If you thought the Hummer H1 was unique, you need to meet the Toyota Mega Cruiser. When the Japanese armed forces were looking for a new ride for the 1990s, they asked many of the same questions as the U.S. military—and came up with the same answers.
It’s hard to say if the Mega Cruiser’s resemblance to a certain High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle is coincidence or copy. Like the Hummer, the Mega Cruiser has a high-mounted radiator (albeit not horizontally oriented like that of the H1) that shoves the powertrain back towards the cabin. As with the H1, the front occupants sit on either side of God’s own transmission tunnel, but back seaters don’t fare nearly as badly—the Mega Cruiser offers a four-place rear bench seat. The Mega Cruiser’s width is comparable to the H1’s, but the Toyota is more than two feet longer and, with the optional high roof, nearly 10 inches taller.
At 6,239 pounds, it’s around 640 pounds lighter than the H1, however.
Like the Hummer, the Mega Cruiser uses geared hubs with portal axles, which allow the wheel hubs to sit several inches below the axle centerline. This gives the Mega Cruiser a massive 16.5 inches of ground clearance, half an inch more than the H1 and 6.5 inches more than a Jeep Wrangler.
The Mega Cruiser boasts full-time four-wheel drive, inboard disc brakes, lockable limited-slip front and rear differentials, and a tire inflation/deflation system for the rear axle. Its four-wheel steering system (with up to 12 degrees of rear-wheel deflection) give it a tidy 18.4-foot turning radius, which is absurdly tight for a vehicle this big. For comparison, the H1’s turning radius is 26.5 feet, and the current Toyota Camry’s is 19 feet.
Open the Mega Cruiser’s hood, and sooner or later you’ll find its 4.1 liter four-cylinder engine, a 16-valve cam-in-block turbodiesel borrowed from the Coaster minibus. You might expect something a bit bigger, but the engine’s 153 horsepower and 282 lb-ft are comparable to the 170 horsepower and 290 lb-ft produced by the 1995 Hummer H1’s 6.5-liter naturally-aspirated diesel V-8. Like the H1, the Mega Cruiser uses a four-speed automatic transmission, with a console-mounted gear selector that will look familiar to anyone who has driven a 1995 Camry.
The Mega Cruiser, like the Hummer, was initially developed for the Japanese military and was later offered to civilians, though only in the Japanese market. The starting price was ¥9,620,000, or around $85,000 (more or less—the value of the yen fluctuated greatly throughout 1995). The Mega Cruiser was popular with police and rescue services, which made good use of its six-foot, eight-inch-wide cargo bay and 1,322-pound cargo capacity. Some 3,000 mil-spec Megas were built, but Japan’s road-tax system penalizes large vehicles with high registration fees, and thus a mere 149 civilian Mega Cruisers were sold between 1995 and 2002.
Toyota intended the Mega Cruiser as a test bed for new SUV technologies, but ultimately it couldn’t make money on it and gave up. Want to buy one? Good luck. But if you want to see one in person, the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah, has both military and civilian versions in its collection.
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