What Was the First Toyota Car
What was the first car ever produced by Toyota? Find out the humble beginnings of Toyota.
The first car of Toyota was called the "Toyoda Model AA".
While the company under Toyoda Kiichiro already existed, it was a loom manufacturer, not a carmaker. In 1933, Kiichiro expanded the company by adding an automotive branch.
Originally the company was called Toyoda, in line with the founder's name. It was changed to Toyota, with a second "t”, because it was easier to write that way. Spelling it as "Toyoda" meant extra pen strokes in Japanese characters, so in a way this name change shortened it, despite having the same number of letters.
Before the name change, in 1936, the very first production vehicle was released, known as the Model AA.
The Model AA
Just what was the Model AA?
It was a sedan modeled after both Chrysler and Chevrolet vehicles. The body was influenced by Chrysler and looked a lot like the De Soto Airflow.
The engine was designed with influence from Chevrolet. It was a water-cooled, inline 6 cylinder engine with 3,389cc of displacement. It was able to make 65 horsepower at 3,000rpm and weighed a little over 3,300 pounds! By today's standards, that is very little power, especially for a car that weighs over 3,000 pounds.
The Model AA was made until 1943, when it was discontinued. Toyota made 1,404 in total. The starting price was 3,350 Yen, which translates to a little under $1000 USD, based on the exchange rates back then (which were a lot different than they are today between Japan and the United States).
Model AB Convertible Option
The Model AA had one spin-off, known as the AB Cabriolet, or AB Phaeton. It was essentially the same vehicle, just without the top.
Toyota made 353 Model ABs. They were able to be bought by civilians, but a lot of them were painted a tan color and delivered to the Japanese army. These particular vehicles were given a codename of "ABR". Given their priority for the military and the low production numbers, very few civilians actually owned one.
Model AA's Disappearance
World War II wreaked havoc all across the globe, and Japan suffered a great deal. In fact, it was long believed all the original Model AAs were simply gone. Perhaps some had been dismantled to use valuable materials during the war, even. No one was certain as to where they all went, but it seemed that they were all long gone.
In 2008, however, one Model AA was found. The car was located in Vladivostok, Russia. A student happened to come across an ad for a 1936 De Soto vehicle and went to check it out. Upon further inspection, he was convinced it was actually a Toyota Model AA and contacted a museum in the Netherlands about his discovery.
It turned out to be true. Although the car had been altered (right hand to left hand drive conversion, different stereo, etc.), and was clearly very worn down, it was still a Model AA. Of course, no one is quite sure how it ended up in Russia to begin with. It appeared to have spent decades upon decades just outside Vladivostok on a farm. The student had really come across a true barn find.
From there, it became an entire ordeal about how to get this car out of Russia and into a museum. It finally moved to The Hague's Louwman Museum, where it resides today.
What About The American Car Market?
In the United States, Toyota is a favored brand, loved and respected for their practical and reliable vehicles sold at reasonable prices. They have also produced some of the most legendary sports cars of all time, like the Supra.
They debuted their first production car in the USA in 1957. This car was called the Toyopet Crown, and definitely did not resonate with Americans the way the name Toyota does today. The car was considered bad, to put it bluntly. It was not comfortable, more expensive than European cars competing with it, low on power, and did not have a lot of the features drivers were expecting to find in their automobiles.
With that, Toyota had to try again, and try something else. They focused on designing a vehicle that was more fitting to American roads, rather than the Toyopet, which was much more suited to the crowded Tokyo metropolis.
In 1965 came the Corona. It was a 90 horsepower car, which was more than double the power of the Volkswagen Beetle at the time. This was a big deal because at that point, the Beetle was the best selling import in the United States. It also had the much wanted features like air conditioning and even an automatic transmission.
Within just two years, Toyota went from a no-name brand in the United States to the 5th most popular foreign car manufacturer in the country.
Toyota started as Toyoda, and was actually a company in the business of looms, not cars. They then expanded their business to include automotive applications and released the Model AA in 1936, after having designed 3 prototypes.
The car looked a lot like the De Soto Airflow, and the engine borrowed heavily from Chevrolet's designs. By today's standards, it would be considered vastly underpowered for the curb weight at over 3,300 pounds, but of course the standards were a lot different in the 1930s.
It was thought the original Model AAs were all lost, until someone happened upon one in a classified ad. The one surviving Model AA now resides in a museum in the Netherlands.
In the United States, Toyota debuted their Toyopet in 1957, and was widely regarded as a failure by American standards. So in 1965 they tried again with the Corona, which catapulted them to the top 5 import car manufacturers.
Today, Toyota remains one of the top automotive brands in the United States and around the world. Their vehicles are known for being long-lasting, even as the hundreds of thousands of miles pile up!