COAL: 1986 Toyota Cressida – Stately Elegance



(First posted 6/30/2013) In the spring of 1996, my girlfriend finally graduated from college and moved up to San Francisco to live with me.  She arrived with a big bonus, a 1986 Toyota Cressida!  Since we ended up married and are still married I figure her cars are now also my cars.

Her grandfather Gene had purchased this car new in Southern California; when he eventually decided that the time had come for a Cadillac the Cressida was handed down to Allison.  I was absolutely delighted as I had been eyeing this car for several years and was always eager to drive it whenever we had the opportunity to go somewhere with Gene.  He had always been more than happy to hand over driving duties whenever I was in Orange County visiting the future in-laws and extended family, be it for a run to the liquor store or the drive to Las Vegas over a Thanksgiving break.


As I mentioned it was a 1986 model, dark blue with blue velour interior.  Unfortunately no pictures seem to exist of it, so all the images here are of similar cars.  Equipped as they all were with an inline 2.8l 6-cylinder engine shared with the Supra and an overdrive automatic transmission, this was a wonderful cruiser, very comfy, quiet, understated and relatively powerful.  It was kind of a blend between American cruiser and German stormer.  Remember, this was built before Lexus was conceived and could easily have been a Lexus, had that existed at the time.  The body and interior were in excellent condition, no rust or other damage anywhere.


Gene was a prolific smoker, I recall that it was somewhat smoky before Allison got it, but somehow her dad had taken it somewhere that was able to deal with it, when she got it there was no indication or scent of smoke the whole time she had it.  I still have no idea how he managed to eliminate it, but somehow he did.


Unlike the contemporary Maxima that looked somewhat similar, had a V-6 but otherwise had the same mission in the marketplace, the Cressida was rear-wheel drive, making for more interesting driving dynamics and leaving it without torque steer or the propensity to fry the front tires during a hard launch that I had experienced test driving several Maximas over the years.


The Cressida was in excellent condition with about 90,000 miles when we got it. Allison had been driving it for about a year before graduation and had used it around school as well as to visit me up North and her family down South.  It was a much safer car than her previous Corolla and Suzuki Samurai with which she did the same things.  As soon as she moved in this became the preferred transport for me whenever I had the opportunity to choose which car to drive.  I simply loved the smooth rush of power and the way it soaked up the bumps.


The interior of these is from Toyota’s “make it square” era, where everything seems to have right angles and there is not a curve to be found anywhere, even the steering wheel hub is a rectangle instead of rounded off. The result though on the dashboard is that everything seems to fit logically into its little section of space and it looks nice and clean. The stereo with its built-in equalizer was very nice to use with excellent fidelity for a factory system back then.


The exterior to me looks very pleasant with more rectilinear styling everywhere; there is a fair bit of ornamentation but it all seems to go together well, from the chromed eggcrate grille to the integrated body-colored mudflaps and the large wheels with their semi-flush design (in 1986).  The thick bodyside molding and rear mounted power antenna along with the large flush headlights and huge taillight units all looked the business as well.


It never had any issues that were the car’s fault.  Once, while driving through Sacramento, we started to hear a horrific thumping with a significant vibration from the rear. After pulling over very quickly we realized that one of the tires was delaminating and the tread was flapping around and hitting the wheelwell.   I simply changed it for the fullsize spare and we carried on and got the tire replaced a few days later.  Allison also hit a deer with it late at night while still in college.  She recalls significant damage, however I don’t recall anything serious at all.  Either way it was fixed quickly and I don’t bring up the “deer incident” anymore as it just leads to an unwinnable disagreement…


The Cressida somewhat reminds me of the Japanese market Crown sedan that is still used for Taxi duty all over Japan, Hong Kong and some other nations in Asia, similar size, squared off practical styling and just oozing a quiet competence with excellent build quality that just promised intergalactic mileage potential.  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I think these are possibly pretty much the equal of the Mercedes W124 series from an engineering and longevity perspective, just they never got the same exposure worldwide.


This generation of Cressida is enjoying a bit of a renaissance on the Japanese collector car market, I saw several at the Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach a few years ago, one perfectly stock in showroom condition and several with nice modifications including turbos and stick shifts transplanted from Supras.  Others were full on “Bosozoku Style” with their vertical exhaust extensions that seem a bit bizarre to me but apparently is a common tuning style (in Japan).  A relatively rare variant is the wagon version which I’d love to have owned.  I’m not exaggerating when I say if I had the garage space and an opportunity presented itself to acquire a well-kept example I would most likely pounce on it.  Maybe in a few years…


I did not get to enjoy it for too long as Allison’s grandfather had promised to buy her a car of her choice (within a certain budget limitation) upon graduation.  Since she was not nearly as enamored of the car as I was at the time, within a year we sold the car and started looking for its replacement…Looking back I really should have hung on to it.