1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Matt J. Simmons

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My search for a right-hand drive Toyota Land Cruiser

Victoria, British Columbia – It’s a bit bizarre, sitting on the right while driving on the right, but you soon get used to it. You get used to the looks as well – people doing a double-take when they see a truck being driven by, well – no one. Or perhaps they’re looking at the safari snorkel that runs up beside the windshield. Chances are, their attention was first grabbed by the grumble of the diesel and the whine of the turbo.

Now you’re probably wondering what the heck is he driving? I can proudly say I’m behind the wheel of a Japanese-import Toyota Land Cruiser. And, oh man, is it ever sweet. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on how I made the decision to buy one of these trucks (Looking for a right-hand-drive Land Cruiser ) and since then I had been actively looking. I drove a couple that needed some work, but finally it all came together and I found the perfect one. The process I took was a bit unorthodox: through the indispensable Land Cruiser forum, www.ih8mud.com (or just “Mud” as it’s known), I stumbled on an owner who had mixed feelings about selling. He put his truck up for sale back in March, but was talked out of it by other owners on the forum. We chatted back and forth for awhile and ultimately, he agreed to sell to me. When someone is reluctant to sell like that, you know you’ve got something good. Anyway, the short of it is I bought a RHD 1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser. I paid $19,000 (plus GST paid through BCAA) to the reticent seller.

1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

I got a deal: this truck has been babied. Without oxidization of the paint that these trucks usually sport, it looks brand new, inside and out. And with only 140,000 kilometres on the clock, the 4.2-litre turbo diesel engine has just been broken in. It’s had some interesting aftermarket modifications too. There’s the obvious snorkel for a start, or the fact that it’s as tall as me with an OME (Old Man Emu) 3-inch lift and 15-mm spacers all around. It’s sitting up on 33-inch BFG tires that’ll drive over anything, I expect. A 3-inch exhaust runs from the engine all the way back, and custom gauges tell the driver the amount of turbo boost, what the EGT is (exhaust gas temperature) and trans oil temperature. The front of the truck sports a JDM tube bush bumper and the whole thing is cushioned by Australian-made Tough Dog shocks. Plus, it’s got a nice Alpine stereo for those long road trips.

Altimeter and sunroof controls
You won't find an ice maker(!) in a Highlander
Altimeter and sunroof controls (top); you won’t find an ice maker(!) in a Highlander. Click image to enlarge

Even the stock components are pretty sweet. This Land Cruiser has front, rear and centre locking differentials. It’s an automatic with cruise control. The power sun roof is a nice touch, as is the built-in compass and altimeter. Oh, and did I mention it has a cooler and ice-machine built in to the centre console?

But even with this list and a reluctant seller, $19,000 is still a lot of money to spend on a 17-year old vehicle. Research helped me out there for sure, as did the seller’s meticulous records. He provided me with all his sales receipts for the mods and servicing, the original Japanese auction sheet and Transport Canada’s inspection sheet and a copy of the somewhat hard-to-find manual. (He even picked me up from the airport and bought me lunch.) What it boils down to is two things: Toyota Land Cruisers keep their value and this truck was worth every penny.

Not everyone is going to find something like this of course. I know I’m lucky. The usual ways are to either import it yourself, pay someone to import it for you or buy one that’s already been imported. Each has its benefits and drawbacks for sure but if you want to pay a premium for a Cruiser that you know will be reliable, check out either LuxuryImports.ca or OutbackImports.ca for info.

1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Ok, on to the actual truck itself. I flew down to Vancouver and drove the truck from its old home in Abbotsford up to Prince Rupert then a few days later turned around and drove it back down to Vancouver Island. The hardest thing to get used to is the turn signal. It’s on the opposite side. In its place is the windshield wiper lever, which effectively means that if you’re not paying attention and change lanes, you turn your wipers on or off. But apart from that, really, it’s not too bad being on the right. In fact, there is a novelty to it, even for the front passenger.

The biggest change to get used to had nothing to do with the Land Cruiser being RHD. Instead, it was that my previous car was a 1996 Ford Escort wagon – something I’d probably now call a speed bump. All that height makes you feel pretty big when you’re driving around. With no running boards, you need the well-placed handles to climb up into the seats. And once you’re in, there’s plenty of space inside. The seats are comfy and there’s loads of legroom, headroom and buttroom. (That’s the technical term, I’m sure.) The back takes a whole lot of cargo, and if you run out of space, the torque from the diesel engine will let you tow a decent sized trailer loaded up with whatever you need.

The lift means it rolls a bit in the corners, but I’m told less than it did without its heavy-duty US sway bars. The suspension is a bit bumpy, but I kind of like it. This is a heavy truck – 2,500 kg – but it seems to take hills in stride. Not that it’s a quick vehicle, mind you.

1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser
1990 HDJ81 Toyota Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

With a full load, it definitely has to work hard to keep going, but I have been told diesel engines like to be worked, so I’m okay with that. And for a big diesel truck, it’s pretty quiet. There’s some wind noise when you’re on the highway and you hear the engine for sure, but I’ve been in worse. It’s hard not to feel invincible when driving a Land Cruiser. Their reputation is pretty solid, as is the body. But the crazy thing is – it’s not super thirsty. I figure it gets about 11-13 litres per 100 kilometres, which really isn’t that bad. Like I said, it’s 2,500 kilos. It drives like a luxury SUV that’s a little bit rough around the edges. Oh, and unlike most luxury SUVs, it can actually be driven off road. Literally: off the road. We’re not talking nice gravel paths here; we’re talking terrain that you’d be hard pressed to get up in your $200 hiking boots. This is truly a proper 4×4 truck.

I took it out on a couple of logging roads to get it dirty and drove on a bit of snow around Smithers, but I haven’t actually put it through any real off-road tests yet. If what they say is true though, I can take it anywhere. And I intend to.


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