The Joy of: Owning a ’85 Toyota Land Cruiser


The story of Charlie, a champion vending machine hauler, steady road trip companion, and intrepid mountain climber.

Davy Crockett named his gun “Betsy” after his favourite sister. Keith Richards named his guitar “Micawber” after a Charles Dickens character known for misguided optimism. And Shayd Johnson named his Land Cruiser “Charlie” because…it was brown. In Japanese folklore, the concept of “tsukumogami” holds that after years of loyal service, tools acquire a soul. Whether that’s a teapot or a ‘85 Toyota, tsukumogami makes a kind of intuitive sense-it’s the same magic that lives in a lucky charm or a security blanket. We humans tend to take love and comfort where we can find it. Read on for the story of Charlie, a champion vending machine hauler, steady road trip companion, and intrepid mountain climber.

I’ve been lucky to own a variety of “adventure-mobiles” over the years, mostly Volkswagen Westfalias, but eventually I ditched the van life after my dad and his buddies acquired a few Toyota Land Cruisers and started spending their weekends in the backcountry of Vancouver Island exploring new terrain.

After joining in on a few of these trips, I found a beater Land Cruiser HJ60 for just over a grand with a factory 6-cylinder diesel engine and named it “Gus.” It wasn’t pretty but that’s when I began to understand why these machines were so desirable. It was a rust bucket—you could tap the side of the wheel wells and they would crumble, it would violently shake while taking corners on the highway—but I still managed to put some serious miles on it.

That truck took me on some of my first adventures off-road, but eventually I sold him to a guy in Seattle. Gus was a great beater but it was going to be a ton of work to make it what I wanted and I prefer a manual transmission anyway. Regardless, that truck was the gateway into finding my current Land Cruiser, “Charlie”.


Dude Awesome Blog 85 Toyota Land Cruiser

My dad found Charlie on Craigslist for $2500. It had only two previous owners and most of the miles were highway and city driving–it was used to move around vending machines before I acquired it. It was also a great shade of brown, hence the name Charlie. Lucky for me, it was already in decent shape overall. It happened to be one of the most desirable Cruisers out there, with an upgraded 4-cylinder diesel engine, 5 speed transmission, factory AC, and power steering.

I’ve learned a lot about old Toyotas just by owning them—the maintenance is easy and things don’t go wrong very often, so I’ve mostly done oil changes and swapping out belts and hoses. I bring it to a trusted shop for things like brakes and u-joints. When I want to dig in a little more, there’s a great forum called ih8mud that covers most topics when it comes to fixing Land Cruisers.

Within the first month of acquiring Charlie, I decided to break it in with a 3700 mile road trip from Vancouver to Joshua Tree via Yosemite and then back along the Pacific Coastal Highway up to Canada. My buddy and I were driving over a mountain pass at night where I discovered a quirk with the headlights: they would suddenly turn off unexpectedly. It scared the shit out of us, but I used a little contact cleaner the next day and it was good as new.

Since that trip, Charlie is nearing 375,000 miles and has had a few upgrades including a lift kit, new all-terrain tires, and a Front Runner Outfitters roof rack system. I’ve spent about an equal amount of time driving on the road as off the road since owning it.

The adventures continue though. Last year, I got an invite with a few buddies to summit the highest drivable trail in BC, a deactivated road built during World War II. It’s technical in a few places but eventually you come into an alpine meadow and start winding higher and higher until you hit the summit. It overlooks some gorgeous mountains and even in August you’re up above the snow line.

I’ve only been stuck a couple of times, once in a river and bagged a summit on the highest trail you can drive up in British Columbia and still, every time I go to start it up, Charlie always seems to go, slow and steady and smelling like diesel fumes.

Dude Awesome 85 Toyota Land Cruiser 2

Want to pull the trigger on buying your own rig? Here’s where to start:

  • Land Cruiser Porn: If you want a dream rig, I’d get in touch with the FJ company. For a fully restored FJ. These guys are pros when it comes to Land Cruisers, tearing down the body and frame, restoring every nut and bolt, and adding some modern upgrades. I sometimes find myself on the website dreaming.
  • Made in Japan: If money wasn’t an option, I’d bring Charlie over to Japan and have the guys at Friendee Auto take care of a restoration. These guys have a shop behind their home in the south of Japan and do some amazing work. I managed to stop in recently to check out their space. It’s something special being in the birthplace of the Land Cruiser, seeing people work on them who are as passionate about these trucks as I am. @friendeeauto on Instagram
  • The Land of Rigs: I always make a point to stop in for a visit at my friend’s shop in Bend, OR. Alex, owner of Fit Garage, always seems to have a cool rig in his shop, whether it’s a Land Cruiser or a Unimog. Always fun to follow along their adventures too. @fit.garage on Instagram
Dude Awesome 85 Toyota Land Cruiser 2

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