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The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 5

The Toyota Crown Athlete: Toyo’s Heavy Cruiser on the Drift Track

A lot of guys these days are looking to import a drift car from Japan. Some guys go for the “light stuff,” like the classic Toyota Levin (AE86) that dances around the drift track. Some guys go for the bigger units like the Nissan Silvia (the S13/S14/S15 brotherhood) and 180SX that storm around the track. And some guys go for the “heavies” that blast and thunder around the track. The Toyota Crown Athlete

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

is definitely in this class. (Find out more about Japanese drift cars here on our main site.)

When talking about the Crown Athlete as a drift car, the first thing I think about is the one that a guy in my old company had. He had modded it for drifting up at Fuji Speedway. It was a Battle Cruiser! When I watched him skidding around the black top, that car of his just owned the drift pan. He offered to give me a spin, but I never took him up on the offer. Something I regret to this day!

I’ve watched a number of these cars up at the Speedway, although they are rarer up there than Toyota Chasers and Crestas, Nissan Silvias and Laurels, or Hachi Rokus (AE-86 Levins and Truenos). They perform well and thunder about like Tigers on steroids that have been stung by a hornet, spitting rubber bits and blasting tire smoke all over the spectators. (We love it!)

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5


All the best drift cars are spectacular, but the Heavies (click here for our main JCD site article on these monsters) are just stunning when they start to burn their rubber and spit orange fire (literally) out their exhausts. Fuji Speedway is one of the best places to watch some serious drift work, and the guys up there are generous with their time and advice and with letting other car guys (like me) get a good look at their machines. They are always willing to pop the hood and answer my questions.

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

And who can resist showing off a bit, too, when they’ve got a nice clean, discretely modded 1JZ-GTE (the same engine as in the Crown Athlete) in their drift machine?

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5


The Crown Athlete “Out of the Box.”

To give you some idea of what you’re going to get when you import a good used Crown Athlete-V from Japan, let’s take a quick look at a post-August 2001 model, the GH-JZS171 chassis type.

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

You guys who’ve been following our series of Japan Car Direct Blog posts on Toyota Luxury cars to import from Japan will look at this chassis code and pick up right away that the car is using a JZ engine and is based on the S170 series Toyota Crown. (You’ll find the earlier articles in this series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

This spectacular luxury rocket has the very powerful 2.5 liter 1JZ-GTE; stock turbo, iron block, virtually unbreakable straight six engine. If you are into boosting, this is one of the best motors around for power tuning parts availability and for having the strength to take the extra boost and turning into spectacular rear wheel horse power, rather than spectacular engine explosion. Seriously tuned examples of this engine, and its bigger brother, the 2JZ-GTE, are to been seen at Fuji Speedway and other drift tracks in Japan on days when the drift track is open for business and the monsters come out to play.

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

The basic, out of the box, specs tell you that the Crown Athlete-V is a vehicle to be treated with great respect, especially respect for that pedal on the right! The official power figures that were released by Toyota were 280ps at 6,200 rpm and max torque of 38.5kg/m at a wonderfully low 2,400rpm. You can trust the torque numbers here, but, as the fans of Japanese performance cars from the glory years know, horsepower figures were understated by law at the time. The 1JZ-GTE in the post-August Athlete that we are using as our typical example here is putting out in excess of 300ps, and the car itself is, at 1,600kgs (3,525lbs), not particularly heavy at all for a luxury car. Yes, bone stock, these cars are quick machines.

To handle that power Toyota gave the car stock tires of 205/55R16 on the front and 225/50R16 on the rear. Without beefy rubber like this, the car will put you into the ditch quicker than spit. This is a car that we recommend to our customers who want to import a powerful stock car from Japan (here’s a nice one we recently exported), but it is also a car that we like to stick just a wee little warning label on: “For Experienced Performance Drivers Only.”

The amount of sheer horsepower, and the fact that the mega loads of torque of the 1JZ engine come on so low in the rev band, mean that (especially when coupled to the auto trans with its torque multiplying effect) a heavy foot on the throttle at corner entry (a dumb thing to do anyway and I’m sure none of my readers would do it), at mid corner (not always a dumb thing on the track), and even at late corner (acceptable track practice in FR, MR and RR layout cars, and, of course AWD cars) may not be a wise move on the street, where roads are just not as clean as at the speedway. In any traction limited situation (dirt, wet surface, wet leaves, you name it, you know it) in a car like the turbo Crown Athlete we give that right pedal what it well merits: Respect.

(On a side note, some years back I had a customer from the UK who was looking to import an S15 Silvia Type-R from us here in Japan. He’d had all sorts of very powerful Japanese motoring iron and he told me about a Supra 80 that he’d power tuned. I asked him about the post mod handling and he said: “Oh, it’s still excellent, except when power cornering in the dirty wet, you know: early rain, greasy roads. If it’s that, you’ll plow the hedge, dig the ditch, or kiss the lamp post for sure.”)

Pre-Purchase Inspection

In addition, this is a “must inspect” used car. One of the most important services that Japan Car Direct provides for our customers is that we arrange (and often ourselves undertake) professional inspections of used vehicles before the customer places his bid at the Japanese used car auctions or buys a car from a Japanese used car dealer. With “average cars,” an inspection is not required in every single case; for example, if you are a dealer bidding on multiple cars in a short time and you’re going for low bids only, you may not want to put money into inspections (it’s not a lot of money, though), fair enough in that situation; but if you’re looking to import a used performance car, put down a few bucks for the pre-purchase inspection. It’s money well spent (and it helps you to decide your max bid price, too).

If you have any questions at all about bidding on cars at the Japanese used car auctions, our sales guys here at JCD can tell you everything you need to know. This little two-minute video on our site here shows you what happens on the screen during the actual auction bidding process. And recently one of the salesmen from our Tokyo branch was interviewed about the Japanese used car auction, shipping, and buying process, and you’ll find that video here.

Coming Up Next on the JCD Blog

In our next post on the best Toyota luxury cars to import from Japan, I’ll tell you a bit about what I saw in one of the Toyota Group’s leading manufacturing plants, the place where skilled craftsmen were building the top of the top of Toyota, the Toyota Century.

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

What a car! And what a fantastic operation I was privileged to witness! No wonder that plant won so many quality awards, and no wonder that the Century has perhaps the best build quality in the world of luxury cars.

And at that same plant they were building that super luxury sports car, the Toyota Soarer / Lexus SC430.

Best Toyota Luxury Cars - Part 5

Nice machines if you can get them. And you can. Contact us and we’ll get you into your own very fine, good condition, used Toyota Luxury Car, be it the thundering powerhouse Crown Athlete that we’ve been talking about here in this article, the smooth and gutsy Crown Majesta that we looked at in Part 4 of this series here, or the other Toyota Luxury cars and various grades of the wonderful, ultra reliable and good value Toyota Crown that we’ve been looking at in our earlier posts.

Many of these really good Japanese luxury cars (but not the Crown Athlete yet) are available now for import to the USA and Australia under the easy import rules for 25 year-old used cars. Twenty five years ago puts us right in the middle of the glory years of Japanese cars: 1995. Yeah!

Of course, even newer versions are available for export to the UK, Canada, and the EU, but even to our customers in these countries, I recommend the mid 1990s cars as being the best built, best looking, and best priced units on the market in the used luxury class today.

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