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Monday, December 22, 2014

Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Johnny Lightning Toyota FJ-40 Land Cruiser's

One of the most recent growth in diecast over the past decade was the off-road SUV's.  The Ford Bronco and the Toyota FJ Cruiser's have enjoyed a revival with several models from different manufacturer's being made, along with the new FJ Cruiser's.  Here's a look at three totally different variants of the FJ40 Land Cruiser.

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The Japanese Jeep

The interesting story behind the FJ's origins began during World War II when the Imperial Japanese Army took over the Philippines in 1941, they came upon the ruins of a U.S. Military Jeep, so the army took the remains back to Japan and wanted to see if they can design a 4x4 SUV similar to the Jeep but with its own unique touches.  This gave way for Toyota to create the FJ Land Cruiser.  Looking like a Jeep, the FJ has tucked-in fenders, optional hard top, wide-open grille with integrated round headlights, and a 3.8L I-6 that morphed into the 4.2L I-6 in 1980, producing a range of 105-135 hp. through a three or four-speed manual transmission and through a part-time 2-speed transfer case to live front and rear axles with leaf springs.  The front bumper was long enough to accept any type of winches to be mounted to the bumper.  There was also a choice of short or long wheelbase models, the latter commonly used also as a pickup. In Land Rover style, the rear doors on the hardtop open cabinet-style to reveal side-facing rear seats to allow seating for four while still allowing room for cargo.  The dashboard is flat with gauges facing the driver, 3-spoke wheels, optional radio (and later HVAC) in the center.  Like a Defender 90, it was crude at best.  The FJ-40 ceased US production in 1983 for the new, 2- and 4-door Land Cruiser's.  Production of the FJ ceased worldwide in 2001 and was replaced by the 70 series that, interestingly enough, still sees production today in Japan!  The FJ-40's, like the Jeep CJ's and Ford Bronco's, are a fan-favorite for hard-core off-roaders.

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Hot Wheels goes racing...

Since their parent division Matchbox has already made the stock FJ40, Hot Wheels turned their attention to a Baja-style FJ40, yet learned from their mistakes from the Baja version of the original Ford Bronco.  The FJ's styling still remains with the round headlights, domed hood, fenders, and door hinges, but now is joined with a larger front rollbar, meatier off-road tires, and a top and windshield that is completely removed and replaced with a full-width rollcage.  The cage also supports roof driving lamps, a spare tire at the rear adjoining a few tools and spot welds, and two seats at front with 5-point belt harness.  The base also shows off the drivetrain and more spot welds.  The yellow was the first release and goes nice with the racing graphics.  I have a blue one but I don't know where that one went hiding; also there was other variations along the line that the FJ-40 has fitted in well, including one with a metal base and rubber tires for an off-road series.  Compared to the Baja-style Bronco in 2008 this FJ is much more appealing not because it looks cool in off-road guise but the fact that the stock FJ-40 body lines still remain!

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...Matchbox does a shortie...

Meanwhile in 2009, a year before the Hot Wheels Baja racer, Matchbox did their version of the FJ-40 Land Cruiser based on the 1968 model.  This one uses the short-wheelbase with integrated top that feaetures dual rear doors and full-frame side doors.  Check out the level of detail on the casting, with every line, scoop, hinge carefully detailed, and with this 2009 release a detailed front grille with the TOYOTA letters and detailed rear taillights.  The MB off-road wheels have a dark tint to them and look good.  More nifty touches include integrated exterior mirrors in the doors and a rear plate holder.  Matchbox has been careful about making sure the roof top was painted a separate color (in this case, white).  For some reason I don't like this casting because the short-wheelbase setup with the longer front bumper beak make it look awkward at best.  The interior features a Land Rover Defender-like seating for four with a dash layout that, while doesn't show much detailing, does show the shape of the dash (part of the dash is part of the front windshield).  Also this Land Cruiser is the only FJ-40 that i've seen (at least in this group) in right-hand drive.  Several colors from light and dark blue to red have been offered, and are a hot commodity on Ebay right now.  There was also a few off-road ready versions with diamond-plate rear quarter panels, with one being a Lesney version with metal base.  This 2014 version in brown features no details front and rear, but has the white roof and Toyota graphics similar to the ones used in actual Toyota trucks in the 1980's.  I also like how this version uses clear windows and tan interior to show off the interior details more clearly.

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...and Johnny Lightning goes all-out!

Sadly, as much as everyone loves the Matchbox FJ-40, nothing can compare to the brief success of the Johnny Lightning FJ-40 Land Cruiser, based on the 1980 version.  To start off, it uses a long-wheelbase in pickup format with only seating for two; the top is removable, but only one release (a TRU-only special in blue) has the FJ sans top.  The grille is more square while retaining the round headlights, TOYOTA letters, and fender signal lights.  The bumper sticks out, but not as much as the Matchbox version (could be due to the longer length).  The body details are fantastic, while the door frames are full-width.  The rear gets interesting with dual doors even with canvas top, silver latches to the canvas top at the lower rear, plate mount with detailed plates (the black one has North Dakota plates), right next to detailed Toyota and 4 wheel drive logo's, and detailed taillights.  Two spare options are available here:  On the left door or on the hood.

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The wheels are the stock slim steel units with rubber tires and they look good.  The interior has a detailed dashboard, shifter's, steering wheel, and seats that makes the Matchbox look kind of lame.  The hood opens up to reveal the detailed engine bay with silver valve cover and blue battery.  The base?  Superior to the rest, right down to the round axle tubes!  Of course, perfection is not always 100% satisfied:  The JL version lacks the exterior mirrors that the Matchbox has!  Otherwise, as you can see, this is the reason why I think the Johnny Lightning FJ-40 is the best of the best, even upstaging the already-fantastic Matchbox version.

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Update 1/20/18:  The 1980 Land Cruiser by Johnny Lightning makes a comeback by popular demand for 2018!  Not only does it return but it comes in countless variations that range from Classic Gold to MiJo exclusives and even Gone Fishing set.  That's a lot of Land Cruiser's released at one point!  Since I already have two of the canvas top LC's I decided to get only one canvas top in mint green with the main focus on the two pickup-style LC's in red and tan.  The pickup version uses an abbreviated hardtop over the front seats, allowing the rear cargo area to be in the open and also secure the spare tire in the bed.  With this look the Land Cruiser looks smaller than the canvas top version with the rear spare tire over the rear bumper.  Also new are those familiar rally wheels found in recent Johnny Lightning 4x4 trucks on BF Goodrich rubber tires, though the rear tires tend to rub against the small wheelwell cutout.  All Land Cruiser's feature the familiar styling and detail touches with the only difference, aside from canvas top or small hardtop, is the paint colors and the rear plates.

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