2015 Toyotafest 20th Anniversary – Toyota is Red-Hot for Car Collectors

By Steve & Tamami Laser

Nearly 60 years have passed since the first two Toyotas arrived at the Port of Los Angeles in September 1957. The Toyopet Crown may not have been a success in the showroom, yet it paved the way for what was to become America’s long-running love affair with Japanese cars. Today, hundreds of beautifully restored, modified and preserved Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars, trucks and SUVs drew huge crowds to the 20th Annual Toyotafest in Long Beach at the Queen Mary. Toyotas have become red-hot commodities for car collectors. The super-rare Toyota 2000GT has sold above $1 million at auction. And have you checked out the prices of vintage Land Cruisers lately?

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Loading these first Toyopet Crowns for passage to America in 1957 was a delicate balancing act for longshoremen. The fledgling Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. who received them at the Port of Los Angeles had a difficult time selling a car that was designed for Japan’s lower-speed roads. (photo: Toyota Newsroom)

This annual event isn’t an auction – it’s a car show. Presented by TORC, the Toyota Owner’s and Restorer’s Club, this year’s show was a five-star affair for fans of all three Toyota brands, as well as those immersed in the amazingly diverse car culture of Southern California. The admiration for Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles runs deep, crossing all borders and age groups. Unlike some other collector cars, it’s easy to get into this hobby with a modest budget.

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This beautifully restored 1958 Toyopet Crown was on display from the Toyota USA Automobile Museum. Its 4-cylinder OHV engine puts out just 60 horsepower via a 3-speed manual transmission driving the rear wheels. With a base original price of $2,300, only 287 were sold that year.

When it comes to collectible Toyotas, the top dog remains the super-rare 2000GT sports car. The outstanding example at the show was on display from the Toyota USA Automobile Museum. The 2000GT first appeared as a prototype at the 1965 Tokyo Motor Show and was later put into limited production in 1967.

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This 2000GT, model number MF10L, was built on October 12, 1967, and is one of the rare left-hand drive models. While the production run of 337 makes it scarce today, even rarer are the 54 models that were imported to North America.

Toyota’s 2000GT was made famous not by clever marketing or auto show displays, but by starring in a movie. On its debut year, the 2000GT was given its first role alongside Sean Connery in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” The Bond car was even more unique than the limited edition coupe. According to legend, the film’s producers requested two convertibles be built for the movie to better accommodate the tall leading man. It also made it easer to spot our hero as he drove along Japanese roads with co-star Mie Hama at his side who played “Kissy Suzuki.”

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The 2000GT featured a 6-cylinder DOHC engine delivering 150 horsepower through a 5-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels. With a base price of $7,230, it was more expensive than sports cars of the day like the Chevrolet Corvette and Jaguar XKE.

Often credited as the first true original Japanese sports car this grand tourer commands a premium price today – if you can find one for sale. The 2.0-liter inline-6 was Toyota’s first DOHC engine, developed jointly with Yamaha. The 2000GT also gained fame on the racetrack by Carroll Shelby’s Shelby Racing Team, winning numerous Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Class C races. Unfortunately Toyota decided not to put the 2000GT into large scale production.

Lets take a walk around the show in this video and check out some of the vehicles on display from enthusiasts and the Toyota USA Museum including a Toyopet Crown, FT-1 concept sports car, and 1967 2000GT.

The first Toyota model that met with lasting success in the U.S. was the Land Cruiser. Although it sold only one unit in 1958, this sturdy workhorse went on to build a reputation for ruggedness that continues to win new fans today. The Land Cruiser carried the weight for Toyota while it was designing a mainstream vehicle better suited to American buyers than the first Crown. The Corona, introduced in 1965, became the company’s first volume model selling more than 10,000 units per year.

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With decades of production, Land Cruisers are available in two-door convertibles and hardtops, four-door wagons, pickups and special bodied vehicles modified by upfitters. This Land Cruiser and its Sports 800 sidekick are from the Specter collection. (photo © Moto Miwa)

While some folks keep their show-quality Land Cruisers in the garage, others take them out to play in the dirt. Land Cruisers have become extremely popular with collectors these days. Thanks to Toyota and a network of independent parts suppliers, it’s easy to keep them running. Prices for Land Cruisers in primo condition continue to rise, so most enthusiasts would agree that now is a good time to find the Land Cruiser of your dreams.

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Have you ever seen a Land Cruiser fire truck? This one was imported from Japan and treasured by its owner, the late Marv Spector, founder of Specter Off-Road in Chatsworth, Calif. It remains in the company’s private collection.

We were fortunate to speak with Kay Spector about the Land Cruisers and Toyota Sports 800 on display at Toyotafest. Marv and Kay started selling Land Cruiser parts in 1982 from their home. The venture proved so popular that it expanded into a very successful enterprise. Along the way they nurtured a collection of rare Land Cruisers with the dream of opening a museum. Today the company has quite a collection at its headquarters in Chatsworth which is open to the public.

Among the Land Cruisers at Toyotafest in this video is the 1989 FJ62 Fire Truck from the Specter Off-Road collection. It’s a unique high roof four-door imported from Japan with a 6-cylinder 3F carbureted gas engine, right-hand drive, 5-speed transmission with 2-speed transfer case, and equipped to pump directly from a water source such as a lake or stream.

The Toyota Sports 800 was another model on display from the Specter collection. In addition to being the only one at Toyotafest this year, the rare left-hand-drive model was originally sold in Okinawa, Japan. Looking somewhat like a miniature 2000GT, the Sports 800 beat its larger sibling to the market in 1965. This year, Sports 800 is celebrating its 50th birthday. The targa-roof sportster is powered by an air-cooled 2-cylinder horizontally opposed engine with dual carbs good for 45 horsepower.

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It’s difficult to tell by looking yet the Sports 800 was based on Toyota’s Publica economy sedan. Never officially sold in the U.S. it could be considered the forerunner of today’s Scion FR-S (Toyota 86) by virtue of its front-mounted horizontally opposed engine.

Extremely popular with collectors and still affordable today is Toyota’s long-running Celica. Originally seen as Toyota’s answer to sporty cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, the rear-drive coupe hit the market in 1971. Over the years and through seven generations, Celica switched to front-drive, offered an all-wheel-drive turbo variant as well as convertibles.

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A true test of automotive design is how it withstands the passage of time. As we see in this photo, Toyota’s Celica is appealing to a new generation of fans who adore its retro style and sporty driving character some 40 years after the model was launched.

The first Celica sold in the U.S. was a 1971 model fitted with a 4-cylinder SOHC engine delivering 108 horsepower teamed with a 4-speed manual gearbox. Its clean design with small bumpers makes it a highly sought after collectible today. As the years passed, Toyota, like all other automakers in the U.S., added larger bumpers to better withstand low-speed impacts. Most folks simply ignored the big bumpers when the shapely Celica Liftback was introduced for 1977.

Toyota’s evergreen Celica offers enthusiasts a great starting point to get into the collector car market. We take a closer look at different generations of the Celica in this video. Which is your favorite?

Originally called Celica Supra and later Supra, Toyota’s top sporty car was offered first as a stretched Celica, gaining a 6-cylinder engine, and finally a unique body style when the third generation was introduced for 1986. By the time the fourth, and sadly the last, generation made its debut for 1993, Supra had become a true flagship sports car for Toyota.

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This modified fourth-generation Supra attracted plenty of attention at the Toyotafest. While its been out of production for more than a dozen years, Supra remains a feast for the eyes and very popular with enthusiasts and collectors.

An overview of Toyota sports cars isn’t complete without the MR2. This mid-engine marvel made its U.S. debut for 1985 as a competitor to the Pontiac Fiero. It gained a supercharger in 1988 and was completely revamped for 1991 with a smooth new look.

A miracle of modern packaging, the MR2 Spyder came to America for 2000 sporting a total redesign plus a convertible top that folded neatly out of the way while retaining the mid-engine layout.

Looking at Toyota’s lineup today, one wonders what happened to all the sporty cars from its past? Has Toyota given up on the sports car market? Scion to the rescue! The Scion FR-S carries the performance banner in North America while in the rest of the world its sold as a Toyota dubbed either 86 or GT86.

The Scion FR-S is extremely popular with enthusiasts who now have endless ways to modify their cars. Scion offers its own roster of accessories while performance, handling, appearance and interior parts are available from a variety of aftermarket companies.

To bring the FR-S quickly to market, Toyota teamed up with Subaru, who offers its own version called BRZ. The signature horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine provides a low center of gravity making both cars fun to drive. That’s not the end of the story since Toyota is known to be working on another joint venture with BMW to potentially create a larger sporty car worthy of the Supra name. If the FT-1 concept on display at Toyotafest is any indication of what the future holds for Toyota enthusiasts, there’s a lot to look forward to in this market segment.

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Returning to Toyotafest this year is this Lexus SC400 still in the hands of original owners Cheryl and Paul Williamsen. After 21 years of ownership, this all original SC has no hint of fading or sunburn while the cabin appears to be just as fresh as the day they brought it home. Paul stands by a new 2015 Lexus RC coupe to demonstrate the evolution of Lexus design. (photo © Moto Miwa)

Lexus fans also enjoyed a strong turnout at Toyotafest. Lexus has attracted enthusiasts over the years with cars like the SC coupe, IS F and LFA exotic sports car. TORC and the Toyotafest show originally targeted “Old School” pre-1985 Toyota models – Lexus didn’t debut until 1989. Of course, car clubs and car shows change with the times to enhance their appeal. We admire TORC for including all three Toyota brands at the show.

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Starting from a deserted shell with most of the car apart, and many pieces missing, Janet and Duane Fujimoto painstakingly (and secretly) resurrected this Toyota Crown of 40-plus year vintage, to a show-stunning resto-mod. Unveiled at Toyotafest, it was recognized as the Best of Show winner. (photo © Moto Miwa)

The Best of Show at this year’s Toyotafest wasn’t a sports car. It was a totally cool Old School Crown sedan. With so many makes and models of vintage Toyotas on tap, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year’s show. In the meantime, check out additional photos below for a look at more head-turners from the 20th Toyotafest.

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The Toyota Crown was sold in America until 1973 when it was replaced by the Corona Mark II and later the Cressida. Crowns are becoming more popular with collectors who prize their vintage good looks and rear-drive platform. (photo © Moto Miwa)

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Long before Lexus was created, Toyota sold a luxury sedan in Japan called the Century starting in 1967. Believe it or not, the Century is still in production looking just a little more up-to-date than this while sporting Toyota’s only production 5.0-liter V12 engine. An even more luxurious Toyota Century Royal is in service for Japan’s Emperor Akihito.

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Are you ready for Scion – the next generation? Here’s a preview of the 2016 Scion iM coming to showrooms later this year. It’s based on the Toyota Auris yet Scion is putting its own spin on this new hot hatch. Scion plans to offer a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, and choice of 6-speed manual gearbox or CVTi-S with 7-step shifting.

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Scion was well-represented at Toyotafest with enthusiast-owned vehicles including the tC, xB, iQ and more. Folks touring the Queen Mary gained a bonus bird’s-eye view of the Toyotafest from the upper decks.

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Wagons are hot and this duo of Corona wagons drew plenty of attention. The tan model generated double-takes with owner-added gear attached to the roof including a toy pedal-car.

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This first-generation Celica really grabbed our attention with its attention to detail, including flawless body and paint, plus an array of JDM parts including cool fender mirrors.

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With decades of production and countless variations produced, Toyota Trucks are popular with collectors for their ruggedness and easy to personalize character. This rare Toyota Stout is decked out as a work truck for nearby Cabe Toyota of Long Beach. 

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Do you remember Marty McFly’s dream truck from the movie “Back to the Future”? It looked very similar to this Toyota pickup that sports a customized California license plate “MCFLY87.” (photo © Moto Miwa)

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Trends in customizing continue to evolve with the times. This car was dressed with remarkably detailed graphics that appear to be influenced by popular manga and anime culture.

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What’s a Toyota show without toys? We spotted some great ones offered by vendors including these vintage Land Cruisers and trucks from Tomy and Tomica Japan.

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This Toyopet Crown is smiling because it’s finally been recognized as a success in America. Some things just take a little time. Thanks for joining us and we hope to see you at next year’s Toyotafest.

Moto Miwa, a contributor to this story, is the founder and webmaster of Club4AG.com where “Enthusiasts of Toyota Automobiles gather and share ideas, exchange resources, come together, and just have a blast.”

Story, photos (except as noted) and videos ©2015 CarNichiWa.com