You can hail till you’re blue in the face, none of these will be taking you home. This is where taxis come to rest and rust, no longer fit for purpose, after a long an arduous life of servitude. They sit in the weeds, immobile parts donors for their many brethren still hard at work on the highways and byways of their country of birth. Only two families of cars are represented here – the toughest in the business. Let’s get closer and pay our respects (exact change only).
On one of my recent walkabouts, I was elated to find a Suzuki dealer that had no Suzukis in its workshop. This place (which I did not photograph, stupidly) did have a few S-branded new cars and bikes on its forecourt, but on the other side where cars were being fixed, there were literally a couple dozen Crown Comfort taxis in various states of disrepair, packed like sardines. Some seemed in great condition, others were jacked up and partially dismembered, some had had an accident and were being repaired, and others still looked like they were being serviced and/or prepared for their yearly inspection.
Walking a little further, I was met with a sea of Comforts. It was obviously the parts source for the aforementioned “Suzuki” dealership. No one was around; I could not resist taking a few pictures. Among the Toyotas were a few Nissan Y31 Cedrics, as can be expected, in the same 10-to-1 ratio as seen on the street.
Typically, your average taxi is supposed to be made of sturdier stuff than your average family car. In most countries, one model of car is designated as the gold standard. The Ford Crown Victoria, the Peugeot 504, the Benz W123 or the Volga M24 all became the default cab in their respective markets, though they were not particularly designed for that purpose. Sometimes though, a carmaker will make a model specifically tailored for the job. The Checker and the Austin FX are the examples that immediately come to mind, but there were others, such as the Breadmore cabs, the Volvo PV800, the LWB DeSotos – or even the Mexican VW Beetle.
In Japan, starting in the late ‘50s, the default taxi car was the Toyota Crown, though other models could also be (ab)used. The Nissan Cedric, the Prince Gloria, the Isuzu Bellel and a varied contingent of imports were all employed in the ‘60s to compete with the Crown, which remained the top dog. But as the years went by, the Crown started gaining weight.
By the late ‘80s, models such as the Toyota Mark II and the Nissan Bluebird were becoming more popular for taxi companies, as they were closer to the old Crown’s size, as well as cheaper to run and just as sturdy. Toyota and Nissan both responded in a similar way – as is usually the case with these two. They took an upper-mid-range RWD / live axle platform, put an upright greenhouse on top and just made a model especially tailored for the taxi trade. For once though, it was Nissan that fired the first salvo, but Toyota ultimately won the war.
Nissan made two distinct taxis – I assume because there must be some sort of regulation size, as with all things JDM. The larger model, appearing in 1991, was a continuation of the Y31 Cedric/Gloria, but with a simplified exterior. This car was officially known as the “Nissan Cedric Sales Vehicle” when in taxi guise, but a glitzier general public version was also available until 2002. The Y31 Cedric taxi was sold until December 2014, so there are still quite a few in service. The Nissan Crew (1993-2009), with a smaller nose and trunk, was the smaller and cheaper taxi. It could also be bought by the general public and was even used as the base for the 1st series Mitsuoka Galue.
For their part, Toyota introduced the Comfort in late 1995, structurally based on the X80 Mark II. It competed directly with the Crew as a taxi and was often used for driving schools. To compete with the Cedric, Toyota made a slightly bigger, but outwardly quite similar, Crown Comfort. The wheelbase is 10cm longer than the “plain Comfort,” which is not something I had picked up on until I really started digging into the subject recently. The Crown Comfort had more chrome, especially on its grille, clear-lens turn signals and a better interior in general. It was also available for the general public from 2001 as the “Crown Sedan,” with the larger taillights that were added to some higher-end taxis as well. Both cars were made until June 2017.
There were no Nissan Crews in this graveyard, but then you don’t really see many around anymore. The Cedrics, on the other hand, are still very much a part of the local scenery. From the front, it’s easy to mistake the Nissan taxi for the ubiquitous Crown Comfort. It’s difficult to tell why these two look so identical from this angle. From the side and the rear, the two rival taxis are easier to tell apart, with the Nissan having a more straight-edged greenhouse with a fatter C-pillar.
The same can be said for the interior, of course. I’m unsure about the Cedric, because I’ve had fewer occasions to see one up close, but it seems many have old-fashioned column shifters, as is the case here. By the way, it’s probably the most tortuous-looking shifter I’ve ever come across, assuming it’s the stock item. That’s Nissan for you, weird for the sake of it.
Compare this to the Toyota one we have here – not straight as an arrow, but pretty normal. The Japanese Wikipedia entries on the Comfort and Crown Comfort unequivocally state that they all came with a floor shifter after 2008. As far as I know, Toyota taxis are usually equipped with an automatic, as is the case here.
This one is new to me, though: a Crown Comfort with a floor-shift manual. I couldn’t work out if this was a 4- or a 5-speed (the column-shift manuals are definitely 4-speed), and the Japanese Wikipedia doesn’t seem to acknowledge that these exist. It could be that this was a private car, as opposed to a taxi. Somehow, these all look very different without the obligatory doilies.
The last time I had the opportunity to ride in a Crown taxi, I made sure to look at the odometer, just out of curiosity. It said something like 650,000 km, yet the car was near immaculate, free of any squeaks or rattles, the engine purring along and the suspension still as supple as ever. You know how some Westerners say it’s impossible to tell how old East Asians are – well, it’s the same for their taxis.
But in the present case, in the presence of a mortuary, age does not matter much. To paraphrase a famous tirade, these taxis are no more. They have ceased to be. They’ve expired and gone to meet their manufacturer. Bereft of fares, they rust in peace. They’ve kicked the meter, shuffled off their mortal coil suspensions and joined the great dispatcher in the sky. These are ex-taxis. Still, beautiful plumage, eh?