When importing its creatively named Van between 1983 and 1989, Toyota wisely kept the most lavishly outfitted versions outside the US, in deference to their general crudeness. In Japan and other markets where high-speed stability and performance were lower priorities, the van was known as Town Ace, more openly reflecting its optimization as a suburban people carrier, ill-suited to US freeway duty. That hasn’t stopped a cult following from developing around these vans; while the Mitsubishi Delica is perhaps the most prominent vintage, feature-laden Japanese cabover import, its cult appeal is far from singular.
If the regular Toyota Van we got was seen as equipped to face off against Chrysler’s short wheelbase “Magic Wagons” in basic and LE trim, this Town Ace Super Extra is more like an answer to a Chrysler Town and Country had one existed in original short wheelbase, 2.2/2.6 form back in 1984.
This version’s facia indicates it is at least an ’85; another facelift came in 1989 and this generation Town Ace continued until January ’92, or about a year after the US market got the brilliant, expensive Previa. If you think supercharged, duel-sunroof’d versions of that van were loaded, however, models made for the Japanese market (in both wide and narrow body format) took gadgetry to a whole new level, in much the same way as this high-roofed Town Ace outdid the Toyota Van we knew in the ’80s. Thanks to Passin’Gas for this portrait of Toyota’s mid ’80s contender in the unique world of kitted-out cabovers.
It’s too bad Toyota didn’t import this version of the Van. I got to drive what they sold here, and I loved it. It was small enough to park most places, yet it was comfortable enough for a big guy like myself and my nephews in comfort. The only thing it didn’t have, which I think would’ve made it a better van, was a turbodiesel engine.
Town Ace Super Extra! Me likey likey! It will give you a good ending 🙂
Seriously. When I saw this in November 1983 when I was 11 years old in the City of Angels, I thought it was so cool and futuristic looking. That very same month I saw my very first cherry red Pontiac Fiero. I drooled! Now, today, the Fiero is a piece of fiberglass trash. On the other hand, this oldie Toyota managed to keep its charm!
A buddy of mine found the Panel version of this way in the back lot of a Ford Dealer and bought it , the 4WD is neat , he likes to actually use it off road .
My only experience with any of these vans’ close relations was in early 1990s China. We wanted to visit villages in the country, where my ancestors had come from. The usual tourist guides would have been useless; we needed a car and a driver who was familiar with the area (there was a dearth of accurate road maps in China). Through contacts with Party officials (who says that China was a classless society?) we were able, with the help of a couple of cartons of American cigarettes, to “borrow” the Toyota van assigned to a school, along with its driver. This was was a stripper with the only visible option being air conditioning (it’s hot and humid in that part of China). “General crudeness” says it all, but that air conditioning, with a very powerful and also very noisy blower fan, was able to cool even the back row of the van.
Next trip was a couple of years later and by then, the Toyota van had developed some kind of terminal ailment and was laid up derelict in the back lot. We “borrowed” a bus instead…and THAT was an experience!
I’m a bit confused. What exactly made this so different than US-import models, other than the raised roof, which were commonly added here by conversion outfits? I can’t see much of the inside, but the little I see of the front seat looks like the same kind of upholstery as the US-bound versions. Is this really all that plush inside? The 4×4 version was sold here too, and quite popular.
The Japanese didn’t ever attempt to sell many trim levels or options; in fact they specifically limited them due to not wanting to adopt the old Detroit model. And Detroit soon enough got on board too.
But the Japanese domestic market has always been rife with a plethora of models and trims and options, since cars were typically ordered, not bought off the sales lot. So there has always been a big difference in what was available in the US and japan. But I’m not sure exactly how much in the case of this one. If it weren’t for the raised roof and slightly different front end, I’d have thought it was a US version.
Well, the right-and drive and slider on the other side are also different, but I do see your point. Too bad there isn’t a pic of the other side, I wonder if there is a second slider?
I’m more interested in how they registered it in CA? I am aware of the 25year federal importation cut off for smog and safety stuff, but figured CA would go beyong those rules. This doesn’t meet the 1976 (?) smog cutoff for CA. Maybe it’s registered in one of the northern Counties that doesn’t require an emissions check, who knows. To sell it though it would require a certificate no matter where it is located in the state IIRC.
I don’t think they offered them with two sliders. Typically your upmarket features would include swivelling second row seats with a table folding out from the side wall without the slider – but I’m not sure if they offered that feature on this body. You’d get dual climate-control air conditioning setup, power curtains on the windows, a really serious sound system – that sort of thing. Leather? Why not! Basically, anything the Japanese put on their luxury cars, you could get in these.
No, single slider only on these. Second row swivelled, but no fold-out table.
That is a mid range model it misses out on the opening roof windows the crystal light effect the range toppers were fitted with, mate o mine had one power curtains crystal roof turbo diesel all the fruit fresh off the boat from Japan, all versions are common in NZ.
Even the 2CT (turbo diesel) version of one of these quite pleasant looking vehicles can’t pull the proverbial skin off a rice pudding as they say… I once test drove a 4WD non-turboed 2C diesel campervan model of one of these and honestly it was more gutless than an original 850cc Mini from the early ’60’s when it came to hill climbing.. the later 3CT as used in the Estima/Lucida/Emina vans isn’t quite so bad however, and the later 3CTE ones with computer controlled injection were even better, until problems occurred with the electronics side of the pump. In the end the good old fashioned mechanical diesel pump and a standard ‘hair drier’ is the best way to go with these, but the engines are still inherently ‘weak’ mechanically with lightweight pistons and troublesome heads that crack between the valve seat lands at the first sign of overheating. Believe me. I know this from firsthand experience. An engine should last 120,000kms though, if regularly serviced, but there is no reliability after that length of service life.
Two acquaintances had 4wd Townaces with the 2CT in them. Both cracked the heads – both twice… One of my acquaintances isn’t remotely mechanically inclinded, and the second time the head cracked it was because he saw the check engine light come on, noticed the temp gauge was on H, and decided he’d better keep driving home before anything happened… Even when smoke started coming out from under the seats, he carried on driving until the engine seized. I think he probably still doesn’t understand why!
I had a 2c powered Corona van/wagon 340,000 kms racked up but driven for years tax free so who knows how many kms it actually did gutless as I ran it for 10 months it never missed a beat sold it in going order but it eventually cooked for the new owner.
Basically, the entire 1C, 2C, and 3C range is a seriously flawed design. Someone told me once that the engines were not designed by Toyota’s own engineers per se, but were some third party design derived from a petrol engine base. Every single one of them WILL develop a cracked head at some stage, no matter how carefully they are treated and maintained.
Having said that the 4D56/4D56T van diesel engine from Mitsubishi was little better with disastrous valve gear failures in the late ’80’s engines used across the L300 and Pajero range of vehicles.
It’s not really true to say that Japanese automotive engineers ALWAYS design superb engines. They plainly don’t..
My version of this is a 4Runner. Even in retirement as a pretend farmer I need utility and as a grandpa I need seats. This plus a trailer hitch would hit the spot.
Love this van shape
Ditto – I remember David Bentley doing some drawings in Wheels at the time, showing how the Townace/Tarago had really nice detail designs compared with most comparable vans. The original 1982-5 larger headlight version was the purest in design form, but the ’85-9 was still excellent. The ’88-92 was ok, but the revised front and rear kind of looked like an aging Hollywood star’s bad ‘lipstick-on-a-pig’ facelift.
My sister had a ’87 or 88 for 17 years, typical Toyota it only started to fail when it was 23 years old. And I never had to come over to her place and fix it, which I had done on multiple other cars she had. Hers was a base model, didn’t have AC or an automatic. She got mom’s Vibe to replace it, and $1000 from BAAQMD to get it off the streets.
My parents had a 1985 Toyota Townace Super Extra as our sole family vehicle from 1990-1994. We were the first New Zealand owners of it, bought it fresh off the used-import boat from Japan. Our one was an 1800cc petrol, 5-speed manual. Low-roof model (ie same height as the one in Paul’s comment above) – the low roof was harder to get hold of in NZ, but the more common mid- and high-roof models were too tall for the carport. Ours was built in July-’85, so was among the last to wear the original front end design with the slightly bigger headlights. The slimmer headlights in the feature van above came out in August ’85.
Ours had silver exterior and blue interior (really nice blue too, Tom K would approve!), and was a 7 1/2 seater – 2x buckets up front, 2x buckets middle row, bench seat third row. The half-seat was a fold-up job on the sliding-door end of the middle row. When folded up it had a matching cover so that it looked like an armrest. The middle row seats each had fore-aft and recline functions, and swivelled as a single unit. The rear heater controls were also back there, so naturally teenage me claimed that row as mine – leaving my sisters to the rear bench (which reclined but didn’t slide or swivel). I’m not sure if the JDM models had the same seats as export models, but I distinctly remember how small the seats were – very short cushions etc, they were like 80% scale models of “normal” seats.
Rather horrifyingly for me, when Mum and Dad traded their ’85 Ford Sierra on the Townace, I had just turned 16 and gained my restricted driving licence. The restricted phase of NZ’s licence system (it follows the ‘Learner’ licence and precedes the ‘Full’ licence) meant I could legally drive alone (but not with passengers), which would have been awesome except just as I got it, the comparatively quick and fun-to-drive Sierra morphed into the unsporting forward-control van… Having said that though, it was spectacularly easy to get the Townace onto three wheels while cornering at relatively low speed (Shhh, don’t tell my folks!).
I’m not sure whether our Townace deserved its ‘Super Extra’ badging, but it fulfilled the need Mum and Dad had for additional room for a newly-acquired dog, three growing teenagers and their friends while towing the boat (just our 14-foot cabin boat, I don’t think the 1800cc would have coped with anything bigger!). Other than the world’s most brittle plastic (try to remove an interior trim piece and it would shatter and/or splinter), our Townace was a comfy and reliable place to be while we owned it, and I still miss that lovely shade of blue on the dashboard.
Fun fact: a Toyota Townace was the first van to cross the stretch of ocean named the Cook Strait which lies between New Zealand’s North and South Islands. It took 9 3/4 hours to cross the 65km stretch of notoriously challenging water. The “drivers” were escorted by a pod of dolphins for a while, and though it was because the dolphins “…probably haven’t seen mag wheels before.” The Town…uh Oceanace’s watery voyage can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTK6-3G4sKM
The ocean going town ace A friend of mine isGreg Lees owner of Lees Boat Builders one of the sponsors of that thing, who happens to drive a 67 SST Hardtop.
What a ride. Have seen a beetle do this but not a van. It’s a natural.
How much did they have to modify it before it was water tight?
in boy scouts i had the non pleasure of driving in the passenger seat. the van was othewise completely weighed down with kids front to back. i cannot think of much experiences being more terrifying than riding in that thing on i-10 in new orleans.