So here I am in Borneo, the land beneath the winds where sup-ed up turbo Kancils roam the city streets and 4x4s ply the inter-town roads; where it probably takes you a century to travel from one end of the island to the other and the definition of “road” here is pretty much anything 4 wheels can traverse on. Gravel, mud and sand are the staple diets of tires here, particularly if you have to drive between towns and doing so in a hybrid makes as much sense as using semi-slick tires on a wintery road. It comes as no surprise then that the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak impose minimum road taxes on four-wheel drives considering there isn’t much roads to begin with and as such, Sabah and Sarawak are the only places where 4x4s outnumber MyVis on the road.

And among all the 4x4s found here,  the Ninja King is the undisputed king of the hill(s) here. If not from around here, you might not know that the Toyota Landcruiser is called the Ninja King. Being enlisted here for a non-automotive related exhibition cans any chance of doing any test drives and writing about it but seeing so many Ninja Kings around, I couldn’t help but ask:-


Why is the Landcruiser called a Ninja King?

I went online and searched but found no references of Toyota’s longest vehicle running series being called as such in other countries. It appears to be known only as such in Borneo and seem to originate from the state of Sabah in the late 80s. So I asked a few Sabahan on this nickname and here’ s what I found out:-


1) The same time period had a popular hit television series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which seem to be a hit among Sabahans

2) The Toyota Land cruiser 80 series had a curvy exterior that looked like a turtle shell

Hence, the Ninja name.

Not only that; it’s been said that  the headlights look like a ninja turtle’s headband slit eyes …

See the resemblance?

As for the “King”, the Land cruiser is the epitome of luxury, the most comfortable mafia car your money can buy. So put them together, you get the Ninja King. Funny thing is, ask any Peninsular Malaysian about the Ninja King and they may stare at you blankly as if you’ve just spoken Ibanese.

The biggest conundrum I had was trouble wrapping my mind around was that not all Land cruisers are Ninja Kings. The closest thing I can understand is only those with a Lexus variant and having engine displacements the size of a jumbo jet qualify to be the Kings.  Engines smaller than 4.2 diesel are known as Ninjas while other variants such as the Prado aren’t even fit to be called a ninja.

And between non-ninjas, Ninjas and Ninja Kings, you can’t drive pass a street here in Borneo without bumping into one of them

So there you have it … something truly unique and invented in Malaysia.

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Though working in a field completely unrelated to the automotive industry, kenso has always had an interest in dabbling into the automotive industry, particularly business related aspects such as sales, marketing, strategic planning, blah blah blah. You can probably find better sources of technical specifications elsewhere if you dig long enough in the internet as this blog talks about the real life ramifications of who, what, where, when and why of the automotive world and focuses on relevant information to potential buyers.

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  1. RCZ
    June 4, 2012 at 10:28 am — Reply

    LOL.. ninja king does look like that ninja turtle pic!

  2. kevin
    June 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm — Reply

    Spot on. In the 1980s, the Ninja King was the only way to travel in comfort to the interiors of Sabah, without worrying about breakdowns. Back then, roads out of the major towns were largely unsealed.

    Nowadays, with better roads and more choices in the market, the Ninja King is not as “King” as it once was.

  3. John
    October 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm — Reply

    Am a Sabahan who grew up in Sabah and lived there for 20 years. Basically, any 90s vintage Land Cruiser is a Ninja Turtle, or a Ninja. Land Cruisers with rectangular lamps like the ’86 Land Cruiser onwards could also qualify, but the Land Cruiser in point 2), which is an early to mid-90s vintage, is pretty much the definitive example of a Ninja.

    Land Cruisers with round headlights – ’85 BJ60 and earlier, like my dad’s ride – are plain Land Cruisers and don’t count as Ninjas, lol.

    There’s another reason nobody really likes to talk about which is connected to the Ninja Turtle name – these cars have a fairly highish center of gravity (well the earlier more offroad oriented models, not the later luxury trend the Prado started), and thus an unpleasant tendency to flip over – “to turn turtle” – in a car crash.

    Also, in the interests of accuracy, how long it takes to travel from one end to the other depends on where you’re going. KK-Ranau-Telupid-Sandakan is 6 hours give or take – 2 hours to Ranau, 2 hours to Telupid, 2 hours to Sandakan, though it’s possible to shave off perhaps an hour on the last stretches to Telupid and Sandakan. KK-Telupid-Tawau is about 11-odd hours; 4 hours to telupid, 1 hour to Mile 32 (where the road branches to Sandakan), and then about 6-7 hours to Tawau.

    This assumes, of course, that the road hasn’t gotten washed away at Kundasang, lol, in which case it adds anything from a day to a week of travel time. We used to always carry a few days of biscuits, crackers and water in the car whenever we drove to KK. :p

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