Toyota Crown: Classic Metal

By: David Morley

Presented by

Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown
Toyota Crown Toyota Crown Toyota Crown

A bit of an orphan all those years ago, Japan's Cadillac can now lay claim to potential collector classic status

Toyota Crown: Classic Metal
Classic Metal: Toyota Crown

 

TOYOTA CROWN

Right. First up, I’m going to come clean: I used to own a Toyota Crown. It was a 1969 model and, as the years pass, I’ve increasingly come to appreciate its charms. Charms, I will admit, I found less obvious back in the day, but they were there nonetheless.

A few years back, the Toyota Crown wouldn’t have featured in a story such as this. Not in the context of being an affordable collectable, anyway. Affordable, yes. Collectable, no. But an increasing awareness of, and appreciation for, elderly Japanese stuff has seen the Crown emerge from the wilderness to the point where you could now drive a nicely preserved Crown to any sort of car-guy function and be given your share of respect.

Of course, not all Crowns are created equal and while I’ve started things off from the first model we saw here in 1963, I’ve drawn the cut-off at 1974 when the Crown went from a stylish (stay with me) Japanese luxury car to a filing cabinet on its back with hub-caps.

But within those years, there are three distinct Crown themes and all three generations have similar personalities and will attract buyers with similar tastes (and senses of humour).

The first Crown to arrive here was the Crown Deluxe in ’63 which was soon joined by the Crown Special in ’64. There were Crowns on the Japanese domestic market from as early as 1955, but these were pretty antiquated designs and looked like a Series 3 Morris Oxford.

But by 1963, the S40 model, the Crown had grown up and was looking every bit the 1960s luxury car. It wasn’t as big as US designs (hell, what was?!) but the large glasshouse and relatively neat, tidy lines gave it a modern feel. Mechanically, it was like all early Crowns, using what was basically the full chassis from a commercial vehicle with the Crown body plonked on top. It didn’t make for a particularly lightweight car, but it did make it simple and rugged.

Powering those first Crowns was a 1.9-litre, overhead-valve four-cylinder engine which was allegedly good for 66kW and 142Nm of torque. The chances of these outputs being the actual outputs remains very slim. A three-speed manual with overdrive (more or less a free-wheel function) was the only transmission choice.

Things improved in 1966 with an overhead-camshaft six-cylinder replacing the old four-banger. It still measured two litres, but the quoted power rose to 82kW. Again, probably fanciful, but it was stronger and smoother than the four-pot it replaced. You could now also choose from the three-speed manual or a two-speed automatic which completely obliterated any performance gained by the new engine.

The 2.0-litre six didn’t last long before it was replaced for 1967 with a 2.3-litre version of the same motor, dubbed the 2M engine. Power climbed just three kilowatts but there was an extra chunk of torque. The year 1967 (early 1968 to be precise) also saw the Crown Special disappear, leaving the Deluxe to be joined by the new base-model version, the Crown Custom.

For those who ask how the hell a Japanese-market luxury car got to market in Australia in the first place, we say simply: local content. Rather than being fully imported, the Aussie Crowns were assembled at Port Melbourne by AMI, keeping their local content high enough to get them into showrooms at reasonable prices.

Anyway, the model we all associate with early Crowns (the S50) arrived in 1968 with its bigger, slightly slab-sided body and that wrap-over bonnet leading-edge that pre-dated the XE Falcon by almost a decade-and-a-half. But while it was a bit slabby, it’s aged very gracefully and still featured a big, clean glasshouse and – by Japanese standards – very restrained detailing.

The odd-looking bonnet-line disappeared for 1970 and the Custom badge was joined by the SE as yet another variant. By now, the two-speed auto had been replaced by a three-speed and the three-speed manual had become a four-speed. But you could also opt for a three-speed manual with a free-wheel setting which made for smooth cruising, but some white knuckles when you backed off the gas and the Crown just kept on rolling along with no appreciable decrease in velocity. Ask your grandad about free-wheeling gearboxes.

The last Crown we’ll accept as collectable was the S60/S70 and is the one that featured that crazy double-decker grille thing where a big, smiling front bumper underlines the normal grille and a smaller one running above it, cut into the bonnet. This arrived for 1972 and it’s also Japanese-fussy. It was a bigger car and the interior had begun to sprout the sort of embossed-plastic surfaces that somebody at Japan Inc. thought equalled classy.

By now the Deluxe badge had gone, leaving the SE and Custom (which itself disappeared in mid-1973). But the engine continued to grow with 2.6 litres for the S60/S70 cars and 91kW and 191Nm on tap from the 4M motor.

By 1975, the bigger, uglier and altogether less-interesting Crown S80 model hit showrooms with a face only a bookmaker could love and a price-tag that by 1976 had topped the magic $10,000 at a time when a HJ Premier with a 253 still got you change from $6500.

If you’re buying now, buy solely on condition. Like all Japanese stuff of this vintage, rust will kill an otherwise useful car quick smart. Look for tinworm more or less everywhere and be very wary of cars sporting new paint. Thanks to its separate-chassis construction, a Crown won’t fall in two if the rust critters attack (not right away, anyhow) but you could easily find that the cost of repairs just doesn’t add up.

These old Toyota engines were built in the days before the company had earned its reliability stripes. It’s tempting to think of any Toyota motor as bomb-proof, but the 2M and 4M were nothing like that. Overheating could be a problem and that often led to blown head gaskets. Check for oil leaks, smoky exhausts, rotten welch-plugs and just about anything else you can think of that can go wrong under a car’s bonnet.

 

KILLER CROWN

The early Crown was the first Toyota imported to the US, and also nearly the last. In fact, the car’s reputation was so bad, it nearly took the entire brand out with it when it was discontinued a couple of years later.

While the 1.5-litre, 43kW engine might have been okay for the muddy tracks that passed for roads in Japan at the time, in the US where freeways were already established, the 1400kg Crown was just too slow for a market interested in speed, speed and more speed.

Less than 300 Crowns were sold in the US back then, and the damage done to the Toyota brand was enough to set the company back many years in what would become a huge market for it. Who says the average American doesn’t know what they want?


OTHER VARIANTS

As well as the conventional sedan, the Crown was available here in two other distinct body shapes. Interestingly, Toyota didn’t see that a station wagon or even a – gasp – utility diminished the Crown’s luxury-car status, so both those options were seen Down Under.

The station wagon is pretty thin on the ground now, and so is the Crown Ute. But either is an interesting aside to the Crown story. And the ute? Well, it looks like being collectable and useful to us.

But you will need to look high and low and be prepared to potentially pay a lot more than the money being asked for a sedan in the same condition.


SPECIFICATIONS

Toyota Crown

 

Years of production: 1963-74

Body: Sedan/Hardtop Coupe

Engine: 1897cc 4cyl, OHV, 8v; 1988cc, 2253cc or 2563cc 6cyl, OHC, 12v

Power: 66kW (1.9)/82kW (2.0)/85kW (2.3)/91kW (2.6)

Torque: 142Nm (1.9)/157Nm (2.0)/166Nm (2.3)/191Nm (2.6)

Gearbox: 3- or 4-speed manual; 2- or 3-speed auto

Suspension: Wishbones, coils (f); leaf springs, live axle (r)

Brakes: drums (f/r)

Price new: $2276-$6930

Price now: $1000-$8000


*****

More reviews:

> Toyota Crown buyer's guide review here

 

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