Let’s carry on from yesterday’s JDM hardtop sedan theme, but kick it up a notch or two. Here, in all its faded glory and peeling paintwork, we have the first iteration of a new species of Toyota Crown – the top-of-the-line Majesta. Twenty-five years ago, this was about as glitzy a Toyota as you could get on the open Japanese Domestic Market: the Century was not really available for mere mortals, and the new Lexus was only for foreigners. So how did Toyota’s flagship come about and did it succeed in its mission?
I don’t think this one was ever featured on CC before, but I could be wrong. There are many cars called Crown – Toyota, Ford and Chrysler saw to that. But I’ve searched the archives, and it seems we haven’t had the first generation Majesta. So let us atone for this crime of lèse-majesté forthwith, starting with a little historical background. The origins of the Toyota Crown are well documented (by none other than gentleman and scholar Don “The Meg” Andreina) and ancient: the first car bearing that name came out in 1955 with a mere 1.5 litre 4-cyl. under its bonnet, but it soon became a hit with the carriage trade. It was also the first Toyota to be exported far and wide, including the US.
When the second generation (S40) arrived in 1962, it was pretty much the Crown as we know it already: a relatively big (within Japanese regulations) RWD four-door saloon / wagon with a choice of a 2-litre 4-cyl. or a two 6-cyl. engines (2.0 and 2.3 litres). This was the blueprint of the Crown for the remainder of the century (he he). Or at least it was, until they created the Crown Eight in 1964, which was a wider car – with almost identical styling – and a V8. The Crown Eight did not last very long, for it was superseded by the Toyota Century in 1967.
Said Century lasted for what seemed like a hundred years, aloof and alone at the top of the Toyota range, with its ever-increasing V8. But as Japanese motorists got wealthier and began to harbor ideas above their station, lusting after the plush chauffeur-driven Centuries owned by their companies and government, the pressure mounted on Japanese automakers to democratize their V8-powered cars.
Interestingly, Toyota did this in two separate models simultaneously in the fall of 1989: they launched Lexus LS400 for the global market (the Japanese domestic market never saw a Lexus until 2005), and launched the Crown S130 “Royal Saloon G” hardtop sedan in Japan. Both the Royal Saloon G and the Lexus were available with a brand-new quad-cam 3968cc V8 that had no relation to the Century’s older OHV “Hemi” 3994cc V8.
That’s when things got bit complicated, Crown-wise. Toyota split the Crown into three ranges, essentially. The S130 “pillared” saloon / wagon was re-skinned in 1990 and continued production until 1995 under the same S130 code as before. In late 1991, the hardtop became the new S140 – it broke new ground for the Crown with its IRS, but it was only available with 6-cyl. power. At the apex of this new Crown family, Toyota introduced the S140 Majesta. It had some distinctive sheetmetal to give the V8 a modicum of exclusivity, though perhaps that was not enough for most potential buyers.
The S140s did not sell all that well, apparently, and they are not a common sight in the Japan of 2019. This one is a little tired, but at least it’s the genuine article, with the correct amount of cylinders. You could order your Majesta with a 3-litre straight-6 if you wished to mitigate your tax and fuel bill – the maroon Majesta in the composite pic above being one of those sheep in wolf’s clothing. But if you’re splurging on the biggest Toyo in the pet shop, why not go all in and get the 4-litre V8? Speaking of which, how’s it like inside?
Ah, the untold velours delights of Japanese interiors of yestertear, complete with the lace seat covers fitted as standard, of course. I’m sure most Lexuses (I abhor the imbecilic mock-Latin plural “Lexi”) have leather trim, but you’ll never find smelly and noisy cowhide inside a true JDM luxury car. Bonus items in this particular vehicle include white driving gloves and a special lace mitten for the gear selector. What more can a gaijin want?
Well, this gaijin might want to sit in the back. And it’s pretty nice over there, too. I’m sure those seats are a damn sight more comfortable than the thinly-padded wooden benches found in rival German cars of the period. There doesn’t seem to be many toys and gadgets to play with compared to more recent luxury cars, but this is a pre-information superhighway interior at its coziest. And I’m sure the A/C and sound system are top notch.
Looking at this Majesta nearly 30 years after its launch, it has a certain appeal that cannot be denied. It’s a big V8-powered RWD hardtop sedan, after all. And it was built to last by a very serious and competent automaker at the top of its game, from a technical standpoint. But compared to the tank-like Mercedes W140 S-Class, the classic series III Jaguar XJ12 or even the blubbery D-body Cadillac Fleetwood, it looks a tad timorous. It doesn’t scream to the world: “I’m the biggest, most luxurious series-made peasant-crusher (Justy Baum™) available for purchase” like these other cars do.
Perhaps because the Century was the true top of the Toyota pecking order, or because this was the first time they were attempting to split the hallowed Crown line in this manner, Toyota kind of misfired with the S140. The styling is a bit too common, a bit too close to the Crown for comfort (he he again). They got much better with the subsequent generations, and continued splitting the Crown range further with the creation of the Athlete and the ubiquitous XS10 Comfort, a.k.a the Tokyo taxi, in 1995.
The Majesta also went on its merry way, with more assertive styling. When the 6th generation Majesta went out of production last year though, the nameplate was retired. It seems Toyota are done with their multiple Crown experiment now – it’s back to a single range for the current 15th generation.
Was the Majesta all that necessary? Yes, probably. The relative failure of this first iteration – and the ultimate death of the name, albeit 25 years later – does not mean that Toyota were misguided in their efforts. Mercedes and BMW were a threat to be countered on the JDM like anywhere else. And arch-rival Nissan were not sitting on their hands, either. It was impossible for Toyota not to make a super-Crown. It’s just a pity it took them two or three tries to get there.