On the Hunt for Vintage Land Cruisers by Joel Ericson
When my wife and children headed back to the U.S. for an extended visit with family, I was once again a bachelor in the UAE for several weeks. I had envisioned a time of immense freedom… read some books, do some video gaming, tinker with my models. What I found instead was late work hours and my free time spent grocery shopping or cooking. One bright spot, however, was a sixteen-hour day trip through the northern Emirates hunting old Land Cruisers.
I left Abu Dhabi early on a Saturday morning and stopped in Dubai to pick up Ian Ferrier. Ian, a Scottish expat with whom I connected on the Internet, also happens to be an FJ43 owner. His 43 was imported from Yemen and has yet to be registered due to the chassis and body having different VIN’s—a byproduct of military service in its previous life. After I was done drooling over his FJ43, Ian opted to drive and we headed out in his Cherokee SRT. By the end of the day, we would wish we had instead taken my 80 series Land Cruiser.
Ian had already made a connection with a small Toyota parts shop in Al Dhaid, specializing in old Land Cruisers. The proprietor had given him some leads on workshops that do Cruiser work. On his way out of Al Dhaid, he had also spied several old FJ45s just off the highway. With that groundwork, Al Dhaid seemed the logical place to start our search.
Living in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you can miss out on the Arab and East Asian cultural experience; not so in Al Dhaid. It’s a great little town that reflects predominantly Arab and Indian culture. As we rolled into town, we got off the highway to check out the patch of old dust-covered FJ45s. The trucks were sitting outside several independent mechanics’ workshops. The Indian and Pakistani mechanics spoke little English and were bemused by our fascination with a bunch of old, beat up parts trucks.
As we were busy taking photos, popping hoods and poking around the mostly broke down Land Cruisers, an Emirati camel farmer pulled up in a newer model, 120 series Land Cruiser pickup. After discussing a few items with the mechanics, he conversed with us in broken English. The gist of the conversation was that he had an old FJ45 truck out on his farm that still ran and he’d be interested in selling it. He invited us to follow him to his farm south of Al Dhaid.
We drove for 20 minutes before he turned off the road into the sand and struck out into the desert. The ground looked somewhat hard packed so Ian gave it a shot in his Cherokee. The traction control soon started to kick in and we were becoming stuck. He managed to slowly reverse us back to pavement and the farmer came back and we explained our predicament. We then jumped into the bed of his Cruiser on top of a pile of camel feed and headed to his farm.
The 45 series long wheelbase truck working his farm was laden with camel dung (sold for fertilizer). It had balloon tires, holes in the roof, a driver’s door that was held closed by nylon rope and the bed had been welded with sheets of galvanized steel. It had no license plate, which isn’t a problem for farm work. However, a lot of these old trucks are relegated to farm use when they become non-licensable due to a bent chassis or other prior issue. It was rough but the drivetrain seemed to be in good shape and there were some good parts on it.
With a big smile on his face, he asked for AED 25,000 (about $6,800 US). Cruisers in far better condition have been picked up for AED 10-20,000. I offered AED 10,000 and he wouldn’t budge. It’s common around here for western expats to be given a different price (much higher) than other Arabs or Asian expats. I’m sure he was quite willing to sell if he could get a western expat price. Otherwise, he was equally happy for his old Cruiser to keep hauling camel poo.
We headed back into town and stumbled on a mechanic’s shop that appeared to have an old Land Rover sitting in the back. We figured that where there is one old 4×4, perhaps we’d find more and we weren’t disappointed. The first Cruiser we spotted was a freshly painted FJ62. It was in remarkable condition and the interior had been completely restored. The second Cruiser was a butchered 40 series; the hardtop had been shortened to make the cab like a pickup with the rear tub serving as a bed. On the grill of the FJ40 was the much-coveted “Diesel” emblem. An Emirati approached us, introduced himself as Jax (clearly not his name) and asked about our intentions. We explained our preoccupation with Land Cruisers and he gave us the background on the two vehicles in his care.
The FJ62 had been restored for a client who would be using it to illegally drag race. The BJ40, now gutted of its diesel motor, was there for the same reason. They strip these old cars down and put in a new motor or convert the existing motor to run on jet fuel, then race them on remote roads. It turns out that Jax’s operation isn’t—strictly speaking— legal, hence his pseudonym. He wasn’t really interested in helping us in our quest but it was an interesting conversation to say the least.
Ian had a tip on a repair shop outside of Al Dhaid to the north, so we took the main road heading out of town and kept our eyes peeled. What we found next blew our minds. We drove past a place called Classic Cars that was set back off the road and appeared to have a parking lot full of old 4×4 vehicles. We did a U-turn and drove up a wadi to get to the front gate. Parked outside the shop in organized rows were about thirty old Land Rovers and ten early model Jeep Willys and CJs, in varying states of repair and disrepair. Under the cover of the shop were another twenty well restored Land Rovers, as well as a few other obscure 4×4 vehicles (Austin Gipsy, Dodge M37, Bedford, etc.).
Amidst this massive collection of American and British history, we did find two Land Cruisers, both FJ45 trucks in excellent original condition. The facility was closed while we were there (all shops in rural areas close from noon to 3 p.m.) but there were a few guys hanging around an adjacent shop who were able to give us some information. Classic Cars does full body-off restorations as well as training for mechanics. All the vehicles are for sale except the Land Cruisers; those belong to the owners. We got a phone number for the proprietor and headed out with the idea of returning later in the day once the shop was open. In the meantime, we decided to head for the coastal Emirate of Fujairah and see what we could find. The fishermen along the east coast of the UAE use old 45 series Land Cruisers to haul in their fishing nets so that seemed a logical next step in our search.
We headed up the mountains and then back down again into the town of Diba on the UAE/Oman border, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We decided to drive straight into the port area to see what we could turn up and we were not disappointed. There were several FJ45 pickups patched together and serving the local fishermen. One truck had four different wheels on it and galvanized sheeting welded into the bed. The front fenders on another had been built up with Bondo to house a non-spec turn signal lens. This was just the beginning, however.
The original plan was to then head into Oman. Ian knew of some beaches up the coast where the fishermen would be using old Land Cruisers. However, I forgot my passport so blew that idea. Instead, we headed south along the UAE coastline toward the cities of Khor Fakkan and Fujairah. Along the main coastal road, we stopped for one FJ45 that had a For Sale sign in the windshield. A 76 series bed had long ago replaced the stock bed and it was in sad shape. We moved on.
We next saw an FJ40 on a lift at one of the mechanics’ shops so we slowed down and drove in and out of a bunch of back alleys. We found another old FJ40 that had sat for ages. It was covered in dust and a scrapping company had put a sticker on the windshield hoping the owner would give them a call to haul it away. We passed through Khor Fakkan—still had some daylight—and decided to continue south.
Driving through a little town called Murbah is where we hit the jackpot—and the apparent end of the line for many an old Land Cruiser. We found three FJ45 pickups lined up in a neat row in front of a mechanic’s shop. All had recently been repainted and the beds had been completely lined with fiberglass for hauling salty fishing nets. The mechanic was servicing an FJ45 axle shaft bearing and we approached him to ask about the trucks. None were for sale; they were for fishing. We decided to get closer to the beach itself and see if we could find any trucks pulling in the nets or doing other work.
We found a few Indians tending to their FJ45s after a day of fishing. They had tied off one of the trucks to a tree about fifty meters away and seemed to be trying to straighten the chassis. As the sun was setting, we snapped some photos of them working. These two trucks, while clearly on a saltwater-induced path to death, were chockfull of character. Just around the corner, we found another FJ45 parked under a makeshift sunshade, obviously long out of service. We had found where Land Cruisers go to die.
The sun was getting low, we both had to work the next day and once we reached Dubai, I still had to get back to Abu Dhabi so we decided we’d make a sprint back to Classic Cars and hope to find it still open. We started backtracking and the beaches and port areas were now full of old FJ45s that had come in from pulling their nets. Of course, we had to stop for some photos and by the time we got back to Classic Cars, the sun had set and they were closed.
Heading back into Al Dhaid, I spotted a little shop with lights on and an early-model Suzuki Jimny on the sign. Something about it seemed promising so we decided to pull over and check it out. Walking into the shop, we immediately happened on an FJ45 long bed sitting on a stand with not a spot of body damage and covered in a fresh coat of primer grey. We had found where Land Cruisers go to be reborn.
Parts of the FJ45 pickup were littered all over the shop. The frame was stripped clean. Axles and drivetrain were laid aside neatly. All body pieces were in various states of repair or primer. This shop didn’t use body filler. They were welding in patches of new metal to repair any holes and specialized in full body-off restoration— the workmanship was outstanding. The workers were mostly Indian, speaking little English, and were working with the most basic of tools. In the corner of the shop was a just-finished Suzuki LJ10 in pristine condition. There was another FJ45 pickup as well as a Saudi-imported FJ40, both waiting for the full body-off treatment.
We got some information on the owners of the respective Toyota vehicles so we could call them about their projects. Some were personal projects; others were being restored for resale. The restorations these cars were receiving cost anywhere from $7000- $10,000 US, depending on the condition of the base car. An absolute steal for the skill of the work.
We headed back to Dubai with a full list of contacts for follow up and loads of photos. Ian had some solid leads on where he could get his FJ43 fixed up. I had a number of good people to contact in my continued search for an old Land Cruiser. After sixteen hours of exploring, we were even more in love with old Land Cruisers.
We stopped at a convenience store for a snack and upon pulling into the sandy parking area, we managed to get the Cherokee stuck. A few Emirati locals stopped to help push us out and had a good laugh at our expense—stuck in the parking lot in a Jeep. If only we’d brought a Land Cruiser with us….
Photos by Joel Ericson