It’s not always easy to tell the bigger 20-year-old Toyota and Nissan saloons apart. There were so many variations on the same theme – Laurel, Cedric, Gloria, Crown, Mark II, Skyline, Cresta… Apart from the Skyline, which does have its own identity, they’re all pretty interchangeable. Just like this Chaser – the sporty version of the Toyota Mark II / Cresta platform. Nice machine, but what makes it stand out?
Nothing, really. If you wanted to stand out from that crowd, you were either a Skyline or you went FWD or AWD (think Mitsubishi Diamante or Subaru). The point of having 10 different nameplates for four platforms was all about distribution channels. But that kind of ate into the advertising budget and old loyalties to particular names faded away with time, so most of these old names were retired. It’s not dissimilar to the wave of marque deaths that took place in the US around the same time, only the JDM culls did away with long-running model names, as opposed to ancient (and not-so-ancient) marques. It hurt a bit less, but it still stung a bit.
Our Chaser here is the last of its lineage. Just like its Mark II and Cresta stablemates, it appeared in September 1996 as a “hardtop sedan” (a pillared saloon with frameless windows) and kept the paraphernalia of its ancestors since times immemorial – 6-cyl. engine, RWD, automatic gearbox, tons of gadgets, seat doilies and mouse velour galore.
The engines came in three flavours: 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0 litres. We are thus presented with the Goldilocks model, the 2492cc 24-valve DOHC straight-6, which is turbocharged and provides an adequate 197hp via a 4-speed automatic (a 5-speed manual was available, but I doubt many cars were fitted with it).
After the customary mid-life facelift, which occurred in 1998, the Chaser soldiered on until August 2001, when Toyota decided to extinguish it, along with the Cresta. The Chaser name had thus lived for about 25 years and six generations – not bad for a gussied-up Mark II, which was never offered in any other body variant than the four-door saloon.
These cars are not yet rare in 2020 Japanese traffic, but are getting somewhat less common. I imagine that, as their owners eventually die out or are forced to quit driving (older folks are regularly tested for their aptitude to drive in this country, unlike in many others), in a few years’ time, encountering a Chaser will be something of an event. Kind of like Oldsmobiles will be pretty soon, too, I imagine.
Now that the flurry of the early 21st Century newbies (Progrès, Verossa, Aristo, etc.) have died out and that the Toyota Mark X has ceased production (since last December), the last remaining link to the Corona Mark II family tree has gone, leaving the Crown as the last traditional RWD saloon on the market for the common folk. Who knows how long that’ll last. In the meantime, I’m going to try and capture as many of these old-style JDM chariots as I can for posterity, just as my CCollaborators across the Pacific are doing with Olds, Mercuries and Plymouths.
Curbside Cool: Toyota Chaser – Drift Version, by Thomas Kreutzer