11 March 2016

Why Toyota’s Land Cruiser is an auctioneer’s gimme

The partially rusted car you once thought of buying from the neighbor down the street has morphed into one you’re guaranteed to see at high-end classic car auctions: A beige Toyota Land Cruiser. Here at the Amelia Island Concours weekend, where Jerry Seinfeld is auctioning a portion of his Porsche collection, Bonhams, RM, and Gooding all have a Toyota FJ for sale.

It’s a posh afterlife for a farm hand. RM auctions has an outdoor showroom adjacent to the Ritz hotel. It’s a vibrant green grassy patch that’s a couple of hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean. Seagulls chirp overhead, seemingly unaware of the pristine cars below. On this prime spot rests a 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO, a 1935 Auburn Speedster, a 1957 Mercedes SL Roadster, a 1985 Ford RS200 and a handful of other cars that all command figures deep into six- and seven-figure territory. There’s also a 1978 FJ40 Land Cruiser. According to the Hagerty price guide, the FJ40—depending on condition of course—tops out at 100 grand.

“The Land Cruisers started popping up a few years ago, kicking off the vintage SUV and truck craze,” said Brian Rabold, Hagerty’s VP of Valuation Services, “Now they’re an auction fixture.” As can happen with classic cars, once Land Cruisers started commanding the same money as a new Porsche, the supply increased. “Over-the-top restorations netted high prices, which convinced more folks to do the same,” said Rabold. In the past year Rabold has noticed a slight softening. “They’ve come down some, but perfect examples will still bring top dollar.” Figure between 80,000 and 100,000.

It’s not that we don’t get the appeal. The FJ40 is a master of functional design that also tweaks the eye. They were built and sold around the world for roughly 50 years in too many configurations to count. They climbed mountains, combed deserts, and plowed suburban streets. We dare you to stand next to one and not dream of patrolling your own fantasy ranch.

“People just love them,” Gooding Publicist Tyler Gagnon said of the FJ40. And a lot of the folks bidding at these auctions actually have that second or third home. “The Land Cruiser,” said Gagnon, “is the perfect lifestyle vehicle for the ski house or the summer home on the vineyard. They’re not crazily priced compared to the other lots and they’re dead reliable.”

Here’s the upside for everyday enthusiasts: Only the pristine perfect examples nudge six-figure prices. Restorable cars can be had for a quarter of that, which leaves plenty of room to spend on a fun project without fear of taking a financial bath. “They’re relatively easy and inexpensive to restore and the value has leveled off,” said Rabold.

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