As you know, I have something of a liking for strange cars from the land of the rising sun. That weird blend of seemingly endless money and technological prowess that Japan was running on in the 1980s produced some of the most interesting metal that I have ever laid my eyes on (through the internet and photographs that is). Curiously, one of my favorite JDM-only vehicles is actually one of the most mainstream and ordinary cars that they sell in Japan. The Crown.
I am not entirely sure why. I know it has to do with the fact that I have always preferred my cars comfortable rather than sporty (although the two need not be mutually exclusive). It could have to do with my perchance for classic-style sedans, like its American namesake the Crown Victoria. It could be that it’s a very rare car around here. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an absolutely mint silver example that could have been mine for a very reasonable price. How mint? The kind of mint that still has dealer paper floormats on. Sadly, the owner decided at the last minute that he much rather keep on not driving it for a bit longer. At which point I felt some relief mixed with the deep pang of disappointment.
You see, the second I placed the offer and sat back on my couch I realized that there was a chance that he could actually accept. And that would mean I would have to pay for it. In money. Moreover, this would be an entirely new experience for me. Every other car that has made it to the Solis household has been bought dead for a pittance and then made work. Aesthetics were a second concern. Who cared if the vinyl was frayed in places or if someone bumped into it and scratched it? And if it had a hole in the upholstery so what? That same unconscious carelessness simply would not fly with a car that had actually been cared for.
Bringing a car back from the brink, it turns out, is much easier than keeping a car from getting anywhere near that brink. I didn’t even have a place to park it, curbside would be madness (Yes, I am very aware of the name of the site on which you are reading this) and trying to protect it would likely attract the same attention that poor old Fiat got. Never had a car had made me felt to joyous and frightened at the same time. And it made me face and swallow the bitter truth: I can’t really own another car.
Can you imagined if it had been our featured car instead of a normal Crown?
Ever since Toyota decided to launch a more elegant version of the Crown, called the Crown Eight after its number of cylinders, in 1964, the Crown had a problem of serving two masters. The people that bought the normal versions and kept it as Toyota’s chief mainstream mid-size offering in Japan on one hand, and the people that bought the uber-luxury versions to replace their large imports. This segmentation kept on until the late eighties, where a 2L Diesel Crown sedan fit for Taxi or fleet use could have shared showroom space with a fully loaded 4.0-litre V8 Royal Saloon G. If you wanted to go any further up the Toyota food chain, you would have to step up to the Century Limousine (which we quite like around here). Clearly, something needed to be done.
In 1991 with the release of the new ninth-generation Toyota Crown, they decided to do something about it. A split, if you will. You could still have a fairly loaded Crown. But the flagship duties done by the Royal Saloon G (Side note, I really love that trim name) would be taken by an entirely new model. This would be the car for the people that thought that the Century was way too conservative. The sort who wanted to project an image that was more Gordon Gekko than Toshiki Kaifu. This would be a limousine with the latest in technology, Traction control, GPS Navigation. Head-Up display. Crucially, it would be visually different from the normal Crown and ride on a stretched platform.
Our featured model, caught by nifty43(nifticus) is actually a third generation model produced anywhere between 1999 and 2004. I’m saying 2001 to hedge my chances. It is very similar with the previous generation model, which went back to more conservative styling after the first generation’s early ‘90s genericness. Engine choices remained the same through its first three generations, the 3.0-liter 2JZ six and the aforementioned 4.0-litre V8, known on this side of the pond from the Lexus SC and LS.
I can see why someone would go through all the trouble of importing one of these to Canada instead of just going for the Lexus LS. Nevermind the fact that driving an RHD car is ever so slightly more difficult on countries where you drive on the right. Nevermind the fact that you will never be able to overtake anything on a two-lane or drive on roads that have tollbooths. Unlike more esoteric kei-cars or a Century, you can actually find someone to work on the oily bits. Put up with the difficulties and you will have a very rare, comfortable luxury car.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, the Crown Majesta is still being produced and offered as an alternative to the Century. For taxing purposes, the V8 is gone and has been replaced by gluten-free, fair trade, carbon neutral, ethically diverse hybrid powerplants. Batteries mated to either 3.5-liter V6 (A configuration lifted straight from the Lexus GS450h.) or a 2.5-liter four. Japanese fuel economy tests give it an average fuel economy of 43 miles per gallon. I would take it with a grain of salt.
As an ending to this article, I’ve decided to forgo the usual declaration of love for our featured car and instead leave you with the ad campaign that Toyota ran for the Crown. Not knowing Japanese, I am not sure if the Majesta is mentioned even in passing. But I would be forever remorseful if I denied our esteemed readers of the pleasure of such a delightfully strange commercial. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed finding these pictures at the cohort, being denied the chance of possibly ruining a mint classic, and of course, that ad itself.
I see shades of the 2nd Generation Infiniti Q45 in the exterior styling along with the Lexus LS series. Very desirable overall.
Certainly a unique car, but one I can’t call attractive. I see a weird combination of the LS and the Q45, but it doesn’t really work. The front fascia is what kills me, the angry headlights with the gaping air conditioner grill just don’t gel with the rest of the car.
Also, I seriously despise the stupid rims on this example. Reminds me of those idiotic AMG wheels Mercedes Benz put back on some of their cars in the 90s. Anytime I see anyone with those style rims, more money than taste immediately springs to mind.
It looks like a car from some videogame when the publisher mashup two or three different real cars’ design into one to avoid the licensing fees. This car would be perfect on any GTA…
Look a hell of a lot better than some of the bland, boring Econo Boxes seen on the streets daily. I’d trade my new Subaru Outback Premium Model even up for the black model.
Love the understated luxury these cars present. For those unaware, every generation of Majesta is directly related to the Lexus GS series we are familiar with; chassis and (typically) powertrains are shared. My personal favorite was the 2004-2009 generation, just before styling became more aggressive:
Yes most Lexus/Lexi? are merely rebadged Toyotas with a few minor differences a vast amount of our Toyota fleet is ex JDM and we have your Lexus under their original badges/names.
I think Lexus is a brand when Toyota figured how Ford made Lincoln.
Pretty much every other country’s fuel economy numbers far exceed those produced for very similar U.S. models.
As for the styling, I think Japanese cars are looking more and more angry or aggressive with each succeeding generation…I hope this “look” isn’t adopted by U.S. manufacturers. It seems to have been picked up by some European car manufacturers, though.
Very nice article. I can remember when the first Majesta’s were introduced – this was near the peak of the “bubble” era around 1991 when Mercedes S Class and BMW 7 Series were everywhere in Tokyo – Toyota wanted another model to compete with these – and the Majesta did very well. Sales have subsequently decreased and its somewhat of a niche model now.
The commercial was certainly interesting – I had not seen it before (and was here in Tokyo in 2013). The Japanese actor you may recognize – Takeshi Kitano, who started out as a comedian and is now a film maker and Director. For some of his early work, you can view “Takeshi’s Castle” on Youtube.
Also known (dubbed, of course) as “MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge”. Takeshi is said.to be a fan of its sophomoric humor.
Those little chrome dinguses atop the fenders in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th photos are interesting. I have a pair of them, new in Toyota packs, in my garage. The chrome housing holds a clear plastic piece, which (plus a green filter) is the outcoupling element at the end of an optical fibre. The other end of the fibre looks from the back at one of the car’s lights, probably one of the headlamps. The driver sees a soft green glow from these when the lights are on.
My father’s 1979 Cadillac Eldorado had fiber optic light monitors on the front fenders, so they were not by any means “new” on today’s subject cars. The Cadillac’s even monitored three lights on each side, not just one. A good thing about them was that unlike much else on that car, they never broke down.
“A good thing about them was that unlike much else on that car, they never broke down.
Quite fitting for The Standard of the World. Lights on here. Home, not so much…
When I was in Japan in the mid 80s, I visited an auto parts store and found something similar to those “dinguses” and bought a full (?) set. They were plastic shafts with rectangular bases that had adhesive on the side of the bases so you could stick them on the side of each headlight. For the tail lights, the clear plastic was tinted red and they were stuck on the tail light with a portion of the shaft that would be visible in the driver’s rear view mirror.
They looked DORKY, but were a neat idea if you have trouble judging were the ends/corners of your car.
I think you mean the ever common “parking antenna” in Japan. They raise/lower via a dash mounted switch. With sonar parking sensors and rear view cameras, they are starting to die out:
Yeah, these were on all JDM cars until very recently. But most of them were not retractable. Our 2002 Crown has this as well as the green-lit chromed “dinguses”.
Not retractable? That’s odd. The vast majority of my JDM brochure collection shows them as such. Cheaper aftermarket units?
Many 70s Chrysler products had these, too. But I don’t think they were fiber optic.
No, the Chrysler items weren’t the same thing. Those were turn signal indicators mounted on the fendertop or near the outboard edge of the hood. Each contained a bulb and an amber lens; they were wired to flash with the turn blinkers.
Far East Russia (all of Siberia actually, but Khabarovsk and Vladivostok especially) has a total love affair with the Crown since the market was opened up in 1991 for grey market JDM imports. Very passionate owners. I’ve only ridden in one once, an S130 chassis (body on frame, curiously enough), a well worn taxi in Novosibirsk. I’ll never forget that early morning ride, floating along poorly marked roads listening to electronica being blasted by the very tired, chain smoking cabbie. Neat little “Supercharger” light on the dash that would light up when the blower was active.
Being on the wrong side of the car is an absolute deal breaker for me. No Can do!
I took my LHD ’68 300SEL to the UK via the Chunnel in ’96. Only real prob I faced was trying to get out of a car park in Oxford, but driving was an experience to say the least.
What I’ve never liked is the fact that the Toyota Crown was discontinued in the USA after 1972. Why it never sold well is beyond me. If nothing else, I can see it competing against the likes of the Volvo 164.