55 started in 1968 and lasted all the way to 1979. 1968-74 models carried an inline 6-cyl. 3.9L Type F engine with 125 HP and a 3-speed. For 1975-79 power was delivered by a 6-cyl. 4.2L 2F mill with 135HP, and carried a 4-speed synchromesh transmission coupled with a 2-speed transfer case. This latter version, in JDM form, was already covered by Tatra87.

Few cues differentiated the two models. A raised center dome over the hood accommodated the new 2F engine. Vent windows were dispensed with, and taillights and other minor trim were updated. Thanks to those cues, I know that today’s find belongs to the 1968-74 period.

The FJ55 was a thoroughbred off-roader, with its usual pros and cons. In previous posts, it’s not rare to find comments expressing that riding on these was not a smooth experience. Rather rough and bouncy actually.

I’m, honestly, the very last person that should opine on that. During my childhood, my father took me as often as he could -but not as often as he would have liked to- on his soil sampling trips. After years of riding pickups and early off-roaders on less-than-ideal Central American roads, my idea of comfort doesn’t fit that of most people.

By the time these FJ55s arrived over here, Toyota was already well-established in Central America. By the early ’70s, it was the best-selling nameplate in El Salvador, and it makes sense that their products found their way into the government’s fleets.

A good number of FJ55s, in this two-tone combination, appeared at my father’s workplace. I’ve no idea if this forlorn example ever belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture, but it could very well have.

Curiously, I found this FJ55 about a block away from an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that I talked about last year. A model that also has links to the memory of my father. Did his wandering soul guide me to this particular spot in the city?

To be more precise, the Oldsmobile reminded me of one of Dad’s coworkers, and this FJ55 completes the story. The two of them met in Puerto Rico during the ’60s, while attending Mayaguez’s College of Agriculture thanks to grants from the US Alliance of Progress. After returning to El Salvador in 1976, the two went to work at CENTA, another Alliance of Progress initiative. A Center For Technology and Agriculture, with the purpose of improving the nation’s agricultural practices.

However, as can be seen in a photo I took during a visit in 2022, the CENTA is in a pronounced state of decay nowadays.

Nevertheless, my father returned as a trained soil specialist. In the whole nation, he was one of few individuals with profound knowledge in that field. I can’t even begin to guess the number of hours he spent riding in 4-wheel drive vehicles all over the country in search of soil samples. Must have been thousands throughout his career. There wasn’t a spot in this tiny nation he didn’t get to explore. And if for some reason you wondered what kind of soil was at the top of San Salvador’s volcano, he could lecture you on the matter.

Not that anyone would ever ask such a thing. The curse of obscure specialized knowledge; bring the subject into a gathering and you’ll certainly be a party pooper.

Good thing parties were the least of my father’s worries. Actually, I don’t ever remember him attending a party. He even stayed away from minor social gatherings. Instead, work, spreading his knowledge, and a quiet daily routine, formed the bulk of his life. His pleasures were few and simple; consisting of watching TV documentaries, reading, and lengthy conversations after dinner.

Knowing that soil was at the center of his life, on my visit to CENTA, I had to wonder if any of the rock samples in their offices (above) had been gathered by his hands.

I may never know who collected the CENTA’s samples. But the ones I was certain about were the hundreds of soil samples scattered in our family home when my father passed away. Those were absolutely his doing.

Technically speaking, each was a sample for testing. But for some reason, they always stayed around even after being fully processed. To this day, I’ve no idea if he ever threw any of them away.

Back when they lived together, it was a situation that drove my mother up the wall. It was quite the marriage of ‘inconvenience;’ here was a man that she couldn’t tell to not bring dirt into the house, since dirt was literally his job.

I could understand her frustrations, as there was no way to keep the house ‘clean.’ Ever.

But there was something incredibly enthralling in seeing Dad work. Even appeasing.

When he got around to it, he put a lot of himself into his tasks. He always concentrated profusely on each chore, performing each with monk-like serenity. It was something I witnessed many times. When working on spreadsheets, his handwriting was careful, slow in elaboration, and absolutely beautiful. His texts, and calculations, took hours to prepare.

For the soil samples, he would grab them meticulously, and toil away hunched over for hours. He would ground the samples slowly, in a circling motion, with repetitive serenity. All while cleaning any unwanted debris. The careful cadence of his movements was part of a world where time moved at a different pace.

It came with downsides, of course. That amount of devotion couldn’t be applied to the rest of his life. So our home was always a basket case, with repair work always delayed and never performed. Other relevant matters in his life were also always postponed. Until there was no time no more.

But that’s little to complain about, at least in my book (Mom’s soul will probably beg to differ). The memories of those hours seeing him at work, are good ones indeed. Soothing actually. And coming across an object, like this old FJ55, to remind me of those days of tracking and gathering those soil samples is always a gratifying experience.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1978 Land Cruiser (FJ56) – Mama Mia

CC Outtake: A Toyota Land Cruiser FJ55 Has Come To Town