In more than 60 years of continuous production, the Toyota Land Cruiser has conquered every continent and earned countless accolades. But the model’s breadth of abilities never included a land speed record until a 2000bhp Land Cruiser become the world’s fastest SUV in 2017.
World’s fastest SUV: the need for speed
The custom 2000bhp ‘Land Speed Cruiser’ project masterminded by Toyota USA’s skunkworks motorsport centre achieved a verified 230.2mph top speed. This smashed the previous SUV record by more than 19mph. In fact, had the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California been longer, the lantern-jawed beast was expected to go even faster.
Unveiled at the 2016 SEMA show, the innovative Land Speed Cruiser is based on a regular production model. It also retains the original 5.7-litre V8 engine, albeit extensively uprated and force-fed by a pair of volleyball-size turbos to achieve that headline output. In addition, the body was lowered in relation to the underlying frame to improve its aerodynamics.
Learn more: Under the skin of the Toyota Land Speed Cruiser
Tests at a local proving ground provided valuable insights into the engine and chassis setup, in preparation for ex-NASCAR driver Carl Edwards to don his brave suit and strap himself in for the record-setting run. The 2.5-mile runway is one of the longest in the US and located in a natural basin where supersonic flight is allowed. So with the boost pressure wound right up, Edwards nailed the throttle of the world’s fastest SUV.
“At 225mph, the thing was wandering a little bit. All I could think was that [the test driver] said, ‘No matter what, just keep your foot down,’ and we got 230mph,” Edwards recounted with a huge grin after setting the record in the world’s fastest SUV. “It’s safe to say that this is the fastest SUV on the planet.”
Vehicles built to capture land speed records are traditionally long, sleek and arrow-like in their ability to cut through the air. But not the Toyota ‘Land Speed Cruiser’ – a lantern-jawed brute that delivers a hammer blow to the atmosphere through sheer power.
World’s fastest SUV: technical detail
Transforming Toyota’s venerable, heavy-duty SUV into a record-chasing missile was no easy task, a fact that is disguised by its understated exterior appearance.
“This is what makes it so special,” revealed centre manager Chuck Wade, who built the Land Speed Cruiser with his team of engineers. “Every single system and component has been touched. The trick was getting the body back on to the heavily modified frame.”
Removing the bodyshell from its underlying frame allowed the team to strengthen the chassis and make important adjustments to the base architecture. This included relocating the suspension points and powertrain mounts in relation to the body and narrowing parts of the frame to allow wider, high-performance wheels and tyres to be fitted behind the original arches.
“I love the challenge of taking a vehicle and making it stronger and faster,” added Wade. “Making something beyond outrageous keeps me coming back for more.”
World’s fastest SUV: engine
Motivation for this project comes from the original Land Cruiser 5.7-litre V8. Interestingly, the rugged 3UR-FE engine is no stranger to forced induction, being available with an official TRD supercharger conversion in some markets. But for it to handle over five times the factory output through the application of a custom twin-turbo set-up, the V8 had to be fully balanced and extensively strengthened.
Forged pistons and connecting rods were installed to protect the engine from the explosive combustion pressure of compressed air and high-octane fuel. The former is delivered by a pair of volleyball-size Garrett turbochargers mounted behind either side of the lower grille. Normally covered with filter elements during high-speed runs, you can clearly see the unmasked turbines of each unit preparing to suck in the atmosphere like jet engines on an aeroplane.
Due to the amount of pipework running to and from these turbos, it was necessary to relocate the battery from the engine bay to the right-hand corner of the luggage area.
In order to avoid the possibility of fuel cavitation during acceleration, a remote reservoir was installed into the fuel system. The liquid is initially drawn by two pumps inside the original tank, which feed into an independent alloy catch tank mounted in the boot, adjacent to the battery. The upright shape of the tank prevents voids being formed in the liquid around the pump intake, guaranteeing a consistent supply of fuel to the injectors. These work under the oversight of a MoTeC electronic control unit, which also uses a display unit to show vital extra information on the engine’s health.
After combustion, spent gases are processed through the actions of a high-lift camshaft and ported cylinder heads. Eventually they lead to a rollercoaster escape route through a custom Borla exhaust system that exits from the side of the vehicle, ahead of the rear wheels. Altering the exhaust route in this way allowed the team to flatten the underfloor area and fabricate a rear diffuser.
Although little can be done to make the Land Cruiser’s overall shape more slippery through the air, two modifications have significantly improved its aerodynamics. Lowering the ride height through custom shocks and springs has reduced high-speed lift, while exchanging the elephant-ear door mirrors for sleek rear-facing video cameras has reduced the car’s frontal area.
Land Speed Cruiser: modified cabin
Land Cruiser models within the station wagon series have always been known for their spacious passenger accommodation. But the Land Speed Cruiser offers a truly cavernous interior for its sole occupant.
The purpose of such an empty cabin is to minimise weight, while allowing room for the inclusion of an all-encompassing roll-cage to protect the driver in case of an accident. Safety also extends to a lightweight FIA-spec bucket seat and multi-point security harness, a plumbed-in fire extinguisher system, and a cut-off switch for the ignition.
Outside of these measures, much of the original dashboard and trim remains; even the wood-rimmed steering wheel with its electric adjustment has been retained.
“With the Land Speed Cruiser we are breaking all of the normal conventions of what an SUV should be,” said Steve Appelbaum, national marketing manager. “This vehicle is truly a feat of engineering.”
Land Speed Cruiser specifications
ENGINE: 3UR-FE 5.7-litre V8 rebuilt with forged JE pistons and Oliver connecting rods, Web Racing camshaft, ported and flowed cylinder heads, ATI Super Damper crank pulley. Twin custom air intakes, twin Garrett GTX4718R turbochargers on custom Borla exhaust manifolds, custom MTCI intercooler, Nick Williams Performance drive-by-wire throttle body, twin AEM in-tank fuel pumps and single Waterman external fuel pump, NGK spark plugs, MoTeC ignition, Turbosmart waste gate and blow-off valve, custom Borla turbo-back exhaust system with side-exit tail pipes
TRANSMISSION: Weismann eight-speed automatic transmission with multi-disc centrifugal wet clutch and electronically-controlled air shifts. Weismann front and rear locking differentials
CHASSIS: 20” Momo/TRD alloy wheels with 315/35 R20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, Fox Shox shock absorbers with Eibach lowering springs. OE Land Cruiser brakes
INTERIOR: stripped of original seating, custom multi-point roll-cage, Momo bucket seat, Simpson harness, ignition cut-off, plumbed-in fire extinguisher system, TRD trim
BODYWORK AND BUILD: Toyota Motorsports Technical Center
Learn more: History of the Toyota Land Cruiser
Learn more: What other high-speed projects has Toyota produced?