I recently had to go to Laos for a couple of days, which is always a pleasure. It was one of the first countries I really explored when I came to Asia, and a trip there never fails to perk up the sprit. Lao people are very laid back. The town of Vientiane, on the north bank of the Mekong, is about as peaceful as South-East Asia gets. Alas, as I recalled from my last stay there, the pickings would be slim, CC-wise.
Let me show you what we’re talking about here. This is downtown Vientiane, near the Mekong, at about 2pm. Getting any car at all was sometimes a challenge in itself. Below, a larger street at the 5pm “rush hour.”
And the Lao being quite close, culturally-speaking, to the Thais, their vehicle of choice is identical to their southern neighbours: pickup trucks, preferably double-cab – sometimes Chinese-made, but mostly Japanese or Korean marques. The one above appears to be a Daehan, a Vietnamese marque that started assembling trucks in Laos itself a couple of years ago.
Saloon-wise, a few folks have started buying Chinese cars as well. The MG is perhaps one of the best exports out of China. They are not cheap, but can be seen pretty much in every country from China to Australia. But many other Chinese manufacturers are present here – more than in than in any other country in the region. Even in Myanmar, where Chinese cars and trucks are often seen, the overwhelming bias is towards Toyota.
The Chery QQ is still relatively common there as a taxi, but you don’t necessarily find all these other models, such as that red Chana Benni or the Wuling (top left), which is also sometimes seen in Thailand. Dongfeng, FAW and Lifan vans and trucks are rampant.
So in the midst of this mediocrity, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a glorious derriere, full of chrome and large taillamps… The Kujira was here, in this CC-free environment! And next to a VW Beetle, no less. But I didn’t even notice the Type 1 until I reviewed the pictures later on.
I daresay that I shall skip the Toyota Crown’s illustrious model history entirely. No period photos and no smorgasbord of competitors to compare it with. Others have told this story in sublime detail already. But I will proclaim my eternal lust for this generation of Toyota Crowns. I like all three body variants (saloon, coupé and wagon). They all have their strong points. The saloon is the only one that has no weak point, design-wise. By far and away, this is my favourite Crown and the best-looking Toyota of its decade.
Simple, yet effective detailing, like the chromed C-pillar vents, is evident everywhere on this car. It was the sign of an interesting turn for Japanese styling. The US market was opening up, so the Japanese automakers completely switched to Detroit for its inspiration, after having had a lot of input from the Italians in the ‘60s.
The Euro-Italian connection might have influenced the Crown’s highly distinctive prow. Some hint of Pietro Frua, or perhaps Goertz, who had designed the 2000 GT? Apparently not, but somebody at Toyota must have channeled these guys for this daring design.
The Crown’s quad eyes are sunk deep within the grille/bumper assembly. Thanks to the shade, at some angles, the Crown looks like it has hidden headlamps, like the T-Bird that seems to have inspired it. Neat trick. The car’s dimensions are pretty big, though. No wonder they call it Kujira – the whale.
This is a RHD model, so odds are it made it to Laos, where cars are usually LHD, via Thailand. Or it could be a survivor from the Japanese embassy motor pool. Either way, it looks like it has a 3- or 4-speed manual (with or without O/D), probably mated to the smallest engines – the ever-present 2-litre duo, available as a 4- or a 6-cyl. This Kujira’s had a long life, which doesn’t seem to be completely over as yet, judging by the cabin, the “protective polystyrene” blocks put on the tail and the feather duster gathering dust on the hood.
The Japanese taste for Detroit started to fade by the late ‘70s, though it remained quite strong in certain JDM products (such as the Crown, the Debonair or the Cedric) even beyond the ‘90s. Most Japanese designs of the ‘70s fall into either the “bland” or the “wacko” categories, with precious few managing to bring together a cohesive design. It’s easier to make an American-inspired design work on a larger car, obviously. But many a large Japanese car would fall into the “bland” category. This Crown eschews this fate by having just enough wacko to counterbalance the bland.
This is definitely a pre-facelift 1st series S60 (Feb. 1971-Feb 1973), which didn’t come as a Royal Saloon, so that badge was probably added later. The original badge was still there, on the left rear fender. This is definitely a low-spec Crown – no A/C, no Toyoglide, no power windows. A/C is really something you need almost year-round in Southeast Asia, but I’m sure something could be made to fit a car this big. But with only about 100 hp (the 6-cyl. was a 104 hp (DIN); the 4-cyl. was 97 hp (DIN)) to pull this Japanese XL-sizer (equivalent to a US “M” size and to a Euro “L”, as are all clothes in Asia), there’s not many horses to spare. So no mountains for this whale.
I highly recommend Laos. Just don’t spend more than two-three days in Vientiane. There are other places to see, and it’s really worth seeing. Someday, I’ll go back to Luang Prabang (plenty of CCs there, as I recall), or see the Plain of Jars. And someday, I might get me a Kujira Crown. I’ve seen a few in Bangkok. Gotta have A/C, though. And be in better nick than this one…
Automotive History: Toyota S60/S70 Crown – Thunderwhale., by Don Andreina