1972 Toyota Crown: What Did The Reviewers Think?

As promised, here is a small fillet of Motor (July 1972) who took the time and trouble almost 44 years ago to prepare a review of the Toyota Crown estate.

1972 Toyota Crown Estate: flickriver
1972 Toyota Crown Estate: flickriver

Images of this car are rather hard to come by and few of the cars remain. If you are aesthetically sensitive be careful searching for photos because for some reason a worrying number of them feature inappropriate wheels and a lowered ride-height.

What did Motor have to say in 1972?

Over six pages, Motor peered into all aspects of the Crown estate. The car’s main advantages could be summed up as: efficient ventilation system, well finished and lavishly equipped, engine and transmission smooth and quiet, roomy accommodation for up to seven people. Counting against the car: slightly lumpy ride when unladen, ponderous indirect steering and poor aft view in wet weather. Most of that is verbatim but not in the same order as it appeared originally. Am I not capricious?

Among the surprising revelations in the text I discovered that in 1972 the large, luxurious estate car was a sector dominated by non-UK manufacturers. Ford UK didn’t make a Granada/Consul estate; the Triumph 2000 was what you’d call a lifestyle estate today as it was not that big and the Cortina was not refined enough. Thus the Toyota had quite a special advantage over the UK-built car that Motor thought came closest to challenging the Citroen Safari, Peugeot 504 and Volvo 145.

1972 Toyota Crown estate: source
1972 Toyota Crown estate: source

The next aspect to dwell on is that to the eyes of the reviewer and others, the Crown was judged to be overstyled and “gaudy”. That twin-elevation grille really upset them evidently. They also disliked what they thought of as overstyled rear end.

In retrospect Toyota probably made a mistake in offering a car with that sort of a front-end. These days it looks exciting and original.

To the kinds of people used to Volvos, Fords and Peugeots it might have caused considerable consternation. The rear of the estate makes sense if you mentally airbrush the bumper’s chromed right-angle out of the image. There is a bumperette on either side of the number plate recess that isn’t helping either. It could be the real source of distraction. That said, none of that is enough to comprehensively undermine the appeal of the car.

If we return to the review we find a lot of commendable characteristics. The mechanical refinement was described as “particularly smooth and quiet”. The Crown had “well-shaped seats, lavish equipment” and this made it “a very comfortable and relaxing car to ride in.” The steering discouraged spirited driving. They used recirculating ball which, among many, Mercedes used and so did Bristol and Opel. It’s a system that is well-suited if you want to insulate the driver from the disturbances caused by an uneven road surface. Getting past that, the car drove in a “well-mannered” fashion, a “viceless car that can be hustled through corners at a respectable pace without drama.”

How did it compare with its peers? Alas, the Crown came third last in the maximum speed stakes. The Triumph 2.5 Pi estate drove the fastest, 110 mph to the Crown’s 95. It fared better in the 0-50 mph stakes, third best at around 8 seconds, beaten again by the Triumph and also the Cortina 2000 XL. For fuel consumption it came equal third with the Citroen Safari. The Peugeot 504 came first and only the Range Rover drank more heavily.

So that’s the Toyota Crown estate. The quantitative data don’t tell you the whole story. There’s nothing much wrong with the numbers that the advantage of a smooth engine and a lot of load carrying capacity doesn’t compensate for. I feel the unknown name and the brave front-end styling can be blamed for the car’s inability to make in-roads in a market known for an interest in practicality over style. Had the design been a bit more boring maybe Toyota would have had more enduring success. The other factor must relate to Toyota’s perceived difficulty with rust protection. It might not have been much worse than Ford and Vauxhalls yet it was enough for the consensus to emerge that Toyotas were rust-prone.

Then there’s Toyota’s ruthless renewal policy and inconsistent design. Every three or four years the car bearing the name changes its appearance. There’s nothing for customers to hold on to and also the creeping sensation that in less than five years after their purchase their car would be visibly obsolete.

This article reminded me of the Triumph 2500 my neighbour, a mechanic had. He also had a Talbot Tagora. Isn’t the Triumph 2500 in retrospect quite a pleasing vehicle? It was a fast, comfortable estate. In 1972. It took BMW until the E34 (1987 to 1996) to produce a correspondingly agile sports estate.

Author: richard herriott

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

17 thoughts on “1972 Toyota Crown: What Did The Reviewers Think?”

  1. You mention the Range Rover at one point. It seems weird now but I guess there wasn’t much else back then to pit it against in a test?

    1. By that I mean not much else other than traditional estates, of course.

  2. With regards the relative lack of success of Toyota in the UK and Europe back then, one thing I always wonder is whether a limited number of dealerships may be a bigger factor than the quality of the product. Also how many cars did Toyota plan to sell back, and indeed how many were they prepared/able/allowed to import?

    1. All of that is true. The location of a dealer must influence people´s choices more for cars that are not very specialised. That said, if a product is good presumably the dealer network can grow as the manufacturer can tell prospective dealers about the good chance of a sale. It´s a chicken and egg kind of dilemma, I suppose. If you don´t have the dealers you can´t make a sale and vice versa. Expanding dealerships must involve a fair amount of investment, a bit of a big bet. Additionally, the dealer has to be good.

    2. But there was also a certain arrogance which, I shamefully admit, I often shared back then – basically that the Japanese didn’t really know how to make cars the way ‘we’ did. Looking back at the likes of the Marina, the only disadvantage with the Japanese industry at the time was its conservatism. As pointed out, though, for its intended market the Crown wasn’t so conservative.

      I read the very Motor comparison test that Richard mentions at the time of its publication. I remember it because I was advising my parents on purchasing a large estate. Both the Triumph and the Citroen were getting to the ends of their lives, so I chose the 504. Certainly I don’t regret that. I did see the advantages of the Crown as a comfortable load carrier, but never seriously considered it for two reasons.

      First, I thought the suspension would be too soft for two parents who collected large boxes of mineral specimens on their travels. Second I thought the suspension would be too soft for a son who drove too fast. I think I was right but I rather wish I hadn’t been. I’d rather be able to tell you tales of the Toyota’s chromey opulence now than the Peugeot’s outstanding, yet anonymous, competence.

  3. Something similar happened to me. The consensus on Japanese cars involved sneering at them for their rust and appearance. Pretty much everything rusted furiously until the late 80s and many Japanese cars were exactly as uninteresting as their European counterparts. In many instances, Japanese cars were very unusual in their style as their designers weren´t sure of the norms much as Chinese cars are today. Reading the Crown article reveals a quite good car with a lot of nice features. I´ve read worse reviews of worse cars. Isn´t the wheel arch in the photo interesting? Opel did something like that 30 years later in a totally different context.

    There´s a Toyota museum in Passau, Germany and another in Bergisch Gladbach. Given that Alfas, Fords and Mercedes are fabulously well-documented on internet and you can still see a lot of them around, the Toyota museum sounds extremely interesting to me. It would be a wonderland.

    1. Richard, it’s most interesting that you mentioned ’70s cars’ rust problems. If we’re to believe British car “journalists”, only Italian cars of the era rusted (and especially the Lancia Beta) “because Soviet steel”.

    2. Thanks for reviving this thread. What has happened to me since the late 2000s is a complete re-evaluation of received wisdom.
      Isn´t the Crown an interesting vehicle – that frontal treatment is very creative. It´s not an obvious solution at all, and quite as inventive as something Citroen could have done. I´m thinking of the upper feature on the bonnet where the indicators are.

  4. Clearly by 1972 the Toyota Production System was beginning to reap dividends. Certainly it would seem that no-one from the parochial British press could find errors with the Crown’s fit and finish.

    I am immediately put in mind of L.P. Hartley’s oft quoted line about the past being a foreign country. Looking back, we forget how insular Britain was. We turned our faces away from those funny foreign cars for myriad petty reasons: they looked strange; they had over-chromed hub caps; they had odd model names; they were built by foreigners who ate spicy food. Our complacency was abject. In return, the Japanese laboured even harder to win us over. By the end of the 1970s, even to an inward facing British public, the quality of Japanese cars was undeniable.

  5. I think Richard answers his own query as why Toyotas have less historical interest associated with them than Mercedes, Alfa etc, etc when he alludes to Toyota’s ruthless policy of model change every four years. With many European cars a direct lineage can be traced from each new iteration and indeed often between different models from the same manufacturer; Toyota seemed to have an unrelated collection of models and these would be replaced with new models where the only continuity was the name.

    In 1971, after I had left home, my father replaced his Fiat 124 (my choice) with a Toyota Corolla automatic (his choice) and was delighted. Reliable, well finished and easy to drive it was very different from the Fiat and, although beautifully painted, it rusted just as quickly. I owned several more Fiats but he never formed any emotional attachment to the Toyota brand despite its obvious virtues.

  6. Chris mentions the hubcaps and, for me, they were a crucial signifier that the Japanese were not entirely serious about car building. Writing today, and as a Nissan Cube owner, I’d judge not being entirely serious as being a virtue but, back then, I was less tolerant.

    Barry, I too recommended a Fiat 124, both to my parents and to a family friend. The family car I had part use of, and so felt compelled to fight a losing battle seemingly every other weekend against rust that appeared everywhere. Fortunately the family friend was a serial car changer, so her Fiat was replaced by a Renault 5 before she hated me. Taking rust out of the equation, the 124 itself was a fine car, a Giulia on the cheap, but if they didn’t primarily enjoy driving, I can see why the Corolla would please someone more.

  7. I have a soft spot for 7-seater barges and the Crown Custom is close to the top of my list. The ’71-’74 model is my favourite iteration (I’d love to have one in baby blue with a 2.6 6-cilinder engine and an automatic gearbox), but I wouldn’t mind a later model Crown estate either.

    1. I’m sure I’ll never find one so I can safely dream about “my” Crown without ever needing to contemplate spending the cash that I don’t have!

  8. There’s quite a bit of 1969 AMC Ambassador in the Crown – check the bumpers and C-pillars.

    Not surprising as Richard Teague’s oeuvre was widely plagiarised. The Ambassador doorhandles, which first appeared on the 1968 MY Rebel, turned up on the Marina, Allegro, TR7, Range Rover and Discovery, not to mention several specialist products.

    1. Robertas- in this instance I have to admire your reference’s obscurity but disagree with the comparison. It’s a splitter versus lumper thing. I’m a splitter.

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