Every individual with a healthy obsession for automotive tinkerings has their unicorn. The rare, the expensive, the unattainable, or in some cases simply unusual enough to warrant being acquired as their ultimate garage filler.
It’s often that those with an affinity for a particular marque or even model have their hero car. If you’re a Skyline aficionado for example, you might pine for the ultimate evolution of the R34, Nismo’s barnstorming Z-tune creation. But at the other end of the scale, the British-Leyland weirdo might scour classifieds well into the night in search of an Austin Allegro estate that was only available in a particular shade of puke-yellow for three calendar weeks of 1977.
Let’s say you’re something of a Toyota loyalist. For the vast majority of your car-owning history your chosen method of four-wheeled fun has centered on the brand best associated with steadfast reliability, stratospheric sales figures and generally epitomising the motor industry of Japan. More accurately though, you’ve got a special affinity for Toyotas of the older persuasion.
If while your eyelids were dipped, images of TE27 Corolla Levins, RA25 Celica GTs and even rock-crawling FJ40 Land Cruisers flicked past, you may well suffer the same affliction of David Arthur, who as well as being the fabrication guardian angel for my own Toyota project KP61, is also the owner and builder of this sublime MS51 Toyota Crown hardtop.
As something of a serial offender in mucking about with a variety of old Toyotas, this particular Crown – as you may have already guessed – is by no means David’s first rodeo. In fact, it represents the latest in a fairly rich lineage of well thought out and comprehensively modified Toyotas to emerge from David’s modest suburban garage. And while the Crown is the most recent, it’s also representative of something of a circle narrative.
You see, David’s Toyota journey began some decades ago now, in the days when getting the proper deals on a decent retro steed meant a 6:00am pilgrimage to the local dairy (or newsagent for those not lucky enough to live in New Zealand) for that week’s issue of the classified advertisement paper. The usual sequence would go something along the lines of – turn directly to the page concerning your favourite brand, run your finger down the columns until a suitable deal jumped out at you, then get on the phone (a landline, of course!) and wake up the hapless vendor with the insistence you were en route to view their surplus vehicle.
No longer had David hung up the handset, did his trip down the iron-oxide-ridden highways of early Toyota ownership commence in the form of a Crown – an MS65 sedan variant in this instance and perhaps something of a blueprint for the future. A plethora of the ‘big body’ Toyota saloons followed, including a solid half-dozen MS75 hardtop coupes – the catalyst for a genuine appreciation of the pillar-less style offered by the two-door Crowns.
Some years passed; the lawn was eventually cleared of derelict 60-series Crowns and the last of the MS75s was on-sold to a lucky new owner. Project priorities then stepped up a notch and were focused on a brace of 1970s Celicas (running a 1JZ-GTE and a 1UZ-FE respectively) until a slightly haggard, ‘barn find’ style 50-series Crown proved an attention grabber.
The Crown, a 1969 MS51 hardtop, was for sale and David “absolutely had to own it”. The unicorn had been uncovered. A deal was struck, the Crown was loaded onto a transporter and was soon wheeling its way the 1100 kilometres north from Christchurch to Auckland, arriving in relatively short order. Although outwardly resembling an untouched (albeit tired) example of the 1960s Toyota luxury coupe, the time-weary white paint of the hardtop encased some common – and typical – sins appropriated by many a New Zealand ‘handyman’ towards Japanese cars of the era.
The original 2M 2.4-litre straight-six engines have something of a dubious reputation for reliability, with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for headgaskets. At some stage, an industrious and resourceful home mechanic had seen fit to equip the Crown with a 265ci Chrysler six-cylinder and associated gearbox, including some transmission tunnel modification leaving much to be desired. Nonetheless, the rest of the Crown remained intact.
While a largely rust-free structure is a substantial drawcard to a would-be retro revivalist, an aspect that’s of possibly even more paramount importance (particularly on Japanese cars of the period that don’t have the traditional aftermarket support of their classic American or Continental counterparts) is the presence of all the little trim pieces, emblems and embossings that really characterise the styling, or more particularly the ‘over-styling’ techniques so commonly found on a 1960s through 1970s Japanese design.
While these fussy, intricate little styling touches are so integral to the character of an MS51, the hardtop coupe style affords a psuedo-American aesthetic to the Crown, and the enduring visual theme that was to ultimately influence the flavour of the build.
A solid, complete, barn-seasoned project base ripe for modifying? Check. With the important bits accounted for and the Crown safely tucked behind the locked garage door, yet another build was set to begin beneath the flickering lights of David’s garage; the pursuit of one man’s impeccable vision to build the perfect retro Japanese cruiser.It’s Low Time
It’s entirely typical of Japanese designs of this period – especially relevant to the larger car segment – to employ styling trends influenced by the West. In the case of these particular cars, the American influence is strong, with bold chrome bumpers and highlights, intricate trim and heavy swage lines throughout the steelwork, all reminiscent of 1960s American automotive chic.
David’s Crown unashamedly embraces the styling nuances offered by the period, exclaimed no louder than through the use of rolling stock more often found gracing the arches of Detroit’s finest. Snuggled precisely under factory-looking panels is a quartet of custom crafted Weld Racing RT-S S71 P forged wheels.
It’s this wheel selection that paved the way for the ultimate demeanour of the Crown. The Welds measure 15×8-inch at the steering end and 15×10-inch at the driving end, both with a dollop of negative offset well beyond their share. The wheel obsessors among the car community often utter, tongue in cheek, that the correct methodology of piecing together a build is to shape the car around the wheels.
Tongue in cheek need not apply. The way those beautifully subtle Coke-bottle curves drape over the wheels isn’t achieved simply by bolting the wheels on, dropping the ride height and cruising off into the sunset. Months and months of long nights in the garage, armed with an arsenal of welding equipment, hammers, dollys, and the duration spent self-educating on the finer points of creating crisp, straight panelwork saw the Crown emerge into daylight with a quality rivalling chequebook restorations.
You may have noted I mentioned the panels were ‘factory looking.’ To the uninitiated the arches in particular may look as Toyota intended almost four decades ago. After an eternity of pulling, hammering, stretching and some cutting however, the all-steel arches now encompass the forged rollers to perfection – tucking deep into the bodywork while aired out, yet maintaining a perfect tread-to-lip clearance at ride height.
And what about that ride height? The underpinnings of the MS51 feature a heavily reworked suspension arrangement, retaining an upgraded disc-braked LSD live axle in the rear and utilising a double wishbone front end with relocated Bilstein shocks – again all constructed in the confines of the garage. Spring duties are taken care of by RideTech airbags fed from a boot-mounted tank and single compressor. RideTech’s e3 electronic controller keeps things on the level, working in tandem with the specifically valved shocks to offer a ride quality and handling capability far beyond what 1969 had to offer.
Flaring the guards is only half of the story when it comes to fitting the 10-inch wide rear wheels, and David tells the story best when he sums up the decision to go low: “It was on the ground or nothing. So I got the grinder out and started cutting.” Beneath the curves, the rear chassis rails have also been pinched to allow clearance, and permit the gearbox crossmember to sit on the deck.
Topping the exterior off is the addition of the unicorn-among-unicorns – a Japanese market only front clip, hard to find even in its homeland. A deep glossy coat of period-correct Toyota ‘Spring Green’ and a vinyl-covered roof finished with hand-beaten and chromed brass trims totally emphasis the elegant hardtop coupe styling.Things That Make You Go ‘M’
The Crown is a combination of finer details, but the finer details didn’t call for the 265ci Chrysler lump to stay beneath the bonnet. While the resultant changes hardly resemble something aimed even remotely at outright performance, the character afforded by the eventual engine choice can’t be overlooked.
While these 50-series Crowns originally dragged mum, dad and 2.5 children along the tarmac with the aforementioned 2.4-litre 2M, David’s example makes do with the extra 200cc displacement afforded by a 4M lifted from a younger generation MS65.
It’s tough to find a superlative more concise than ‘clean’ to accurately sum up the state of play in the engine compartment. What it lacks in performance, the 4M makes up in appearance with a handsomely curved rocker cover arcing over the straight-six engine’s single cam. Mirroring the curves, the filled and smoothed inner arches cascade neatly across either side, while small details such as the CNC-machined radiator, washer bottle and overflow caps (complete with Crown motifs) drive home the bespoke nature of the build.
The engine bay’s visual is as timelessly elementary as the Crown’s exterior. A casual onlooker could be forgiven for thinking the wiring was non-existent, hidden away from view with even the plug leads being routed through a 1920s-influenced tube running from the distributor around the front of the head. A stock cast manifold was never going to cut the mustard, instead substituted for a one-off set of convoluted 6-2-1 headers running into a free-flowing 2.25-inch exhaust to the rear of the car which endows the Crown with an addictive crackle.
Beneath the large air cleaner housing resides another rarity – a genuine pair of factory-option twin downdraft Aisin carbs. They’re a further faithful nod to the Crown’s period and indicative of the high-spec ‘SL’ trim level aimed at those with deeper pockets.
Inside, it’s the late 1960s all over again, and a stark indicator of just how far advanced the large Japanese offerings were versus the staple Australian and British alternatives of the time. It’s a dignified place to be, surrounded in swathes of black, with tactile surfaces bearing the trademark embossings and fussy trim additions. Echoing every other facet of the build it’s tidy – not outlandish, not extreme – uncluttered and enduring.
It’s these little details that draw the classic Japanese faithful in. So you want to open up that wide side glass area on the car? Simply hit the electric rear window switches, mounted neatly on the textured centre console just aft of the shifter for the W55 5-speed gearbox installed in place of the standard Toyoglide automatic.
The seats remain standard, albeit re-bolstered and reupholstered in vinyl and velour by local interior magicians Waikumete Upholstery who also handled the production of a new (from scratch) head lining and carpets – one of the few jobs entrusted to an outside source. Any retro Japanese cruiser is complemented perfectly with a 3-spoke Nardi Classic steering wheel, with the quintessentially American yet authentically Japanese (at least in Crown circles) Mooneyes logo adorning the shifter.
At rest among the dying light of a late summer’s day, the Crown is just one of those cars you can sit and take in for minutes on end. Representative of the ultimate expression of one petrol-head’s allegiance to a brand, rescued from a lifetime of certain negligence and transformed into a scene-transcending masterpiece, it’s difficult to envisage where David’s forays into Toyota-tinkering will head next. But rest assured, with the quality of each build leaping from good, to great to drop-dead gorgeous, I know we haven’t witnessed the last of his retro Toyota, garage-conceived re-imaginings.
Great looking Ms51s. Wish mine looked like that. RHS ms has 2jz twin turbo trying to get finished and runs. Lhs is original and my daily drive.
G'day from Geelong Australia
That window switch panel has more character that the whole interior of my 2005 Saabaru :^\
Anyone else get the feeling this car needs to be on Jay Leno's Garage?
@vroomtothetomb I reckon we could treat Mr. Leno to a solid weekend of touring NZ checking out super sweet cars... it could be Jay Leno in Kiwi Garages, as a bit of a twist!
@RdS2 Thanks! It's a pleasure to be able to show the world!
@JEAH_MAN Sehr nice (bis auf die Farbe)
@Salzeder find selbst die Farbe gut :D
Stand up build on David's behalf. Photos and write up are absolutely brilliant as well, Richard - well done!
I love the way this car sits, I love the color, and I love the images you've captured in the warehouse setting. Absolutely beautiful.
@Steve Hayward This was actually a wing of David's workplace that happened to be in a phase of change... so we swooped on the opportunity! Thanks for the kind words!
Always loyal to toyota, would buy another one if have the cash. I always love toyota builds here at speedhunters. Especially the cars are either the normal or unpopular to the unexpected or fogotten models. A sleeper corona for example or a sport car slayer toyota revo
Anyway, another best toyota build!! Thank you for making my day
@Project AT180R Happy to make your day! Even Corona's get plenty of attention from guys modifying them here, mainly the older RWD type.
No one understands my Toyota love... But then they miss these kind of builds. Absolutely gorgeous and well done. if only i could build a car half as nice!
@SmithG23 I think between David and myself we'd come to some sort of understanding. I'm a mad keen Toyota loyalist.
So perfect! Until you open the hood. It's the nicest 4M I've ever seen, but, it's still a 4M. Considering he's had old Celicas with 1j's and fucking 1uz's! I just...... ...it ....it breaks my brain a little bit to have such a pig under the hood.
The rest is pure porn though. Stunning.
@smithadamb You're right. I know it, Dave knows it - the M isn't there for the long haul, and it's demise is thoroughly expected. It's done pretty well thus far however...
@Hydrolastic I've got a feeling we'll see a sublime NA 2JZ or similar in there, given some time.
@smithadamb The 4m is a pretty decent engine. But the 2nd generation 4m which you find in the 80 serie crowns is much better and more reliable. It has the square valve covers. Swapped that engine in a ms53 and ms65 crown. With a w58 from a supra mk3 and upgraded diff it actually drives very nice.
@SnoozinRichy @Hydrolastic My MS65 rocks an NA 2j and it's such a nice engine for this chassis. Runs like clockwork, and will more than double the horse power. The only drawback is the lack of a carburetted soundtrack. You can add a turbo later for that 'rocket coffin' experience if it floats your boat.
@jbfromsiliconvalley It, and very similar shades of green are used on all sorts of cars from the era... it's great, shows off the curves and panel lines to perfection.
@jbfromsiliconvalley "Spring Green" ftw. A Hakosuka would looks great in this color
So clean! Those Weld Racing wheels should look wrong on a Japanese machine, yet it looks so right here!
@jay8393 A 5-spoke wheel, simple style, is so ubiquitous. Also those hearty servings of dish help!
It just doesn't get any better, I am quite surprised just how much emotion this work of art creates in me.
Thank you for sharing with us
@Mersontheperson You're welcome! It's great to be able to give back to someone who's assisted me hugely with my own project too.
Love it. Although I'd love it just that little bit more on some Japanese wheels, but the Welds do look good, no denying that.
@Spaghetti What would you reckon? I think the pseudo-USA style of this car lends itself better to a set of American style wheels better than anything - and the likes of the Mooneyes Crown Picnic, or All Odds Nationals tend to agree! But maybe a set of Hayashi Street CR's might look the biz...
@HeathvanderWaerden Hi Heath, I hope you're ok and your jaw is on the mend.
What is that badge on the left side of the grille? I've also seen that on other kyusha and shakotan cars.
@Mitchellol JAF badge. Japanese Automotive Fedoration
@aKiwiJoker You're crook.
Absolutely lovely build. I'm a big aircooled VW fan, but this type of build floats my boat bigtime. Would rather have this than that wide body GTR featured yesterday.
@HoTWire So um, ship it across for the RRG... I'll be chaperone.
@SnoozinRichy @HoTWire Well half the organising team lives in NZ now, I'd hoped we'd be able to do some Retro Rides events in NZ. Your country is crazy big though, and has a gap in the middle, making it hard to work out where to do it :D
But yeah, I'd love to ship it over. 10 years of RR Gathering in 2018, maybe time to ship some cars from overseas (rather than Europe) :D
truly amazing build, and completely flawless execution. I really love the way those weld wheels fill up the fenders, and the tire/wheel ratio is perfect. It sits just right, and the level of quality is astounding. Killer build. I think your starlet is in very capable hands.