The 1971-74 Toyota Crown was a watershed moment for the company; one that I believe had a significant influence on the initial success of the Lexus. Being a Toyota, it was most likely an in-house styling job. That said, in tracing the stylistic influences on this car – overt or otherwise – I find that the 1967-69 Thunderbird plays the greatest part.
The S60 Toyota Crown is known affectionally as the ‘Kujira’ or ‘Blue Whale’. The nickname comes from the shape of the car; a steeply-angled chin under the wide, finely-grilled mouth and those deep side panels. It was an avant-garde anomaly in the succession of Crowns, and stands out all the more for it. I looked for one to purchase a few years ago, but (as with anything ubiquitous in the 70s) they have now disappeared from the roads. I ended up getting the next generation Crown instead which I loved anyway.
At first glance, the glamorbird influence is not so strong. In profile, the four-door T-bird looks even less like the Crown than the two-door, so I’m sticking with the two. The glamorbird does suffer from awkward proportioning. If I had my druthers, I’d push the front wheels forward, pull the cabin back and voila – the first three-seat T-bird. But I digress. The telling aspects of the glamorbird for this story lie not in the car’s profile, but in its end-caps.
Paul’s recent treatise on fuselage has opened the floodgates on discussing this much-maligned style. I’d like to pick up on a particular aspect of fuselage I over-elaborately call the hollow-section extrusion effect. In order for this sub-theory to work, you have to allow for some tapering and minor curvature that is not possible with genuine extrusion.
The cap-f Fuselage Mopars such as the 1970 Chrysler 300 provide a great example of this effect. The body appears to have been extruded lengthways, and then the front end is sliced off cleanly and a grille applied to fill the hollow-section cavity. The lowercase-f fuselage Mopars were also in on the act, this 1971 Sebring being an exemplar with a more sophisticated extrusion cross-section. Mark Newson’s 1999 Ford 021C concept provides another simpler example from a completely different era. I put all the above in a sub-sub-category called ‘thickwall’ hollow-section extrusion, where the loop-bumper appears to be the thickness of the extrusion wall.
To continue, these above examples fall under the ‘thinwall’ category. Ford’s 1968/69 Ranchero provides a great extrusion example in its bodyside; unlike the rest of the Ford intermediates which feature a hip-kick. With those side-outriggers at the front end, however, this is not a ‘clean slice’. The 1965 Bertone Mustang is an excellent example of thinwall extrusion with a clean-slice face. The 1967-69 Thunderbird provides another example. As does our Crown.
But there is a more telling feature that links the Crown to the T-bird. The T-bird has a distinctive styling detail; a stepped bodyside style, where the step appears to be defined by a rebate running along the front and top edges. It uses this to reduce the width of its grille aperture.
To demonstrate this, I have hidden the headlights on the S60 (not an option on the real car) and filled in the aperture above the grille on the hood. The Crown uses this rebate effect along the top surface, rather than on the bodyside. In rotating it 90 degrees, I hope you can see what I mean. It’s a curious detail I’ve not seen often; this GMC provides another bodyside example.
The S60 used this solution to overcome a problem of its own; tall engines. In order to accommodate the height of its carryover mills, Toyota used the T-bird rebate. This long lens shot shows how tall and narrow the S60 actually is; that hood rebate and the sharp angle of the bumper under the grille go along way in mitigating this impression.
I love me a large-ish Japanese wagon, but I’m in two minds about this one. The rear lensware is certainly spacey and exotic, with the differences between updates shown here. What troubles me is the radius curve around the outer sides of the lens panel. On the front of the car, this area is defined by a flat plane which puts it at odds with this circular rear end treatment. That c-pillar doesn’t help, either.
It’s not alone as an oddball Japanese wagon; this Nissan 110 Skyline van (top right) is another missed opportunity. The S60 appears not to take the full volume of a wagon that its predecessor Crown (middle left) and successor Crown (middle right) did. The Peugeot 304 had short-butt wagons so as not to compete with its larger and more senior brethren – but that’s not an issue here. Whatever the reason, the 1971 AMC Sportabout gives us a masterclass on how to treat a short-butt wagon which the S60 should have perhaps heeded (or anticipated).
The Hardtop, on the other hand, is the most sophisticated and complete Crown body ever. The sedan and wagon received the S60 designation, and the hardtops were S70. In first iteration form with the colour-coded bumpers, there is not a wrong line or detail. Even the vent in the c-pillar is not too elaborate or distracting; all the detail on this car’s exterior feels right and not overdone.
The most obvious influence is the intermediate 68/69 Torino fastback, particularly with those three chromed accents. Certainly the leading edge of the c-pillars are similar, but the Torino is a full fastback, with the angle of the rear window continuing into the trunk. The 68 Barracuda fastback and Doug D’s 72 Matador are probably more apt references. They share the same style of c-pillar leading edge and – unlike the Torino – the trunk plane is horizontal as it is on the S70. If I had to choose the most direct influence, the AMC hardtop (which first appeared in 1970) wins.
Another car to have tried this sort of c-pillar is the Ford Capri. This window line appeared on production prototypes and was deleted very late in development (for good reason). I chose this styling prototype image because it also demonstrates how the Capri toyed with a more severe thinwall extrusion effect at the front before softening it for production.
The S70 Hardtop sits comfortably with the top echelon of Japanese sedan-based coupes such as the Mazda R130, its direct rival the Nissan 230 Cedric, and the Nissan 110 Skyline, shown here in thickwall extrusion racing guise. In truth, each of these coupes are as attractive as most of their global rivals.
The S60/70 Crown represented a deeper commitment to luxury for Toyota. The Super Saloon and Royal Saloon trim options became available with this model. The pick-up utility model from previous generations was dropped and a bigger engine, the 2.6 I6, was available across the range. Toyota was leading the Japanese foray into the rest of the world, and the Crown was their flagship model for the task. Its avant-garde styling most probably reflects a confidence manifesting throughout the company at the time.
In retrospect, perhaps it was an overconfidence. The S60 was not considered a success. Whereas the previous generations (S40, 1962-67 top left and S50 1967-69 top right) were rendered in a conventional style, things started to go a bit weird with the second S50 (1970-71, middle left) and its Triumph-like face. The next iteration, our S60, was probably a step too far. In 1974 the range was comprehensively redesigned over the S60 platform and returned to a very conventional appearance (S80/100, bottom left), as did the 1979 S110 (bottom right) and all subsequent Crowns.
Perry’s piece on the failure of the Infiniti Q45 comes to mind here. Whereas the completely competent Q45 was launched with an avant-garde grille-less face and seemed to suffered for it, the Lexus was utterly conventional in its styling and became a success. There can be no more obvious example of lessons learnt for Toyota here than the S60 Crown.
If I haven’t completely convinced you of the glamorbird influence, let me take you to the other end of the car. The 67 and 68 Thunderbirds had one of the most fantastic rear panels in cardom. The loop light emphasises the shape of the ‘extrusion’ beautifully. The 1969 glamorbird, on the other hand, had a one-year-only rear end treatment (lower left). At lower right is an S60; just turn those lenses inside out… ‘Thunderwhale’ seems more appropriate than ‘Bluebird’.
It took me a long time to see the glamorbird’s influence on the S60, because it’s not a slavish steal. It’s a smart application of a design conceit used to overcome inherent limitations (okay, maybe the rear was a steal). As for other influences, it cribs no more than US carmakers were cribbing from each other. It may not be as beautiful as the Nissan 230 Cedric, but whenever I catch a glimpse of an S60 Crown I see a Syd Mead spaceship gliding through space.