Wagon Oddity: 1984 Toyota TownAce


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It’s no great mystery that I like oddball vehicles. One of my favorites is the old-school Toyota TownAce minivan, like this one here on eBay with no reserve and bidding quite low. It appears to be emerging from the forest, which isn’t a bad place to be – with all that glass, there’s plenty of ways to take in the scenery when you’re touring the country and sleeping in rest stops to grab some shuteye. 


But truth be told, with the engine located underneath the driver’s seat, I can’t imagine you’ll be lulled to sleep by the quiet cabin. You see, the engine is sandwiched between the front axle and the driver and passenger, making for an interesting access point when performing routine maintenance. This TownAce actually still runs and drives and is equipped with a manual transmission, which is sure to make an already interesting driving experience even more memorable.


That’s a ridiculous amount of visibility for such a compact van. No side airbags or rear TV systems to cloud your view – of course, there’s also no rear seat, which has gone missing. This would make it easier to convert the TownAce into a copy of the truly awesome MasterAce Surf Van, which came with sleeping arrangements, fridge and color TV. Sadly, this isn’t a 4WD version, which arrived later in the production cycle.


Although it was called the VanWagon or simply the “Toyota Van” in the U.S., the TownAce and MasterAce were the names it wore in other countries. No matter what, the distinctive styling and engine layout remained the same, and it’s a shame Toyota has become such a risk-averse company in the years that followed. Sure, a van isn’t the most exciting vehicle in the world, but examples like this one showed you can at least make it distinctive and functional without relying on infotainment alone. I know it’s not for everyone, but are there any other Toyota Van fans out there?

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  1. van

    Blank canvas for car art
    Let’s hear some creative ideas
    Thinking christmas displays in New York store fronts
    GI Joe battle front
    That’s just the inside
    Moon delivery vehicle

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    • Lillian

      I own a ’94 Townace.(Spacia) Silver in colour. In Australia. We are going to put in fold down bed for camping. has been parked under tree and paintwork is damaged. Roof will be painted black as will panel under windscreen and upper panels under side windows. These 2 side panels will have a design on them

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  2. Cris

    We used to own one of these, a five speed too. Not that bad to access the engine bay. It was a very comfortable cruiser, drove it from Canada to Texas several times without a single problem. Lots of great memories in that van, I miss it a lot

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  3. mark

    I drove one of these in a foreign country many years ago. I had a 5 speed and was “powered” by a 4 cylinder diesel. It is the only vehicle that I have ever driven that shifting from 5th gear to 4th gear caused you to increase in speed. 5th was overdrive and the thing would barely pull itself in 5th gear.

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  4. Jubjub

    If those are hasps on the liftgate, that’s not a good sign.

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    • Alan (Michigan)

      Hey, the home-carpenter’s solution to a floppy rear access. If the latch is not working, a trip to Home Depot is the fix!

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  5. HoA Howard AMember

    Years ago, I had a friend with one of these. It was probably the nicest of the “cab-forward” vans. As with all engine locations on these, I can only imagine this is a nightmare to work on. I remember it being very quiet and smooth. I’d look the underside over pretty good. I liked this style much better than the “egg” that replaced it. Cool van.

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  6. OA5599

    I could see someone going Zombie Apocalypse with it.

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  7. Alan (Michigan)

    OK, another reason I follow the car hunters at Barn Finds: Education.
    Jeff’s mention of the “MasterAce Surf Van” made me go looking for exactly what that is, or was…
    An amazing vehicle. There are even a few examples here in the States. Bring deep pockets, and expect to be able to deal with RHD.

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  8. Mark S

    For a company that is known for there smart designs engineering as well as there solidly cars and trucks I have to wonder what went wrong. These things were the biggest POS’s that Toyota ever built. Front end suspension under engineered and known for bending. Engines so Jamed into the body that you dam near had stand on your head to work on them. Engine so under powered that a model T could out run it which led to an engine that was over worked and would wear out prematurely. I say slide this POS into the crusher. The only mini van worse than this is a Ford Aerostar.

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    • HoA Howard AMember

      Hi Mark, we have to remember, mini-vans were new on the scene, and every company had their own version. I agree, this wasn’t the best Toyota, and I had good luck with my Aerostar. It was one of the few vehicles my ex-wife couldn’t kill. They were a pain to work on, though.

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      • Mark S

        Hi Howard I’ll admit to some bias here as I was never the owner of the Toyota or the Aerostar I was just the mechanic that worked on them. As for the Toyota I saw more than a few of them where the unibody around the front suspension had bent and the front wheels were toed out. As for the Aerostar if you ever had to change a distrutor or intake gasket or even spark plugs you’d know way they were hated by most mechanics. Sorry Howard I stand by my comment these were BIG POS’s I used to say to my friends that aerostats should be Lined up in rows with ramps for tank jumping competitions.

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  9. David Frank DavidMember

    I agree with Mark.This is the only Toyota I remember that Consumer Reports recommended not to buy. I remember how driving one was like riding a pogo stick. And I remember a coworker’s wife got into a low speed front end crash with one and it trapped her legs between the seat and the steering column. She burned to death in the fire. I love vans, have had a Chevy, a VW van, a Ford Aerostar and now an old Plymouth Voyager but this Toyota is the only van I would never own. Later Toyota vans have been great, always innovative and reliable.

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    • Bobsmyuncle

      A low speed collision that resulted in entrapment and a fire? Seems some details are amiss. Terrible story regardless.

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      • Cris

        Definitely some details missing there. I don’t see how a low speed collision would result in a fire. Tragic story nonetheless. All I can say is our van provided many years of trouble free service. As for the pogo stick ride, that was true if your shocks were worn out. With some quality dampers in place, ride was not a problem

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    • Tim

      Consumer Reports were regularly bribed by manufacturers for good ratings, and their rating were rarely based on the actual factory stock products sold at the dealer. Cars would be tuned and “primed” before testing.

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  10. MountainMan

    These obviously are not for everybody. personally I love them. I have had two, both were great vehicles. I used them like a light truck and never had any of the issues mentioned above. The 2wd version had did give me trouble with the slave cylinder but wasnt anything major and neither ever left me stranded. I used them to haul lits of motorcycles, landscape materials and my dogs. They are not fast but the 4wd models are amazing….been hoping to run across another for a good price but they rarely come up for sale and when they do it seems they are sold quickly. They may have inherent issues but the ones I owned and enjoyed never gave me that kind of trouble. They are loud, tinny and some folks say they are ugly but I love them regardless. I would love to have mine back and regret selling them every time I see one on the road. My 2wd van had 350,000 when I sold it and ran like any other Toyota I have owned so I am not sure about the short engine life mentioned either. I do realize every owner treats a vehicle differently so I am not saying the problems mentioned dont exist, just that I didnt have those problems

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  11. MonsieurLeBaton

    had 2 of these (88′ & 90′) up until about 3 months ago, they were called space cruisers in UK / Japan and Tarago in Aus where they have a massive following. the sun roof is called a Moon roof :) :)

    Bought it to do a cross europe banger rally, but both were too far gone both structually and mechanically – and one failed it’s MOT (inspection) in style – ‘dangerous’ – they went to Africa to become taxis, and from the proceeds of 2, bought an old toyota previa – the younger brother of the space cruiser (95′) – took 5 of us 2,500 miles in 4 days and then sold on return :) – great vehicles

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  12. Tim

    These were the first generation Toyota van that in a head on crash above 25 kph, the steering column would push back causing the driver to be decapitated. I’ve heard first responder stories that were horrible due to this bad design.

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  13. ron tyrrell

    These were a third world vehicle brought to the wrong country, kept below 45 mph on secondary roads they would last along time. Attempt to use them as a freeway flyer they just wouldn’t hold up body or engine wise. If we had one in the shop the majority of the mechanics would be ill that day so we just refrained from even taking them in for any thing. Mitsubishi had the same type of vehicle and the same applies to low speed usage. If you watch the news of foreign lands you will still see a lot of them in the back ground putting around. The fires were not uncommon because the engine compartment baked the fuel hoses to a very brittle state and then would fracture thus starting a fuel fed fire.

    Like 0

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