Did You Ever Own One? 1979 Toyota Cressida “Woody” Wagon

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Toyota nurtured its “luxury niche” ambitions in its home market for several years before finally sending its best offering to the American market in 1978. Called the Cressida, it sold in small numbers at first, thanks to a high price. But with the fondness of hindsight, its virtues are emerging. The vintage Di-Noc woodgrain sides were a repeat of Toyota’s approach for Squire enthusiasts: it already offered faux wood trim on its Corona and Corolla wagons. This wagon’s wood trim is scratched here and there but it still looks fine from a few feet away. Stylistically, the Cressida was hunky next to its down-market siblings. Doesn’t its front end resemble a Cordoba? The flashy wire wheel covers say “sportier than you think”, and that promise shows up in the engine bay …

… where Toyota’s 2.6 liter, in-line six sits. That’s the 4M engine, the same one Toyota gave its Celica Supra. Good for 110 hp, but still managing about 27 mpg on the highway, this package was better than we saw from most Malaise Era cars. The transmission is a console-shift four-speed automatic with overdrive – rare for the day. The wagon weighs 2800 lbs and it sits on a 104″ wheelbase – altogether more compact than many of its American competitors. This one’s odometer reads just over 68,000 miles, total mileage unknown, and it runs and drives well. The seller notes that the rear wiper and defroster don’t work.

The velour upholstery on the outside driver’s seat bolster is worn through, and the carpets appear faded. But the woodgrain inlay on the steering wheel is intact, the gauges are clean and clear, and the dash isn’t cracked. The seller has only owned this car for a year, and no history is available in the listing, but miraculously the owner’s manual still resides in the glovebox. The rear cargo area is shipshape; it’s almost unbelievable that the plastic threshold just inside the bumper is scratch-free. The rear seats fold down, forming a six-foot-long space. Car camping, anyone?

Ever notice that luggage racks these days are ubiquitously black? This chrome number contrasts nicely with the paint. Style details abound – the rear pillar vent, the roof rail, the lower trim molding. This wagon was built to impress. It’s for sale here on eBay with a $7900 buy-it-now arrangement, or best offer; the new owner can drive her home from Chatanooga, Tennessee. Finding another early Cressida wagon is tough enough; finding a Deluxe with the Di-Noc trim is nigh impossible. Settling for a lesser Corolla wagon sans faux wood trim will still cost you something over $7k. If you have a yen for a rare Japanese wagon, this Cressida is a strong prospect.

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  1. Aussie Dave Aussie DaveMember

    First things first.
    Michelle, it isn’t fuel injected, the engine photo that you posted clearly shows a carb setup.
    EFI didn’t happen in the Cressida until the 2.8L.
    2nd, this is my fav model Cressida. My uncle bought one new in 78. When he passed my grandmother inherited it.
    I got to drive it lots. There’s a bridge between her house and mine, that at the time was the longest bride in the southern hemisphere, it had “anti skid” ripples on it. At 140 the anti skid ripples would cause the rear end to “skip”, so that was the best I could get out of the old girl.
    My dad bought the 2.8L EFI version. and without expensive mods, the best I could get for him was 10 seconds from 0 to 60mph.
    Ahhh memories, thank you Michelle.

    Like 3
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Right you are about the engine – duh! I was reading research not simply looking at the dang pictures.

      I read that only about 11,900 Cressidas were “assembled” in 1979 – the wagon is likely pretty rare. ‘Course, that’s the same site that mentioned the 2.6 EFI as standard equipment….

      Like 2
  2. jnard90 jnard90Member

    I had an 81 sedan I bought inherited from my dad with the EFI I6. What a great engine, and RWD. I took on any German midsize at the time, no problem. Smooth power, reasonable handling, lots of creature comforts. Loved that car.

    Like 1
    • Aussie Dave Aussie DaveMember

      The 81, was a 5M, 2.8L.

      Like 1
  3. mike

    No but what we need today.A nice smaller size true station wagon.

    Like 5
  4. HoA HoAMember

    Another great find, this is the car that Toyota literally opened the “option spigot”, for all those holdouts that didn’t want a Corolla, but wanted a wagon. It was a big segment of the market Japan was missing out on, hence, the Cressida wagon. Oh, they sure gave it the old “college try”, offering everything a US buyer would want, still, like most, it came with a hefty price, almost $8,800 for a base model, like this, closer to $10, $3 grand more than a compatible US wagon and double a Pinto/Bobcat wagon.
    Again, a great car, but timing. People just didn’t expect a fancy car like this from Japan, known for it’s economy cars. A shame and yes, we sure could use a small wagon like this today. ( can’t resist, and quoting from another reader on the last one), “Ask your doctor if Cressida is right for you”.

    Like 4
    • mick

      I was, initially, not interested in Japanese cars until the arrival of the 240Z. I even purchased a used Datsun 1600 cv in 1969 and drove it for a year enjoying the open air experience but wishing I had a TR3 or an MGA, like my friends. I found a TR3A, sold the 1600 and have forever wished I’d kept the Japanese car.
      I recall reading something several years ago that said part of the reason the “cheaper” (to manufacture) or “less expensive” Japanese cars had gotten so expensive in the 70’s was due to the an import quota imposed on Japan and a higher automotive tariff?

      Like 2
      • Steve RM

        That import quota is one reason that Toyota and other Japanese car companies started building plants in this country.

        Like 1
  5. Car Nut Tacoma

    Lovely looking car. Although I was way too young to drive a car at the time, I remember when the Toyota Cressida looked like this. I don’t think the front end looks like a Chrysler Cordoba. I don’t know what (if anything) to compare it to. I’ve always thought it was way better looking than a Cordoba

    Like 0
  6. chrlsful

    “… could use a small wagon like this today…” agreed, just bought one (105 inch WB w/3.8) but nota i6. Wish it was. An ’85 ford fox (’83/6) wagon w/the Essex bent6. 2 LTDs: one on panther (crown vic) platform, 1 on fox – same name. Already hrd to get prts, same name makes it more so…

    I never saw ANY japanese w/the DiNoc. I’m betting the surrounder (fake ash, glass U channel) is smaller in scale than the merican. Again, all tough to source – the real resto 0r rest0moder’s head ache !

    I’d grab this if I didnt have one already (well, kinda) and ok, 1/4 the price (OK, 2/3rds the price, ok…

    Like 0
  7. Troy

    Nice little ride I think almost $8k is around $4k overpriced but this is one if you buy it fly there and drive it home

    Like 1
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      @ Troy: I agree. I’d be willing to pay close to $5000 for the car. I’ve never been a fan of faux wood. I think it looks tacky, not very attractive. I’d have the faux wood removed and repaint the metal the original colour.

      Like 2
  8. EL

    These late 70’s/early 1980’s wagons are so ugly and that’s why I like them. The faux wood siding is the cherry on top.

    No A/C!!- that could be a deal breaker for many if the automatic transmission didn’t already run them off. Cool car though and I bet the owner gets a bunch of thumbs up from Boomers who remember mom driving one.

    Like 0
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      I agree with you regarding A/C. Most of the cars I’ve owned had A/C, but I seldom if ever used it. I may turn it on when the inside of the car if it’s above 80 degrees and then roll down the windows and then drive the car, but then I’d turn off the A/C after a few minutes.

      Like 0
  9. Bruno

    it’s decent for the era of wood applique mini wagons. Get the windows tinted and some tires and wheels; it would be a fun oddity albeit a spendy one at nearly 8k. Back in the day it would have been perfect for someone who wanted a Ford County Squire but also wanted gas mileage.

    Like 1
  10. Gary Gary

    In 1969 my dad bought a brand new Toyota Crown Sedan. It was the predecessor to this Cressida that is featured here. It had the 2M six backed up by a 4-speed stick shift and a 4:37 differential. We towed our outboard boat to and from Lake Wallenpaupack in the Poconos of Pa all the way thru 1976 when it was passed down to me to take my driver’s license test in. At that time it had 108.000 miles on it, and it was also the first time that it needed a new set of front disc pads for inspection. That car (attached pic) continued onward to nearly 160k miles before a school bus lost control in the snow and hit it head on totaling it. By then we had also bought, all used, a red 4-door ’69, and a red ’69 wagon, both were 4-speed also. The last Crown we purchased used was a ’71 4-door with the 4M and a 3-speed automatic. At some point in the early 90’s a “buyer” came along and bought all of them from us and we never saw them again.

    Like 5
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      Lovely car. It’s a tragedy that a school bus collided with the car. Hopefully no one in the Crown was hurt.

      Like 1
  11. Mike

    I had an ’84 Cressida sedan new for over280k miles with no issues. Trans statred slipping so I had it rebuilt and kept it for 6 mos when a BMW 328i caught my eye. Sold the Cressida for $2500 to someone at work who kept driving it. By far that was he most reliable car I ever owned. Had it for 20 yrs!!

    Like 2
  12. Eric B

    I’m typically for preservation and originality, but the desire to do some light restomodding with this is strong. No 2JZ stuff (that may actually be its fate, however), but squeeze some power out of the engine if possible, install a 5 speed, upgrade brakes, lower slightly and add tasteful wheels and tires. Leave everything else stock.

    Like 1
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      For me, it depends on the mod. Among the upgrades I’d have done would be to the sound system from the original AM/FM radio to a smart radio that allows you to listen to your favourite music without commercials or your favourite podcasts.

      Like 0

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