Don’t throw away your old shoes: The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 returns to Japan

Land Cruiser 70 special edition -5- picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

If we rack our brains for a car that typifies Toyota, the brain will probably answer “Corolla.” Yet again, the brain is wrong. The eponymous Toyota, the car that embodies toughness, simplicity, and reliability, is the Toyota Land Cruiser. Launched in 1951 in support of the Korean War, the original Land Cruiser fathered a vast family, which is spread all over the world. From the United Nations to al-Queda, from SOCOM to soccer moms, there is a Land Cruiser that fits the job. The toughest in the Land Cruiser family is the Land Cruiser 70. Launched in 1984, it is sold throughout the world. Well, not quite. At home in Japan, sales of the Land Cruiser 70 ended in 2004. Today, the lost son came back home. Continue reading

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Concise history of the Toyota Land Cruiser, in 16 exclusive pictures

Toyota Jeep BJ Series F1951-1955 - picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Toyota Jeep BJ Series F1951-1955

The Korean War started in 1950, and so did the history of the Land Cruiser. The American Army needed utility vehicles, and Toyota delivered. In 1951, Toyota had a first prototype, more powerful than the U.S. Jeep, with a 84 hp 6-cylinder gasoline engine. In 1953, mass production started, and the “Toyota Jeep BJ” was shipped across the water to eager customers fighting the Communists in Korea. In 1954, the BJ was named “Land Cruiser,” an unabashed reference to the British competition, the Land Rover.

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Toyota’s Tokyo Motor Show lineup

Toyota FV2 Concept

Toyota FV2 Concept

Japanese carmakers will reveal their latest cars-to-come at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show which will open to the media on November 20, and which will stay open to the public through December 1.

Here is what you will see at Toyota’s booth in Tokyo – unless you prefer to go to the LA Autoshow, that is. Continue reading

Le Comeback: Renault returns to America, under Mitsubishi cover

Le Car - Picture courtesy photobucket.com

Renault hasn’t sold cars in the U.S. since the post-disco-era and the sale of AMC to Chrysler. Renault cars are about to return to the Promised Land, albeit in Mitsubishi mufti.

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The lean-machine: We drive the Toyota i-ROAD

Toyota i-ROAD 4 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

It’s not a big secret that I doubt the success of the electric car, or of any vehicle that will require me to find a motel every 100 miles, where I wait half a day until my car is fueled up – if I can park it in front of my window, and if they don’t mind the extension cord to the car. Despite my huge anti-EV bias, I fell in love with an EV. Never since the mid-sixties, when Baerbel K. lured a still underage BS on the cramped back seat of her Volkswagen Bug, did I have so much fun in a car. I want the thing, and I want it bad, more than I ever wanted Baerbel.Toyota i-ROAD 3- Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The thing is the Toyota i-ROAD, a tiny two-seater on three wheels, and I drove it. The engineers at Toyota have a better name for it. Internally, they call it the “lean-machine.” Roofed scooters are quite popular in Japan (especially as a pizza delivery vehicle). Carmakers are trying to popularize them with wider target groups. Nissan has the New Mobility Concept. Toyota has the COMS, occasionally dressed-op as the INSECT. Despite their tandem seating arrangements, these vehicles have a relatively wide stance. Build them narrower, and they could  topple in turns.

Enter the lean-machine. Both front wheels of the i-ROAD can be moved up or down via an on-board computer, thereby inducing lean. The computer uses steering angle, vehicle speed, and an electronic gyroscope as inputs.

Toyota i-ROAD 2 - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

The i-ROAD quite natural leans into very tight turns. Despite, or maybe because of the advanced gadgetry, the i-ROAD  demands little or no familiarization. After a few turns, driver and lean-machine become one. Maneuvering the I-ROAD through a slalom course feels like true slalom on skis, the machine crouches in the turn, and it stretches when going into the straightaway.

The i-ROAD takes as little parking space as a full size motorcycle. In a pinch, four can be fitted into a Japanese parking spot. With a range of 30 miles, the vehicle clearly is destined for the city. The lithium-ion battery recharges in three hours. Sure, the machine checks all the green and sustainable boxes. But it provides something that  has become rare on wheels: It is a huge fun to drive.

Toyota i-ROAD - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

“This could be a big success in Europe,” said Christian Wuest, scIence editor of Germany’s Spiegel magazine, who tried the i-ROAD before me, and who dismounted with a huge grin on his face. Yet, it is not sure whether the lean-machine will go commercial at all. The vehicle is still a concept, Wuest and I drove the vehicles that had been shown at this year’s Geneva Auto Salon. A few more will be built, to be used in a field test in Japan and France.  After that, the decision will be made whether the i-ROAD will go into series.

I hope it will be built. The “driveway” of our new old Japanese house in Toyo is barely five feet wide, too tight a squeeze even for a kei car.  The “street” outside is not a lot wider. Lean-machine, I am waiting for you.