Back in the '80s, Toyota had a bitchin' little commercial jingle that went something along the lines of, "Oh, What a Feeling. Toyota!" and everyone on screen jumped in glee. This wasn't just for one specific advertisement, either, but a running campaign across every medium imaginable, a bizarre homage to the Reagan era, fully clad in mom jeans and CFC-filled hairspray.
It was the dawn of cable television and everywhere you went, its warm glow seemed to permeate homes with images of Bob Ross painting happy trees, Mighty Max morning cartoons, and pitches for a revolutionary gaming product from some company out of Japan called "Nintendo."
At the time, a war for Japanese legitimacy within the American automotive sector had turned into a full-blown firefight, and in true '80s fashion buyers were being offered some really weird shit. While Nissan was publicly distancing itself from the old Datsun nameplate and Honda was busy developing fuel-injected CRXs, Toyota had been building spin-offs of the Mark II commuter car.
One of these offshoots was classified as the "Cressida," a more luxurious take on the Camry that ultimately didn't sell worth squat due to cannibalization by the Lexus brand and, ultimately, the Camry itself. Just imagine a slightly swankier, rectangularly restyled Camry and you basically have a Cressida. Sure, we also had spinoffs like the Cresta, but I digress; not everyone needs to recall a station wagon that looked like it had been shagged by a damn cinder block.
Propulsion of the Cressida is where things get interesting, though, for it used the same straight-six engine and rear-wheel-drive configuration out of the Toyota Supra, something that surprisingly even came standard in U.S. models. Another revolutionary move for the time was the fact that all versions of the Cressida came standard with A/C, something that was almost unheard of at the time.
Matt Divincenzo (aka Curly) was oblivious to this fact just a mere two years ago, and quite frankly, he didn't really give a damn, either. He had just moved to Chicago and while working at Elevens Paint & Fiber in Arizona, the itch to build the ideal street machine had him suddenly toying with the notion of buying a Scion FR-S.
One day, while at the house of Dan Lynch from Haymaker Industries (the guy behind the SR20-powered Corolla featured in Volume 20, Issue 5), a 1JZ-equipped Cressida with a Chaser front end caught Curly's eye. But what started as a negotiation over the purchasing of the car's AVS 6 Advans turned into the sale of the entire chassis, and within no time, Curly was the owner of one of the first JZ-swapped Cressidas in America.
Swapped eons ago by one of the creators of JZX Project, the boxy little beast had seen various owners and its interior had become ratty as all hell. Fortunately, Dan from Haymaker had acquired the car fully rewired, complete with a big single scroller, AEM brains, a Future manifold, and the rest of the usual suspects. As soon as Curly took ownership of the vehicle, he drove it straight to the shop and started stripping his Toyota down for bodywork.
The plan was to turn the car into a beater—a stock body build sitting atop 17-inch alloys, with just enough boost to make running errands enjoyable. But Curly soon noticed the car needed fresh control arms and a bunch of little knickknacks were missing or broken. Although this surely was frustrating, it was the realization one fateful day that because 18s wouldn't fit on the car, it was time to push this build over the edge. There was no way to make the fenders fit, and the notion of building a simple street car was suddenly thrown out the window.
Curly officially went bananas, and with bulging SERIALNINE front fenders installed on the car, he was confident he was headed in the right direction. Wheel fitment issues continued to plague the build, so Curly purchased fully custom 80mm over-fenders and finagled Chaser corner lights into them. During this time, Curly was pulling double duty at the shop, producing rear Zazz fenders in order to help offset the cost of everything while working full-time, a stressful time to say the least.
Over the course of the next two years, the Cressida went through several phases, and by the time paint came into play, candy blue had surfaced. As soon as the car came out of the booth, there was a problem... Curly hated the color. So he immediately took to sanding the car down for the millionth time, sold the wheels it was rocking, and got his coworkers at Elevens to respray the entire car a House of Kolor pigment of "Brandy Wine." Tossing on a set of 18-inch Gram Lights 57FXX to finish things off, the car had finally developed into the definition of the ideal street beast. Low, loud, and still rocking a fully functional stock A/C setup, it was the beginning of a new adventure for both owner and turbocharged animal alike.
All told, this Cressida has been a daily driver, a show car, a street drift car, and a massive money and energy pit, with plenty of joy to go along with all that anguish. It's never easy modifying a chassis nobody loves or knows about, and for this build the biggest challenge was finding a way in which to fit a set of massive, super-low offset wheels beneath its haunches.
The way the front end had been set up completely negated the SERIALNINE fenders' ability to cup the rollers. Since no one else makes front fenders for this obscure Toyota, a lot of trial and error was necessary to get both fitment and clearance on point. Also, because Cressida-to-Chaser conversion fenders are about as rare as a Lawry's prime rib dinner, hundreds of hours had to be spent figuring out how to literally make all the pieces fit.
But fit they did, and Curly was pleased as punch with the outcome. For this enthusiast, the way in which all of the colors tie in to one another is without a doubt its strongest attribute. Look closely and you'll see the blue of the engine bay matches the roof, as well as accents along parts of the aero. Touches like these get him every time, and despite looking more show than go, Curly tells us this sedan still spools harder than an inebriated Sleeping Beauty at a sewing party. Maybe Toyota should bring back that jingle after all, because dammit if this Cressida doesn't scream "Oh, what a feeling!"