Vintage Japan: Toyopet

Toyota has been making cars for over 70 years, and by 1936, the Nagoya-based company was making models that were strong and solid enough for the road conditions of the time. The Toyota AA was produced from 1936 to 1941: 1 engine (3,4 liters / 65 hp) with 353 units produced.

It was Toyota Motor's first passenger car, adopting "the popular streamline style, possessed an ideally balanced load on the front wheel, and offered a superior ride which placed it above many foreign cars in terms of comfort," according to the Toyota Museum website, which claims that it was an "advanced automobile."

Moreover, Toyota's production know-how was developed completely in-house,
while Nissan Motor Company acquired designs for large passenger cars and production facilities from the Graham Paige Corporation of the United States (Others claim the early Toyota models were Cadillac knock-offs).

During WW2, Toyota was involved in truck production for Japan's Imperial Army. Because of severe shortages in Japan, military trucks were kept as simple as possible. For example, the trucks had only one headlight on the center of the hood.

Fortunately for Toyota, the war ended shortly before a scheduled US bombing run on the Toyota factories in Aichi prefecture...

After WW2, Toyota again was building cars, and by 1953, Toyota came out with a 1500cc model, the Toyopet Super. The Toyopet Super became Toyota’s main model in the market in the fifties.

I just love the name, which was actually just a nickname of a SA Sedan 1947 model that caught on, and became a registered trademark in 1949.

Where I lived before, just near Saitama's first Toyota outlet that once served the entire Tokyo area, they still displayed the "Toyopet" logo on the showroom. Some pride.

By 1955, Toyota introduced the Crown Deluxe Model which came equipped with a radio, heater, electric clock, tinted windows, white side wall tires, fog lights and other amenities, making it Japan's first domestically produced prestige car. Fancy. Yet, it was still a "Toyopet" along with other cute and lightweight models that crowded the streets of Japan at the time, like the Flying Feather, Fujicabin, Daihatsu Midget, and the Cony Guppet Sports. I think working in the car industry must have been quite fun!

Toyota set up a headquarters in Hollywood in 1957, and in 1959, the company opened its first plant outside Japan - in Brazil. The Toyopet was the first Japanese car sold in the United States. They are collectors items today.

Top left photo from of a 1959 Toyopet Crown Custom model which looks like it is in very good shape. has more stories from the early days:

Sakichi Toyoda, a prolific inventor, created the Toyoda Automatic Loom company based on his groundbreaking designs, one of which was licensed to a British concern for 1 million yen; this money was used to help found Toyota Motor Company, which was supported by the Japanese government partly because of the military applications. The Japanese relied on foreign trucks in the war in Manchuria, but with the Depression, money was scarce. Domestic production would reduce costs, provide jobs, and make the country more independent. By 1936, just after the first successful Toyoda vehicles were produced, Japan demanded that any automakers selling in the country needed to have a majority of stockholders from Japan, along with all officers, and stopped nearly all imports.

Over at Flickr, Hugo90 has a fantastic collection of photos of vintage car ads, including this one of a Tiara and the Toyopet that just cuts to the chase. They were not shy about it, were they: "The World's finest Compact Car."

So, a very long time ago, a small company called Toyoda, or Toyota, started out making looms.

I like this ad by William Cruse from the 1980s, as they promote how they have been "studying ergonomcis, or the way machines fit humans, for years."

Toyota is best known today for its cars, but it is still in the textile business and makes automatic looms, which are now fully computerized, and electric sewing machines which are available worldwide. Since 1946!

Since 1946, Toyota Sewing Machine has been building functional yet beautiful sewing machines.

The Toyota name itself indicates the high quality of the machines and it has been one of the best selling sewing machines in Europe for years.

Now it's available in the United States. Discover for yourself the quality, reliability and design that Toyota sewing machines have to offer.

But that is all in the past, more or less. Today, Toyota Future has an entirely new vision for you and me, with environmental lectures, safety lectures, a very clever "new mobility lecture" and more. I'm not sure how they are really preparing for the future, but this is a wii style vision from Toyoda City, Japan, late 2009.

Can today's environmental thinking inspire tomorrow's technology? We think so. Since its launch in 1997, the Prius has earned the love of millions of forward-thinking drivers, and is paving the way for the next generation of environmental vehicles. Like cars charged at home. Or cars that will run solely on electricity, or consume hydrogen and emit only water. Because when it comes to thinking green, the sky's the limit. That's why we spend an average of nearly one million dollars an hour on R&D to develop the cars and technologies of the future - cars that deliver higher fuel economy with lower vehicle emissions. We will continue to invest in R&D, moving even closer to our vision of the ultimate eco-car.

Can a car company really be a part of the movement towards sustainable development?

Can Toyota, the global leader, make the decisions to create mobility for people around the world, who need solutions for how to get to work, how to get the kids to soccer practice, how to help farmers, and how to move food to the supermarkets that replaced local networks and community-based coops...

Is Toyota going to be part of the solution or are they just an obstacle, as they continue to sell huge SUVs that make more profit?

From Toyopet to... what?

Technological innovation continues to push the boundaries of possibility, improving our quality of life not only on the road, but at home and in cities as well. Along with our partners we are re-imagining the urban environments of the future where new vehicle technologies will live and new sources of energy will power the advanced vehicles of tomorrow.

Here at Kurashi, we still like staying put, walking, and riding bicycles, and taking the trains.


Pandabonium said…
Toyota certainly knows its business. I've owned 3 of them and they were all good cars. My favorite was a 1972 Crown Coupe. My parents had a '69 Corona which was still going strong when sold with over 200k miles on it.

But future? Nope. No matter what cars are powered by, they still require roads (made of asphalt - which comes from oil, or concrete which releases CO2) and require fossil fuels and other resources to manufacture. Worse, they create social and economic structural disruptions (suburbia) which are themselves unsustainable.

Maybe they can build farm tools and bicycles. That is where the future is.

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