1985/6 Top-line Estate Car Test: Crown LS120 vs Nissan 300C Cedric Y3

Anthony Gerundini, assisted by Fergus McIver, writes:

Both of these models from the ‘Big Two’ were the top of the range at the time, excluding the company chairman spec Century and President respectively. Regrettably, the last Crown estates sold in the UK were the late seventies 2.6 MS83 series, before the demise of the range altogether in 1983 with the last sales of the facelifted MS112 2.8i saloon, to be replaced by the distinctly less impressive FWD Camry as top of the range. However the Cedric (or Datsun 280C as it was then) carried on through the next two model changes, bowing out around 1988 in Y30 form as the Nissan 300C. The saloon was an automatic as standard, but the estates were 5-speed manual. A few E and F plate vehicles were registered at the tail end of it’s run, but it was never anything more than an oddball in Nissan’s range. But what a shame, as you can see here, it’s an impressive classically styled estate car, unashamedly square and thus very capacious.

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The Crown estate here, or ‘Station Wagon’ as denoted on it’s badge, was actually imported by accident, only a couple of years ago. Both car’s are nominally seven seater’s as they have an occasional ‘jockey’ bench seat that folds up out of the rear load area. Hence Gordon from Berwick who was dabbling in the grey import of MPV’s was rather surprised when this rolled off the boat with a load of Previa/Estima/Lucida’s! He blamed the language barrier, as ‘something must have gone wrong in the translation’. Such an old vehicle is quite rare to be imported, never mind a model avoided by the usual grey importer such as the Crown, never mind it being the estate version. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the only one in the UK. A brown 1984-ish 120-series saloon was knocking about in the hands of the TEC-London ‘mafia’ for the last few years, and there was a tired but complete ex-Channel Islands dark blue saloon for sale on ebay last year. This was actually a 2 litre ‘Supercharger’ model, another little JDM tax-break wheeze, so as not to exceed the punitive luxury taxes on cars with engines over 2 litres.

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TEC member Ross M. near Preston has a good condition white 1987 120-series 4-door hardtop. (This was previously owned by Brian Tucker, but was originally specially imported by TEC member and Crown enthusiast Greg H.) So that’s about four in the country that I’m particularly aware of. The 300C estate here was recently for sale by Fergus McIver, who previously has also owned one of Octav Botnar’s earlier Nissan Leopard’s – an F30 saloon.

So that’s the background and brief history lesson – How do the two models compare? Size-wise, there is nothing in it. Both models are huge! Each has a stylish slightly raised roof section, although the Crown scores points for having a very odd little sunroof in the angled front section of the raised area. It even has factory fitted curtains!! This odd little feature is a bit funereal, Munsters/Addams Family even. My workmates have dubbed it the ‘Ghostbuster’s-mobile’.

For the trim, both cars have a very fussy and retro type of brushed-velour. The 300C saloon in particular always had particularly appealing seat material, if you like that fussy ‘ultra-velour’ style. The Crown estate here is a little more restrained, but is in pimptastic burgundy – my favourite! The more common deep blue of the Cedric is hard to fault either.

The Crown rear seats split/fold in a 60/40 ratio, nearly providing a totally flat load area. The Cedrics are a straight 50-50 folding split, i.e. they are the same size. The jockey seats in both cars are vinyl covered and fold down quite flat. I’m frankly surprised these were still legal in the UK market when the late 300C estates were still being officially sold, as neither cars have seatbelts here.

Both dashboards are the square styled affairs of the 1980s, with plenty of coloured plastic and fake wood inserts. (Just fine by me by the way, and pretty smart.) Dials in both these practical cars are analogue, and not any kind of digital goings-on with the exception of the clock in the Nissan. I can imagine a digital set up certainly being available in the posher Crown Royal saloon models.

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Both sets of wheels are non-standard, the Cedric’s borrowing a pair originally off an early 90’s Skyline. The badges on the Nissan’s wheels contain the curious inscription “We produced with Spartan air!”. This phrase leaves many folk bemused and puzzled. When in Hong Kong in around 1993 every single low-spec Crown taxi had personalised their car with after-market alloy wheels (along with ‘Turbo’ Crown column change gear knobs), and this Crown is no exception with Japanese market (pitted) chrome wire-wheels, which will look OK when cleaned up a bit.

Both cars here are bodily quite good, with just the forgivable number of expected minor scrapes. The Crown is more rust free, only having suffered our weather for 2 yrs, but has lost significant lacquer on the flat bonnet and roof.

 

I have never been an avid fan of the over square styling of both these saloon models, even though I generally like ‘square’ cars. The front end of the 300C is a particularly blunt and childish affair, and never looks right to me. The front styling of the 120-series Crown is one of it’s most attractive points, with a simple but impressive and nicely proportioned classic grille, with novel inset fog lamps (a featured carried onto the 130-series). The smart colour-coded urethane bumpers have been a nice Crown feature since the early 1980 MS112, quite a change from the lashings of chrome and over-riders on the previous model MS85. Nissan had a similar fussily styled ‘old-school’ change from the 330 series with its almost 60’s but wonderful retro-styling to the square cut 430-series. But the Cedric bumpers have always been a rather unappealing affair compared to the Crown, with messy rubber inserts and seams.

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 The formal rear pillar styling of the Crown saloon was always to me, one it’s strongest features, especially on the MS112. However most 120-series saloons had strange plastic panels in a non-body colour, which was always a bit odd, and was never repeated again on any other Toyota model I don’t think. However the 430 and Y30 Cedrics committed the cardinal sin of having the dreaded ‘opera’ windows, which are cute from the inside with their etched Cedric logo, but ruin the rear pillar styling making it look too thin and unimpressive, like a more humble family model.

I had never taken the expected interest in acquiring a 120-series saloon or 4-door hardtop for some of these reasons, but had no qualms about the overall styling of this estate model. This is the perfect addition and excuse for filling a ‘hole’ in my over large collection. As a keen cyclist and triathlete you may have seen my saloons at JAE / JAPS with a racing bicycle stuffed behind the front seats, but no such problems here, and I have a practical and economical Crown at last. It has already moved sofas and bookcases with ease. (So now I only need an MS85 series Crown to have an example of at least one model from the third generation through to the seventh generation! – Being MS55, MS75’s, MS112, LS120, UZS131 and JZS149 – Probably some kind of a ‘world’ record eh?).

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There is a stylish brushed aluminium style panel on the rear pillars of the Crown estate. But a novel feature of Cedric estates at least as far back as my dad’s old 1977 330 280C is a key operated electric window in the load bay side-glass, and this feature is still present in this 86 model. A point to the Cedric there. Although missing(!) on my example, the Crown has twin rear wash wipes against the Cedric’s single.

The rear styling of the both saloon models were far from classic examples, and never looked that good, the Crown having an odd plastic horizontal strip across the bottom of the bootlid. The Cedric’s rear was always a bit tame, especially when compared with the 70’s 230 and 330-series earlier models, with their ‘Christmas trees’. The estate models have less scope for such excesses in the lighting department, although the Crown corner lamps are particularly bland and rounded, with little feature to them at all, in contrast to its smart front quarter lamps. The inset wood on the Cedric rear is quite appealing, and certainly sets it apart from any other ‘boring’ conventional estate then for sale.

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It must be one of the most classically styled ‘square’ estate cars ever made, and later Crown models could barely improve on this basic styling. In fact Toyota hardly even tried, and the styling hardly altered right through into the 90’s models, even retaining the perimeter frame chassis (also on the Taxi models), and effectively just carrying over the older models while the main 1991 140-series and later Crowns went thoroughly conventional with unitary chassis construction and less formal rounded styling. The Cedric is obviously very similarly styled, and it’s little more than personal choice in your favourite. Unsurprisingly it’s the Crown that wins my vote, and I have never been much tempted to go out and buy a 300C Estate, not that I have ever had much opportunity, as with around only 800 brought in by Nissan, they are pretty rare.

Both cars have some width intrusion in the load deck, the Crown being slightly more so in that a space-saver narrow spare wheel is located in the compartment on the drivers side by the wheel arch. This has been done as the jockey seats occupy the usual space under the boot floor. In the superior load-bay of the Nissan however, the full-size spare wheel is stored underneath the car, lowered by a chain like on a pickup. A small box on the right hand side of the boot area stows the jack and tool kit.

In the engine department, Nissan ditched their straight six engines with the introduction of the Y30 around 1984. However the VG30 V6 lump was always well renowned for being very powerful by the standards of the day, and has done long service in the Nissan range from this point on, as did the L-series before them. (Although I could never figure out why the trusty L-series still soldiered on through to 1989 in the C32 Laurels in 2.4 form. Crikey, it was around in the first 240Z in 1970 odd, and maybe before then too.)

The first 120-series Crowns retained the familiar 5M 2.8 engines of the previous 112-series, but were more often the twin-can 5M-GE as seen in the UK Celica Supra MA61. The later 120-series had the 7M (and 6M) 3-litre lumps as seen in the MA70 Supra. However this particular model is further differentiated and unusual in that it’s a 2.4 L-series turbo-diesel, making it even more practical and fuel efficient. It typically does around the low 30’s mpg, very good for this type of car, and with it being an auto. The badge proudly proclaims it to be a Ceramic turbo, and I doubt this was very prevalent on many cars on the market back in 1985, even though we take a turbo diesel for granted now.

Being both diesel and auto, the Crown is no great ball of fire, but trundles along just nicely. The auto-box is the familiar 3-speed plus overdrive, first widely seen in the MS112, which as that time made it quite a technological leader in the market from late 1979. Indeed it’s little known that Volvo 7-seriers used a derivation of this transmission right up until the takeover by Ford in the mid-90’s.

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In contrast, the 5-speed manual Cedric has a reputation as quite fast beast, certainly in a straight line, and the two cars are chalk and cheese in this respect. The manual gearbox has synchromesh on reverse gear so no crunching. Try that on a Ford, Vauxhall or Volvo! The last owner of the estate, Fergus, claimed a fairly decent fuel consumption figure of 25-30 mpg, when it wasn’t being driven too enthusiastically. Tested with a performance meter, after several attempts Fergus managed a remarkable 8.79 seconds to 60mph in his Cedric – Wow that’s fast for a mid-80’s non-multi-valve old-skool car!

And the winner is..? There’s little in it, it’s whichever really takes your fancy. Crown obviously for me, Cedric for Fergus. However the typical smoked glass all round on my JDM import set against the sportier and colour coded white paintwork makes the Crown the cooler car to me. Our editor Peter Hunter has had both estates in earlier model guises too, and still has a 73/74 MS63. My observations here are pretty subjective and light-hearted, and if you too have had a Crown and/or Cedric as well, please feel free to make some of your own comments onto the forum.

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