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UK’s rarest cars: 1973 Toyota Crown Estate, one of only six left on British roads

1973 Toyota Crown Custom estate - owned by Eddie Bellringer
Telegraph motoring editor Paul Hudson (left) and Eddie Bellringer discuss his Toyota Crown Custom Estate during the recent Festival of the Unexceptional - the link to our film of the event is below, or find it at telegraph.co.uk/cars/classic

Not only rare, but a car with a higher purpose: “This is no utility vehicle” claimed the brochure, for the MS63-Series Toyota Crown Custom Estate revelled in its sheer flamboyance.

It was the car for a minor ‘Flash Harry’ in a Euston Films drama or a provincial magnate who owned a chain of off-licences. A few neighbours might twitch their curtains on sighting the Toyota, but they were probably envious of the two cigar lighters, self-seeking AM/FM sound system with an electric aerial and “vacuum door locks”.   

By the 1970s the Corolla or Corona T100 were not uncommon sights in the UK, but the larger Toyotas were more exclusive sights.

Eddie Bellringer’s 1973 example is one of just six on the road – and it was an undoubted star of the 2019 Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional, which The Telegraph filmed for posterity.

The boot contains these distinctive rear-facing seats

“People tend either to say ‘Is that a Crown?’ or simply ‘Wow! What is it?’. You also meet people who have fond memories of travelling in the rear-facing back seat as children,” said Bellringer.

Toyota introduced the original Crown S30 in 1955 and the fourth generation S60/S70 debuted in 1971. British-market versions were only available with the 2,563cc straight-six engine and any Crown saloon, coupé or estate was guaranteed to prompt mutterings about “those Japanese cars”.

Motor magazine tested the station wagon in July 1972 and found its mechanical refinement to be “remarkable” as “both the engine and transmission being particularly smooth and quiet”. The Toyota was “a well-mannered, viceless car that can be hustled through corners at a respectable pace without drama”.

The scribe also referred to how the Crown’s styling reflected “an American or at least a pan-Pacific character which is sufficiently strong in itself to influence a buyer one way or the other”.

The interior is finished in a Seventies kitsch vinyl called 'metallic blue'. It's all original, as the car had only done 18,000 miles when Bellringer bought it in 2016

The fascia, with its square instruments, is almost undiluted 1970s Detroit and owner Bellringer finds the column-mounted selector for the Toyoglide automatic transmission “very easy to operate”.

The Toyota also boasts any number of cleverly-planned details, from radio controls and air vents for the rear passengers to the rear-facing “cricket seat” in the boot.

The 80/90/100-series replaced the S60/70 in 1974 and Bellringer acquired his Estate in 2016.

“It originally belonged to my mother’s cousin; she and her husband owned it virtually from new. He passed away in 1991, and his widow could not bear to part with the Crown,” he said.

The imposing grille wears a Crown badge, not a Toyota logo. Under the bonnet sits an unstressed straight-six engine

The Toyota then “rested for 25 years in their garage” until Bellringer embarked on its refurbishment. There were a mere 18,000 miles on the clock, and the Estate required “some welding to the main body, but fortunately, it had been Ziebarted [rustproofed]. I needed to replace the steering idler and lower-ball joint, while the interior just required soap and water”.

Bellringer is a former General Manager-Homologation for Toyota GB – “I started my career with them back in 1977” – and he fully appreciates the Estate’s various quirks and virtues.

“It does feel a little bit wallowy, and the Crown was never built for speed, but it is ideal for cruising through the Derbyshire countryside,” he said.

And the response to this magnificent machine at the recent Festival of the Unexceptional shows how the “sturdy vehicle which combines practicality with luxury” is quite an exceptional motor car. 

Thanks to: Eddie Bellringer, Toyota Enthusiasts’ Club

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