1976 Toyota Crown
Words & photos: Paul Murrell
When even a heater was an optional extra, Toyotas
Crown turned the market upside down.
We consider whether or not they still make a good buy today.
In 1963, Australians were still firmly of
the opinion that the Japanese could only build derivative, tiny,
tinny cars. Then the Toyota Crown came along and changed everything.
First of a long line
Toyota began building the Crown, the first popularly successful
car designed and built by a Japanese manufacturer in substantial
numbers, in 1955 but it wasnt until December 1963 that the
first arrived on Australian shores. It was a family-sized car
powered by a 1.9 litre four-cylinder engine with a four-speed
column shift. Aussies, more used to powerful sixes under the bonnets
of their family sedans, were initially suspicious.
In August 1966, the new Crown with a two litre six cylinder engine
was released. This too was deemed too small to be a real
family car in the Australian idiom. Not long after, a locally
assembled 2.3 litre version, identifiable by its different grille,
In February 1968, a face-lifted 2.3 litre Crown was released with
a wrap-around grille and rather bland, but inoffensive, styling.
Despite the pleading of his sixteen-year-old son (me), my father
bought one of these. I simply couldnt talk him into something
more exciting.In February 1970, the Crown was upgraded once again,
this time with a grille of nine horizontal bars that didnt
Perhaps the most distinctively designed Toyota Crown arrived in
October 1971. With a new body, it was slightly longer and lower
and had an unusual split level front grille which
very effectively made the front of the car appear lower and sleeker
than it really was. This car was available as a coupe in some
other markets, but it was never officially offered in Australia.
In July 1973, a revised version appeared with four vertical bars
in the grille and offered optional air conditioning.
In April 1975, yet another new body was announced, with more interior
space, larger rear doors with only a marginal increase in overall
A final version was introduced in the early 1980s and continued
until the Cressida replaced it.
Throughout its long life, the Crown changed little in its dimensions
and design. It was always an orthodox, simple mechanical design
(the engine was based on the Mercedes Benz unit) that offered
incredibly reliable transport. Despite lavish standard equipment
and armchair ride, the Crowns performance, roadholding,
rough road capability and fuel economy were never outstanding.
But then, those werent the attributes Toyota Crown buyers
Toyota adopted a winning formula of a large car powered by a smallish
engine, and was superbly well equipped. One reviewer of the time
suggested that the Super model was the best equipped car
this side of a Rolls-Royce, with central door locking system,
electric windows, power steering, remote boot release, multi-search
radio-cassette player, rear seat reading lights and rear seat
controls for the radio and air conditioning. The Toyota
Crown made the local offerings of the Big Three look mean by comparison.
To be honest, when I set out to source a Toyota Crown for this
feature, I wasnt sure how easy it would be. After all, when
did you last see one on the road? A few phone calls later and
I had uncovered a group of dedicated Crown owners, most with more
than one car, and many with a long history of owning various Toyota
The immaculate 1976 MS85 model in our photos is owned by Anthony
Parsons of Richmond, South Australia. He also owns a 1970 MS55
SE model (AMI assembled) that is awaiting restoration when funds
Anthony recalls his first experience with Toyota Crowns, one that
obviously had a lasting effect on him. My parents bought
a Ford ZG Fairlane with a V8 motor. Even the AM radio was an optional
extra. About the same time, my uncle bought a Toyota Crown Super
Saloon and it was the most amazing thing Id ever seen. I
was about five years old. I remember sitting in the back and playing
with the radio and air conditioning controls. My uncle kept that
car for five years and put a huge mileage on it. I guess Ive
wanted one ever since.
Anthonys wishes were fulfilled in 1996 when he and his partner
at that time bought a 1976 Toyota Crown CS from an elderly couple.
It was their pride and joy, but they were both as blind
as bats so they couldnt see all the things that were wrong
with it. When we got it home we quickly discovered that it was
full of rust and the transmission was stuffed. Wed paid
this nice old couple $2000 for it, which was way too much. In
2001, I made some enquiries about having it restored and because
I am fussy about these things we chose Gavin Sandford-Morgan and
VM Engineering in Stepney. My partner and I split up about that
time, and in hindsight, it would have been sensible not to proceed
because I had to finance it on my own. Wed advanced Gavin
$5000 to get started, and then I put in another $5000. My parents
advanced me $5000 on my inheritance and then I borrowed another
$10,000. I dont regret for a minute spending that much money
on it. In fact, I wish Id opted for a $6000 respray rather
than the $3000 one it was given.
Anthony is fully aware that he has spent far more money on his
Crown than it is worth. The car took about three years to be put
back together. There were a few things that didnt
work, but they were rectified in one afternoon.
Since the restoration, the Toyota has been used sparingly. A little
more than 1500 kilometres have been added to the odometer. We
talked about restoring the original engine, says Anthony
but the 1976 engine is loaded with anti-pollution gear and
would have been hugely expensive to restore. We sourced a low
kilometre 1975 Japanese import engine from the same model for
$800. Chris Shepherd of CMI Eastside (Toyota dealers) looked after
me fabulously. The engine was blowing smoke through worn valve
stem seals but we overhauled it and now its fine, although
I couldnt afford to have it converted for unleaded fuel.
We had a lot of trouble finding a suitable manifold because the
Australian one wont fit.
Given that Toyota Crowns are becoming rare, I ask Anthony about
the spares situation. Parts are plentiful and very robust.
The rear end is almost identical to a Kingswood. The springs are
appalling really soft. The great thing is that Toyota have
all the information on file. I photocopied their service manuals,
but when it comes to parts, I havent had to worry because
Toyota have taken care of it. The interior was in pretty good
shape but I was resigned to the fact that I wasnt going
to be able to replace the upholstery, which was ripped in places
and had coffee stains. After hunting around, Gavin managed to
find 15 metres on a roll, so all the hounds tooth fabric is brand
new. Its so kitsch, I just love it.
Anthony explains the model designations. The SE was a base
model with vinyl upholstery, manual gear change, no power steering
and no cassette player. The CS was the mid-range model and the
Super Saloon was top of the range, initially with brocade upholstery
and later with really hard-wearing velour.
Anthonys plans for the Crown are to use it as much as possible,
but keep it pristine. In ten years or so, I may not be able
to use it any more or get the right fuel for it. I have spoken
to the National Motor Museum about leaving it to them as part
of their collection. The National Motor Museum often has
to refuse cars offered to it, but as curator Rob Pilgrim admits,
the Toyota Crown challenged the robust but basic local models
with higher build standards and better standard equipment. It
changed the Australian motoring market forever.
A Crowning in waiting
David Laubsch lives in the rural town of Murray Bridge. He has
owned a series of Toyota Crowns and currently uses a 1984 model
as his daily driver.
In January 1977, he was torn between an EH Holden or a Toyota
Crown. He bought the Crown, a 1968 imported model with 60,000
miles on the dial. He still has it in his shed, now showing 108,000
miles. In 1980, it was in an accident that damaged the bonnet,
radiator and mudguard. Restoration began in 1982 and continues
intermittently, although inches of dust make me wonder when it
was last touched. With his first Crown off the road, he bought
another, a 1969 locally assembled model, planning to keep it for
three months. He sold it 20 years later, with about 300,000 miles
on the clock, more or less.
David maintains his Crowns himself. The block stayed the
same from 1963 right through until the overhead cam 2.6 litre
engine was introduced. It was essentially the same engine as in
the Cressida. Youll often find that the number two cylinder
is more worn or even seized it must be due to poor water
flow design. The 2.6 litre engine was quite different. It always
pays to remove the wheels, check the brake drums and shoes and
carry out a full service to the engine, differential, gearbox
including replacing the filters. The wishbones are usually worn,
which makes the car wander.
David has also owned a 1979 Crown but found it thirsty and
lacking punch at low revs, although it had plenty of pick
up at higher speeds. Common or recurring problems have included
a broken air metering valve. The casting breaks and although
its a $200 part for a Holden or Falcon, its $700 for
the Crown second hand, and you cant buy a new one. Another
problem has been the exhaust manifold. The problem sounds like
an exhaust gasket failing but its the manifold breaking
down. The wreckers have plenty but they all have the same problem.
We had to get one in from Japan at great expense. A dealer told
me to leave the heat shroud off and that seems to stop the problem
Buying a Toyota Crown is one of the simpler exercises, as long
as you can find one!
Like so many cars of its era, the Toyota Crown was never really
seen as collectable or a classic. Adding to their woes, the design
and comparative lack of sophistication of a Crown means they were
usually bought by owners with little, if any, mechanical empathy.
The situation became worse with second, third and subsequent owners.
Toyota Crowns were soon regarded as simply a means of transport
and most were poorly serviced and maintained.
The good news, however, is that Toyota Crowns are surprisingly
resistant to rust, although it pays to check all the usual places.
If the window seals have leaked, then water may have found its
way inside the car. Rust can also take hold on or under the side
mouldings and inside the front bumper. Early metallic paint is
susceptible to fading, cracking and peeling. The owner of our
featured car was very lucky to find replacement seat fabric; generally
speaking, interior trim is virtually unobtainable.
Toyota Crowns were almost unbelievably reliable. The engines are
often reported to have covered huge mileages before needing an
overhaul. Corrosion in the head is a possibility if cash-strapped
owners stinted on coolant. A worn engine will give itself away
with excessive fumes when the oil filter cap is removed, and if
the overhead valve gear is worn, the usually smooth engine will
sound more like a diesel.
Switches, electrics and wiring were reliable in the Japanese style,
but the years may have taken their toll on connectors, reflectors,
insulation and other fittings. Check that everything works.
There is nothing untoward about the suspension, transmission or
brakes. Simply carry out the usual checks.
SPECIFICATIONS - 1976 Toyota Crown
SE (MS85 model)
Engine sohc 6 cylinder
Bore and stroke 80mm x 85mm
Compression ratio 8.5:1
Power 150bhp (108kW) @ 5400rpm
Transmission four speed manual floor shift, optional three speed
Brakes front discs, rear drums
Steering variable ratio recirculating ball
Suspension coil springs all round
Length 184.5 (4.693m)
Width 66 (1.69m)
Height 56 (1.435m)
Weight 3410 lbs (1550kg)
Max speed 105mph (169kph)
0-100kph 12.4 sec
Fuel consumption 18-24mpg
Fuel tank capacity 72 litres (15.8 gallons)
(The above are taken from contemporary road tests and reports)