It’s been a while since I updated the ‘Whatever happened to?’ section of PetrolBlog, but a chance sighting of a Toyota Space Cruiser 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.
Okay, 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.
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 Toyota Supra alloy wheels that top the lot. They’re so brilliantly ‘80s.
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.