The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

The Toyota Land Cruiser was first produced in South Africa in 1972, after a few batches had been imported prior to that. This early FJ 45 was a slow donkey of a machine, with a 3.8L motor, 3-speed gear box and a body of heavy steel that made just lifting the hood a challenge. Toyota later gave the Cruiser a bit more zip by adding a 4-speed box in 1973 and then a 4.2L 2F engine in 1975. These trucks were strong performers under load, but when the transmission was overworked, the weak link proved to be the transfer case. Fine bits of steel would break off the splines inside, mixing around in the oil. Eventually the housing would crack open, splashing oil on the sand below like an egg being cracked into a bowl of pancake mix. Disgruntled drivers walked many miles for help all across South Africa, their otherwise trusty vehicles left maimed at the mercy of flood, tide, or even fire. Many a sorry soul was grieved with a sad story of loss at the hands of nature, stories which are still told only late in the night by white-bearded men with watery eyes staring into empty whisky mugs.

Vehicles like these Land Cruisers proved to be a godsend to a group of wickedly adventurous off-road enthusiasts who thrived in 1970s South Africa. A bunch of beer-sloshing hedonists, their Jeeps, Land Rovers and Cruisers allowed them to get to all those far away wondrous corners of the region where most souls dared not venture. They drove with the wind in their face and dust in their hair, and slept under the stars without worry of mosquitoes or lions or drizzle. They drank coffee and condensed milk at dawn, box-wine by night and were never really fond of clothing. Their beloved vehicles flew along miles of deserted beaches, crawled down rocky ravines to magical swimming holes, fled from charging elephants in the soft sand of the Kalahari, and allowed their hoods and tailgates to play host to platters of snacks and drinks fit for kings, served at sunset on the edge of salt pans or river estuaries

Amongst this motley bunch of teachers and farmers was a happy-go-lucky avocado pear dealer named Boris.To transport the rich green fruit, Boris found a brand new 1976FJ 45 Cruiser with a 4-speed box and 4.2 liter 2F engine, which he proudly christened ‘The Beige’ due to its drab colour. The power and long pickup bin of The Beige meant that on weekend camping getaways it was usually Boris who carried the firewood, but also Boris who carried the young and pretty new teachers and nurses who had been invited along.

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

But life hadn’t always been good to Boris, that was not his first Cruiser, and had he not always been a farmer. He was in fact a diamond diver from Port Nolloth who had won his first Land Cruiser, an earlier model painted a dark green, on a high stakes game of cards in which he had risked a rather large diamond. Shortly after, he had sold that diamond for a fair sum and left his lonely life and the cold Atlantic Ocean behind him. He took his new Cruiser on an epic journey from the west coast, via Namibia and Botswana, heading for a place called Eshowe on the other side of the continent. A cousin of his had just started a job there as a teacher, and had good things to say about the town and the people. But on a deserted track near Ghanzi in Botswana, Boris’s transfer case proverbially spread its black yolk over the wind-blown sands of the Kalahari. Not such a lucky card game after all–the previous owner had obviously subjected the transmission to much pulling of heavy fishing boats. Boris managed to get a ride on a donkey cart back to Ghanzi to send for a new transfer case, but while he was away, a bush fire spread through the area and swallowed up his Cruiser right where it stood. So ended his first Cruiser, and so began his bad luck.

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

Disheartened but not beaten, he decided to hitch hike the thousand-odd miles to Eshowe to find his cousin. It was here that Boris quickly made himself at home among the crowd of teachers and farmers. An affable and enterprising character, it wasn’t long before he was making ends meet by trading avocados in his new Cruiser. He was also at home in a community of like-minded people who spent weekends enjoying their vehicles and the wild countryside.

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

It was on one of these trips, a few days after full moon on the March equinox, where Boris once again ran into trouble. A convoy of Jeeps, Land Rovers and Boris’s shiny new Beige set off from Eshowe one Friday afternoon to camp at Amatikulu beach for the weekend. A river estuary sometimes open to the sea, it was a fantastic place of bird life, exciting fishing, and big shady casuarina trees to camp under without anyone to bother you.

The estuary, closed off to the sea at the time, was calm as can be and made a wonderful mirror for the setting sun as camp was being made. As the moon rose, shrieks of laughter were carried across the estuary along side the reflections of the fire to whatever crocodiles and birds were trying to sleep on the other side.

The party was in full swing when alone and forlorn figure wandered into the fire light and interrupted things. He was a fisherman on his way back from catching grunter on the sand banks near Port Durnford, and his Land Rover had got bogged down in the soft wet sand. Boris, yet to break his Land Rover pulling virginity with his new Cruiser ,eagerly volunteered for the task. Loaded with willing hands, shovels and topped up drinks, The Beige set off to find the stuck Land Rover.

They arrived to find the high spring tide quickly encroaching and the vehicle in imminent danger. Digging commenced while Boris drove back and forth in the soft sand in front of the Land Rover to make a compacted runway of sorts. By now the surging tongues of low surf were lapping at the tyres of the Land Rover. A chain was attached and Boris’s Beige began to pull while the others pushed, bu twithout much success. The waves were now sloshing against the side of the wheels with more enthusiasm each time, and Boris could see the fisherman was starting to panic a bit. Against his better judgment, he began to reverse and shoot forward, jerking the chain but loosening the vehicle ever slightly each time. One particularly big jerk managed to loosen the Land Rover from its trap and slowly, wheels churning in 4WD low ratio, it was pulled up above the high tide mark and to safety.

The teary-eyed fisherman thanked them profusely and insisted on giving them his biggest grunter and a rather nice bottle of wine. The fisherman headed home, but the wine was opened then and there as the events of the evening were animatedly relived. An hour or solater as they decided to head back to camp, Boris started the Cruiser. But as he put it into 2nd low range and pulled off, the vehicle shuddered suddenly and then stopped, the engine revving but no drive going to the wheels.

An awful suspicion grew on Boris’s mind, and peering under the vehicle he saw for the second time in his life the sight of sand soaked in black transfer case oil. He swore and cursed both the fisherman the moon for his misfortunes .All that jerking to pull the Land Rover out had clearly not been a good idea. But who was he to complain, the full moon would easily guide their walk back to camp and they could pull the Cruiser back to Eshowe tomorrow; it was safe from the tide where it was.

But somewhere in the early hours of the morning, while the campers were ensconced in their snores, exploratory waves sent by the rising equinox tide began to lap into the waters of the estuary. A small opening was made, and the fresh water started spillingout to sea, the flow getting stronger and stronger as the sand was eroded. By the time the campers woke, this channel had swollen exponentially into a roaring highway of deep water fifty meters wide, fuelled by the pent up volume of several months of healthy rainfall.

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers

Of Boris’s Beige, which had stood right there just a few hours before, there wasn’t a sight or fragment, not even a patch of oil-stained sand. He was left a wounded man, once again mourning at the hands of nature. But Boris was as stubborn as he was unlucky, and a year later he got himself yet another FJ Land Cruiser, with the same 2F engine and the same transfer case.

For Boris and many others, these old lifestyles and affection for old trucks never change-forty years later the same Cruiser is still carrying loads of firewood and extra passengers on weekend adventures, without having cracked much more than a taillight.

The Man Who Lost 2 Land Cruisers


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