If your knowledge of Toyota utes starts and ends with HiLux, you’re in for a surprise. The Japanese giant has never shied away from workhorses, utilitarian vehicles designed to cope with light commercial duties day in, day out. And so it was with the Toyota Crown.
‘Wait? What?’ I hear you exasperate. ‘Wasn’t, indeed isn’t, the Toyota Crown an accommodating sedan primarily for the Japanese domestic market?’
Well, yes. But for one brief moment in its ongoing 65-year history, Toyota offered its flagship sedan as a ute.
The venerable Toyota Crown first made its appearance in 1955 and has been in production ever since. That makes it Toyota’s longest-running passenger car nameplate, eclipsing the Corolla (production started in 1966) and bested only by the iconic LandCruiser, which got its start on the production line in 1951.
Through 15 generations – and counting – the Toyota Crown has elegantly morphed from a mainstream passenger car into a full-size luxury sedan. To distinguish it from mere mortal Toyotas, the Crown does not wear a Toyota badge, instead sporting its own unique stylised crown insignia.
Of interest here, though, is the second- and third-generation ‘coupe utility’, a two-door workhorse marketed initially under the Toyopet Masterline nameplate. The origins of that nameplate start in 1955 when Toyota offered a utility version of its popular Toyopet Master. Available both as single- and double-cab pickup, the original Masterline was the first car-based pickup truck manufactured in Japan.
That nameplate shifted to the Crown platform (S40 gen) in 1962, again available as either a single- or double-cab. It was powered by a 1.9-litre inline four-cylinder engine (internal code 3R-B) producing a modest 59kW. A three-speed manual with overdrive sent power to the rear wheels.
The third-generation (S50) Toyota Crown made its debut in 1967 and included in the now even more upmarket range were single- and double-cab utes. Gone was the Toyopet Masterline nameplate, the utilities now riding on the coat-tails of the more salubrious Crown moniker.
Gone too, was the slightly asthmatic 59KW four-pot, replaced by either a more powerful (68kW) 2.0-litre four (double-cab only) or a 2.0-litre six cylinder unit pumping out 73kW (single- and double-cab).
Better yet, locally-delivered S50 Crowns – including the ute – were assembled in Australia by Australian Motor Industries (AMI) in Port Melbourne. As an aside, that plant was eventually wholly acquired by Toyota in 1973.
The third-gen Crown ute was also the last, the Japanese giant calling time on the workhorse at the end of its production run in 1971, replaced in Toyota’s commercial vehicle line-up by the Japanese brand’s newest utility vehicle… the HiLux which had made its debut in 1968.
The Crown ute may have enjoyed a relatively short life cycle, but with its unashamed 1960s styling, it’s little wonder it has become a favourite with resto-modders around the world, creating a small but devoted cult of Crown utes, particularly in Japan and Southern California.
Finding a decent one in Australia is the work of patience. A quick search of some popular classifieds sites found just a couple of examples, one as ‘barnfind’, that had seen much better days for a measly $900. A slightly less ‘shat on by a brood of chickens’ example can be yours for $2500 on eBay. Both of course, need a whole lot of love and care to bring them back, but for those willing to put in the work and spend the money, the gates to the Cult of Crown ute ownership await.