Forty years is an instant and an eternity; so much changes, and yet somethings hardly change at all. One minute I’m bopping carefree down an Iowa country road with a girlfriend in a baby-blue ’71 Mark II, our long hair blowin’ in the warm wind. Today, we exchange e-mails half-way around the globe about our grown kids and frail parents. And although we’re obviously older, hopefully wiser, grayer, and not as nimble anymore, our personalities are fundamentally the same. That’s the constant we instantly recognize and love in family and old friends, even if the packaging changes a bit over time. Applies to some cars too, especially this Toyota.
In car time, forty years really is an eternity, unless you’re Morgan. So many brands have come and gone, along with their positioning in the market place. One year it’s performance, the next it’s fuel economy, or luxury, or… even Mercedes seems like a different company now. But there are a few exceptions, and it’s hard for me to think of a more consistent company than Toyota, especially with its mid-sized cars like this Mark II, the spiritual predecessor to today’s Camry. And you wonder why folks my age so readily keep buying them? We recognize their constant qualities, just like an old friend or family member, even if they are bigger and softer now.
Even the theme in the advertising is familiar: well, not the part about the lighter being concealed behind a panel, although that is a Toyota-ish type of attention to detail. But it’s all about how quiet the engine is, and how comfortable the cabin is: “It’s roomy without being big. Luxurious without being expensive. And economical without being noisy…TOYOTA, we’re quality oriented.” Pretty much sums up the company and its bread-and-butter sedans.
Toyota conquered the US market with those values and its sedans. The first big seller was the Corona, which was quite a small car from today’s vantage point. The Corona started to really sell in the last years of the sixties, and in 1968 was augmented by the then-tiny Corolla. The Corona Mark II, or later just Mark II, was a slightly longer, wider and more upscale version of the pretty plain-Jane Corona, and appeared hereabouts in ’68 or ’69. It signaled that Toyota was not just going to be an economy car company forever.
It featured a brand new engine, the SOHC 1900 cc 8R, which was praised by the press for its smooth running and even power delivery. Rated at 108 (gross) hp, it was supposedly fast enough to push the Mark II up to 105 mph. My limited experience in the Mark II never allowed me to confirm that. Her parents split up about then, and the Mark II went off with Daddy.
But the driving experience was classic Toyota: unexciting and uninspiring, yet exuding the self-assured air of quality and Japanese precision. The engine hummed, the manual transmission shifted perfectly, the interior was a very pleasant place to be, the steering and handling were both hum-drum.
A Datsun 510 it was not, but within a few years, Datsun was trying way too hard to turn its sedans into Toyota clones. The Mark II had established itself as Toyota’s first step-up car, a trajectory that would eventually lead to Lexus. Perhaps the Mark II was really the first ES. I bet there’s more than one ES driver who started out with a Mark II.
The gen2 Mark II (X10/X20 Series) was a significantly bigger car, with six cylinder engines. Since the gen2 Crown didn’t sell well here (when was the last time you saw a Crown?), the Mark II became Toyota’s top model (try finding one of those too). The gen3 Mark II was the first to wear the Cressida name in the US, so this car is a direct descendant of that storied Toyota.
I do have Cressidas, so we’ll pick up that thread sometime, as well as the Corona’s too, of which I’ve had the good fortune to find some nice early versions. I’d pretty much given up on finding a Mark II though, and there it suddenly was, looking all the world like a daily driver still, with its original license plate protector. Like running into an old friend from forty years ago, and she’s still wearing the exact same clothes.
Well, don’t look at her skin too closely; time does take a bit of a toll. But the essence is all there, and the memories come flooding back.
That jutting chin,
and a few busy details trying to add a bit of pizazz to a pretty generic body. Toyota styling was neither going to sear your eyeballs nor seduce them. A bit odd to look at the first few times, but then it rather grows on you a bit, or at least doesn’t age badly. Still largely applies, with some exceptions. I happen to think that the current Camry falls in that category.
Well, its been a treat. Lots of old cars make you feel like it really was a long forty years ago; everything about them seems so…different. But this Mark II; it just exudes familiarity. And that’s what we want in old friends, no?