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Motoring: Toyota Tarago - 1983

Australians have always had an affinity with what are known these days as people movers. Back in the 1960s, it was cool to cruise the countryside in an old Volkswagen Combi - I should know, I toured around the Pilbara region of WA in one with three friends back in 1969. That love was rekindled by many Baby Boomers in the 1980s as they sought a suitable vehicle in which to trasport their growing families. Volkswagen's Caravelle was very nice but way beyond the budget of most, and Daihatsu's Wide 55, which, in spite of its name, wasn't much bigger than a Mini inside. The 55 came as a panel van, open utility, ca camper van or a 6-seater "bus" (heir use of the word, not ours!). Its name referred to its width - 55 inches - which may have been big enough for a Japanse family but it was inadequate for an Aussie one.

It was Totoya who came to the rescue with its 8-seater Tarago and its cheaper cousin, the Lite Ace minibus. Sales soared and Toyota went all the way with a chisel-nosed Tarago that was the class act of the field. Mazda and Nissan brought out their multi-seaters soon after and the MPV (multi purpose vehicle) was born. These vehicles began a shift away from the station wagons that up until that time had reigned supreme as family transport.

Wide acceptance by the community are large of such vehicles as a viable replacement for the family car or station wagon did not come until the launch of the Toyota Tarago. The Tarago was produced by Toyota and distributed worldwide in a multitude of versions and with different names. The Tarago was a slightly larger version of the Toyota LiteAce/Toyota TownAce, but unlike those two Toyota models, it was not simply a van with seats but was designed from the ground up as a passenger vehicle. It featured a sharply sloped front, in contrast to the upright flat found in the Toyota Hiace and interior appointments one expects in a car but not a van.

The Tarago used a front mid-engine layout where the driver and front passenger sat directly above the front axle. The vehicle's short wheelbase contributed to a very bumpy ride but a short turning radius. Deluxe and SE versions were offered. The driver and front passenger sat forward above the front section of the engine compartment, a three-seat bench seat with a fold-down outer seat was placed alongside the single side sliding door; a three-seat bench seat was mounted in the rear of the vehicle, however sufficient space was reserved behind it for the storage of luggage. The centre and rear seats folden down flat to make a bed. The Tarago was introduced to North America the same year as the Dodge Caravan, 1984. The North American model was officially known as the Van (VanWagon in early press materials). In Europe it was known as the Space Cruiser, while Australia referred to the vehicle as the Tarago. In Sweden it was sold as the Toyota Model F.

The original Tarago model was upgraded in Australia in 1986 and then replaced in 1990 with an all new second generation model. The new Tarago was in fact the first generation of a vehicle that was totally new from the ground up, known in other markets as the Previa. The first generation, introduced in 1990, Like the first generation Tarago, it had only one sliding side door for the rear passengers. It featured a unique mid-engined platform, where the in-line 4-cylinder petrol-powered engine was installed almost flat (at a 75-degree angle), beneath the front seats.

All engine-driven accessories, such as the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and radiator fan, are accessible from the front hood, driven off the front of the engine by an accessory driveshaft, and is known as the Supplemental Accessory Drive System, or "SADS". This allows for even front/rear weight distribution, with benefits for ride quality and carlike handling. However, it also prevents the installation of a larger engine, while the cost could not be relayed by sharing the platform with other vehicles.

The new model was 4750 mm (187 in) long and 1803 mm (71 in) wide. In Japan, two smaller versions, the Toyota Estima Lucida and Toyota Estima Emina, were produced, which were approximately 110 mm (4.3 in) narrower and 70 mm (2.8 in) shorter than the standard model. The reason for the difference between the smaller Emina and Lucida models is the vehicle tax system in Japan, which is based on the product of length and width of the car. The smaller variants fall in to a lower tax band. The Estima Emina and Estima Lucida were also available with a 2.2 litre diesel engine (3C-T and 3C-TE). Some of these vehicles were imported to Australia privately or by dealers but not by Toyota Australia.

The Previa/Tarago was with a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual gearbox, it also seated seven or eight people, with three seating configurations offered. All configurations have a driver and front passenger seat forward, and a three-seat bench seat at the rear that splits and folds flat against the sides of the cabin. The 8-seat configuration contains a 2/1 split swiveling bench seat in the middle row, while the 7-seat configurations contain either two independently swiveling captain's chairs (referred to as "Quad Seating"), in the middle row or a two seat bench offset towards the driver's side. The third row is also better upholstered in the 7-seat version. It was available with either 4-wheel disc brakes or traditional front disc/rear drum brake setup, with Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) as an option.

The first generation Previa/second generation Tarago was sold until 2000, when it was replaced by a new dynamically designed model. This vehicle was never sold in North America. The new 3rd generation Tarago (2nd generation Previa in other markets) had a slightly longer wheelbase (2900 mm) and was both narrower (1790 mm) and shorter (1770 mm) than the first one; it switched to FF layout and was based on the Camry platform. It was produced with passenger doors on both sides and offered space for up to six, seven or eight passengers and, as with the first generation, was sold as the Estima in Japan and as the Tarago in Australia. The range available in Australia was the GLi, GLX and Ultima. The Ultima version was targeted as a competitor of the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler Voyager which, by the turn of the century, had gained considerable ground in the people mover market.

Daihatsu 55 Bus

Toyota Liteace 1988, the Tarago's little brother

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