Toyota Land Cruisers have a reputation the world over for being tough, reliable vehicles. This reputation is well deserved, as witnessed by the multitudes of Land Cruisers found on trails throughout the country and beyond our borders. Though the Land Cruiser name started in Japan in 1950 and continues today with our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year 100-series, this edition of Weak Links will focus on the '61-'84 40-series, '69-'80 55-series, and '80-'87 60-series. These rigs are incredibly overbuilt, but just like any other vehicle, there is still room for improvement.
Weak Link: Transfer-case crossmember
Models Affected: All FJ-40s
What happens: Land Cruisers are tough, but like a dragon they have a soft underbelly. This can allow expensive drivetrain damage when playing in the rocks.
Sturdy Fix: BTB Products manufactures full belly skidplates out of 11/44- and 31/416-inch steel plate that runs from framerail to framerail. The skidplates provide a smooth surface to keep from getting hung up on obstacles and come pre-drilled for easy bolt-on installation.
Contact: BTB Products
Weak Link: Pinion gear
Models Affected: '69-'78 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: The stock 10-spline pinion is a notorious weak link in FJ-40s and FJ-55s. The rear is particularly vulnerable when the weight transfers to the back of the vehicle when climbing or when experiencing a heavy shock load, such as with axlewrap and wheelhopping.
Sturdy Fix: Toyota addressed this issue by changing the pinion spline count from 10 to 27 in 1979. Fine-spline gears can be swapped into the earlier third members, but the pinion flange has to be changed as well. Another option is to swap in the whole third member from a later-model Land Cruiser. Cruiser Outfitters offers both the gears and 27-spline pinion flanges that are drilled with two different bolt patterns to fit a variety of driveshaft flanges.
Contact: Cruiser Outfitters
That's the BrakesWeak Link: Drum brakes
Models Affected: '60-'75 FJ-40s and 55s
What happens: Drum brakes came stock on the front of Land Cruisers through 1975. The brakes do a marginal job of stopping stock-sized tires when new, but wear and large tires can lead to an unsafe increase in stopping distances. New drums, shoes, and wheel cylinders are also more expensive than comparable disc rotors and pads.
Sturdy Fix: There are a number of disc-brake options, including factory Land Cruiser and Toyota pickup parts. The most comprehensive kit we have seen though is available from BTB Products, and includes cross-drilled ventilated rotors, four-piston alloy calipers, metallic brake pads, wheel studs, mounting brackets, and DOT-approved stainless-steel brake lines.
Contact: BTB Products
Weak Link: Birfield joints
Models Affected: '68-'87 FJ-40s, 55s, and 60s
What happens: Starting in 1968 and continuing until the end of their use of solid front axles, Land Cruisers used a closed-knuckle design with Birfield joints. For many years, the Birfields have been considered the weakest link in the Toyota drivetrain. They are messy to repair and prone to breakage, particularly during sharp turns or while backing up.
Sturdy Fix: Now, troublesome stock Birfields can be replaced with heat-treated Longfield joints from Longfield Super Axles. These upgraded Birfields have undergone a special process to make the part less brittle, and thus less prone to cracking under severe loads. Owners of '68-'78 vehicles should upgrade to the later Cruiser Birfields, as the '68-'75 drum-brake-equipped Land Cruisers used coarse-spline outers, and the '76-'78 rigs used a slightly smaller oddball Birfield.
Contact: Longfield Super Axles
Weak Link: Off camber stability
Models Affected: FJ-40s and FJ-55s
What happens: Land Cruisers are heavy
vehicles, and as you start to lift them higher, stability can suffer. The 40s suffer from a short wheelbase, and the 55s have a high center of gravity even before they are lifted.
Sturdy Fix: Offset wheels or wheel spacers are one option, but a better solution is to swap in axles from a 60- or 62-series Land Cruiser. These axles are 2.75 inches wider than the 40- and 55-series axles but are otherwise the same. The short-side axle is the same length, with all of the additional length coming on the long side. This makes it necessary to outboard the front spring hangers in order to retrofit the 60-series front axle. Classic Cruisers has a large selection of used parts, including axle assemblies.
Contact: Classic Cruisers