(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.