The new generation Crown was launched a couple of weeks ago. It is allegedly going to be marketed globally, including in North America, for MY 2023 as a crossover, sedan and wagon. This will be the 16th generation of Crown since the nameplate’s inception in 1955. America last saw the Crown with the early ‘70s “Kujira” S60, but Europe and several Middle-Eastern and Asian countries last saw the Toyota flagship in the ‘80s with the S120, the seventh generation. Let’s take a look at one of those, then.
What a different time the ‘80s was. If you had really led a successful life, the car that showed off your status was the Crown hardtop. This is a relatively high-end trim and body style of the longest-running nameplate from Japan’s top manufacturer, and it seems so tame for what it is.
In 1986, the only car that was higher in the Toyota range was the Century – but those were not for common mortals. A few years later, the range included three Crown variants, a Lexus clone above that and a FWD option for those who wanted something a bit left-field. The S120 Crown was the last one to be top of the heap despite its modest 2-litre engine and governmentally straightjacketed measurements.
The Toyota Crown is nothing if not a deeply conservative and traditional automobile. The S120, launched in late 1983 as a saloon, “pillared hardtop” and wagon/van, was a quiet evolution of the S110 – minus the coupé, whose niche was now occupied by the Soarer. The S120 Crown was a middle-of-the-road, front-engined, RWD, body on frame, with a good old live axle for the wagons and base saloons, all wrapped in sober styling that tamed the American influence of previous generations to a Volvo-like boxiness.
The pot-boiler, as always, was the formal saloon. The quad-eyed lowest trim variants were usually relegated to taxi or fleet duty – some even had a 4-cyl. LPG under the hood and a column-mounted 4-speed manual. But things got pretty plush as one went up the range. Fender mirrors, though no longer mandatory under Japanese law by the time the car was launched, were still part of the package.
For the owner-driver of means, the S120 Crown “Hardtop” was the car of choice, of course. Less staid than the saloon, it offered the best that Toyota could do in terms of personal luxury. There were many trim levels available as per usual, but the Super Select we are looking at today only arrived when the S120 got its mid-life facelift in late 1985.
The Super Select wasn’t the swankiest Royal Saloon G with the 3-litre M-series engine, just a nicely-appointed 2-litre variant. These 2-litre engines were of the famous G-series variety, running the gamut from the peaceful OHC 12-valve 100hp base spec to a DOHC 24-valve turbocharged 170hp powerhouse. The Super Select, for its part, should have a 125hp engine. Diesels were available but very rarely ordered for private domestic consumption.
The wagon, along with the base-spec van, was a Crown fixture since the second generation. This is the Grand Surf special edition – a true deluxe ‘80s wagon with all the bells and whistles. Similar special deluxe versions were also available on the saloon and hardtop and were known, respectively, as the Éclair and Athlete. This Grand Surf is definitely on my bucket list though – looks like the perfect wagon in many ways!
I’m not entirely sure what the Super Select trim entails, but that velvety brown corduroy is a delight. The only issue with focusing on the upholstery, beautiful though it may be, is that we’re in danger of not admiring that instrument panel. Admittedly, the angle and sunlight are against us on that score, so we’ll have to resort to a factory photo.
Totally worth it. This is the Royal Saloon (i.e. very top of the range) dash, with the impressive-for-the-time digital speedo and more buttons and controls than a small aircraft. Our CC has analog gauges instead. What that lacks in modernity is probably more than made up for in durability.
The back seat looks just as inviting in real life as it does in the brochure pics. Legroom could be an issue in this particular one…
Both the S120 saloon and the hardtop boasted a weird resin-coated shiny C-pillar that Toyota dubbed the “crystal pillar.” It must have hit on some hidden desire within the buying public’s psyche, given that over half a million units of the S120 (including all body styles) were produced. This might have been chiefly due to the fact that it was the last generation of Crown that stood alone at the top of the Toyota range, but the appeal of the “Crystal Pillar” must have played its part.
There were other reasons for the S120’s good sales performance. It was the first Crown to feature a 3-litre straight-6 and the first Japanese saloon available with a supercharger; it was the first to really outgrow the mini-Detroit look that had been prevalent until then; it was the last Crown to be exported to European markets. The car’s diminutive size, given how bloated Crowns (and luxury cars in general) became in subsequent generations, really dates this flagship more than any other aspect. As such though, it was a lucky find, for though they made boatloads of these back in the mid-‘80s, there aren’t too many left around nowadays.