The release of the Toyota 86/Scion FR-S has not only breathed new life into the enthusiast car market. it’s also breathed new life into the Toyota brand itself. There was a long period where it seemed Toyota had completely given up on making fun cars, but that’s changed now and we can hope that the 86/FR-S are just the first in a new line of exciting Toyota vehicles coming down the line.
With this new-found excitement over the brand swirling in my head, I recently made a visit to the Toyota USA Automobile Musuem in Torrance, California, located right down the street from Toyota’s American headquarters.
I’d never visited Toyota’s US museum before, and was overwhelmed at the sheer size of the facility. Of course Toyota is one of the planet’s biggest carmakers and their US roots go back to 1957. In other words, there’s lots of history to be told at this place.
Through the 45,000 square foot collection of preserved and restored Toyota vehicles, as well as those donated by third parties, the museum includes cars and trucks of every type and era. From their earliest models…
…well into the modern age.
It’s not just production cars that are on display at the museum, but sizable group of race cars that represent the history of Toyota motorsport in North America.
The 1958 Toyotpet Crown should a good place to start as it represents the first Toyota passenger car sold in the United States. America in the late ’50s was a place of huge cars with extravagant styling and powerful engines, so the small and underpowered Crown never really caught on among car buyers in the states. Instead of giving up though, Toyota went back to the drawing board to build a car that better appealed to American buyers.
The car that Toyota came back with was the Corona (seen on the left), originally introduced for the 1965 model year. The Corona proved to be a success and pushed Toyota down the road to huge growth in the US market.
At the same time the company had built a strong reputation for itself in the United States with the Land Cruiser, which first went on sale in 1958.
As you would expect, the Toyota USA Museum has many examples of the Land Cruiser in its collection spanning the model’s long history.
The Land Cruiser holds the unique distinction of being the only Toyota model offered in the United States continuously from day one all the way to the present.
Here see a ’64 model year Fj45 Land Cruiser sitting alongside the retro-styled FJ Cruier introduced in 2006.
Of course the legendary 2000GT is represented at the museum. This car is actually one a few in the collection.
There’s actually a specific corner of the building dedicated to the history of the 2000GT, including period posters and news articles as well as a complete version of the car’s Yamaha-developed inline six.
One of the things I liked most about the museum is hot the displays are divided by up by model. With this you can really see the evolution of each nameplate right in front of you. Here we have a ’69 Corolla which marks the first generation of the breed sold in the US.
By 1970, (the model year of this beautiful two-door wagon) the Corolla had become the most popular import vehicle in the United States, surpassing cars like the Volkswagen Beetle.
One of my personal favorites of the museum’s collection of Corollas is this ’83 Corolla SR5 hardtop.
Acquired from the original owner back in 2002, the Corolla is in showroom condition down to the 13″ rallye style wheels and Yokohama tires.
Also on hand is an ’87 Corolla FX hatchback produced at the NUMI factory in Fremont, California. I did notice the collection lacked an example of the AE86 Corolla, but we all know how hard it is to find ANY stock AE86, let alone one in “museum condition”.
While there was no AE86, I did find an absolutely mint example of an ’83 Starlet. Us enthusiasts love the Starlet for being an extremely light FR platform to build from, but when it was new the Starlet was known for its incredible fuel economy numbers. 44MPG city and 54 MPG highway according to the info presented with the car!
The pickup truck has been extremely important to Toyota’s success in the US, and the museum includes examples from every generation of Toyota truck.
Toyota’s journey into the American truck market began with the Stout in the mid 1960s. Powered by a 1900cc four cylinder engine, the Stout proved to be capable work truck that delivered impressive fuel economy numbers compared to the larger domestic pickups.
By 1969 the Stout was replaced by the even smaller Hilux, which truly established Toyota in the truck market and helped pioneer the new “minitruck” segment.
In the following decades Toyota’s American truck line continued to expand. The massive V8-powered Tundra is just the latest in the lineage.
The Toyota Camry isn’t known for getting car enthusiast blood pumping, but you can’t dismiss just how important the Camry car has been to Toyota’s success in the United States.
This 1983 Camry LE is a prototype model that represents the first Camry sold in the US. Year after year since its introduction the Camry has stood at or near the top of American sales charts. I’ll go ahead and wait right here while you call your mom and tell her that her Camry is a museum piece.
Love it or hate it, I couldn’t leave out the Prius – another hugely important car for Toyota as represented at the museum by this first generation model.
Let’s move on to something just a bit more exciting now – the Celica area.
One of the most desirable cars in the entire museum is surely this ’71 Celica ST. The first generation Celica won over American car buyers by providing classic pony car styling and an enjoyable driving experience in a compact and economical package.
Another standout from the history of the Celica is this 1990 All-Trac model. With so much focus on the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo, it’s easy to forget that Toyota also was a big player when it came to all wheel drive turbocharged fun.
It was the also from the Celica line that the Supra was born. This model represents the first iteration of the Supra which was basically a stretched out Celica with an inline six in place of the Celica’s four cylinder.
Also in this area is a beautiful example of the 1982 Celica Supra.
There a few cars that better represent the 1980s than the angular, flared Celica Supra. This was the badass car to have in the era when I, and I’m sure many of you were born.
This immaculate ’93 Supra Turbo represents the final (as of now at least) generation of the Supra. Even though it’s 20 years old now, the JZA80 still holds dream car status among many.
There’s so much to show from the Toyota Museum that I’ll need to continue this soon in another post. Next time we’ll check out some more historic Toyotas, as well as Lexus vehicles and of course the race cars.