You probably know this story: it’s 1992, and the Hummer H1, the civilian version of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle - better known as Humvee - has arrived. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign for General Motors to do it now and bring the military vehicle - made famous by Operation Desert Storm - to public roads has been successful.
But there’s a sub-plot set in Japan you may not be aware of: the following year at the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota revealed what was effectively its own take on the HMMWV remit. It was called - brilliantly - Mega Cruiser
Just like the Humvee, this wide-tracked hulk was pitched primarily as a military vehicle. Carrying troops over rough terrain, towing mortars, being used as a missile platform - it could do the lot. The Japanese Self-Defence force used the Mega Cruiser for all this and more.
It’s roughly the same width as its American counterpart, but the Cruiser is slightly longer at 5090mm. Tipping the scales at nearly three tonnes, it’s also heavier.
While the Humvee used a range of diesel V8s (plus a petrol eight-pot in the civilian ‘Hummer H1’ derivative), the Mega Cruiser used the 4.1-litre inline-four ‘15B’ turbo diesel engine, more commonly found in Toyota Coaster minibuses. The big four-banger is good for 150bhp, and 293lb ft of torque.
Other curious technical details include four-wheel steering and inboard brakes. Each Mega Cruiser was fitted with a trio of locking differentials and fed the power of that big diesel engine to all wheels via a four-speed automatic gearboxes. Our favourite feature? The twin rear windscreen wipers. Doug DeMuro would have a field day with this thing.
A civilian version referred to as ‘BXD20’ (the military version was ‘BXD10’) was sold in the Japanese market, but as you can imagine, the country’s size-based tax scheme did make the monstrously-proportioned SUV a hard sell. While we’re not certain on the number of civilian vehicles sold, it isn’t going to be many - according to figures we’ve obtained from Toyota, just 148 were made over the entire production run.
Inside it’s - as you’d expect - vast, and littered with parts from various Toyotas of the early 90s. The bits and pieces and liberally spread around a cabin that’s all about function, with no real thought given to form. And there’s something quite endearing about that.
Production ran from 1995 to 2002, with most going to the military and various emergency services. It was then, and still is Toyota’s biggest ever SUV, and one we can’t help but lust after incessantly. The Land Cruiser may be effortlessly cool, but it’s got nothing on this beast.