Continuing our chronological stroll around the Toyota Club’s show that was held at Toyota’s now-closed Altona North factory from late August, we are now up to the 1990’s which of course was a high point for the Japanese car industry. And if you wanted to drive to a high point geographically, this V8-powered 1991 Hilux would be a good choice!
Looking at it from the other side shows just how modified this Hilux is; it seems the chassis has been shortened among other changes and the suspension switched to coil springs. This model was the last with a solid front axle, which makes for a popular off-roader.
Next to the early 4Runner from last week was a 2nd-generation version, based on the Hilux. I expect this JDM (Japanese domestic market) 1994 Hilux Surf is a diesel, compared with the 2.7L four or 3.0 V6 versions of the 4Runner that were sold here. The Surf has been a sight on Aussie roads since the 1990s and is all-but identical apart from different headlights and wheels, as well as the typical JDM fender-mounted mirror.
When the second-generation MR2 was launched in 1990, it was described as a mini-Ferrari and certainly it had stepped up the size and styling sophistication. The engine was the stout 2.0 3S-GE four, however the popular turbo version was not imported by Toyota Australia; another one for the grey market!
This car has an interesting snorkel intake scoop; variations of this have been seen on other mid-engined sports cars in the past, most notably the Fiat X1/9.
There was also a 1994 version, which is when the Series 2 update brought a no-frills performance version (eg no power steering) wearing the Bathurst badge (with circuit map), marking the MR2’s participation in the 12 Hour race of the early 1990s. There were some pretty significant suspension changes to settle the somewhat snappy handling of the early versions.
Another significant Toyota of the early 1990s was the 80-series Land Cruiser, which gained coil spring suspension to match the Nissan Patrol, as well as a much more modern body. Not headlights though – ours had the quad rectangular set seen on this 1997 version, which is powered by the 1993-on 1FZ-FE 4.5L dohc 24-valve inline six.
Here is a 1994 version that is set up for off-roading; with a whole catalogue’s worth of accessories thrown at it. Despite being over 20 years old, as a pure off-roader I don’t think you would find many newer vehicles that would be more capable.
At the other end of the scale, the RAV4 was introduced in 199? To redefine the compact SUV market which had previously been dominated by the separate-chassis Suzukis. Early examples like this 1997 are now getting a bit thin on the ground.
To emphasise how impressive the early 1990s were for Toyota, there was a 1991 Lexus LS400 that looked like it could have just rolled out of the showroom. Toyota spared nothing in creating this car, and it is fair to say it redefined the market; when launched in Australia in mid-1990 with an AUD$118k price tag when a Mercedes 300E-24 would cost you $137k or a 420SE a whopping $176k.
This was not followed by the SC300/400 coupe; but the grey imports were so popular you might be mistaken for thinking they were sold here officially – I had forgotten they weren’t! (edited thanks to reminder from William Stopford)
One car stood out, as it was set up for drag racing with traditional big and little tyres. The two-tone paint with satin upper is surprisingly effective.
Here is the engine, a supercharged 1UZ V8. Japanese text on the coolant reservoir indicates this would be a JDM Toyota Soarer.
There were more opposite, which are the later facelifted version most easily distinguished by the grille slot between the headlights.
The SC300 could be had with the infamous 2JZ 3.0L inline six turbo engine, as can be seen here in highly-modified form. Power potential is legendary.
The engine above was in a Mk4 or A80-series Supra. As with the Soarer above, the tall-section rear tyres indicate its mission in life. The targa or aero-roof give a real Fast & Furious vibe, although without a cage it may be a 10 second car but not less.
Another car that came to epitomise the Japanese bubble, this was much more expensive than the previous version at around AUD$80k, $15k more than the previous one. Performance was increased to match though, with quoted power output of 206kW (276hp) in line with the gentleman’s agreement within the Japanese industry. Mind you, this was substantially understated and some very minor modifications would unlock a lot more.
Going back slightly earlier is another RN85 Hilux, which is just as highly modified as the previous one, if in the other direction. Apart from the obvious low-rider/minitruck mods (note the rear wheel tubs are just below the pickup bed sides), it has a 1UZ V8 engine, shaved door handles and front guards and grille from a 4×4 rather than 4×2 version, and matching pickup bed sides which have wider wheel arches.
Last week it was mentioned in the comments that the first sub-Corolla car that Toyota Australia sold was the EP91 Starlet, with 1.3 and 1.5L engines in 3 and 5-door form. They didn’t have intercoolers like this one! The Starlet was sold from 1996-99 before being replaced by the Echo and then Yaris. An interesting snippet was that while rhd Starlets had their own dashboard, lhd cars shared the Paseo coupes.
Other Lexus cars present included a 1997-2004 S160 series GS, presumably a 300, with a pretty extreme set of wheels and stretched tyres. The rear wheel arch flare is a pretty committed move.
There was also a customised IS200. This was a strange move, being arguably smaller than a Lexus should have been, and the dashboard reflected its Toyota Altezza origins rather luxury market position. Still, they sold fairly well. There were a couple of the subsequent IS250/350, but perhaps they are too recent?
The final version of the MR2 was called the MR2 Spyder in Australia, and this 2002 example has a rather optimistic wide-body kit. Then again one step at a time, perhaps there are modified suspension and upgraded wheels in the works?
The XV20 Camry debuted in Australia in 1997, replacing the XV10 that had made the transition from the Port Melbourne factory to Altona North in 1995. Not many are hotted up like this one, such as it is. The side skirts are aftermarket, as is the rear wing – although there was a pretty outrageous factory version badged GT-P in this era. I drove a V6 version of this model years ago and the quad-cam V6 was quite entertaining with pretty strong top end power even if it was a company car with automatic gearbox.
In 2002 it was replace by the XV30 Camry, and there is not much to say other than it was bigger, more modern and entirely evolutionary. These things are considered a virtue in a VW Golf! This is a 2003 car, during the same era as the strangely conceived local Avalon version (2000-2005) which had the first-generation Avalon body sitting on the Camry platform.
Toyota Australia has had an interesting relationship with the V6 Camry, with the V20 2.5 V6 fully-imported from Japan with many small differences from the local cars before the 3.0 V6 was slotted into locally-built cars in 1993; although they were badged Vienta which was kept until 2000. In 2006 the XV40 Camry had the V6 version restyled and renamed as Aurion.
One was represented at the show and it was exceptional, being an example of the 2006 push to develop Toyota Racing Development as an alternative to Holden Special Vehicles and the like. They offered the 3500S and 3500SL, as well as a Hilux 4000S and 4000SL. Sales were slow and the whole thing was dropped in 2009, the year this car was built, by which time the flagship’s price of AUD$61,500 was cut by about $5k. Only about 600 of the TRD Aurions were built in total.
The TRD Aurion had a supercharged version of the 2GR-FE 3.5L V6 engine; the Eaton TVS supercharger was developed by Harrop Engineering in Melbourne and Prodrive (who were also in partnership with Ford Australia). Power rose from 200kW/268hp to 241kW/323hp (400Nm/295lb-ft). Performance was still well below its competition, and being front wheel drive did not help with torque steer or handling balance.
And so we come to the end of what was represented at Altona; the main news past this was local production of the Camry Hybrid at the end of 2009. This is one of the farcical episodes of local politics when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a grant of $25?m to enable production of the Hybrid, however it emerged that Toyota had already decided to produce the model independent of the grant.
In total 3.45 million Toyotas were built or assembled in Australia from 1963 to 2017, including over 1.3 million export units. Most of those went to markets in the Middle East from 1996 onwards. At its peak before the GFC roughly 2/3 of production was exported. Toyota’s internal quality auditing showed that the cars were better-built than ever in the last year of production; as with Holden, a testament to the pride and dedication of the workforce to the very end.
The Toyota story may have been overshadowed by Holden ceasing production just 17 days afterwards, but it was just as integral a part of the local industry particularly with its achievements in exporting such a large portion of cars. Next week I’ll conclude with some of the grey-import JDM cars (beyond the few shown already) – and a US import!