(First posted March 18, 2013) Toyota was really coming into its own in the mid- to late-’70s. Despite starting out in the U.S. market with a frumpy, unpopular mini-1954 Plymouth in the 1958 Toyopet, Toyota stuck to its guns and kept developing their lineup. It paid off with the perfect storm of U.S. federal regulations, the 1973 gas crisis and growing discontent with indifferently-assembled Big Three rolling stock. While the Corolla and Corona were doing well by the mid-’70s–even in the Midwest, the toughest nut to crack–the top-of-the-line Mark II had become a relative sales laggard by 1974-75. However, Toyota had a new flagship waiting in the wings: The Avalon’s granddaddy, the Cressida.
The last year for the Mark II was 1976. Towards the end of that year, Toyota launched its Cressida replacement. Still the best Toyota you could get in the U.S., it followed American automotive tastes, to an extent, with squared-off, formal styling that was right in tune with the Great Brougham Epoch. While JDM-market versions were marketed under both the Mark II and Cressida nameplates, all North American-bound examples were badged as Cressidas–a very luxy and Broughamy name, and one right in tune with the times.
Although U.S. versions came only in sedan and wagon body styles, the Cressida, like the Mark II, was also built as a two-door hardtop. Part of the fun of writing for CC is learning new things; before setting out to write this post, I had no idea a hardtop Cressida existed. Rather nice looking, don’t you think? Sort of a 3/4-scale Cordoba/Grand Prix/Monte Carlo.
Like the outgoing Mark II, the Cressida came as a wagon, but unlike its predecessor, it came with Di-Noc wood-wallpapered sides. Although it seems like every one of these came in ’70s Brown™, other colors were indeed available. I think this blue one from the ’78 brochure looks much nicer than our brown CC.
And how about that grille? The earlier Corona Mark II/Mark II was rather sporty looking, but that image was completely ditched with the Cressida. Instead, you got a baby Brougham look, not the least part of which was its Cordoba-inspired front end. Was that intentional?
The new Cressida was, despite its obvious luxury aspirations, a rather tidy package, with a 104.1-inch wheelbase and 184.4″ overall length for the wagon (the sedan measured 185″). And unlike the Brougham-tastic domestic offerings, the Cressidas were pretty frugal on petrol: 27 mpg highway and 20 city, according to the 1978 full-line catalog.
Actually, Toyota had the woody-wagon market covered, as the Corolla, Corona and Cressida all could be had in wood-grained versions for those with Country Squire tastes. Although its less prestigious Corona sibling looked similar, the Cressida was longer and wider, and sported a 2.6-liter six-cylinder instead of a four.
The premium Toyota was also automatic-only: a four-speed unit with overdrive. Stopping power was provided by power front disc/rear drum brakes, and air conditioning was standard equipment.
While very much a mini-North American Brougham outside, the interior was closer to contemporary-Asian/European, with its sturdy, ergonomically-designed bucket seats, center console and floor-shifted automatic. Nor would you see a mere strip speedometer and gas gauge; sure, Toyota wanted its share of the Brougham market, but they weren’t going to go that far.
Partly due to exchange rates, but also to its place in the Toyota lineup, the Cressidas, sedan and wagon alike, were quite well equipped. As the brochure stated, “All these features may be extra on other cars. But on Cressida, they’re extras you don’t pay for.” Notwithstanding the rust issues common to ’70s Asian cars, these cars were built with almost jewel-like quality. If you lived in unsalted areas of the U.S., they could well last forever, as proven by this example shot by Paul. As period Toyota advertising stated (well in advance of Lee Iacocca’s K-car commercials), “If you can find a better-built car than a Toyota, buy it.” Many did, and still do.
As you might have guessed from the Oregon plates, our featured example was shot by our esteemed Executive Editor, as apparently all of the Cressidas in the greater NW Illinois/NE Iowa area have dissolved./ It’s quite a nice find.
This Cressida generation carried on until 1980, when a more modern, Mercedes-inspired Cressida took its place. And that is a CC for another time.
Mustang II station wagon?
Looks like one to me – for sure 😉
A mini woody what’s not to like?The hard top is a stunner I never knew about.I liked the American style of the 70s Japanese cars,a few more please Tom,great article thanks.A wall paper woody feature would be nice too,although i’m probably the only fake woody fan.
Makes me wonder why Toyota abandoned the Cressida nameplate. For some reason, “Avalon” just never registered with me.
You’re not the only one who wondered why. I also wondered the same thing.
Agree – who cares about the town on Santa Catalina Island? Now Cressida is a Shakespearean character not entirely faithful in love. But then, Dodge had no trouble selling Swingers.
I thought it was a reference to the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. Maybe not.
I loved the Cressida! I was lucky to have lived in Canada where the 2-door coupe was made available. I rented one from Tilden and drove to Grand Prairie when I lived in Alberta… I put this car with the Chrysler Cordoba and Jaguar XJ-S as being a well-level headed car for level-headed types.
One of these would seem to be a quite liveable daily driver, more than most ’70s cars today.
The AOD trans is an appealing feature. How common were 4-sp autos before the mid-’80s?
Quite rare,I’m sure I remember at least one more being cited as an engineering masterpiece in a 70s ad
If you mean four-speed overdrive automatics, not very, but don’t forget that all pre-1961 GM Hydra-Matics (as did the Hydra-Matic still used on Buicks and Pontiac Star Chiefs through ’64) had four speeds with a direct fourth. Likewise the Mercedes automatic introduced in 1961-62 and the Automotive Products transmission offered on the Mini from MY1966 forward.
I lived in Germany during the summer of ’84 on an exchange program and someone in the extended family I lived with owned the sedan version of this car. It was an unusual choice in Deutschland at the time; I never saw another one on the roads. “Nicht sehr beliebt,” I believe they would have said of the Cressida. My host family had a Citroen Visa and a lower-tier Mercedes sedan (“nur ein 200er”) and those were much more typical choices. It’s been a long time and my memories are growing dim, but I remember the Cressida being quite cramped inside. The Visa was cramped, but it was dinky and you expected it. The Cressida not so much.
This thing captures pretty much everything I loathe in a vehicle aside from da clown rimz. Yuck.
This thing captures pretty much everything l loathe in a vehicle aside from da clown rimz…
What else, aside from the Toyota badge and a VIN number indicating final assembly outside North America?
I always kind of liked these, but I recall that they were obscenely expensive back in the day. As a guy who usually buys cars by the pound, they seemed like an awful lot of money for what you got.
By 1979-80 the Volare wagon (or better yet, the LeBaron T&C) was a lot bigger and more comfy, let alone the Country Squire. I couldn’t find an MSRP on this era of Cressida wagon, but I would not be surprised that you could get a big FordChevyPlymouth wagon in the same price range.
According to Wikipedia, the base price of a Cressida in 1979 was $9190. For comparison, a ’79 Newport could be had for $6079. A Country Squire started at $7155.
Moreover, the domestics probably would have cut you a helluva a deal. A Toyota dealer? No way. A year later, my folks paid a whopping $6800 a Corona sedan with zero options.
Wow, that is much higher than I would have guessed. For that kind of money I would have gone with a red/red/Di-Noc Pontiac Bonneville Safari in ’79!
Or maybe a Buick Estate Wagon!
The Country Squire would need around 2 grand worth of options to put it on equal footing with the Cressida, making the list prices equal, at least before any dealing went on.
This car demonstrates that Toyota was very, very dedicated to the US market. They were willing to abandon their own quirky aesthetic sense in favor of our quirky aesthetic sense.
I’m trying to imagine the conversation between the guy who recommended giving the wagon the full Country Squire treatment, and the executives who would be in charge of approving it. “Americans like fake wood on the sides of their cars, but only the wagons? And they don’t care if it looks fake? This is a sign of luxury? Is there dishonor in cutting down real trees?”
I’m allergic to di-noc “wood,” but overall it’s not a bad car. It’s an affordable, economical brougham. That in itself is unusual. On quibble, though: From the interior shot, it looks like they put the ashtray directly above the radio. Not a great ergonomic choice!
It’s funny the 79 Cressida reminds me of a Chrysler Cordoba and the 79 Datsun 810 reminds me of a Chevy Monte Carlo. I like the Cressida that came after this one best.
For all we know, the Cressida was inspired by Jaguar styling, which some say was copied by Chrysler. I wish we could get the testimony of the stylists so we don’t have to speculate here.
That ludicrous first brochure pic is typical of car marketing, what with “Hotel Belvedere” or whatever & its doorman. I think this is a standard marketing tactic, to put customers in a setting a step higher than they identify with, suggesting the car will help them get there, perhaps?
“Can you park it out front?”
“A Cressida? Money talks, pal.”
“Will this be enough?”
“You’re going to have to do better than that. And what are you looking at over there? Is someone taking your picture?”
I could take or leave the wagon, but that 2-door hardtop…nice! Don’t think I’ve ever seen one. Almost every Cressida I’ve ever encountered has been a sedan.
Agreed. That thing is way more interesting in design.
All this car needed was Toshiro Mifune saying ‘fine Corinthian leather’ or the Japanese equivalent in Toyoda’s commercials over the airwaves in Tokyo…
I had a MK11 great car the Cressida was very popular in Aussie though the engine options and trim levels vary from the US models and Id take a coup’e any time, Funny you should mention the Avalon Paul, Toyotas biggest failure here take a US market success and send it down under they’ll love it. Nar the buyers stayed away from it just a blinged Camry with no roadholding they are the rarest Toyota here.
I consider the Avalon effectively a Yank Tank, the more so because it’s American-built (in the Blue Grass State), & the Big Three have pretty much abandoned the type. Maybe that’s why it’s not so popular Down Unda.
The Australian Avalon came here towards the end of its model run in the US so an already plain design was also outdated by the time it arrived (similar to the reworked Mitsubishi Galant aka 380). They also adapted the Avalon to sit on a modified Camry floorpan to enable local production. A poor replacement for the Cressida to say the least.
And most of those wound up in taxi fleets. A privately-registered Avalon was a rare sight.
Not one of Toyota’s best product moves.
That front end treatment reminds me of something else…
Thanks for showing the hardtop — I also never knew it existed, and it’s very nice looking! I guess it’s the “CC effect”, but I attended a car show yesterday and a 1978 Cressida wagon was present! It was basically the clone of this car but in better (almost perfect) condition! I wish I had gotten more photos of it. And yes, it was brown with woodgrain!
This is a cool little wagon, though I think that the faux wood looks better on American wagons. Also, I don’t think many of these even made it into the 1980’s around here in the Midatlantic as I don’t even remember seeing any driving aroun when I was a kid. The 70’s American Broughams, yes, plenty of them were still around, but not these.
The two-door Cressida hardtop looks more like a first-gen Celica on steroids to me than it does a 3/4 scale Cordoba/GP/Monte. Here in NJ, the first-gen Cressida sedans weren’t plentiful but they weren’t super-rare either. The wagons were definitely not a common sight though.
There was actually one of these on ebay a month or two ago. I should’ve added it to yesterday’s cavalcade of green cars.
The green and wood looks really nice, kinda like a tree….. 😉
The Cressida is one of those cars that just got better with each generation. As a teen I got to spend some time riding in (and driving) one that belonged to my mother’s boss. It was a 1989 model. It’s one Toyota that I would LOVE to have one of today, but they are soooooo hard to find, and it seems that when you do see one, that have been beat into the ground.
On ebay about a year ago, there was a guy selling two Cressidas in wonderful condition; one was an ’84 and the other an ’87. The ’87 was slightly spiffier with its two-tone paint and leather interior, but the ’84 was no slouch. Its only drawback was that it had the digital dash. If I lived in a warm-weather state, I would’ve seriously considered bidding on one of them, but living in the Northeast, I just have to pass on an RWD car.
Here’s the ’87. Pic of the ’84 to follow.
I actually owned those cars a while back and now am ready to let go of my 1984 two-tone Cressida(not the same one as in the picture). Would you know of anybody that might be interested in the car? Please let me know.
The ’84 Cressida.
Do both the 1984 and the 1987 Cressida share the same chassis?
This has been mentioned repeatedly by others, but I miss Toyota’s model-specific emblems. Cressidas wore that same grill badge until 1991, when it was replaced by the corporate “T.”
Also, in keeping with period Toyota advertising, the title should be something like “Mini-Cordoba. You Asked For It. You Got It.” Toy-oooo-ta.
I had a 86 Cressida loved that car. When Toyota introduced Lexus in 89 the Cressida had to die because it cut into Lexus bottom line while Toyota was starting it. Believe it or not the new IS is developed from the Cressida platform.
The 3rd-gen Cressida is my favorite, of the years when the Japanese finally starting getting clean lines, or at least avoiding the bizarre.
You meant a shortened 1989 Cressida platform since the Cressida measured around 190″ while the 2000-05 Lexus IS was only slightly smidgen longer than the 1998-02 Corolla at 176.6″?
I always intensely disliked the first generation Cressida, it looked way too Japanese to me. The mid eighties version was pretty nice, never had one. I presently have an 06 Avalon Limited, I love the interior room without a big, bulky UAW body around it. I bought it new and didn’t plan to keep it this long, but the lousy economy changed my plans. Presently with 85K on the odometer it is as tight as new and uses absolutely no oil between changes.
This is a great blast from the past. My mother drove a 78 Cressida wagon while I was growing up in the 80s. It was brown with wood siding and those same hubcaps. I had to wash it every other Saturday morning (an embarrassment). She upgraded to an 88 Cressida 4-door (dark red) and I was proud to wash it. That 78 squealed like a banshee when she stepped on the brakes. Loved it and hated it.
I’ve always preferred the Toyota Cressida over the more recent Toyota Avalon. It’s too bad the North American Cressida was never offered in two door coupe.
I’ve always found this generation to be the best looking Cressida Toyota has offered to the North American (USA included) market. The wagon, in my humble opinion, is way better looking than the sedan. It’s too bad that the two door coupe was never offered for the North American market. 🙂
That silver Cressida hardtop coupe is my jam! Wonder how many Toyota would have sold stateside…
It’s difficult to say at this point, 37 yrs after it was introduced. It would’ve been neat to see a 2 door Cressida offered along with the four door sedan and station wagon.
I don’t know anything about these cars but that 2wd hardtop RWD has potential.
Have to find a LHD one. RHD is not for me!
Stiffen up the chassis, convert to 5 lug large 4 wheel disk brakes.
Modern rack and pinion steering.
They are likely solid rear axle with leaf springs so swap in a narrowed Ford 8.8″ rear axle and aftermarket rear suspension.
5.0L Ford pushrod engine, 5 or 6 speed manual trans.
Modern sport buckets, 6 point roll bar.
Fast and unique.
Looking at the Cressida and the Cordoba side by side, I find the Cressida way more attractive than the Cordoba.
My first thought looking at these pics is, nice car. My second thought is I REALLY WANT TO WASH IT!!!!
Same here. Although I was too young to drive at the time, I remember the 1st generation Toyota Cressida. I’d buy one if it was in this nice a condition. I’ve never seen a 2 door coupe version of the Cressida. For some reason it was never offered here in the USA.
I have a sharp memory of this Cressida. One could say it is indelible.
Now, we in Oz didn’t get the blingy moon discs or deadly Di-Noc, and without the fat-man US bumpers, so, as a kid, I rather liked the look of the Kress-eeda (as Toyota itself mispronounced it here, along with all the locals). Ten years later, I drove one for a day, to a wedding.
It sticks in my mind as one of the worst cars I have driven.
At first, the sweet and smooth engine, soft seat and light steering seemed all rather lux, but then I exceeded, aw, 35mph. Wind noise by 40, backache by minute 6 (as “soft” became mouse fur over bars), by 50 the Great Wandering started up – your side, their side, whatever, don’t be such a drag, man – and without steering feel of any type whatsoever, I wasn’t in charge of it. And then I came to a corner signposted at 40. As the car was not mine, I entered at a cautious 35, but literally understeered right to the other side of the road, partially recoloring my undergarments and suffering various other partial lower enshrinkments.
Duly chastened, I naturally braked harder before the next curve, thus discovering the unique charms of over-assisted brakes – they lock, quickly, and without feel. I found too that the already-bobbing nose dived enough for the car to resemble Titanic at its end, practically scraping off the front bumper. I corned this one at 30, but lo, there was a bump unknown to Toyota’s suspension planners, and the understeering front was joined by the undamped bum briefly trying to overtake it. Not easy to correct this with the Loose Pillow Steering effect. I flailed, and herky jerk roly-poly zig and zag, I lived.
Eyes suitably embiggened and gonads now fully retracted, I drove the rest of the way in the fashion of those ancients who actually bought the things all did: namely, not much, not far, and very slowly. I was later than the bride. Much later.
It seemed to take the Japanese – Toyota especially – a long time to understand that smooth and dead reliable and good below 40mph on smooth roads was not all a car needed to be.
Mind, by the same token, it seemed to take the US a long, long time to finally peel away from fake wood on wagons, not to mention, er, rather uninspiring dynamic capabilities on family cars, so perhaps the Japanese thought that dynamics should also be a thin veneer of the real thing.
justy baum you reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of my mothers who had a Corona Station Wagon of similar vintage in that baby poo yellow they all were covered in. Australian version with the incredible Holden Starfire 4 and automatic. Slowest car I’d ever driven, cramped, wobbly, smelly, noisy, utter crap of a car (a bit like mum’s ex-boyfriend, Irish who lacked any charm). Made my 1981 GH Mitsubishi Sigma with the Astron 2.6 feel like it was a muscle car. The Corona may have been reliable (unlike both Sigma’s I owned) but drank more fuel than the nearly 750 cc bigger Sigma.
He ran up the bum of another car at about 40 kph and wrote the Corona off. Then proceeded to buy a white Volvo 240 wagon, which if I was blindfolded I’d thought he’d brought another Corona. After renting a few Camry’s unintentionally years later I was reminded of that bloody awful Corona. I’m sure Toyota’s sensible sedan engineers and designers lack any nerves in either feet or hands, as they cant design cars with any noticible feeling, or maybe I just can’t stand boring cars But my current drive is a Holden Cruze, so the aging process is real.
Newer generations of Cressida with 2.8 DOHC or 3.0 24V DOHC were better cars, especially the last versions sold in Aust were a decent drive.
How can one seriously equate the driving dynamics of a 10+ year old car with x many miles and a who-knows-how maintained example with the performance of a new car? By all accounts it was a pseudo-luxury car built for comfort and dependability, and it achieved those goals in admirable fashion.
Oh, I can seriously assure you, dear sir – insofar as I was saying anything serious at all above, which is seems questionable – that this thing was a minter, owned by oldies, religiously looked-after, and without many miles at all. The couple were generous enough to lend it to me for its a/c, much needed that summer day when I was all frocked up for best-man duties. And, like the build-quality, the a/c was for sure quite superb. The engine very smooth, and the whole shebang pleasant at low speeds. I dare say it could do passable duty on a huge and smooth freeway, if with excessive windrush (and if one’s ass was fat enough to provide what those skimpy-shaped seats could not).
However, if driven only to keep up to a (60mph) speed limit on two lane roads, it came undone. Very nose-heavy, wandery, awful one-finger steering, appalling rebound damping, and unrelenting understeer. It was, in short, simply inept.
In any event, my word needn’t be your guide. When I later rushed to see what the credible buff books of the day hereabouts had said, it was, unsurprisingly, all of the same things, and worse. And I do believe they tested new ones.
I’d buy such a car if it were looked after that carefully. Miles don’t matter, they’re just numbers, after all. It’s how often a car is driven, how carefully it’s driven, and how carefully it’s been maintained during its time in their care.
It was meant to be a Japanese Buick, not a BMW, and no doubt drove accordingly. Why should that be a surprise to anyone. For the vast % of US drivers, for whom it was no doubt designed, it would be a good fit and an excellent choice, regardless of what that may or may not say about US drivers.
“Unsafe at any speed” is what justy baum is saying in Australian conditions this car and many Toyota of this vintage were when new. Australians like a tinny bit of road-holding and handling in our cars, even in the late seventies.