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Giving Chase

Comfort, exclusivity and decent performance for not much cash...

By Michael Knowling

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This article was first published in 2003.

Although Australia never received any of 'the three brothers' (the Japanese Domestic Market Toyota Chaser, Cresta and Mark II) you can now scoop an early version of these luxo performance saloons for about the same price as an everyday Cressida. Once again, here in Australia we have the new regulations for importation and compliancing of 15+ year-old vehicles to thank for the opportunity.

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So what the heck are these 'three brothers', you ask?

Well, using much the same RWD platform as the locally delivered late '80s Cressida, Toyota plonked on three more body designs that were destined for different world markets or simply aimed at slightly different buyer groups. The most hi-po brother is, not surprisingly, the ambitiously named Chaser.

Two engines were offered in the GX81-series (circa 1988) Chaser - an atmo 1G and the twin-turbo 1G-GTE variant. The engine fitted to our Chaser GT test car - which was imported by Adelaide's Yahoo Motorsport - was the more desirable twin-turbo unit.

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Just like the 1G twin-turbo Soarer recently tested ("Loose Change Luxury"), the twin-turbo Chaser is no balls-out flier but it can comfortably torque its way ahead of other vehicles in the majority of traffic light scrambles. A maximum of 275Nm is on tap at 3800 rpm and it's very accessible, thanks to a standard automatic trans with a relatively high-stall converter. Squeeze the throttle even slightly and the LED tacho shoots across and the twin turbochargers can be distantly heard spooling away under the bonnet. Certainly, once it has a bellyfull of boost, the Chaser offers a decent amount of go - especially in the mid-range. Peak power is 154kW at a vibration-free 6200 rpm.

Mechanically, the 2.0-litre straight-six 1G-GTE uses an 8.5:1 static compression ratio, a 24-valve, DOHC head, airflow meter EFI system and twin (simultaneous) turbochargers blowing through a front-mount air-to-air intercooler. Boost pressure is reputedly around 9 psi.

Note that the factory supercharged version of the 1G six (which we'll cover in an upcoming Toyota Crown Royal Saloon test) uses a slightly lower 8.0:1 static compression ratio and makes 19 percent less power and 18 percent less torque - though both at a slightly lower revs.

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An obvious pointer to the three brothers' cruisey nature is the fact that automatic transmissions are nearly always fitted; the twin-turbo version, though, was never sold with a manual 'box - as far as we can determine.

With electronic control, Power and Economy modes and 4 ratios, the Chaser 'box is nicely behaved and is well mated to the torque characteristic of the engine - as mentioned, there's quite a bit of torque converter flare to help get the turbos up and running. Drive is put through the rear wheels and, unfortunately, it's unclear if an LSD was offered as an option or as standard fitment - certainly, our test car behaved like it had an LSD.

From seat-of-the-pants, the 1440 kilogram Chaser GT feels like a 9-second flat 0 - 100 km/h performer - which makes sense considering the contemporary 1G-GTE Soarer is listed at 8.9-seconds. Open-road fuel economy, we are told, is a strong point of the 1G vehicles.

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Suspension wise, the Chaser uses a similar layout to the local Cressida (which happens to have an identical wheelbase, overall length and width) - we're talking struts at the front and wishbones at the rear. Front tower bracing also comes standard on the Chaser.

As you might expect, there's a little turn-in understeer but - so long as the engine is on boost - you can swing the tail out quite easily if desired. As mentioned, it certainly felt like our test car was fitted with a LSD.

Ride is relatively plush and the steering is particularly light with little feel. Braking performance - via four-wheel-discs - feels up to standard.

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Inside is where the Chaser really stands out. As seen here, the interior trim is very richly coloured and there's enough velour to rival a fully decked-out Holden Sandman. The look of the cabin is not to everyone's taste, but there's no arguing it's a very comfortable vehicle with good accommodation.

Standard features include a Soarer-style 3D digital dash (with numerical speed indication and graphs for rpm, fuel and coolant temp), a leather wheel, air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, central locking (which automatically locks once up to speed), an air purifier and a double DIN radio/cassette with a fairly decent speaker system.

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Visually, the Chaser shows a strong resemblance to the local Cressida - particularly in the mid-ship area. To our eyes, though, the Chaser looks much sweeter with its sleeker front-end, more graceful rear and pillarless doors. A rear wiper is also installed.

Aftermarket wheels were fitted to our test car, but boring-looking 15-inch alloys wearing 205/60 tyres come as factory fitment.

The GX81-series Chaser (plus Cresta and Mark II, for that matter) were manufactured between 1988 and 1990, when the JZ-series engine was introduced. The example on test here was stickered at AUD$4500 (plus compliance), had driven a genuine 105,000 kilometres and was in good overall condition. We're told compliance will cost around $1200 to have done - less if you can do some of the work yourself.

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In terms of parts, it appears that the Chaser's bonnet, bootlid and front guards are the same as fitted to local Cressidas but many other components are unique - its pillarless doors, grille, front and rear lights, for example, are not interchangeable with the Cressida.

The same goes for the 1G engine, which was never released officially in Australia. Like most Toyotas, though, the Chaser should be very reliable with the exception of the 1G turbochargers, which are notorious for seizing. Of course, you can always have a dead turbocharger rebuilt but it's only logical to have the second turbocharger rebuilt at the same time; this is not a cheap exercise.

One important point to remember is that 1G engines and transmissions are amongst the cheapest you'll find at import wreckers - we'd recommend 'stockpiling' parts before supply dries up in Japan.

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Like any factory turbocharged mill, the Chaser's 1G-GTE will pump out appreciably more grunt when equipped with a high-flow exhaust and intake, upgrade intercooler and slightly more boost - about 30 percent more power is a safe bet with these mods.

As mentioned, though, the standard CT12 turbochargers aren't particularly durable and are more likely to fail when boosted beyond standard. The solution is to sell those standard turbos (while they're still worth something) and go for a tubular manifold with a single high-capacity turbocharger. This will upset drivability to an extent, so it's a good idea to also fit a slightly higher rpm stall converter to let the turbo come on boost earlier. This is very much a drag racer's approach to performance, but chances are Chaser buyers only want a comfortable cruiser with some shock traffic light speed.

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With probably 250 - 300kW on tap from the aforementioned mods you'll have to rip off the Chaser badges, coz chances are you won't be chasing anyone!

1988 JDM Toyota Chaser GT Fast Facts...
  • Interior colours and fabrics not to everyone's tastes
  • Comfortable and well equipped
  • Quite a stylish, sleek saloon
  • Very smooth engine
  • Good mid-range performance
  • Easily tweaked

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