While not being a huge fan of Japanese cars in general I do allow myself a few exceptions; things like the original Mazda Cosmo, Toyota 2000GT and possibly the Datsun 240Z, although I wouldn’t go as far as wanting to own any of them now that they are worth proper money.
I have always been partial to a Japanese barge, however, be it Toyota or Nissan. As a kid, a friend’s dad had a Toyota Crown estate and I remember being fascinated by its pseudo-American styling and the fact that it had a coolbox in the boot and central locking.
It was big, soggy not all that fast and really the only thing it had to recommend it to anyone – like most Japanese cars in those days – was its sheer reliability and the number of gadgets it boasted for a relatively modest outlay. What else had a self-seeking radio and a remote boot release?
It’s decades since Toyota sold a Crown new in the UK, but the model is almost a national treasure in its native land, with a history that goes back to 1955.
The few that have survived here have tended to attract a particularly tenacious and blinkered following of mostly boggle-eyed zealots; one such individual was of the opinion that his Crown was far better than any Rolls-Royce, particularly the Phantom VI he drove for a living.
Funnily enough, Toyota UK struggled so hard to flog the car in its fifth, late ’70s incarnation, that they offered a free chauffeur’s uniform with every Crown they sold – a possibly unique inducement in the history of motoring.
When I think of a Crown it is the fourth generation, 1971-74 version that pops into my head: the ‘step bonnet’, if you like, although it would be hard to imagine a car less Alfa-like.
They did 2-litre versions for Japan, but all the UK ones had a 2.6-litre straight-six that looked like a copy of the Mercedes ‘six’ and was closely related to the twin-cam found in the now-million-dollar 2000GT.
The Crowns never got much of foothold in the Granada market, for several reasons; one of them is that at the time there were still plenty of middle-aged people around who bore a grudge against the Japanese dating back to WW2.
Second-hand, they were a bit thirsty for the average tight-wad northerner to run, but they were very much the car of the pub landlord, perfect for running down to the cash and carry for a week’s supply of salt and vinegar crisps and pickled eggs.
Even as a 10 year old, the irony factor was not lost on me; I loved the fact they had a column shift for the auto ’box long after most European cars had abandoned such affectations and the sense that this was a vehicle with no aspirations in the realms of handling or ‘driver appeal’.
I pictured myself behind the wheel, revelling in the tyre squeal, battling with the understeer and watching hubcaps fly off in all directions.
Like most big Japanese cars the Crowns got a muted press reception, although the estate was fairly useful with its seven seats and a load area second only to a DS wagon.
My view was that they were at least different: big and flashy with lots of gadgets to fiddle with, an important factor when you are years away from driving a car legally.
You never saw many of them even in period, least of all the 2-door pillar-less coupé version, its fastback styling a fairly obvious rip off of the late ’60s AMC Matador Coupe.
I’ve never owned one, and probably never will. My tribute to the Crown Coupé is thus limited to a big plastic model that lives in the display area of my Del Boy-style cocktail bar. It is in American Highway Patrol livery, although it’s hard to imagine any local sheriff buying a Crown Coupé in preference to any number of V8-powered, locally-produced barges.
I have only just noticed that my cop car Crown takes batteries and has three buttons on the boot lid (forwards, backwards and stop, presumably), so I might take it home tonight and give it a road test. Let’s face it, it’s likely to remain the closest I’ll get to driving one these days.
Main image: Rex Gray/Creative Commons