By on October 31, 2011

You rarely see first-gen Cressidas, such as the junked ’80 I found last week these days; it seems that the third-gen (84-88) models make up the bulk of survivor Cressidas in North America. Fourth-gen examples— like this one I spotted in a Los Angeles self-service yard— are about as common as Crowns.
Toyota’s reputation for reliability wasn’t all that strong when the first-gen Cressidas hit the highway (we often forget that Malaise Era Toyotas were actually quite flaky by modern standards, though they held together somewhat better than most of the Detroit and European competition back then), but that had all changed by the time today’s Junkyard Find rolled out of the showroom. Why, then, did Cressida sales fall apart by the early 90s? Blame Lexus!
Potent and smooth as the 7M-GE was, this car was really a Supra under the skin and luxury-car shoppers— who had come to associate the Toyota name with downscale Corollas and Celicas— knew it. Meanwhile, the second-gen Camry was cheaper, roomier, and less thirsty. Sandwiched in the ever-narrowing space between the LS400 and Camry, the Cressida was gone by the 1992 model year.
Leather! Luxury! I’m going to keep my eyes open for these things on the street.

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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1989 Toyota Cressida...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Depending on your priorities, this could have been a screaming bargin compared to a Lexus LS400 or GS300.

  • avatar

    “Toyota’s reputation for reliability wasn’t all that strong when the first-gen Cressidas hit the highway …”

    Toyota developed a strong reputation for quality mainly from the Hilux and Corona all throughout the 1970s. It was the main reason my dad switched from Fords to Toyotas starting in 1977.

    “it seems that the third-gen (84-88) models make up the bulk of survivor Cressidas in North America”

    The third generation began in MY 1985. The 1983-84 continued the 2nd gen but with the Supra’s twin cam engine, a manual transmission option, and a new IRS.

  • avatar

    Ahhh the Cressida! I was lucky enough to drive a ’91 Cressida with ~200k miles for about a year when I was college. Every time I gave someone a ride in it I would get the look of dis-belief or get a comment like: “You drive THIS car?!?!?” But then they get sit in those ubiquitous cracked red or blue leather seats and even if their attitude towards the car’s coolness would not change at least there would be an appreciation of its ride and quality.

    I still fondly remember it as one of the smoothest most comfortable most solid cars I have ever driven or been in.

    Very under-appreciated!

    • 0 avatar

      “Very under-appreciated” – you got that right! I’ve used a very run down ’88 Cressida as my winter car for the past 3-4 years. The ride is still so nice and comfortable and the engine is so quiet and smooth as silk. It’s an absolute shame that only so few Cressida’s were sold (compared to other cars in its class).

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    A pity you couldn’t get a wagon or stick shift on the final generation.

    If they had seen their way to offer the the 7M-GTE from the Supra, it would have been legendary! Could have been a good way to differentiate from Camry and Lexus LS or GS too.

    Definitely a big fan of gens 2-4. The last gen was probably the best car, but something about a 5MT wagon from the 2nd gen is certainly appealing :)

  • avatar

    It’s interesting how much the market has changed. Our family car was a 2nd gen Cressida. At the time it seemed like a midsized car. In reality, on the inside according to the EPA anyway, it’s a cubic foot smaller than a 2011 Yaris with exactly the same amount of trunk space. In other words, a subcompact (but with a fuel-injected straight six and a higher price tag).

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting you said that. I parked my Saturn Astra XR 5dr in Fort Hood, TX, having driven it 900 miles from Kansas City. My friends who met me in the parking lot laughed at little the Astra was and how impossible it was to them that I drove it cross-country. I had parked in the prodigous shade of a Dodge RAM 2500, which of course was cock-eyed into it’s space, and a fourth gen Cressida. The Astra was obviously bigger than the Cressida, which in my mind just didn’t make sense because it was a mid-size car when it was sold and the Astra is classified as a compact. When did the size standards change?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think the size standards ever changed. I just looked at the EPA’s data and noticed that the Cressida was really about the same size inside as the much cheaper Tercel of the day. A few people saw value in an expensive RWD, fuel-injected straight six, velour or leather-lined small sedan — a kind of reliable cut-rate BMW. Nissan offered basically the same thing with the 810 Maxima — a subcompact RWD sedan with a fuel-injected 240Z engine. Too small and expensive to be mainstream.

  • avatar

    these MX83s are extremely common and cheap in the rhd world

    reason is the 7m-ge with the head gasket replaced is extremely reliable and responds well to turbocharging

    and the engine bay takes fine to the 2j-gte and the 1uz-fe for a real sleeper

    they are also easy to make handle and brake taking a variety of toyota and nissan (!) speed parts

  • avatar

    One of the many things I find interesting about the Cressida is how there are no Toyota oval logos on the car – only the “Cressida” logo. I guess Toyota wanted the Cressida to be thought of as its own entity, much like the Corvette to Chevrolet (before Toyota decided to create the Lexus brand).

    Edit: Whoops – it looks like the oval logo wasn’t used until later in 1989. Indeed, the last few years of Cressidas have them.

    • 0 avatar

      A result of Toyota’s complicated JDM branding strategy. Cressida is called Mark II over there (with Cresta and Chaser siblings) and had its own logo. Same as Crown/Majesta (with, well, a crown as its logo).

  • avatar

    Toyota didn’t entirely abandon the segment, though the Avalon that replaced the Cressida has been a much different car.

  • avatar

    I just picked up a 90 Cressida with 60K miles, a real garage queen. I actually like driving this car more than my GS400, it’s got far more character. I went out to buy my wife a 4×4 for winter but, got charmed by the Cressida. Now I feel guilty because I have to subject it to actual commuting to justify buying it. Then again, cars are built to be driven, so if you have to drive you might as well drive something you enjoy.

    • 0 avatar

      Cressida is body-wise a 80-Series JDM Mark II Sedan, that was most commonly used as a taxi. So it will cruise happily past any imaginable mileage mark without any stress.

    • 0 avatar

      Lucky You! but please do all the preventative maintenance and esp. the head gasket as it was one of only an insanely few vulnerabilities on the car.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, I went to my local Toyota mega-store and was pleasantly surprised to have the service writer actually go talk to a tech about the HG issue. Turns out they have a tech with 30 years Toyota dealership experience. He’s done numerous 7M-GE head gaskets, his advice was to re-torque if there’s no eveidence of failure (would appreciate any advice from here too). Fortunately, the previous owner was a maintenance fanatic (timing belt is done, recorded oil changes every 3000KM). Sadly, the car has one rust spot that has the Toyota rust-bloom look about it.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    After the onset of the Camry, Toyota threw the Cressida into the back burner, they knew then that the Camry was the future.

  • avatar

    The early US Cressidas (and Meximas) were quite amazing automobiles. Truly substantial. OTOH, the Maxima was one of the first talking cars — my Dad had one of those, its one of the only things that he disconnected early on!

  • avatar

    Always dreamt about bringing one pristine 80-Series hardtop Mark II from Japan and use Cressida as a RHD=>LHD conversion donor… Pity they never tried to bring in the 90-Series in here as a Cressida too. Now the conversion would be even more justified – with available twin-turbo Supra engine and 5-speed manual…

  • avatar

    These were really expensive when new (when the Dollar was very weak against the Yen), and internal competition from the Camry combined with the better packaging of the Maxima proved to be the end of the Cressida.

    Still, I loved the idea of the RWD Japanese executive sedan as a used car. For a while it was this, the Maxima, and the Mazda 929 on my shortlist. I had a Maxima for a while and got tired of electrical gremlins pretty quickly.

  • avatar

    I had an ’85 that gave me 158,000 trouble free miles. Considering the abuse I gave it (I was a more aggressive driver back then), I have no complaints.

    The 89-91 models were a sleeper. It had terrific straight line performance (much better then the 85-88s) but couldn’t handle worth a lick. The 85-91 models were a BUick in Toyota clothing. Soft, boulevard ride.

  • avatar

    I had a 82 tri-tone brown Cressida as my second car during my college years. It was decent enough. I had a love/hate relationship with the sunroof. It was a nice option to have… but made the interior unbearable for a 6′ tall guy to sit comfortably and upright.

    New England winters did the car in by ’97. You could kick the rear bumper and the undercarriage would practically snow rust flakes from underneath.

    I do miss the car. I just wouldn’t get one with a sunroof again.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Those seats, they look like a bad leather jacket from the 70’s. These were great cars though more upscale than a Camry were not as roomy especially in the rear. Same goes for the Maxima of the era. In the mid-80’s a company I worked for had a 84 Maxima. Roomwise not much more than a Sentra.

  • avatar

    I still have my 1989 Toyota Cressida with a digital dash board that was my very first brand new car. The only major issue I had with this car, as with most Toyota owners of the 7M-GE engine including Supras, was the stupid head gasket issue due to improper tightening back when it was manufactured. One thing that was a dead giveaway was during driving watching the temp gauge fluctuate abnormally.
    Aside from getting that head gasket corrected the rest of the car has no issues and i have put close to 370,000 miles on it. Even all of the electronics still function normally.

  • avatar

    You’re greatly exaggerating the “rareness” of the MX83. They’re not difficult to find if you are looking for one, and they’re certainly far more prevelant than any Crown.

  • avatar

    Ahhh, the MX83. I had an 89′ that I sold earlier this year. I did a Nissan VG30ET swap with a 5 speed into it and tuned to 420hp (search YouTube). It was a real pleasure to drive. One of the funnest cars I’ve owned.

    The stock 7M was a head gasket victim. When that happens and it’s not taken care of promptly, coolant will sit in the cylinders and rot the thing out. The JZX81 MarkII and Chaser siblings in Japan are very popular drift cars, so these have taken off here as well. You always find them in non-running form, but pristine interior and body, and around 80k miles. Around here in the midwest, nobody just throws away a car like that, so they pop up from time to time. I would imagine in Californy, where they don’t let you have cars sit around not running, they’ve all been crushed.

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