Just Parked Up: 1983 Toyota Crown

Behold, a lovingly repainted Toyota Crown, from circa 1983.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This weekend the Classic Race took place in Aarhus. I went along to have a look at the cars on view near the race track. However, the most interesting and unusual car I saw was not among the 911s, Ferraris, Beetles, Amazons, 2002s and Morris Minors gathered in the paddock.

I haven’t seen one of these for so long I can’t even recall if I ever saw one before. As you know, I have re-evaluated Japanese cars. When this car was new (1979 to 1983) this car was the kind of vehicle that was lazily written off as chintzy Japanese junk. Looking at it now, I see it as a fascinating fusion of American details and European proportions. If you squint hard enough you can see the Mercedes Benz W-123 in there somewhere, but squared off. It has about the same amount of chrome too.

What makes it different is the treatment of the edges and feature lines. The side rub-strip is elaborately recessed rather than simply snapped onto the doors. In architectural terms, its placement is articulated. There is a feature line running from the top of the front to the top of the rear lights that has another subtle under-lining below it. The chrome bezels on the lamps have grooves stamped in them. At the same time Peugeot and BMW were leaving them entirely plain. The grille has a slight peak, suggesting something vaguely Buick (or maybe that’s the colour suggesting something vaguely Buick to me).

Here is a clearer look at the car from another view. This one is a former Danish ministerial car, now sold. The image is from www.bilbasen.dk
Here is a clearer look at the car from another view. This one is an former Danish ministerial car, now sold. The image is from http://www.bilbasen.dk

Inside the car is a symphony of burgundy velour and plastic. It is very, very American but from what I could see, extremely well assembled and comfortable. It is not, under any circumstances, as austere as a W-123. It is not a clearly conceived as Citroen CX. It eschews the sporting focus of the BMW 5-series of the time as well. If anything it has “I don’t care about performance” ethos of a Silver Shadow but with no natural materials in evidence. The Japanese simply had other idea about how to use plastic and cloth than we do. Now that I think about it, it is superior to what the British, French and Italians were offering for the same money.

This car was not merely a survivor but evidently a cherished possession: a close inspection revealed it had been carefully resprayed. Ten minutes after I photographed it, the car had vanished.

If you are interested, 0-60 took 11.8 seconds and there were versions with 2.0 litre, four cylider and 2.8 litre straight-six petrol engines.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

28 thoughts on “Just Parked Up: 1983 Toyota Crown”

    1. Maybe the loss of the wheel trim is that what the owner deserves because he was not mounting white wall tyres on such an american styled car …

  1. I remember seeing a good number of these back in the 1980’s. Similarly, Nissan sold a ‘lorra Laurels in Ireland as well. They were after all, extremely good value for money and unlike several European contemporaries, metronomically reliable. A neighbour of ours owned a two-tone example. Red and silver if memory serves. It was spectacularly chintzy, as indeed was its owner .

  2. Such a car is really a rare sight nowadays! I remember that no one was really fond of them back then, at least here in Central Europe. But nostalgia changes perception dramatically.

    This one here reminds me of a guy I met some years ago in Zurich with a Japanese coupé of similar age and size as the Crown. Might have been a Nissan. I chatted with him for some minutes, and he said that his car is probably the only one left in Switzerland (and maybe way beyond). It made my GS really look like an everyday vehicle in comparison…

  3. My parents’ neighbour had a later, related car, a Cressida. It also had a red velour interior. What many people seemed to aspire to were high end Volvos, Saabs and mid-range Mercedes. At the time these Toyotas seemed utterly without prestige but there was nothing else wrong with them. These days the prestige means nothing to me. I guess the Irish Crown owners demographic liked that classlessness.

  4. I never got to grips with a Crown, though admired most Japanese of the time, but back in those days i used to look after several Toyotas/Datsuns of the era, Carina, Corolla Liftback, Supra, couple of Bluebirds (last of the square RWD models i owned one of in estate form), and i admired them for the pleasure they were to work on, bolts that didn’t seize and sheer off was something unusual and still thankfully the case on my more modern Japanese cars.

    Not only comfortable as well as the usual Japanese attributes of total reliability/durability, but invariably they were designed to be mechanic friendly too.
    Seldom did anything require fixing, it was nearly always just pure servicing for they just didn’t go wrong.
    Lovely car you spotted, thanks for posting the pics.

    1. Forgot to mention.
      About 5 years ago we sat outside a lovely Herts pub watching a summer evening cricket match when i saw my first Toyota Century, virtually unchanged over 20 odd years it rolled to a stop and a chap exited from the rear from behind the standard lace curtains, and the car glided silently off again, now one of those i’d give my eye teeth for.

  5. Judd: you might be the person to answer a question of mine. If these cars are reliable and easy to work on why don´t more people hang on to them? Take an Alfa Romeo Giulia from the late 60s. I know from personal experience that working on them is often challenging. I am thinking of the time I needed to remove a bolt from the gearbox mounts which needed a ratchet with a 90 degree extension inserted into a gap where you could not see the bolt – and Alfas rust and the parts can be scarce. Yet I see Giulia´s often enough for them not to be a blue moon occurrance. This Crown is a blue moon sighting yet the car seems to offer a lot: space, comfort, a fine engine and individual styling. What´s the catch?

    Point two: you have seen a Century in the metal, without going to Japan. That is astonishing.

    Simon: isn´t a car like this perfect for Switzerland? I notice that 80s American cars have a certain following and the Swiss are generally open to lots of brands to judge from the variety I see when I am there. Is it the salty roads in winter? Are Swiss roads salted?

    1. Richard, it’s a mystery to me as well, some of the more American styled cars like Sapporo, Starion etc seem to be about and gaining favour in some scenes, and the hooligan cars will always have a following but i agree you just don’t see the standard or executive fodder being loved and cared for in it’s middle age, exception being Toyota’s lovely little Starlet, one of which lives just round the corner and still looks and sounds new.

      If they don’t find the right owners who take steps to keep the tin worm at bay then they ended up like the pride of Longbridge, Ryton Dagenham Cowley Solihul etc, scrapped, plus the sales volumes means there were less sold here in the first place, hence numbers rule.
      It annoyed me so much that people couldn’t be bothered to keep their cars serviced or even clean the salt from underneath, nowadays the lazy blighters are too bone idle to even wash their own car or lift the bonnet and check the oil level, change my own wheel, me?!!

      I also wonder if their reliability meant they saw more neglect than some other makes, good reliability is great but they still need fresh oil and general care to last, so if they keep going it’s a bit of a catch 22.

      One example, i had a 1.5 (i think) Prarie in from a friend of my lady friend of the time, it was missing and sluggish.
      So off came the head, massive hole burnt between the exhaust valves so two cylinders out of action, yet that car never failed to start instantly and still did its damned best to run for her, blimey some of the Brit offerings of the time wouldn’t start if they was hint of damp in the air otherwise perfect.

      Then you had the war memories where older folk, who would care for cars, wouldn’t have a Japanese car, or the snob effect of the time, wrong badge dahling, still do, only now it has to be German for the right image in the corporate car park or correct housing estate.

      IMAGE…God i hate that word and all the dross it carries with it..i know you’ll find this hard to believe but i could have a good rant about that.

    2. Judd, funny you mention the Starlet. I just saw one in the neighbourhood a few days ago, dark grey and appearing in quite OK condition, apart from the rusty wheels. It wasn’t one of the original ones (did they still have RWD?), but more the mid-80s style.
      100% agreed about the “image” and the all-German predominance, by the way.

      Richard: if I look out of the window, the perfect car for Switzerland seemst one that goes 250 km/h on the ever crowded (and 120-limited) A1 between Zurich and Berne, or a large SUV to overcome the notorious swamp and metre-deep potholes in our cities. But most important, it shows that you have made it (or found a bank that isn’t too careful in giving out credits).
      But sarcasm aside, the Swiss love well-equipped and -motorized cars. Often base trim levels or engines are not offered here or no one buys them anyway. And boy do we love 4x4s. You never know when the next snowflake is coming or you have to pull a heavy trailer out of the mud. Speaking of snow, yes where there’s snow, there’s also salt. Lots of. Back in the years when I had ’70s and ’80s Citroëns as daily drivers, I learned the hard way. So if you have a classic car, better drive in summer.
      Now what about this Crown? It is true that (at least until about the ’90s), the Swiss were quite open minded about the provenance of their cars, with only a slight bias towards Germany. American cars had a strong following, you observed this well, and they still have (the old ones I mean, not the modern ones from Korea…). And we were quick to adopt the Japanese, especially Suzuki with their tiny jeeps and then of course Subaru. It was the standard car in all alpine regions during th ’80s, before the Syncros and 4motions took over 10 or 20 years ago. But larger Japanese cars were rather scarce in my memory. Camrys were quite common in the ’80s and the odd 929 now and then. But anything larger than that: German.
      So, is the Crown a perfect car for Switzerland? It seems to be a cosy, comfortable car and a relaxing drive, so it’s actually the thing a lot of people here need. But not what they crave.

    1. If i want my Toyota Crown look like an former embassy car, i would insist on white wall tyres. And then a black vinyl-roof would suit this Crown perfectly.

  6. The ribbed-design of the rearlights is an outright copy of the Mercedes rearlights of the seventies. A typical form-follows-function Mercedes detail with an anti-dirtying-effect.
    I remember the R107 Mercedes SL was the first Mercedes with those rearlights.

    By the way, i always prefer the Nissan Cedric, he has a more japanese style in my eyes.

  7. These are fast becoming classics and still pull a decent price in Australia as the owners looked after them well and can be found in great condition , for a 30 plus year old car. (a lot of JDM cars down here) The one on this page is no exception, Although for an ’83 model it looks a lot like an ’81 to me………..

    1. This is in fact an 81 model. I have one that’s very much the same but with factory alloys and a beige interior.

  8. Hi: I guessed the age based on a thoroughly casual glance at some Google results. These cars are poorly documented compared to European equivalents. If you think it’s an 1981 I will alter the caption. How can you tell it’s an ’81?
    They sold very few of these for a host of reasons. I don’t think European writers “got” the idea of what these cars were about. Supposedly knowledgeable people tended to jeer at the styling which is certainly not European but not necessarily wrong. Technically, this car is correctly designed – it adheres to a finite set of rules and the elements cohere. Too bad if you don’t like Detriot/Tokyo blends.

    1. Hi Richard. The quad headlights were only used for the early ms112’s ie 1981 then they went to big rectangular ones. Except the ones built as taxis that have round headlights. I have one in my driveway that is the same as the top slideshow . I have just put a 4 litre quad cam V8 in (1UZFE). Goes a tad better than the stock 6.

  9. Hi Richard. As far as I know there was no difference between the Euro and Aust/NZ markets. There were certain options that were for the Japanese Domestic Market only (JDM). Mainly engine differences as they went to unleaded petrol before most other countries, this is the ‘U’ at the end of certain engine codes. Plus they had a turbo diesel model and small turbo petrol models as Japan has taxes on how much pollution your car emits.

    1. How are you Tony? I am curious to know how much work it took for you to fit a 1UZ into your MS112? I have one, and the old lump 5ME seems reliable enough, but it just lacks the grunt that I would like. Any feedback would be great! Thanks.

  10. Thanks for that. Is there a fount of all wisdom on these cars somewhere? While every last mediocre US and European car has a gazillion pixels of imagery on the web, there are far fewer good and reliable sources for Japanese cars like this. I find the way the cars have several names confusing or the use of the same
    name for different cars – that’s confusing too. This is a pity as often these machines are wonderful for various reasons.
    If you own one, we’d love to see a photo, especially interior photos.

  11. I have seen this car driving around my town. Somewhat improbably, the owner is a guy in his early twenties and far from being the middle-aged suburbanite I had envisioned. He was the kind of fellow who I would have expected to want a souped up Corsa. It was quite cheering to see a member of the saloon-car fan club in evidence and evidently the car was source of considerable satisfaction.

  12. No, not a hipster. Far from it. I think the chap had Middle Eastern roots. Stereotypes are horrible things. He didn’t conform to them which is nice as it undermines the stereotype.

    1. Fair enough. Maybe he just liked the car? After all, it is in great condition and likely as exotic a conveyance as a young man could conceivably afford, unless that young person also plays Championship football.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: