Curbside Classic: 1974 Toyota Crown (S60) Super Saloon – Hail To The Whale

As we were reminded recently by Paul, the Toyota Crown, now entering its sixteenth generation, is set to make its grand global comeback. In North America, this will take place after an absence of 50 years: the fourth generation Crown (S60/70) failed to make an impression, leading Toyota to quit shipping them across the Pacific after 1972. Let’s take a close look at one of those unwanted gen-4 Crowns, one of the nameplate’s most striking iterations.

Finding a 50-ish year old Crown is not a daily occurrence, even in its country of origin. I did see a few of these in Southeast Asia – in fact, the one I wrote up a while back was located in Laos – but this is the first one I caught in Tokyo. And what a whale of a catch it was.

When the S60 Crown took over from the S50 in February 1971, it caused quite a sensation. Up to that point, Crowns had been very conservative in every respect – body-on-frame saloons and wagons powered by a tranquil 2-litre engine with RWD and live axle, wrapped up in dignified but discreet styling. With Crown number 4, Toyota kept the technical bits dead-centre on the middle of the road, but moved the styling to full fuselage weirdness.

Japanese Toyota fans retrospectively apply nicknames to the various generations of Crowns, just like they do with the Nissan Skyline. This is both to attach a bit more personality to these long-lived nameplates than the rather dry alphanumeric sequencing used by their makers, but also occasionally to emphasize how they were perceived in their time. This S60/70 Crown is thus known as Kujira – i.e. the whale.

Famously, whale meat is still occasionally found in Japanese supermarkets, among the sashimi selection, so some folks do think of the term as food. But let’s face it, being called a whale in any language is not very positive, so we can safely deduce that this Crown is not seen to be particularly graceful by car nerds and failed to be celebrated in its day.

And that’s pretty much what happened, sad to say. The S60/70 barely beat the S50’s sales, bucking the trend that Crowns always improved upon the previous generation. The contemporary Nissan Cedric/Gloria (230) was much less weird and proved far more popular. But it’s really only down to esthetics, as the Toyota’s dimensions remained the same as its predecessor’s, and its dynamics and trim were arguably better than the Nissan.

The saloon was always the Crown’s mainstay, of course, but it wasn’t alone. They kept the wagon / van in the range, and it ended up being the most interestingly-styled of the bunch. Alas, I have yet to meet on in the metal, but one day…

The S50 Crown had introduced a snazzy hardtop coupé to the range, and this was carried through with the 4th gen cars. These were numbered S70/S75, depending on the engine. Pre-facelift models like this Deluxe coupé had body-coloured bumpers, rounder features and simpler grilles.

Engines included a 98hp 2-litre 4-cyl. for taxis and van, the 2-litre six in three states of tune (105 to 135hp) and the Big Daddy 2.6 litre OHC 6-cyl., good for 140hp. There were more and more trim levels to match the breadth of engine options, including the newly minted Special Saloon, whose liberal use of badges and trinkets turned the Kujira into a miniature Century.

The notion of a Japanese car over the (then very significant) 2-litre limit being available for the general public was a novel one, but it still failed to make much of an impression on the market. Nissan responded in kind, but the Cedric/Gloria also aced the Crown by fielding a 4-door hardtop – not something Toyota had foreseen.

The Super Saloon was a very well-equipped car for the time, with power windows, power steering, front disc brakes, power fender mirrors, A/C, a choice of either a 5-speed manual or an electronically-controlled 3-speed automatic (don’t ask, I have no idea what that means), self-locking doors, remote trunk opening and, in late models like our feature car, EFI for the 2-litre six.

The paisley-like patterned brocade on the seats is typical of JDM saloons of the period, way before gray or brown velour became the default choice. Rear seat passengers can not only control the radio remotely – our Crown had that too! – but also light their montecristos at the same time. Who needs a Century when you can have this?

The fussy and fuselage-infused shape of the Kujira, courtesy of Toyota designer Nigasa Toru, did not fill its many corporate buyers with excitement. A somewhat delayed facelift, in February 1973, sought to address the car’s perceived “rotundness”: squarer mirrors, a heavier and squarer grill and chrome bezels around the headlights all conspired to tone down the cetacean vibe, while making the whole thing fussier still. But really, the only answer was to hurry up and bring the S80 forward by a couple months, which happened in September 1974.

It turns out the S80, with its very conservative styling and new “pillared hardtop” body variant, became quite a smash hit and lasted until 1979 – a full five-year run to the Kujira’s three and a half. And the S80 is a rather nice car, for sure. It’s just nowhere near as interesting to look at as its predecessor.

Today, the Kujira stands out among the Crowns as the only one that really got ahead of its skis (and its clientele’s tastes) in terms of styling. As a result, it also happens to be the generation of classic Crowns that has some of the most ardent fans.

Whoever owns this one obviously takes extremely good care of it, for instance. It’s not totally stock – the wheels and the column shifter are notably modified, but also the “3-number” license plate identifies this car’s engine as over 2000cc, which means it probably has a newer (and necessarily bigger) motor than the one it had originally.

I’m probably in a minority, but this crazy Kujira is one of the highlights of the ‘70s, in terms of automotive design. There are Detroit influences aplenty – all expertly expounded upon by our dearly missed CColleague Don Andreina – coupled with a whacky streak that adds a lot of personality to the car. The same cannot be said of all Toyotas of the period, by any stretch of the imagination: unlike Nissan or Mazda, they usually played it safe, sometimes too safe. But not with this one.

Whales are not exactly pretty animals, but they are interesting, uncommon and impressive. That nickname really fits this Crown to a tee.


Related posts:


Automotive History: Toyota S60/S70 Crown – Thunderwhale., by Don Andreina

Curbside Classic: 1972 Toyota Crown (S60) Deluxe – Sleepy Time Up North, by T87

Curbside Capsule: 1971-74 Toyota Crown (S60) Sedan – Striking Is The Head That Wears The Crown, by William Stopford

Vintage R&T Review: 1972 Toyota Crown 2600 (S60) – There’s Some Very Good Reasons The Crown Failed In The US, by PN

Mini CC: 1971 Toyota Crown By Tomica – Far East Fuselage Style!, by Tom Klockau