I’m on the fence with Japanese retro styling. I think many of us are. Sometimes it works ok, many times it’s just awkward and feels forced. For the latter category, insert any example you wish – I’ll refrain from doing so, but I did write a few posts on the matter, so you can look those up. There are just too many to choose from.
So what about the “good” kind of retro? There are a few really nice designs from the Japanese retro craze – a craze that peaked about 20 years ago but never really went away. And one of those has to be the Toyota Origin.
The trick with the Origin, which I was always eager to feature in a post, is finding one. It’s not clear how many were made exactly, but we’re talking about less than 1100 units. Upon discovering this one when I did not have much time to spare, I had the occasion to return to it and shoot it more extensively on a subsequent day.
As we all presumably know, the Origin takes its main retro features – grille, suicide doors, wraparound backlight, etc. – from the first Toyota Crown. They didn’t push the resemblance to the nth degree: they eschewed the split windshield (which, admittedly, looked pretty damn passé by 1955 already).
What is a bit less clear is why the Origin came to be. What was the occasion? The 45th anniversary of Toyota’s longest-running nameplate? Well, no. According to a press release dated from July 2000, the Origin was produced to celebrate the fact that Toyota had produced their 100-millionth car in Japan.
That momentous threshold was actually crossed in October 1999, so the celebratory limited edition retro luxury car thing seems to have taken a while to gestate. This is all in stark contrast to the 1996 Toyota Classic, which “commemorated” the 60 years of Toyota’s first car. That made more conceptual sense, but the product was dreadful.
The cars were released for sale only in November 2000 and, despite the hefty ¥7 million price tag (i.e. ¥1 million more than the Celsior cost), over a thousand were snapped up in no time, as in by mid-2001. Not all limited edition retro designs were this successful, far from it. So what made the Origin a hot little number?
For starters, the Origin sat on the same platform as the Progrès, perhaps the most boring JDM Toyota of the turn of the century. But the Progrès was a yawnfest on the outside – otherwise, it was a very competent compact RWD sedan with all the trimmings, and the legendary 3-litre straight-6 found on the Supra, tamed in this case to 220hp and mated to a 4-speed auto.
So the Origin fixed the one thing that Toyota got totally wrong on the Progrès, its looks, and kept the good stuff within. Actually, they made the rest even better. The cars were essentially manufactured like a miniature Century. They came off the same Kanto Auto Works as the famously luxurious flagship and were also assembled and finished by hand. They just didn’t have a V12 under the hood and much less lace, straight or otherwise, inside.
In fact, the complete lack of doilies and other frilly bits traditionally found in Japanese luxury cars is noteworthy. As I understand it, all Origins were finished with leather interiors – very much an outlier for Japanese cars. Maybe Kanto Auto Works had a large stock of hides to get rid of. Most of the wood is genuine and came from the Progrès, as did he dash itself. Something even more bespoke and retro (I’m thinking painted with chrome inserts) would have been better of course, but might have pushed the price up to the Century and delayed the launch for another year. Retro is compromise.
The roofline on this car is pretty high, just like the Crown RS it harkens back to. The rear headroom is pretty decent as a result, but the rear-hinged doors look pretty narrow. I guess the Origin was the only “production” car with suicide doors circa 2000. The FX4 taxi was phased out around 1997 and the modest suicide door revival of the late naughties was not yet a thing.
There is nothing half-arsed about this car. The attention to detail and execution are truly outstanding. From the front, the Crown RS vibe is quite perceptible. But from the rear, with that dramatic one-piece panoramic rear window and those delicately chiseled taillights, there is some ‘53 Studebaker in there too, among others…
There were only three colours available for the Toyota origin: black, dark blue and the metallic gray-blue seen here, which I had never seen prior to finding this particular car. Darker hues might have made the substantial amounts of brightwork stand out more, but this still works rather well. Much better than the purple one I photographed last spring, in any case.
OK, I swear this just happened: I wrote the preceding paragraph about that purple Origin I saw once, I go downstairs for an errand and what do I see gliding down the street? The CC Effect on steroids, folks!
The only real criticism I would offer on this car’s design is the rear end, which is too short. An extra foot or so would have also done wonders for the retro feel of the car, as short rear ends were definitely not a thing back in the ‘50s. But then the car would not fit in Japanese parking spaces…
Compromises, compromises. Still, suicide doors, wraparound backlight and “jewel” taillights. Full of wood and leather and a bunch of toys, propelled by a good old straight-6 and built by the best craftsmen on the business. All in all, the Origin is very appealing. The problem is not finding one – there are 15 currently advertised for sale on goo.net, for instance – but they’re still pretty expensive: it’s hard to find one under ¥3 million.
And that’s well before the American 25-year-rule thing, which usually drives prices up for certain sought-after models. A 20-year-old Century would cost a fraction of that. Because the Origin is more exclusive, can actually be used in daily life and doesn’t have a thirsty 5-litre engine, it’s now worth a lot more than a mere 2001 Century. They should have called it the Millennium.
Tokyo Traffic Capsule: 2001 Toyota Origin – Past Is Present, by Jim Klein
Automotive History (Japan Edition): 2000 Toyota Origin – Peak Retro (Part 2), by Geraldo Solis
I am certain Toyota used Packard and Studebaker as their inspiration for the original crown.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Origin. It’s very pretty, but it seems massively expensive and heavy.
Like like a “cut n shut” with a Volga front end and a Vauxhall PA Creasta rear. Not one of the best 80-90s Japanese retro cars. Suspect it would raise a few older eye brows if seen on English roads.
You beat me to it! Although I’m aware of the 1950’s Crown, it’s just not familiar enough for me to have made the connection until I saw the picture of the Crown. So my first reaction was also Volga plus Vauxhall. An interesting car, but not being from Japan (or Russia or the UK) it doesn’t trigger any nostalgia for me.
The Crown also manages to look like a Hudson Jet with suicide doors — although I doubt that any Japanese designer would have been using a Jet as model for anything. The resemblance more likely results from the Jet being narrow and thus having more Japanese proportions.
Wow, just when you think you’ve seen it all! Even by Japanese standards, this is a very peculiar vehicle, and I’m really not sure what to make of it.
On the one hand, it’s good great Toyota bones, it’s going to be great to live with, and there isn’t going to be anyone else on your street who owns one. But on the other hand it just looks kind of… wrong. The short rear deck is definitely an issue, but even the rest of it is a bit “odd duck”. Maybe it looks more cohesive in real life?
Still, in a world of generic SUVs and “safe” designs, I feel like applauding Toyota’s willingness to just do something different. If one came up for sale around here, it would be very hard to resist.
I’m not quite sure what to make of it either. After reading this article twice, I’m still on the fence. As far as retro designs, it has some appealing elements (suicide doors, the elongated tail lights, etc.), but on the whole it has too many of these elements for my taste. But then again, I’m not generally a fan of retro to begin with.
But maybe this is one of those cars that’s best appreciated in person. Regardless, I do see the appeal of importing one to the US when it’s possible to do so.
One can’t choose one’s relatives and all that, and I suppose there is a grimly humourless dowager aunt dressed permanently as if for a Soviet funeral in the origin story of many of us, but I really wouldn’t be inclined to advertise her existence by reproducing odd multiples of her likeness 50 years after her demise. Surely, if one wishes to embark on such an endeavour – and why one must retro has never been clear to me – surely one finds in the lineage the voluptuous Phd who is also descended from the nobility and adjusts the timeline to fit.
I suppose that as retro goes – and I do wish it would – this one is far more in earnest than most others, what with chromed bumpers and such. Unfortunately, for all their work, I cannot get the Humber Sceptre rear half out of my mind, and that is a car that was the abovementioned dowager’s closest niece from the ’60’s, which hardly helps.
All that said, this Origin is in a foreign country; they do the past differently there.
I for one think that its one of the less good looking neo-classic japanese designs. That reverse slant C-Pillar looks awkward. I’d take the Pro-grey anyday.
That being said Mitsuoka seems turning out reasonable looking cars nowadays like the c3 corvette-esque Miata based Rockstar(?) and the Rav4 based Buddy (soon to be produced). Somewhat of a departure from slapping radiator grilles on Nissans.
The interior reminds me of a Rover 75 with the contrast piping on the leather seats. The rear window is a knockoff of a British sedan from the mid to late 50’s that I just can’t find right now.
Ok..Ok…I think I found it.
The Origin looks like a 1950s Sunbeam Rapier. Same front end, same rear window, same everything else.
Rule Britannia II💂♂️💂♂️💂♂️💂♂️💂♂️
Vauxhall PA Cresta for sure. Nice interior and built proof I’m sure but no sense of coherent design or taste. LS 400 do egg me please?.
I figured you’d find one sooner or later (and in a color, more or less!), if nothing else they certainly stand out in traffic despite not being particularly large.
I still can’t decide if I actually like it, but it’s put together impeccably well and certainly has a style. I’d likely pick one over most anything Mitsuoka at least.
I absolutely adore this! What a refreshing break from the typical bland and predictable sea of sedans and such. I give Toyota lots of props for building these. Yes, a retro interior would have been nice.
The only real criticism I would offer on this car’s design is the rear end, which is too short. An extra foot or so would have also done wonders for the retro feel of the car, as short rear ends were definitely not a thing back in the ‘50s.
Comparing this to the ’50s original, I’m not seeing your point. The original’s rear end was quite short too.
I’d love to import this! It had good Toyota bones and loads of kitsch for others to wonder about. If only it wasn’t RHD!
I burst out laughing when I saw the rear end, looks just like our ’58 Humber Hawk which was a hand-me-down from my Grandmother, and which my Mother learned to drive in..
I would absolutely love to own one. Then again, I love Pugs so what do I know?
Again, for me Stateside, this is a new item other than that Purple one that you had shown another time. This essay explains more about this delightful small luxury car.
Five more years before the Origin is legal in the US. JDM cars can be such an exercise in delayed gratification. Sigh.
It looks to me like a Toyota built Isuzu Minx from the back expecially the rear window and boot lid the C pillar etc strongly resemble a Minx the front is kinda early Toyota but its a mess.
I find this quite charming and well done. I don’t find the rather conservative interior to be particularly incongruous. Certainly a much more pleasant place to be then the original car!
The rump reminds me of more recent iterations of the Chrysler 300, also a car with some retro touches….