Even Toyota can get it wrong. Well, in the present case, it’s really a case of getting the right car for the wrong times. Not unlike the flurry of V12-powered mastodons that were launched circa 1930, just when the economy turned sour, the S140 Crown was designed during the height of the Japanese “Bubble economy” of the late ‘80s. And no sooner had they launched this Crown than a huge “POP!” sound was heard.
The Japanese economic crash of 1991, which they never really recovered from, made many victims in the automotive sector. Mazda’s ambitious plan to launch three new marques was half stillborn and eventually had to be scrapped. Mitsubishi’s vainglorious notions that they might take over the number two spot were dashed. Nissan went into a decade-long tailspin. Toyota made fewer mistakes, but the S140 was one.
Until the launch of the S140, the Crown was a pretty monolithic JDM staple. Exports, by the late ‘80s, had dwindled down to a trickle – the big Toyota was only popular as a taxi in a few corners of Asia, but the lion’s share of sales took place domestically. For the 9th generation, Toyota figured that they would only switch over the so-called “hardtop” saloon over to the new platform, but kept the sedan and the van/wagon on the S130 chassis. Those were given a thorough refresh so that they could keep a family resemblance with the new S140s, but under the skin, nothing had changed.
The S140 was not one but two cars: the Crown Hardtop, also known as the Royal Series, was in the continuation of the previous generations. It still had a chassis under that bulbous body (seen at bottom right in its pre-facelift version), and aside from the rather rare Diesel model, kept a DOHC straight-6 under its hood. The other S140 was the new Crown Majesta (top pics). That was available with a 3-litre six or a 4-litre V8, had its own suspension, was slightly wider and longer, and was the first monocoque Crown.
Here’s the whole S140 family, conveniently (if a tad dryly) summed up by Toyota themselves in their 1991 press release about the new Crown. Our feature car, the Royal Touring, therefore has the 3-litre 6-cyl. but not the air suspension, which is probably a good thing. The Royal Touring was a new trim level created for the S140, and I’m pretty sure it died with it. This was supposed to be the performance-oriented S140 Crown, with the big engine and the 5-speed automatic, when all the other S140s got a 4-speed.
Inside, it was just as full of gadgets and tasteful doily-covered velours one might expect to find in any 30-odd-year-old prestige Japanese car. That’s also why I just had to immortalize this particular Crown: anything so meticulously preserved deserves to be shared with the wider world.
So what did the Japanese clientele have against the innocent S140 Crown, then? Toyota did figure there was something amiss when they saw the monthly sales, throughout 1992, were but a fraction of the record-setting S130’s. The fact that people were scaling down to buying Mark IIs instead was a clear enough sign that the S140 was now seen as a bit too big (and expensive) for its own good, especially given the troubled economic outlook.
Another common complaint had to do with styling. The early cars’ full-width taillight bar was apparently far too daring for the conservative Crown buyer. To their credit, Toyota listened. When time came for the traditional mid-life facelift, in mid-1993, the license plate housing was moved up to break the taillights apart, and those were redesigned to look like the S130’s wraparound items, just to bring a bit of the previous model’s magic back.
Apparently, from August 1993 to the end of the S140 two years later, sales did slightly improve, but remained sluggish by the previous decade’s standards. All told, Toyota shifted just over 370,000 Crown hardtops (Majestas included) for the 9th generation. The 10th gen sold over half a million copies in four years; in 1990 alone, Toyota built over 220,000 Crown S130s (hardtops, saloons and wagons, but mostly the former).
So today, the S140 is not a very common sight. And it never really was – certainly not compared to its immediate predecessor, which is still seen fairly regularly roaming the streets. It’s a shame, as there really is nothing fundamentally wrong with the S140. Sure, it has that ‘90s blobbiness, but at least it is long enough to spread it a bit. And the squat greenhouse, though it must have an impact on interior space, gives it a rather fetching profile.
I’m sure our resident Lincoln and classic bus expert (and O.G. Japanese CCorrespondent) Jim Brophy might be able to give us a lot more insight into these cars, as I believe he used to own one. Hope I’m not sabotaging an upcoming COAL post with this piece, but sometimes, when you find the near-perfect example of a (relatively) rare Crown, you just have to take a few photos and write it up.
CC Capsule: Toyota Crown – Japanese Import Royalty, by David Saunders