By on March 28, 2014

To preface, this intrusion into the thunder dome that is Murilee’s arena isn’t going to be a regular occurrence. If you’ve ever seen him once-over a suspect entrant at a Lemons race, you know he is master of his domain. I’m not just any geek off the street myself though when it comes to the junkyard. I’ve seen my share of rare iron, intriguing clues of the final ride, and ill-advised repairs that command attention. However, there are special times when I walk through these hallowed grounds and see something that makes me come to a halt as quickly as an Iron Duke stripping it‘s plastic timing gear. This was such an occasion.

I drive own a Toyota Cressida. With architecture pulled from the Supra, an MX83 Cressida makes a brilliant enthusiast car,  after you ruin it  swap out the failure prone engine, the automatic transmission, the bouncy seats, the too-tall final drive, all of the luxury damped suspension, and graft on a more stylish front end off a Japanese market cousin that is appreciated by 1.3% of the population. This makes it the car of choice for like-minded individuals who don’t take cars or motor sports very seriously.  Since a running Cressida is a feat in itself, you  come to realize a few things when you join this exclusive fraternity. Along with the endless search for a rust-free and straight example, one of those things is the keen eye you develop for spotting what is, to most people, an ubiquitous-looking Japanese Buick LeSabre. That is why these Hong Kong taxi cabs caused quite a stir when they were spotted by a fellow Cressida enthusiast last fall outside of Chicago. They must be for some sort of movie (we are becoming used to stuff like that around here). What movie would that be? More importantly, would they be available for purchase later?

The answers to those questions respectively would turn out to be,  the fourth installment of the Transformers films, and sadly, no.


This one had evidence to suggest it took one of it’s final drives to an ATM in Moreno Valley, CA. Judging by their condition, I would surmise all of them were trucked in from the Los Angeles area. The prop department put in a nice effort loosely disguising  the cars as  the Toyota Crown Comfort sibling commonly found overseas.


In addition to the chrome vinyl “grille extension”, and blacked out trim, the sunroofs have been painstakingly deleted.


I can’t read what this says, but the oddly familiar skyline leads me to believe that it could be some sort of easter egg made by the prop department.


The 7M series engine’s propensity for spitting out head gaskets is legendary. Allegedly, this was due to a last minute design change from an asbestos gasket, combined with a fumble in the head bolt torque spec for the new one.  This lead to a painful ownership experience for many initial owners of Cressidas and Supras. The 7M faithful will tell you that the remedy is simple, and that it’s an outstanding engine. They are probably right. I wouldn’t know for sure. Mine was totally wrecked, never ran, and was promptly replaced with a 425hp turbocharged Nissan VG30.


Almost an LS400. Almost. I must say that I’ve seen more tortilla-chip-crisp Toyota leather interiors covered with the beater hallmark ratty T-shirt than in GM cars. Sorry, but they just do it better.


This next car, marked “Reel”, was super clean.


I imagine this example will be stripped to the bone by the Chicago horde, who are not used to the luxuries of corrosion-free sheet metal.


At 273k miles, it’s head gasket was surely blessed at one point.


This pales in comparison to our next car…


…with only 54k miles. That puts it right there at the point of the dreaded BHG. Paramount probably got themselves a great deal on this, probably not running, example. I thought the little sticker indicating overspeed at a scorching 55mph was a nice touch. I imagine it was applied last minute on this ‘89 as a result of some sort of mandate.

This car was, at one point, an exact twin to mine.


It has been thoroughly destroyed.


The drive train was removed, and the bottom fitted with this steel blast plate, which is apparently very effective at coaxing a Cressida into the air.


To say you have parts on your project off of a car that was destroyed by a Decepticon is sort of cool (to this Gen-X’er anyway), so I wanted something, anything of value off of this guy. I managed to wrench some A-pillar trim that I needed free of the mangled windshield, but that was pretty much it. I was especially depressed that the tail lights specific to the early models were not spared.


It has those automatic mouse track seatbelts, pioneered by the Cressida, that you know and love. To be honest, this setup has never really bothered me. I even find it’s servo action, blaring klaxon, and emergency “ejection” handles sort of charming in a geeky way.


This MX83 of the typical fender-rolled, “stanced-out” variety makes four, and the most I’ve seen in one place.


The junkyard, certainly more than meets the eye. (Groan)


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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find, Crabspirits Editions: Toyota Cressidas, Transformed By Michael Bay...”

  • avatar

    Too bad you couldn’t pick up one of the cleaner ones whole. Would make a good conversation piece at whatever event it attends.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Real Japanese taxis have those crazy opening doors,operated by the driver…were these fitted with them?

    • 0 avatar

      They are also RHD. But they didn’t bother with that part!

      • 0 avatar

        Looking at the language on the side, my guess is that they were intended to be Chinese taxis.

        Japanese taxis would say “takushi” on the side in katakana but these cars have a single kanji character above the word taxi that I would read in Japanese as “teki.” My understanding is, because Chinese does not have a phonetic writing system like Japanese, the convention is to adapt kanji characters with similar sound readings (but not meaning) as stand ins for foreign words.

        This would also negate the need to change them to left hand drive.

        • 0 avatar

          Heh.. yeah, the little I know about how Chinese grab whichever hanzi that sounds close to a syllable in a foreign name makes for a fun time translating.

          “Rooster-bread-toe? Oh, yeah… Hamilton”

        • 0 avatar

          Ah ha!

          Korean: “Tak-shee”

        • 0 avatar

          Chinese incorporates foreign words into its language using the word that is the closest phonetical equivalent (just like Japanese). Sometimes, but not often, they would even be able to find a character which sort of means what the foreign word meant. One example is the Chinese name for Belarus – “bai e luo si”. By coincidence, “Belarus” means “white Russia” in Russian and “bai” means white, hence “bai e luo si” also means “white Russia”.

          In this case, “taxi” would be 計程車 in Mandarin, which literally means “calculate journey/charge car” whereas in Hong Kong where this taxi originated, they are called 的士 (as seen on the side of the taxi) – pronounced “dick see” in the native Cantonese which is the closest phoenetic equivalent to the English word. It has otherwise no meaning in Chinese.

          Interesting that these are LHD, as Hong Kong is RHD.

    • 0 avatar

      …these Hong Kong taxi cabs caused quite a stir when…

      They’re Hong Kong taxis used to fake a Hong Kong scene in Transformers 4.

  • avatar

    According to my trust translator (i.e. the person sitting next to me that can decipher chinese characters) that sign with the skyline says roughly ‘Rock Oil Taxi” and “Black air” or “Pollution”….maybe. Ha!

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    On the very last picture…what are those gages located in front of the stick shift?

    • 0 avatar

      Could this be a CNG vehicle and those its gauges?

      The “rock-oil-air” of the Chinese characters literally means petroleum gas and the characters on the upper right of that graphic begin with literally “empty/pure/clean-air…”

      But I suck at Chinese and have no technical dictionary for it.

    • 0 avatar

      The shot of my car? Boost, water, and oil temp.

  • avatar

    Action shots of the cars on the set.

    We were visiting Detroit last year, as we were driving downtown, my girlfriend who had never been there, but has read all about the destruction shouts out, ” There is a semi on its side and they are shooting at it”. This sounded a bit unusual even for Detroit, so I looked. They were filming Transformers.

    Only Michael Bay would build a million dollar abandoned building in Detroit.

    Anyways, here are some pictures from the set.[email protected]/9541601191/[email protected]/9544386040/

    You can see the blast plate on this one.[email protected]/9541599475/

    • 0 avatar

      They also did some chase shots through cornfields around Beford, MI (or somewhere further north and west in the Irish Hills area — don’t remember which of the two, exactly) last summer, and those shots are easily recognized (if you saw some of the news footage from around Toledo) in the TV ads which have just started to air.

    • 0 avatar

      Seemingly nonsensical things like this, and constructing entire neighborhood cul-de-sacs and house interiors in sound studios, are fairly run-of-the-mill practices for film. At least they’re doing practical SFX rather than completely CGI ones.

      Constructing an abandoned-looking building, with provisions for lighting and camera rigs, safety provisions, crew access, etc. is safer, gives them complete control of the environment and from a logistical point of view of a complex action movie with explosions, stunts, etc. is better than working with an abandoned building with unknown variables and hazards.

      Attention to detail isn’t really needed with a Bay movie though, all of the cuts are about 2 seconds long anyway.

  • avatar

    Excellent article.

  • avatar

    hi crab. you probably could have turned a profit by grabbing little interior pieces from these cars to sell to the fb groupies at a 1000% markup.

    i laughed at the pristine-looking burgundy car towards the end. from the stickers on the rear window, i’d hazard a guess that this car rode to the ‘yard equipped with cut springs, or maybe some S14 shits. owner probably still has his rotas/xxrs listed on craigs in your area for $300 over NIB price with swag and drift featured prominently in the keywords.

  • avatar

    “swap out the failure prone engine”

    I’m aware the Toyota I6 has head gasket issues but I was under the impression it was good otherwise, is this not the case?

    • 0 avatar

      Good for normal taxi duty, sure. They also have inherent design issues with the oil system as well that show up when driven hard. Spun rod bearings are common.

  • avatar

    “The 7M series engine’s propensity for spitting out head gaskets is legendary. Allegedly, this was due to a last minute design change from an asbestos gasket, combined with a fumble in the head bolt torque spec for the new one. This lead to a painful ownership experience for many initial owners of Cressidas and Supras. The 7M faithful will tell you that the remedy is simple, and that it’s an outstanding engine.”

    Yes- totally true. A couple of year ago was looking for a beater and found a good looking Cressida, with ‘only 115K’. I knew of the gasket issue, it had some repair paperwork from the dealer, so I trusted it a bit more. (Wasn’t this a recall??) so I had already bought the gasket set and car.

    However, the car had a complete failure 48 hrs after purchase. The problem is that, most times, the gasket failure causes a catastrophic failure in the 7M, (e.g. it can puncture the interior, leaving holes in engine head, plus the head warping beyond repair is very common. If you can do the head change and do the proper gasket and pressure before it overheats, you will be OK, if not, the head gasket failure will take down the entire engine core. Goodbye Supra and Cressida.

    Undeterred, me and a buddy went looking for a replacement head, found several Cressidas and Supras at the junkyard, most were complete in body so we knew the engines went kaput. We took the cleanest, most normal looking head with us. Was very tight except for one middle bolt that was loose. No matter. The most promising head also had already failed the same way (with enough pressure to had loosened one of the head engine bolts (!) and the head was already warped. So this effort in saving a Cressida was a complete and utter failure. $1700 later ($1300 for car, $200 in towing and $200 in parts and old head) I tried selling the really good looking Cressida shell, but no takers. I gave up and got my $400 from the crusher. Epic Fail of Toyota.

    • 0 avatar

      In the case of my car, BHG at 78k. It must have then been traded in at a dealer. That guy used a particularly unscrupulous tactic to disguise the problem. He intentionally (my theory anyway) punctured the radiator so the cooling system had no way to stay full or hold pressure. The next small dealer bought it at auction, replaced the radiator, and got a nasty surprise. He was furious, and was glad to see me haul the car out of his sight.

      It couldn’t have been sitting more than a month. The cylinders were totally trashed from coolant sitting in there.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, some people would really know they are selling you a disguised pile of crap and don’t care. Just find a sucker. Later I found in my Cressida engine rests of that ‘Glass Water’ stuff (at the bottom of the coolant container) which means somebody knew shit had already gone bad. Glass Water (or whatever is called in your area) is like giving ‘last rites’ for a car when you put that crap in the coolant. Stupid Cressida.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      At this point, anyone contemplating a Cressida or MkIII Supra should figure a JZ or UZ swap into their budget.

  • avatar

    Love my MX83. It had the headgasket issue and I’m not sure a new gasket and re-torque fully fixed it. But the engine is incredibly smooth and torquey. I want to tighten up the handling a bit, but definitely not the dorifto route. Like the Nardi steering wheel in the last pic.

  • avatar
    Spanish Inquisition

    I hope you were savvy enough to nick that Nardi wheel. I bet you could have gotten it for a bargain price. dat dish, dat wood. I’m surprised the owner didn’t keep it for himself after it got totalled.

  • avatar

    Nice Crab ! .

    Here in L.A. I often see ex movie cars in the Pick-A-Part yards as they’re near many movie post production houses and vehicle rental yards….

    Easy and cheap to simply scrap ’em I guess .


    • 0 avatar

      There are a couple of places in SoCal that rent out damn near Concours-quality older-iron for period-correctness in movies, etc., yes?

      I remember stumbling onto one site which had, among its wares, a midnight-blue with white-top 1977 LTD Landau Coupe. Sure enough, two weeks later, I see just such a vehicle in a commercial.

      Sort of like what Steve Lang described earlier this week or last week, except that their cars were obviously privately owned.

  • avatar

    Growing up in Hong Kong, this was the last generation of taxi fleets that I rode in before moving to the States.

    Before these Cressidas, it was the Crown. Before then, I saw English cars and Mercedes almost phased out completely at that time.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not even sure if HK even used Cressidas at all in their taxi fleet in the last 3 decades. It’s been pretty much 80-90% Crowns and Nissan Cedrics accounting for the rest for the last 20 years. The Crowns in the early 90s did have the swept back greenhouse/C-pillar that this Cressida has, though, before switching to a taller greenhouse for enhanced passenger headroom.

      But yes, back in the 1960s they used Austin Cambridges for cabs, I think.

  • avatar

    The advertisement on the right hand side of the taxi is for a sauna (with the reclining woman).

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    Yes. “sauna”.

    The natural gas stickers were part of a government initiative to encourage public to choose CNG vehicles compared to the diesel / gas variants of the day.

    These days CNG has mostly won out, but due mostly to cost of operation to the drivers and not so much on consumer preference.

    Genuine Hong Kong Taxi’s will have the driver-operated rear doors, too. Very neat.

  • avatar

    One of my uncle in Hong Kong was a taxi driver that used to own one of these before he retired.

    The real HK taxi, other than the RHD, has bench seat up front and the entire interior made out of vinyl instead of leather or cloth. Due to the bench seat, the shifter (they are all stick shift) are column mounted.

    Used to be diesel powered, and requires a rebuild about every 100 km or so, a lot of the new ones are LPG powered (not CNG).

    Red ones goes all over the city, green ones have different medallions and a lower rate, but can only go the more rural part of town (because of the reduced public transit coverage).

  • avatar

    One of these many Toyota Cressida’s is MY old car!!! :) I sold it last year, and when the guy came to Albuquerque, New Mexico to pick it up for the buy he told me he was traveling to different states to find these exact cars… I asked him why so many of these specific cars. He then told me they were going to be used for a part in the new Transformers movie coming out in summer 2014!!! Something cool to tell my 6 year old! I miss this car. So many fun times 🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌

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