South African Human Rights Day stands as a reminder of the events which unfolded in Sharpeville on the same date in 1960. Today we refresh our memory of what the significant event in our history represents by taking a look back at the Toyota Cressida that ferried Nelson Mandela through Cape Town on the day of his release and was an initial step in ushering a democratic South Africa.
After being incarcerated after his arrest on the 5th of August 1962, Nelson Mandela went on to spend 27 years confined to a prison cell, starting his sentence with an 18 year stint on the remote Robben Island. He was subsequently transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982 for 6 more years before the decade closed and he was iconically released from the Victor Verster Prison on the 11th of February 1990.
The day is filled with iconic images of the stalwart figure walking proudly alongside his former wife Winnie Mandela with a clenched fist above his head demonstrating the symbol of struggle against the Apartheid regime. Another South African icon of time was also present in the historical scenes that aired throughout the world; a Toyota Cressida that ferried the first democratically elected president on the day of his release.
The Japanese brand has been well received for decades within South Africa, from humble Hilux bakkie to the essential minibus taxi that shuttle masses of working class citizens to and from work each day.
The Cressida in its time was neither, while it was less utilitarian and more comfort orientated than most other models in Toyota’s portfolio at the time it still proved to be a popular model which sold in droves. The saloon offered modest luxury (sufficient for that of a President) while its retail price was still affordable for many South African citizens, unlike the 1986 Cressida GLE that had a R1.1M asking price a few months ago.
Interestingly enough, a last minute decision by Mandela’s closest allies opted to use a fleet of Toyota’s instead of the Mercedes Benzes like initially planned. This was strategically done to depict the struggle icon as more sympathetic to the working man. After its chauffeuring duties were completed, the vehicle was returned to showroom condition, removing small dents and scratches from the endearing crowds that welcomed Mandela and the new era.
While information on where it was sourced from is disputed, most seem to refer to the fact that it was then returned to the showroom floor with minimal mileage on the odometer and sold to a buyer who paid cash, unaware of the gravity the luxury Cressida held.
It then fell into obscurity and literature on what happened to the Toyota model with the CA 9981 registration plate is scarce but it is believed that it had resurfaced in 2020, 30 years after it inadvertently became an icon – although a colour disparity between the suspected model has critics doubting the legitimacy. The owner stated to be in the process of putting the car on display in an overseas dealership however no further information since then has proven this.
There are still no definitive facts that can corroborate where the car used to but what we do know of the Toyota Cressida 3.0i Twin Cam 24 Automatic is that it employed a naturally aspirated inline-six which put out 92 kW and 142 N.m and powered the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.