The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 2

The Sweet Deals on Secondhand Crowns and What the Best Engines Are

In our first post in this series on the best Toyota luxury cars to import from Japan we said that the best years are the two decades from, roughly, 1985 to, roughly, 2005. That’s my personal take on things based on design, looks, build quality, simplicity and reliability, running costs and long life, and, of course, on the used car prices we are seeing these days (October 2020) both at the Japanese used car auctions and at the used car dealers here that we work with.

Some guys will call the shot differently and maybe say the newer cars are better, or the really older units have more heritage….hmmmm I can see where they’re coming from, but still, and especially from the point of view of someone in America or Australia who wants to do a direct import of a luxury car from Japan and needs to have the car be 25 years old but still clean and nice, it’s the ’90s Japanese cars that tick all the boxes. If you are going to import your used car to the UK or Canada or the EU, you are not bound by the 25 year rules and can import newer vehicles from Japan, but that does not mean, automatically, that they will be “better” vehicles; sometimes, maybe “yes,” but too many times, actually “no.”

So let’s continue looking at the Toyota Crown and move on to the 130, 140, and 150 Series machines.

The S130 to S150 Series Toyota Crowns

The S130 series Crown comes out in 1987 and runs to 1999.

S130 Toyota Crown

Now before we trip up over ourselves on dates here, we need to note that the S140 and S150 series Crowns run somewhat in parallel with the S130 cars. So:

  • S130: 1987 to 199
  • S140: 1991 to 1995
  • S150: 1995 to 2001

With the coming of the S170 Crowns there is a clearer change in body theme. The 130s, 140s, and 150s are really a close group and can be considered brothers in many respects, although the 150 uses a monocoque rather than body-on-frame type chassis. In terms of styling cues, the S140 and S150 are, in contrast to the S130, showing the more rounded look of things to come.

S170 Toyota Crown side

S170 Toyota Crown front

The S130 itself keeps the sharper edges that we see in the S120 and the really notable changes are under the skin: Suspension systems are improved, the chassis is actually completely new (and, as we said, with the later 150 series goes full monocoque), and there are some very interesting, and better, engine options!

The older M-series engines are still available and are joined by the bigger three liter 7M, more famous for its use in the more powerful models of the early Supra 70.

S170 Toyota Crown engine

(And also famous, or rather infamous, for blowing head gaskets due to a less than ideal cylinder head main bolt tightening sequence during manufacture. For a while it was a nice little “engineering scandal” at the time among petrol heads, engine designers, and fans of the Supra and the 7M; but it all got sorted out, if I remember now, by an enterprising fellow who just came up with a better tightening sequence which caused the problem to go away.)

But with the S130 to S150 Crowns, which are very good value now, the best of the new engines, and the ones to go for when you are targeting a Crown to import yourself from Japan, are: the 1JZ-GE,

S130 S150 Crown engine 1JZ-GE

(you can see the turbo version in this Crown Athlete here that we found for a very happy customer, and a modded example here in a hot, perfect for drifting, Toyota Chaser that we exported as well), the 2JZ-GE (shown in this photo sporting variable valve timing),

S170 Toyota Crown engine 2JZ-GE

the 1UZ-FE

Toyota Crown 1UZ-FE

(you can see another view of a 1UZ-FE in this nice, clean, low-mileage Crown Majesta that we recently exported), and, the one dear to me, the 1G, in various states of tune which we’ll look at shortly.

This next photo shows the ever-so-cool-looking turbo version, the 1G-GTE, in a Soarer Z20, another of Toyota’s now classic luxury offerings. The turbo 1G engine was not used in the Crown, but I just want to show you a picture of it ’cause it’s just so unique with its long intake runners.

Toyota Soarer engine Z20 1G-GTE

The JZ series of straight-six engines are the winner engines in the Supra 70 and the Supra 80 and the three-liter Soarer (Lexus SC300), and the 1UZ-FE is the 32-valve DOHC 4.0 liter V8 found in the muscular Celsior (Lexus LS400) and the four-liter Soarer (Lexus SC400). The JZs are iron block, over-engineered bulletproof creations. I’ve never owned one but I can share with you that the guys in my old company who were big time into tuning (and once in a while over doing it and breaking engines, since they had too much money and free time back in the “mini boom” years here) said that the JZs were unbreakable. “1,000ps? Yeah, you can do it.”

The 1UZ-FE is an aluminum block engine and has a good reputation for power and reliability, but is noted for a couple of repair / service quirks, one being that replacing the starter motor can be a challenging job for a home mechanic and is best left to the pros.

The transmissions that accompany these engines in the Toyota Crown are also overbuilt and very strong.

Some Rough Spec Comparisons

The variety of engine options and grade levels for Toyota Crowns are bewildering, but just to give you a rough idea of what sort of power to weight and torque to weight ratios you’ll be looking at with these cars, we can say, very roughly, that if you go for a Crown with the 1UZ-FE V8, you’ll be getting a car with 260ps-to265ps coming in in the low 5,000s in the RPM range. Torque will be 36 to 37kg/m, coming in well below 5,000rpm. The car will weigh around 1,650kgs (3,630lbs) give or take, and so you’re looking at a nice luxury car that’s not too big and is giving you a power to weight ratio of 6.2:1 (each ps unit of horse power carrying 6.2kgs of car) and a torque to weigh ratio of 44.6:1 (each kg/m unit of torque pushing 44.6kgs of car). Numbers like this tell you that you can expect good grunt from zero to upper highway speeds.

Say you decide to go for a three liter Crown with the 2ZJ-GE: you’d get a weight saving of around 50kgs (110lbs), depending on options, and a power output of 225 to 230ps coming on at 6,000rpm with your torque of 29kg/m at well below 5,000. That doesn’t tell you the whole power curve, though, and these JZs are noted for their nice low end torquey feel, as I can attest to: they grunt really nice from zero at a stop light or entering from a side road.

With a three liter 2JZ-GE Crown in the series that we are looking at here, for example an early ’90s S130, you’ll be getting a power to weight ratio of around 7:1 and a torque to weight ratio of around 56:1. No slouch indeed.

If you go for a Crown that sports the 1JZ, you’ll save a further 50 kilos (110lbs) in weight, get a bit better gas mileage, and have a car that’s giving you a power to weight ratio of 8.7:1 and a torque to weight ratio of 65.4:1, based on your 1ZJ-GE putting out 180ps at 6,000 and 24kg/m at under 5,000rpm; the same rpm range as with the 2ZJ.

More On the 1G-Engined Toyota Crowns

When we get into the 1G Crowns, things get a bit more complicated because of the 1G engine options. We still have my favourite, the long lived, economical 1G-FE,

Toyota Crown Engine 1G-FE

but it is joined by two variants that we need to look at, the 1G-GE (seen here, clean and loved, in a very clean and very loved Supra GT)

Toyota Crown engine 1G-GE

and the 1G-GZE (seen here in a Crown).

Toyota Crown engine 1G-GZE

Actually these engines were available in the S120 Crowns but they very rarely come up now in the secondhand S120 market in Japan.

Toyota Engine Letters

Let me just give you a quick heads up on what some of the letters mean in Toyota’s engine nomenclature in the years we are looking at: If you look at the engine used in my old Celica GT4 (what a car!) it was the 3S-GTE (check out the charge cooler!):

Toyota Celica GT4 engine 3S-GTE

The “S” in the name tells you the engine “family.” The number “3” tells you which specific sub type it is in terms of engine swept volume capacity (basically, the size), in this case, 3S, it’s the 1,998cc unit that you find in all the Japan spec second generation MR2s, for example. In America some MR2s had the 5S engine which was the 2.2 liter unit in the “S” family. (Here is a lovely MR2 Turbo we exported recently to the States.)

The “G” after the dash tells you that the engine is in a sporty state of tune. The “T” says it’s a turbo, and the “E” that it’s got fuel injection; so, 3S-GTE.

Turning back to our 1G engines, the “F” in the 1G-FE tells us that this engine is in a state of tune more suited to economy and reliability and long life. In the 1G-GZE, the “Z” says the engine is supercharged. Wow! A supercharged engine in a luxury sedan! Are we talking an impossible-to-get-or-afford-to run Daimler Super V8 Vanden Plas Supercharged?!?

Daimler Super V8 Vanden Plas Supercharged

Nope, just an accessible, affordable Toyota Crown.

(We recently exported a 2001 Jaguar XJR that has this same supercharged V8 set up. Amazing car! Have a look here.)

Before You Boost….Consider Your Bearings

Now don’t jump the gun, Tex, and go all in whole hog lock-stock-and-barrel for a supercharged Crown, because this is where I have to let you know about the one weak area of the 1G: It’s not a great engine for boosting with forced induction. In the 1G-FE, as I had in my Toyota Crown, it is bullet proof and lives forever. If mildly boosted, as you see in the Toyota Supra 70 where the 1G-GTE can be found, it can last well enough but, as guys who have tried to tune these engines have all too often found: Spun bearings can raise their ugly heads. There is a reason why a 3S-GTE puts out 255ps but a 1G-GTE puts out only 210ps, although both are two liter engines. The 1G just does not like high boost. It’s not a tuner’s engine, although some guys who have deep pockets and can do a proper build have done it….to some degree.

Same with the 1G-GZE. In stock form the supercharger is mild. It gives you a nice power up from the 135ps of horse power and the 18kg/m of torque of a 1G-FE to the 170ps and 23kg/m of the 1G-GZE. Sounds O.K………..but the Supercharged Crowns are about 80kgs (175lbs) heavier (partly due to being higher spec and loaded with more goodies) and the supercharger whacks your gas mileage on the head. If I think about it, a 1JZ-GE or a 2ZJ-GE seems to be the better choice to me if I’m looking to buy a more powerful Crown. But if, for uniqueness or mechanical perversity, the idea of a supercharged luxury car just lights your afterburners, then go for a Toyota Crown with the 1G-GZE. You’ll certainly be the only kid on your block with one. Just don’t over boost it, O.K.?

And what about the Crown with the sporty, but normally-aspirated (NA), version of the G engine, the 1G-GE? They do give you a bit of a power up (+15ps and +0.6kg/m) and they are more responsive engines. (Drivers of the 1G-GE Supra 70 will tell you that “The engine is sweet and will cruise smooth all day, but the car is essentially too heavy for a two liter motor.”) The problem is though, that although fine engines and beautiful to look at, with their wide angle DOHC heads

Toyota Engine 1G-GE

the 1G-GE is not as reliable or long lived as the 1G-FE. Toyota had to “de-tune” a bit from the first production 1G-GEs due to reliability issues, actually, and dropped max power about 5ps or so, if I recall correctly. And the 1G-GE’s power curve, weighted to the higher rpm range, is just less suitable for a luxury car with an auto trans. The FE gives you its power and torque a good bit lower in the rev range, which is what a luxury car wants.

So, for a used two liter Toyota Crown from Japan, I say stick with the 1G-FE that I had in my Crown. You’ll have no regrets, no stresses, and miles and miles and years and years of luxury but affordable motoring.

What I’ve said here about engines goes pretty well for all the Toyota Crowns that we are considering from the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s and into early 2,000s. And these are the Crowns that are showing the best prices right now on the second hand car market in Japan.

“Where’d You Get This Crown?”

I remember a sunny day not long after I got my used S150 series Crown here in Japan, I parked in the company lot and one of the designers I knew there was in the lot chatting with some people. He came over to me and said: “You know, Dave, I supervised the design team for this car…well, this sub type, anyway. Can I look inside?”

In he went and started poking around, looking under the dash and at the rear door inner panels, then he got out and looked under the wheel wells, stood up frowning and said:

“You’re not supposed to have this car. Where did you get it?”

S150 Toyota Crown Front

Let me tell you in our next post how it all came about and what that car actually was.

For now, keep your eyes on the prize as you reach for a Crown and contact us at Japan Car Direct anytime to help you get on the royal road to importing a good used luxury car from Japan.

The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 1
The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 3

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