Whatever happened to the Toyota Space Cruiser?

It’s been quite a while since I updated the ‘Whatever happened to?’ section of PetrolBlog, but a chance sighting in a supermarket car park has prompted me to give the feature a jump start. To be honest though, this could quite easily have been an update for ‘Car Confessional’, as the car in question isn’t exactly what you’d call dream garage material.

But I seem to have developed an irrational love for the car in question. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s rear-wheel drive? Or perhaps it’s the distinctly 1980s angles and straight edges. Or maybe it’s because it has one of the coolest names in automotive history? Whatever, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be alone in my love for the Toyota Space Cruiser.

Space Cruiser – car names don’t come more exciting than that. You have to remember that in 1983, most people were driving around in Ford Cortinas and Vauxhall Cavaliers. A child is going to win serious playground points if they mention that their dad was going to pick them up from school in a Space Cruiser.

Also bear in mind that one of the biggest films of 1983 was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, so the name Space Cruiser really captured the mood. Kids everywhere could pretend to destroy the second Death Star as they circled the outskirts of Surbiton. In 1983, the talk was of Hans Solo, not hands free.

Toyota Space Cruiser on PetrolBlogOkay, so the reality of the Space Cruiser was far less exciting, but it did represent the very genesis of what we now refer to as a people carrier or MPV. Many people may credit the Renault Espace for pioneering the concept yet despite first appearing in 1978, it never actually arrived on the market until 1984. Years of wrangling between Matra, PSA and Renault saw to this.

So in 1983 it was down to the Mitsubishi Space Wagon and Toyota Space Cruiser to go boldly go where no car had gone before. The prices were similar with the Mitsubishi available for £7,750 and the Toyota coming in just shy of £8,000. They also enjoyed similar lifespans, with both cars creeping into the 1990s, by which time people carriers were becoming more fashionable. At 167 inches long, the Space Cruiser was just two inches shorter than the Space Wagon, but whilst the Mitsubishi could reach a top speed of 97mph, the Toyota ran out of puff at 87mph.

But looking back, you’d have to be pretty brave to want to go much faster than this. By today’s standards, the Space Cruiser is a rather primitive interpretation of the modern MPV. The Space Cruiser was simply a van that was converted to carry passengers. Yes, the rear seats could be folded to make a bed and on some models they could also be swivelled 360°, but make no mistake, this was a van. The rear sliding door was a neat touch though, as were the tilting glass sunroofs.

Whatever happened to...the Toyota Space Cruiser?For me however, it’s the aesthetics that win the day. I just love the unashamedly angular styling and the brilliant straight edged wheel arches. For some reason I also like the front grille and the way it integrates with the headlights. But it’s the alloy wheels that top the lot. So brilliantly ’80s, I think they’d look great on an old Celica or Supra.

Over 250,000 Space Cruisers were sold and yet in Britain at least, there are just 119 left on the road. Many of these will have fallen into disrepair, with rust being the Space Cruiser’s biggest problem. Not even Luke Skywalker can keep this enemy at bay. What’s more, judging by the example I saw recently, many will be nearing their final journey before they reach their own Death Star.

But for some reason, I really fancy one. Perhaps it’s the rear-wheel drive or the gloriously 1980s styling. Or maybe I’d just like to test the theory that heavy braking would result in the rear wheels leaving the ground. Whatever, I think a few months in the company of a Space Cruiser would be an absolute riot.

I really want one!

Photos courtesy of Sam Osborn on Flickr and Toyota.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

59 comments

  1. June 26, 2012
    One Careful Owner

    My father bought one of these in 1987, I believe it was the only car he ever owned from new. With both parents & up to 5 children at one point, we kept it full & busy! None of the seats rotated though, but the rear ones did fold up onto the walls for extra luggage room… And I was in high school at the time, so I can agree with the schoolyard bragging rights! It was great when we went on day trips as well, as we could often take friends along.

    It went for scrap eventually, barely 10 years old but with major rust especially in the roof which was never adequately repaired (thanks to insurance wrangling) after the great Hurricane.

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      It sounds like rust was the major enemy of these things.

      Good to hear from someone who has owned one though.Sounds like you have fond memories…

      Reply
  2. June 26, 2012
    Jamie

    Nice article. I have a new car confession with the Suzuki Jimny! What do you reckon?

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Do it. It’s one of my guilty pleasures too! Feel free to write in at the usual address! 😉

      Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      @TimPhotography

      Jamie, done the Jimny thing, feels much like a 1989 Fiat Panda jacked-up. Was surprisingly fun on light off roading. I drove mine in 2WD mode, as 4WD is unusable on the road due to diff lock, scary in the dry! Sold it as couldn’t stand the stench of last owners cigarette smoke.

      Reply
  3. June 26, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Can’t help agreeing with you on this one. I’ve come around to the idea of MPVs anyway more recently as they make excellent road trip vehicles and I love road trips. But also, I’m increasingly a sucker for Japanese stuff from the 1980s as they frequently display those great straight edges and neat details. Funny how stuff that looked awful at the time is actually quite cool now…

    Reply
  4. June 26, 2012
    FailCar

    Remember my South African neightbour having one in the early 90’s and being amazed at the size and space inside. Looked very cool at the time too and the seats that could swivel amazed me.

    Would make an ideal Stoner day van now though as the Chevy Astro is just too thirsty these days.

    Reply
  5. June 26, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Can’t beat the Mazda Bongo Friendee for daft names though

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      You have a point…

      Reply
  6. June 26, 2012
    gordon

    nice article, always fancied one but they were to pricey at the time, I do remember hearing about rust and handling issues?

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Rust seems to be the killer.

      Handling sounds…er…interesting! 😉

      Reply
      • June 26, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Sounds like driving a large Bedford Rascal

        Reply
  7. June 26, 2012
    Gary

    In my part of London these were a favourite of corner shop owners and regularly seen struggling back from the cash and carry with their exhausts 1/2 an inch from the tarmac . My local shopkeeper had one and his son attended my school so occasionally I’d get a lift with them ; I remember being quite impressed by it but then my usual conveyance was a Hillman Avenger .

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Yes, I suppose they represented good value as a second hand van!

      Would love to see one in mint condition.

      Reply
  8. June 26, 2012
    @TimPhotography

    Gav, have you been reading my tweets lately?! Your blog is immaculate timing, I’ve started obsessing over TownAces, LiteAces and Space Cruisers. Ebay search is on for a good one in Devon, although my 806 has the swivel seats, you can’t beat the Mystery Machine looks of an early Space Cruiser.

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Sadly I’ve been on a twitter exile, so I haven’t seen your tweets. Great minds, eh?

      The Mystery Machine is a good shout, although not so good that I have some competition in Devon! 😉

      Reply
  9. June 27, 2012
    Darren Leslie

    I see one regularly on my daily commute, however, it must be a posh one as it’s 4wd and has curtains! Having had an MPV for a few months now, I can safely say that it’s amazing how interesting practicality can be.

    Reply
  10. June 27, 2012
    norfolkboy

    This was my mum’s car for quite a few years when I was a kid. Me, my brother and sister loved it as there was a ridiculous amount of space inside and in the middle row you could put your feet up on the engine to get really comfy. I also remember fighting over who got to sit next to the rear fan controls (there was a whole separate dash in the middle row for rear climate control), and of course the moon roof was awesome too, although Dad always got pissed off if we unbuckled and tried to climb out of it while in motion for some reason.

    One bad thing I found out about in later life though (it was sold just before I got my license) was that because of the very short wheelbase and rear wheel drive it got a bit “interesting” to drive in high crosswind and the wet.

    Reply
  11. June 27, 2012
    chrischasescars

    At least this van *had* a name in the UK, and other markets. In North America (I’m in Canada) it was known (oh so romantically) as Toyota Van. Where on earth did the marketing department come up with that, right?

    Reply
    • June 27, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      A massive missed opportunity!

      Reply
    • May 26, 2014
      Gaute Halsaunet

      Here in Norway they where called Model F, my father had one and I nearly tipped it over. I was 18, with a fresh licence…..

      Reply
  12. July 13, 2012
    ravensmarch

    I had one only for about five years on either side of the millenium, and before its differential ceased to be a moving part with about 300,000km on the odometer I fell in love with it. Despite the scare it gave at the end (that diff issue came on while doing 100km/h), no vehicle since had matched it for the combination of tight turning circle, reasonable milage and interior space, nor the entertainment value when someone unused to the configuration sat in the passenger seat; ah, the shrieks of terror at every red light, the cringing during the final nose-in of parallel parking…. I’m glad to find I’m not the only one who thought they were a good thing.

    Reply
  13. July 15, 2012
    Corozal Bay Resort

    Space Cruisers are being used as taxi cabs in Belize, in Central America. There are lots of them in this country.

    Reply
  14. September 24, 2012
    jenny

    I am the proud owner of a space cruiser ! I love it ! have had 8 kids so me and hubby used to both take a car full on daytrips..after he died in 2003 i had to ferry the kids around on my own…by this time only 6 left at home….i bought this car in Southend with no experts advice and was worried sick i was going to have big problems but 8 years later im still driving it and carrying the grandkids in it :o) i recently looked into buying something smaller but can’t bear to part with it….with a brand new MOT on it i was thinking …maybe just one more year !!

    Reply
    • September 24, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Forget ‘just one more year’, that sounds like a ‘keeper’! 😉

      Any photos?

      Reply
      • January 28, 2013
        jenny chapple

        im having trouble posting on here but i also have photos and don’t know how to send them to you? may be written off after a car crashed into it in the snow so would love to share my pics :o)

        Reply
  15. September 24, 2012
    jenny

    i was offered £1000.00 last year by a man who wanted to ship it to jamaica for his brothers taxi company !!!

    Reply
  16. November 6, 2012
    gordon

    well I never………..saw one the other day heading towards Burton, it was silver (looked resprayed) and very nice with Centreline alloy? and blacked out side and rear windows and looked low? now I want one 🙂

    Reply
    • November 6, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      When I first read this, I thought you meant Burton the clothes shop!

      Shame you didn’t get a photo!

      Reply
      • November 6, 2012
        jenny

        well i shouldn’t have come on here so smug bragging about my brilliant car……a couple of days later it just wouldn’t start…batterys fine..just not sparking…have to wait til i can afford a mechanic…had suggestions about taking the coil lead out and turning her over to see if it sparks….but im scared :o(…….suggestions so far are coil,distributor or alternator…reading posts on yotovan cleb im thinking alternator but don’t want to go there will have to wait….meanwhile i will try to get some pics to put up….she really is lovely …

        Reply
        • November 6, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          🙁

          Don’t think anyone thought of you as smug though. Nice to hear someone so passionate about their car.

          I hope you get it fixed soon. Feel free to ping some photos through on email.

          Good luck.

          Reply
          • November 6, 2012
            jenny

            aww Thanks.i will keep you posted.im hoping to get it sorted in the next couple of weeks.

            Reply
          • January 28, 2013
            jenny chapple

            having problems posting ? i have some photos of my space cruiser to show you ,how can i send them to you?

            Reply
  17. November 25, 2012
    John

    I owned one of these for a few years in the mid nineties. Without a doubt the most versatile car I ever owned. I still dream about finding another one in good condition. I would snap it up. The motor was almost silent on idle and the ride was excellent. There was bags of room, and I remember picking up a bathroom suite in it once! The bed conversion was handy at times too!

    Reply
    • November 26, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Just a shame there are so few left now. A bathroom suite and a bed – it’s like a mobile B&B.

      Reply
    • March 11, 2013
      Keith Shepard

      Hi John I know this is an old blog from you but are you still interested in a Toyota Space Cruiser? I happen to know where there is one for sale. It a G reg and a bit tatty but if you are interested contact me

      Reply
  18. February 20, 2013
    Graham B

    I still have my 1990 (bought new) mettalic blue auto with 58K miles. Only a couple of rust spots. Always passed its MOT, super to drive and park around town. Not a motorway burner, but for cruising the countryside..ideal. Turns like a taxi, great for unloading junk at the tip

    Reply
    • February 26, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Blimey – owned from new? That’s incredible, especially with such low mileage. Any pics?

      Reply
      • June 14, 2013
        graham

        Have to persude my son to loan his camera, then I’ll post some.

        Reply
        • July 12, 2013
          Luke

          I have a converted camper van space cruiser..it’s been off the road for a year now and before I send it to the skip I just wondered if any one would be interested in buying it? Let me know! Luke 07833055051 Lowestoft

          Reply
          • July 12, 2013
            Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

            Good luck finding a buyer.

            Have tweeted a link to this post.

            Reply
  19. April 23, 2013
    Loop Withers

    I HATE THIS CAR! It cost me my job as a ‘runner’ on a TV commercial. The producer hired a brand new ’84 version and told me to use it to deliver the VIP clients to the production suite in Soho.

    Braking hard when empty from 30 mph caused the back to come round. The lifeless power steering made correcting things a matter of pure luck. I was relieved to add the clients, simply as a source of ballast.

    Things got worse. It now pitched backwards as well as forwards over the patched roads of Central London. The clients told me to “take it easy, bud!” I explained that we were barely doing 25mph.

    Both clients were spectacularly travel sick in Poland Street.

    I was confined to making coffee and being glared at.

    Reply
    • June 14, 2016
      Jim

      What a cheapskate producer! Was he aware of the existence of taxis?

      Reply
  20. May 14, 2013
    ian holmes

    Dear all
    I got my space cruiser a year ago in brilliant nick only 35000 miles on it body in good Nick as well but parts are hard to find. So if any one got parts please let me know as I want to keep it going.

    Reply
  21. September 10, 2013
    Goddess_of_Innocence

    I know this blog was written last year but thought I would just say. We own a toyota space cruiser and have just returned from another trip to Cornwall from Sussex (271 miles each way) oh and I have got just under ?!? mph out of it (hubby does say I have an heavy foot lol)
    It is amazing, can fit so much stuff in it (including hubby and kids) and a roof rack on top.
    Yes it does suffer with rust, due its MOT next month and know it needs some more welding doing but seeing as it turned 25 on January 1st this year (2013) I think she is going very well.
    Oh and she has a nickname.. “The Funbus”. So next time you see a gold spacecruiser cruise passed you, give me a wave 🙂

    Reply
    • September 30, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Hope the Funbus has a problem-free MOT next month. Good luck!

      And yes, you can be sure of a wave from PB readers! 🙂

      Reply
  22. October 18, 2013
    Glena

    Hi Gavin,

    Are you still interested in owning a space cruiser? That green space cruiser you took a photo of is my dad’s AND he would like to sell it. It only has 45,000 miles on the clock and my dad has a full service and MOT history. He’s been the sole owner of this trusty car from the very beginning. Let me know if you’re interested or if you know anyone who would like it. It’d be great if it could go to a good home. (I’ve known it since my childhood). In keeping with it’s age, it has some rust issues but the interior is still gorgeous due to my mum’s impeccable upkeep!

    Reply
  23. December 13, 2013
    Anthony Jones

    We have had a Spacecruiser from new (1989). It is now over 280,000 miles. This year we drove to Turkey, and back total 4,300 miles. The first engine lasted 257,000, and was still running sweetly, but losing power. I bought 2 rusted Spacecruisers last year, and we had one of the engines (only 91,000 miles) reconditioned and installed. Now “Daisy” (named by our children when we bought her) goes like she did 15 years ago. We travel all over Europe, and Daisy is reliable and good to drive.
    Yes, there are rust problems: We live in Sussex,and most of her life has been spent near the sea. We are just having some major work on her, and we intend to visit Croatia next year.
    I still have one car for spares, which has an excellent engine, and I am willing to sell it. Anyone can contact us on 07932161256.
    When I retire I intend to write a book on this car, with a long list of wonderful trips we have had with her, dedicated to our local garage who have looked after her.

    Reply
    • December 16, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Put me down for a book please!

      280,000 miles is incredible, even taking into account the engine change at 257,000 miles.

      The garage which has kept her running deserves a medal, not just a dedication in a book! 😉

      Reply
  24. May 10, 2014
    The Suburban War | An African Adventure

    […] poda-poda, for the record, is what a Toyota Space Cruiser becomes when you crudely paint it blue and yellow, fill it with 15 Sierra Leoneans (maybe an extra […]

    Reply
  25. June 4, 2014
    AC-lazy

    Had a weird itch to google this car and now to post here after reminiscing about a brief 5000km ownership whilst campervanning around Oz in 2004. Badged as a Tarago it was from 1985 and full of holes, water poured into the footwells when it rained. It also overheated every hour but (somehow) was sold to us with a nationwide warranty which cost us a lot in excess but was a god send. Once the majority of the cooling system was replaced it ran ok for the last 3k. Almost cried when the MOT chap stabbed his pen through the length of the upper boot lip when we needed to flog it at the end. Caused no end of trouble but provided many fond memories.

    Reply
    • June 14, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Heh!5000km in a 20-year-old Space Cruiser is quite some achievement.

      Love the fact that it caused no end of trouble but you still have fond memories of it!

      Reply
  26. August 25, 2014
    colin

    hi i owned a space cruiser in the nineties had so much fun going to somerset every year if i had the money would love to own another did enjoy going out in the wet weather as it had a tendency to slide at the back when i sold it to a friend he used it to go to germany to festivals and all night fishing before it fell apart from the dreaded rust

    Reply
  27. February 20, 2016
    Patricia Allen

    I owned one of these from new (y reg). Had to part with it because repair bill for stabilisers too much to afford. But got another,and was driving it around up to 3 years ago. F reg, and went like a bird. Not much trouble with rust, but the electrics went, so I had to turn the battery off every time I stopped, and retune radio and clock every time I started again. Then the driver window kept sticking so, very reluctantly had to scrap it. Still miss it, best car ever. Had a previa, better driver’s seat, but no moon roof, and very little ventilation in hot weather. Loved the cruiser, and would love another . Wish they would update it, without changing too much.

    Reply
  28. May 21, 2016
    wilfulsprite

    I had one of these for 5 years from 1999 to 2005.
    The great thing about it for me was that ‘Space’ actually meant something with this vehicle. I had 6 children to transport around and I used to do stalls at markets and fairs. It had 8 seats and you could, without cramping anyone’s legs, fit in the entire family *and* all the stock *and even a market stall! It also drove like a car, not a van – it had really tight turning circle. It also did about 40mpg , so it was great for holidays. Unfortunately even though the engine was going strong, it just rotted away.
    I could not and still cannot find another people-carrier which has this boot space. You struggle to even fit in a suitcase or buggy into the vehicle I have now – Mitsubishi Delica – which has a very wide turning circle and is very clumsy to drive.
    If they produced the same vehicle today, with the rusting problems sorted, I reckon it would sell like hotcakes.

    Reply
  29. June 14, 2016
    Jim

    You’re not alone in your love for this beast! some family friends had one of these to cart around their 4 kids, I remember riding in the back at the age of about 6 or 7 and literally feeling like I was in the back of a space ship! It had the coolest layout and faux-suede seats and if you sat behind the driver you had your own climate controls (fan on/off basically) built into the armrest. Beat our ‘E-reg’ Vauxhall Cavalier any day of the week!!! I loved it, still love, I also want one!!!

    Reply

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