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.
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.
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.