Curbside Classic: 1997 Toyota Mark II (X70) Van – The Emperor’s Old Clothes

Here’s a little something for you all to salivate over under the sun (hopefully) while a Category 5 typhoon is pummeling the Island of Honshu, with yours truly and probably Jim Brophy literally sitting in the eye of the storm. So I’m kind of housebound this weekend, which means I can do a spot of writing. As luck would have it, I just caught an interesting wagon this Friday (i.e. yesterday, as I write this), so it’s as fresh as they get. I’ll just chop it up and serve it raw. Bon appétit.

It seems the X70 platform, in all its guises, is a prime target for local devotees of the custom craze. I wrote about the Toyota X70 (a.k.a Mark II / Chaser / Cresta / Cressida) pretty recently, so it’s best not to bother too much about the history bit, and let’s not re-hash the whole hardtop-but-not-really affair, either. But here we have another rather interesting case of a body variant that outlasted its base by quite a few years.

Above: Mark II Van – base model and GL; below: unmolested late-model GL found on the Internets

As I snapped away, I had forgotten that factoid about the X70 Mark II wagon, and this one’s substantially modified exterior was not helping. For instance, if it had kept its original badges, I would have seen the “modern” Toyota logo on the tailgate, which would have been a clue. The fender mirrors were common, but no longer obligatory, so quite a few X70 wagons did not have them. Some also had the über-cool double rear wipers, but that was only for the top-of-the-range stuff. Our feature car was probably a plain Jane utility car, as many of these were in Japan.

It was only when I looked inside that I started to have an inkling that this car was younger than I thought. The shifter and the steering wheel looked too recent, for one thing. The whole interior felt like it was from a different decade.

For comparison, I’ll just re-post the X70 Cresta sedan’s interior I photographed a couple months back. The difference between the two is quite striking. It’s the same basic design, but the materials, colour schemes and detailing in the wagon are all very, well, ‘90s.

I managed to talk to the wagon’s owner, a very nice young lady. She told me her car was made in “Heisei 8” – i.e. the 8th year of the Heisei era, more commonly known as 1997. That’s how they count years in Japan: the Emperor’s era (which is totally different from said Emperor’s name) and a number for the year. For instance, whenever I need to fill in some kind of official bit of paper, I have to remember that I was born in Shōwa 54 – the 54th year of Hirohito’s reign. Talk about a system.

But that Heisei 8 business means this is one of the last X70s ever made. The Mark II was the only one of the three X70 nameplates, as far as I know, to have a wagon variant on the JDM. (The Cressida wagon was for foreign markets only.) It appeared in November 1984, a few months after the sedan(s), and was generally known in Japan as “Van,” as was common for most JDM wagons. When Toyota stopped producing X70 sedans in August 1988, they facelifted the Mark II Van by giving it the Cresta’s front clip and continued making it for just under nine years: the last X70 Van came off the assembly line in April 1997.

That’s a long time for an orphaned variant to carry on. Of course, this is not without precedent. Toyota played the same trick with the Crown wagon more than once, and there are other examples from around the world, such as the Volvo Duett, the Renault Juvaquatre or the Autobianchi Giardiniera, of wagons outliving their saloon parent. And it would make for an interesting CC post, too, though the research involved would be pretty daunting…

Generations apart: the X70 Van lived to see the X100 saloon, which debuted in 1996

The X70 Van saw off two generations of Mark II saloons and only went out of production when Toyota’s clientele was satisfied that the FWD Caldina was up to the job. By that point in time, the 5th generation Mark II wagon was sharing the showroom floor with the 8th generation Mark II saloon.

Why did Toyota keep the X70 Van around for so long? Probably because it was a soundly-engineered vehicle, with its live rear axle and 2-litre 4-cyl., that fulfilled what the market wanted in a Toyota wagon / “van” – no frills, just loads of cargo space, and a rugged and reliable machine. Styling meant nothing and engineering a new long roof from the latest Mark II at every generation just meant unnecessary expenses. Besides, the Mark II grew bigger during the ‘90s, which would have put a wagon version in a higher tax band. A sensible car, our X70 Van, then. Just the thing to put moon discs and giant spoilers on.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic Capsule: 1986 Toyota Cressida Station Wagon – The Timeless Toyota ‘B-Body’ Wagon, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1987 Toyota Cresta GT Twin Turbo (GX71) – The Faux Hardtop That’s Hard To Top, by T87