CC Museum: The Toyota Motor Museum in Torrance, California

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At present, Toyota has a US Museum located in Torrance, California. The museum is not open to the public, but last year they offered local residents a week long open house. With Toyota’s impending move, I’m sure these cars will relocate to Dallas, and that open house was probably my last chance to enter this hallowed hall.

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Since older Toyotas are so scarce in most parts of the country, many of you haven’t seen these cars for many years. As an extreme example of scarcity, this Toyopet represents the first model Toyota offered for US sale back in the late fifties. It was such a failure that Toyota dropped cars from the US market, only offering the LandCruiser for several years while they developed cars better suited to US highways.

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This Tiara represented their next entry, and it proved more successful. Still, sales were very lean. According to Wikipedia only 318 of these vehicles were sold in the United States.

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This Stout pickup also added to Toyota’s US sales totals in the 1960s. While it looks similar to the Toyota Hilux offered in the seventies, the Stout was one step up in size. The crystal ball gazers in product planning decided the smaller Hilux was a better size for the US market, and Toyota dropped the Stout in 1969.

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The product planners laid down a solid double with the Hilux, and they slammed a home run with the Corolla. First built in 1966, the Corolla took the US by storm, and allowed Toyota to shoot past the competition (including those pesky VW bugs) to set their flag on top of the import mountain for the ensuing 45 years.

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To demonstrate how significant this Corolla was, the museum displays a second example. This red wagon demonstrates Toyota’s successful formula. Working with a single platform, they created several versions that appealed to different buyers. This 1st gen car lacks the 1,600 cc, 2-TC hemi head engine offered in later Corollas, but it’s so darn cute I’d still like to take it home.

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This blue coupe did come with a hemi motor (3-TC, 1800 cc) and is the last generation of mainstream Corollas offered with rear wheel drive. Toyota held onto RWD for it’s sporty Corolla Coupe, but in the next generation base coupes and sedans moved to FWD, never to drive from the back again.

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While some may mourn the loss of the RWD Corolla Coupe, Toyota built some very interesting FWD models. This 1987-89 FX-16 came with a DOHC 1600 cc four packing 112 horsepower, giving Toyota an entry into the hot hatch category.

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This 1990-91 Corolla GT-S coupe used the same DOHC four upgraded to 135 horsepower- A step up in both power and style. Enthusiasts generally equate “Toyota” with “vehicular appliance,” but these models represent the acme of Corolla performance.

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Moving on from Corollas, and stepping back a few years, here’s a relatively rare 1972 Corona Coupe. Paul Neidermeyer wrote an extensive review on this car a few years ago, so I  included this perfect example to contrast with the well-worn car from his post: 1972 Corona Coupe.

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Along with Corollas and Coronas, Toyota also sold their 5/8th scale Mustang, the Celica. Sharing a platform with the Toyota Carina, and an engine with the Corona, Celica sales grew so quickly the car overshadowed its platform mate. Both cars arrived in 1971, but Toyota dropped the Carina from the US market in 1974, while the Celica stood at the top of its market segment throughout the seventies.

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I’m a bit confused by this Celica convertible. This generation Celica was built from 1981 to 1985, and available as a convertible in ’84 and ’85. However, the ’84-’85 models used a modified front fascia with hidden headlights. Since this car uses the earlier pop-up style lights, it could be a prototype model put together by ASC (American Sunroof Corporation), the vendor Toyota used to assemble this generation convertible.

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I’d argue that the eighties represented the peak of Japanese creativity. To make my case, I offer this 1982-’86 Tercel four-wheel drive wagon. Taking advantage of the Tercel’s longitudinal drive line, Toyota extended a driveshaft to a differential mounted at the back axle, providing power to the rear wheels. The system locked both axles together, requiring a mechanical disconnect, since 4WD only worked on slick pavement or gravel roads. The wagon sold well, and other manufacturers responded with similar models.

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Compare that ’82 wagon to one of Toyota’s recent subcompact offerings. No, not the yellow iQ, this stunningly silver 2000-’05 Echo. Unlike other Toyotas, the Echo struggled in the US market. The Echo was reliable, but that’s about its only praiseworthy feature. Styling, features, and driving dynamics all trailed behind the class leaders. The only thing worse than the Echo’s styling was the name Toyota chose for the Japan market – Platz.

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In addition to seventies era cars, seventies era pickups reside in the museum. The Hilux helped establish Toyota in the US market, so the museum includes blue and gray first gen trucks.

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Next up, a second gen Hilux resplendent in its seventies era yellow (or is it mustard?).

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Followed by a third generation model (now just called the Toyota Pickup) sitting next to a 1989-95 four wheel drive extended cab V-6. While the early trucks share a similar style and size, all bets were off with the 90’s truck explosion. Bigger engines, extended cabs, and automotive inspired interiors all spelled the end of the simple but rugged import pickup.

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Speaking of simple but rugged, the museum includes a 1955-’60 J20 Land Cruiser. I’m not sure how rare these truck are, but in a Google image search, this very truck appeared about five times. Jeep CJs of the era relied on F-head four cylinder power, so the OHV straight six in the Land Cruiser helped Toyota generate truck sales.

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That same OHV six carried on in the J40 Land Cruisers (built from 1960 to 1984). Toyota has offered the Land Cruiser in the US from day one, and it’s one of the most collectible of all Toyota models. That helps explain why the museum displays four different examples.

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Including this cool station wagon. Growing up in Colorado, I saw more Land Cruisers than most folk, but they were mostly the base two-door, not this luxurious station wagon.

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This pickup was even rarer. I’m not sure I’ve ever spotted one on the road. Given the original condition and a thorough patina earned through honest work, I’m declaring this truck the Toyota Museum’s official Curbside Classic.

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To complete the Toyota “truck” section, I’ve included this 1994 RAV4 three door. There’s nothing very exciting about this “cute ute,” but it’s the first compact SUV offered for sale in the US. A notable milestone, since in the ensuing twenty years, the CUV market share has grown significantly and now challenges sedans for market share supremacy.

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Speaking of firsts, the museum could hardly ignore the historical significance of this bulbous roller skate with the tiny tires. While the first generation Prius only gained a toehold in the US market, it sold in far greater numbers than its competition over at Honda. The next generation stepped up the pace, building a market share in its segment that other manufacturers can only dream of. Say what you will, the Prius is nothing if not dominant.

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Lexus would like to think this car is dominant as well, but I’m not sure it earns the title. Toyota’s audacious decision to build a super car wearing the Lexus nameplate continues to generate debate among enthusiast. While they may dismiss most Lexus models, the specifications of the LFA demands their respect, if not their love.

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Perhaps you spotted the museum’s fourth FJ40 parked behind the Lexus LFA. Toyota built this ride to celebrate their fiftieth year in the US market, and the pickup includes an interesting mix of vintage parts and modern driveline. Rather than a traditional Chevy Hot Rod power plant, Toyota looked to their NASCAR program, and plucked a V-8 out of their racing pickup (the only division they competed in during 2006). Not typical museum fare, but an interesting historical artifact.Toyota Museum 35

To close out the post, I’ve chosen this Lexus show car. I’m not sure what future this car portends, but know this- Show cars may not predict the future, buy today’s best seller is destined to become tomorrow’s historical footnote.