I found something rather rare and interesting the other day: a used car dealer specialized in “Premium Used Cars,” i.e. old luxury barges in various state of disrepair. Used car dealers are not that common around here, but most are displaying common-or-garden Priuses and kei cars, usually less than 10 years old. This guy had a far more interesting bunch out on his lot, and the most interesting by a mile was this very presentable old Crown.
I didn’t have too much time to spare here, but I made the most of it. I looked around the forecourt quickly and snapped a couple of posts’ worth of CC fodder other than the Crown, which had already caught my attention. Around the back, I found the Nissan Gloria 430 featured earlier this month, which was pretty much the S110 Crown’s main domestic rival. A brief but exceedingly worthwhile visit. We will return here soon, I promise…
But on to our jubilant JDM jewel du jour. What we have here is an early model 6th generation Crown hardtop sedan, made anytime between September 1979 and July 1981. Engine options for this generation included one 2-litre 4cyl., three 6-cyl. (2.0, 2.6 and 2.8 litres) and initially only one 4-cyl. 2.2 litre Diesel, later supplemented by a 2.4 turbo Diesel. The 2-litre petrol 6-cyl. was also available with a turbo. With its 269cm wheelbase, the chassis was basically identical to the previous five generations, going all the way back to the 1962-67 Crown S40.
The standard saloon was a tad boxy and bland, in my opinion, and had rather nasty-looking quad square headlights before switching to less fussy rectangular units in mid-1981. There was also a saloon-based wagon, which could be ordered in very basic trim with round headlights usually found on Crown taxis. The one above though is a Custom Wagon with all the trimmings, faux wood included. The hardtop sedan also got a facelift of course, but in this case I prefer the earlier model (which is fortunately what I found), with its cleaner grille.
This was the last generation of Crowns to feature a coupé, complete with opera windows and vinyl roof. It seems it was the only Crown variant that was above being lumbered with the 71 hp Diesel. Later Crown generations had more trim levels – it becomes pretty confusing – but at least with these S110s, things seem pretty clear. The Super Saloon was the second-highest trim, right below the even fancier Royal (with cheese) Saloon option. Funnily enough, even the hardtop coupé was badged with the “Super / Royal Saloon” script.
This is my first up-close encounter with the S110 Crown, as I’m sure it must be for many of you. I had seen a few pics here and there, but usually of the saloon, as opposed to the hardtop. The difference between the two is stark. This hardtop is essentially a completely different car. It’s a shade wider, lower and longer than its more formal sister model.
The old Detroit lower-longer-wider mantra still works. This is a very nicely balanced three-box shape, without too much overhang out front, one gripe I have with contemporary American designs. Similarly, this Crown was mercifully spared the big black botox bumper treatment seen on many cars of the period – even JDM designs were contaminated by this malady, as we saw recently with the dreaded Nissan 811 Bluebird.
Inside seems pleasant enough. Interesting to see a manual transmission, but then automatics were still not that widespread in Japan 40 years ago. It seems 3-, 4- and 5-speed boxes were available, though I’m sure this one has one of the latter two, as the 3-speed was probably only fitted to base 4-cyl. wagons. (Automatics, by the way, were 3- or 4-speed, either on the column or on the console.) I’m not a huge fan of the Lego brick design of most ‘80s dashes, but that is not the worst one ever made. And to be fair, there was a lot of switchgear to place in the cabin, so it’s probably best to sort them out in neat little boxes, Marie Kondo-style. The amount of gadgetry in larger Japanese cars, such as that battery of window controls on the driver’s armrest, never ceases to amaze me. This was common enough on high-end American cars, but it was still science-fiction for most 2-litre European cars of 1980.
Perhaps this Crown should be more comparable to a Mercedes S-Class than to a C2 Audi 200 / 5000, in terms of equipment and interior refinement. But not in any other respect, as engine displacement and overall size were even more rigidly regulated in Japan than in most European countries. North America gave up on Toyota’s flagship after the 4th gen S60 Kujira, but this 6th gen S110 was still sent to Europe where, like most before it, it utterly failed to make any kind of impression. Southeast Asia and the Pacific was the Crown’s more natural hunting ground, where its compact size, live rear axle and separate chassis did not count against it.
It really is a compact luxury car. This Crown, like all its kin and predecessors, is not as big as even European cars were in this class. I just compared it to the Audi, but I’m personally better acquainted with the Peugeot 604 (Papa T87’s ride back in the ‘80s). Though it may not necessarily look it, the Crown S110 Hardtop is quite a bit narrower (by 6cm) than the big Pug, and its wheelbase is 11cm shorter, which is quite significant. If only Peugeot knew how to make interiors like Toyota, they might have had a hit.
It’s also about pricing, I guess. But the comparison is effectively impossible to do. The JDM was virtually a closed market in 1980. Sure, a few well-off otakus could import a Mustang, a Mini Cooper or an Alfa, but the only real competition for executive saloons came from within. In this parallel world, the Crown fought against the Nissan Cedric/Gloria and the Mitsubishi Galant/Sigma, a different league from the overtaxed BMW or (God forbid) the oversized Buick. By the same token, the Europeans, who never received the hardtops anyway, dismissed the S110 Crown as a fugly antique and the Americans just had to make do with the Cressida instead of the real thing. It’s a luxury car, Jim, but not as we ever knew it.