Toyota and motorsport, they fit hand in glove. Programmes in Formula One and NASCAR, a record in rallying that stands comparison with any other brand, top line sportscar and touring campaigns, it’s all there. But where did it come from, where did the competitive fire first stir? Well you have to go all the way back to 1957 and the Mobilgas Round Australia Rally. What? What?
As the saying goes “if I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start from here”.
For a first event of any kind, a 17,000 kilometer, 19 day trek round the rough roads and tracks of Australia would be a major undertaking today, back in 1957 it was like putting a man on the moon. Why put yourself thought all this? Well simply put, to sell cars. The Japanese motor industry was in the first stages of development and the next step was to start to export the products rolling off the assembly lines. Geographically and economically, the U.S.A. and Australia would be the logical places to start. The Japanese Consulate in Australia put a request into the industry for someone to send an entry to the rally and Toyota stepped up to the plate. The President of Toyota Motor Sales Co. Ltd., Shotaro Kamiya, gave full encouragement to the project, “There will be no progress if you fear failure”.
So what weapon was to be used to achieve this mammoth task? All that was available or suitable was the Toyopet Crowne RSD and that in basically the same specification that would be found in a Tokyo showroom.
The four door saloon was powered, if you can call it that, by a 1.5 litre engine, giving out 48hp. Of course on this event there would be no support crews at every service halt, no helicopters dropping in spares as needed. Everything had to be carried on board, that is food, drinking water, parts and consumables, plus the crew. This put the weight up to over 1700 kilos and meant that the car would be amongst the slowest in the field.
No professionals were recruited to drive, instead two employees from the Toyota factory were used. Kunio Kaminomura and Kojiro Kondo (presumably in the first photo) were joined by an Aussie navigator, Lindsay Hedley. Rallying back in the 50′s was very different from today’s flat out sprints in high tec rocketships. Endurance, reliabilty and regularity were the key elements, stamina counted as much as outright speed. As an illustration of this, consider that on the previous long distance Australian rally, a Sydney grandmother, Blanche Brown, and her son had finished fifth overall, in a 30 year old Rolls Royce, not sure if Crewe would be impressed.
On August 21st 1957 the rally started in Melbourne and the 86 cars headed West on the first part of the circumnavigation of Australia.
Each day nearly 1000 kilometers were covered and during stops all hands were employed in maintenance. The cars had no electronics to worry about and a good mechanic could repair and improvise their way round most problems, given a bit of time. Of course doing this in the heat while suffering increasing levels of sleep depravation would test man as much as machine. The Toyopet was slow but generally reliable and had no major problems during the rally.
The entry of a Japanese car was a bold move as it was just over ten years since the end of World War 2. The conflict in the Pacific had been savage and for many Australians the wounds, physical and mental, would never heal. However the Aussies always root for the underdog and never know when they are beaten, ask any team that plays them in any sport, you never really win, you just score more points……….
The small, underpowered Crowne RSD and its crew displayed the same gutsy spirit that the Aussies show themselves and were accorded respect for their efforts.
The road stretched on ahead, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and back to Melbourne, it would be some achievement today but considering the conditions back then it was a real adventure.
This pictures gives some clue to the kind of guys our heroes were, big grins all over their faces as they speed through standing water.
The Toyopet finished 47th overall out of 52 entries that completed the course. It won third prize in the overseas entry class, so some bragging rights.
In 1958 there were three Crownes entered but success went that year to a Datsun 1000 that took the under one litre class victory, competition had started in earnest between the Japanese manufacturers and all from this tiny effort.
To salute the achievement of the 1957 team, Toyota has recreated the car and shows it off proudly as a special part of their sporting heritage.
And to round off this tale from the distant past, here is the 2008 Australian Rally Champion, Neal Bates, in his TRD Toyota Corolla. Bates now has 4 National titles to his credit and Toyota have 9. In the spirit of the pioneers he even helped to build the S2000 spec car, the Toyopet crew would have saluted this effort.
Pictures courtesy of and copyright Toyota Motor Corporation.