Imagine you are shopping for a car in Japan 30 years ago. You are keen to purchase a fairly large car – none of those noisy, gutless kei contraptions for you. Nothing foreign either, obviously. Too expensive, too flashy and hard to fix when it inevitably lets you down. No sports cars, no wagon, no convertible – something presentable, sensible and reliable. That still leaves you with a lot of possibilities.
Somebody with this frame of mind, a fistful of yen and a deeply conservative streak could not have done better than getting this Crown Deluxe. This is about as un-fancy, bog-standard, understated and plain vanilla without sprinkles as a late ‘80s JDM four-door can get. Chrome bumpers. Zero door trim. Leaf-sprung live axle. Zen minimalism in a Crown shape. But thank God for scrooges and frugality, I say.
For this generation of Crown, made between late 1987 and 1990 (after which the S130 was heavily facelifted, but carried on for ages), the pickings were still rich. There was no coupé anymore and pickups were long gone, but the wagon was still there. If the hardtop sedan really didn’t tickle your fancy, the saloon still had a gazillion trim levels to choose from.
The top dog in this kennel was the redundantly-named “Sedan Royal Saloon G,” with its brand new IRS, air suspension, space-age digital display and probably more gadgets than James Bond ever had on his Aston Martin. Maybe this range-topper was a tad expensive. No worries, there were lots of cheaper options.
You’ve seen the best, now see the rest. You really have to go waaaaay down the list to get to the Deluxe. I caught a Super Deluxe when I lived in Rangoon, so you can have a look at that to compare with the plain Deluxe. The Standard was probably only ever bought by private taxis, Buddhist monks and people who had brought shame on their families. I doubt they were popular. The Deluxe was the real miser-cruiser, the dog-dish Plain Jane that you hoped your Dad wouldn’t buy.
The thing about older low-spec cars – particularly larger models – is that they are in some ways more desirable with age. For one thing, they usually lack the clutter of higher-trimmed cars, with their bigger bumpers, spoilers and cladding, so they look better (to some eyes). And they’re usually pretty rare, too. I’m not sure whether it’s a matter of lower survival rate, lower production or a combination of both, but base models are thin on the ground. A number of examples of this phenomenon have been featured on CC before as regards American cars (for example this, or better yet this). Europe was quite similar, it seems.
Allow me to illustrate with an example I know well. My father had the French equivalent of a Crown Deluxe when I was (very) young: a Peugeot 504 LD, bought new circa 1974. Peugeot launched the L/LD in April 1973 to gradually take over the 404’s place as the cheapest “big” RWD Peugeot. The petrol version had a 1.8 when the other 504s had the 2-litre. Dad’s was a Diesel – a 1.9 when the better 504s had a 2.1. Other 504 saloons had IRS and four disc brakes – the 504 L had the wagon’s live axle and drums at the rear. Outside, it had less chrome and no bumper overriders; inside, a substantially simplified dash sported an outdated rectangular tach and a column gear change. Quite a lot of similarities with our feature car. But then, once you’ve seen one stripper, I guess you’ve seen them all.
It’s not like Peugeot’s trim choice was as plethoric as Toyota’s. Only three flavours of 504 were on offer in the ‘70s. The mid-level GL was the one most people bought, while secretly yearning for the swanky fuel-injected TI and pitying the penny-pinching L. In the ‘90s, long after the paternal chariot had been traded in, I was always on the lookout for 504s (they stuck around for a while), but I can only recall seeing this L/LD model a handful of times. They almost never showed up in the classifieds, either. So the question is: can this “base-spec = rare” theorem be applied to the Japanese context? I really don’t know. I haven’t been here long enough to have sussed this out. But I have a feeling it is probably the case.
Call me an extremist, but for this generation of Crowns, I kind of like this one the best. The clean flanks and the chrome bumpers really make this version the better-looking one of the lot. My second choice would be the other extreme, that over-the-top Royali-G Saloon thing. I’d be curious to see how all that cutting-edge technology survived three decades of use. Of course, that’s only in the pillared saloon category – the one I really prefer is the S130 wagon, with those twin rear wipers. I understand that the big sellers were the hardtops, as this was the height of the Bubble Economy and folks wanted to splash the cash. Makes this Deluxe saloon all the more unusual, contrarian and irresistible.