Toyota Automobile Museum in Japan – We Visit this Amazing Collection in Nagakute

By Steve Laser, Craig Nicol and Nahoko Osuka reporting from Nagakute, Japan

Toyota has built a time machine that transports visitors from the present day to the birth of the automobile in the 1800s. Anyone can make the journey by visiting the amazing Toyota Automobile Museum, one of Japan’s top vintage car attractions, near the automaker’s global headquarters.

IMG_5276The museum opened to the public in 1989 to commemorate the history of the automobile and help build a “prosperous future for man and the motorcar.” The main building looks like a sports arena when approaching its entrance from Geidai Dori (street). Motor up the tree-lined driveway by car, taxi or tour bus, or take the local subway and approach on foot, and prepare for a journey through automotive history.

IMG_5028The atmosphere outside the museum entrance was as serene as a Prius in electric mode when we arrived at 10:00 am on a Wednesday. Soon afterwards, busloads of school children would embark for an afternoon at the popular attraction. More than 6 million people have visited since opening day. Join us as we tour this world-class collection.

Welcome to the Toyota Automobile Museum

IMG_4693We were greeted by our gracious guides, Naoaki Nunogaki (above), General Manager Museum & Archives Dept. Corporate Citizenship Div., Toyota Motor Corp. and Director of the Toyota Automobile Museum, and Shinji Hamada, Deputy Director. We pitched the idea of writing a story for several months in advance of our arrival in Japan.

IMG_4696We’ve been to the museum several times during the past 20 years. This time we requested an official press pass to document the cars and displays and share them with you. We also asked to go behind the scenes and see how the museum maintains its world-class collection. Our guides hosted a presentation (above) outlining the museum’s history, operations and community activities.

Our visit was scheduled for October 21, 2015. We didn’t realize it at the time, but that happened to be “Back to the Future” day. In Part II of the trilogy scientist “Doc Brown” in the year 1985 sets his DeLorean time machine to travel 30 years into the future. The Toyota Museum was prepared for this milestone with a special display of its own 1982 DeLorean DMC-12. (Toyota in the U.S. had a separate celebration reuniting the original stars to help promote Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell vehicle.)

IMG_5043Parked next to the DeLorean were these futuristic Toyota personal mobility concepts, the 2009 i-Real and 2006 i-Unit. We remember seeing them at past Tokyo Motor Shows. Both are predecessors to Toyota’s i-ROAD, the two-seater that’s currently being test marketed in Japan and other locations.

Let’s Go Behind the Scenes

IMG_4811According to Nunogaki, Toyota has about 150 cars at the museum with another 350 or so in its off-site collection. We were granted the rare opportunity to tour two “repository” areas plus the vehicle maintenance room which is not part of the public display. While the museum’s regular exhibits are beautifully arranged, the repository is a no-frills parking garage housing an amazing collection of vintage vehicles.

Join us for a walk around the first repository in our video tour of the Toyota Automobile Museum and see how many of these collectible gems you can identify.

IMG_4784Tucked away in a corner of the garage is this rare 1957 Suzuki Suzulight SL with an air-cooled 2-cylinder engine that appears to be in conversation with a bubble-top Messerschmitt KR200.

IMG_4835This 1936 Toyoda Model AA sedan replica, one of two at the museum, represents Toyota’s first production car. It features a water-cooled 3.4-liter OHV inline-6 engine putting out 65hp (48kW) at 3,000 rpm.

Toyota “James Bond” 2000GT

IMG_4847While we were catching our breath, we entered the next garage and nearly fainted. Among the neatly organized lineup of vehicles were three examples of the rare Toyota 2000GT – including the “James Bond” roadster!

Bond – yes, James Bond (Sean Connery) – sat in the passenger’s seat of this specially built 1967 Toyota 2000GT in the movie, “You Only Live Twice,” while Bond Girl, “Kissy Suzuki” (Akiko Wakabayashi) drove the car onscreen during a car chase. Take a look at the museum’s Bond car in our video above.

IMG_4848Toyota (and Yamaha in a joint project) built only 337 examples of the 2000GT from 1967-’70. The rarest is this roadster. To promote its sports car, Toyota landed the ultimate product placement spot in the movie. As the legend goes, Sean Connery couldn’t fit well in the coupe due to his height. So two roadsters were built for filming.

IMG_4855Your faithful editor poses with the Bond Car in this once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity (and nearly overlooks the replica of the 2000GT land speed record car with its distinctive yellow and green paint scheme).

Service Garage Keeps the Dream Alive

IMG_4884Most of the vehicles in the Toyota Automobile Museum are runners so it’s an ongoing process to keep them in operating condition. The museum’s maintenance room has space for several cars to be worked on at a time. A technician services the brakes of this 1962 Toyota Publica Sports (above), a vintage show car with a sliding roof that previewed the design of the targa-top Toyota Sports 800 launched three years later.

Maintaining the rare and unique vehicles at the Toyota Automobile Museum is a dream job for skilled automotive technicians. Watch and listen to their progress in our video (above).

Using the museum’s adjacent parking lot as a “test track,” we watch from the second floor as the Publica Sports gets its brakes tested by an expert. Click on the video to see it in action.

Maintenance records, and “Starting Guidelines,” have been kept since the museum opened. Computers were not commonly used then, so much of the information was hand-written. Today, diagrams for about 170 vehicles are stored in computer files for easy access by the museum’s service staff.

First Floor – Public Tours Start Here

IMG_5030No appointment is necessary for those wishing to tour the public areas of the Toyota Automobile Museum (see notes at the end of our story). The journey typically begins at the entrance hall on the first floor of the main building.

IMG_4908This beautiful 1936 Toyoda Model AA sedan replica on display serves as the centerpiece for the museum and commemorates the founding of Toyota Motor Corp.

IMG_4904The museum tried to locate an original Model AA for the opening in 1989, yet none could be found. So this authentic reproduction was created from the original plans down to the last nut and bolt. This recreation, now more than 25 years old, can actually be driven on the road.

Second Floor – European and American Cars

IMG_4916Travel up a long escalator (or take the elevator) to the second floor to tour an amazing collection of vintage European and American vehicles. There’s a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile (left) next to a 1901 Panhard et Levassor.

IMG_4930The sign next to this 1909 Model T Ford says, “Significantly cheaper than its rivals, thanks to mass-production, and simpler to drive, the Model T was a runaway best-seller. More than 15 million units were produced.”

IMG_4926In contrast, this gorgeous 1910 Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost was a chariot for the wealthy. Its name recognizes a separate silver test car while according to legend the beauty also drove as quietly as an apparition.

IMG_4950This 1926 Bugatti Type 35B, flanked by a junior model, is described as “perhaps the most famous work of Ettore Bugatti, the 35B has a uniquely aesthetic and artistic design and went on to achieve great success as a commercially produced racing car.”

IMG_4982With so many incredible cars on display, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. Yet this stunning 1939 Delage Type D8-120 with its coach-built body by Figoni and Falaschi is simply breathtaking to behold.

This cover photo of our second floor walk-through video shows the museum’s 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K in front of a 1936 Lancia Astura Tipo 233C.

IMG_4985No collection of American cars would be complete without a Tucker, so the Toyota Automobile Museum obliges with this prime example of the 1948 model. Only 51 of the rear-engine sedans were built before the company went bankrupt.

IMG_4996This quartet of beauties from the 1950s includes a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” coupe, 1955 Ford Thunderbird, 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, and 1951 Porsche 356 coupe.

Third Floor – The History of Japanese Cars

IMG_5234We admired the view of the atrium as we rode the escalator to the third floor which is dedicated to Japanese cars.

IMG_5097This 1932 Datsun Model 11 Phaeton is one of only 150 built by DAT Automobile Manufacturing before the establishment of Nissan Motor. The museum says it’s the oldest Datsun existing today. In the background is a 1935 Tsukuba-go, one of Japan’s earliest front-wheel-drive cars, built by Tokyo Jidosha Seizo.

IMG_5090According to the museum, the 1955 Toyopet Crown Model RS was built without any technical help from overseas manufacturers, which gave an “enormous boost to the self-confidence of the Japanese auto industry” in the era.

IMG_5092The Toyopet Crown RS features clamshell-style doors like the Toyoda Model AA sedan on the first floor.

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 12.38.42 AMThis distinguished lineup of vintage Japanese cars from the 1950s includes a rare 1955 Flying Feather with its bicycle-like tires and spoked wheels, a Fujicabin Model 5A from 1955 with its cyclops headlight, a 1958 Subaru 360 Model K111, and a three-wheel Daihatsu Midget Model DKA from 1959.

IMG_5112Japanese cars from the 1960s include a 1961 Toyota Publica (right), called the answer to the concept of a national “people’s car,” a rear-engine 1961 Hino Contessa Model PC10, a 1960 Toyopet Corona, and a 1963 Datsun Bluebird Model P312.

IMG_5142Celebrating its 50th birthday, the 1965 Toyota Sports 800 Model UP15 is described as the “ultimate sports car for the ordinary consumer.” It borrowed many components from the Publica to minimize production costs.

IMG_5138The museum calls this 1963 Datsun Fairlady Model SP310 the first domestically mass-produced sports car. Combining a Bluebird chassis with a 1.5-liter engine, the Fairlady won the inaugural Japan Grand Prix.

IMG_5140Well established as a motorbike manufacturer, Honda’s first car was this shapely roadster. This 1964 S500 Model AS280 featured a DOHC engine for high-revving performance while its good looks set the stage for bigger things to come from Honda.

IMG_5199We consider it to be a splendid day when we see a Toyota 2000GT. Yet on this day we saw all five of the museum’s cars. The last of the series was this 1969 MF10 that wears a restyled front end featuring a smaller grille with inset lights.

Our walking video tour (above) of the museum’s third floor includes this 1970 Toyota Celica Model TA22. Billed as Japan’s “first authentic specialty car,” top models of the first generation featured high-performance twin-cam engines.

IMG_5230By the time Honda offered this Civic CVCC in 1975, it had become a well-established automaker with sales increasing in Japan, America and European markets.

IMG_5216As Japan’s first mass-market mid-engine sports car, the 1984 Toyota MR2 Model AW11 offered sporty styling surrounding a drive unit borrowed from the Celica.

IMG_5204While Toyota is recognized as the volume leader of hybrid cars today, this first generation 1997 Prius was a new concept at the time that combined a gasoline engine with an electric motor and battery pack.

IMG_5200Is this 2009 LFA too new to be in a museum? As the first premium sports car from Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus, only 500 copies were built using a carbon monocoque chassis inspired by racing cars. Its 4.8-liter V10 engine delivered 560ps (412kw) at 8,700 rpm for incredible performance.

IMG_5210As a forerunner to the Toyota Mirai, this 2011 FCV-R fuel-cell concept provided an early look at the direction Toyota would take in the styling and engineering departments. Behind it is Toyota’s previous effort, the 2002 FCHV based on the Kluger (Highlander) crossover.

Annex Building – Japanese Culture and More

IMG_5023A tour of the Toyota Automobile Museum without a visit to the Annex building is not complete. Opened in 1999 as part of the museum’s 10th anniversary celebration it houses more than 30 cars and scale models in special exhibits.

IMG_5250The first floor of the Annex includes halls used for meetings and conventions, a cafe, and the museum gift shop filled with automobile models, books, magazines, souvenirs and memorabilia.

IMG_5051Displays on the second floor of the Annex trace the progress of motorization in Japan as well as the history of Japanese culture and daily life. This rare Toyopet Masterline van is surrounded by a display of car parts including a full vehicle frame and powertrain while a vintage bike stands nearby.

IMG_5056These artifacts of life in mid-20th century Japan include furniture, appliances, a TV set and radios. Approximately 2,000 cultural goods representing different periods of lifestyles in Japanese history are located on this floor.

Take a walking tour of the second floor of the Annex in our video and see sights like this beautifully restored vintage fire truck complete with ladders, hoses and siren.

Museum Library and Igarashi Collection

IMG_4757The museum library provides a valuable resource for automotive historians as well as enthusiasts of all ages. There’s a substantial collection of books, magazines, catalogs and audio-visual materials. The library is located on the third floor of the Annex and can be visited free of charge.

IMG_4742We toured a special room that wasn’t open to the public at the time of our visit displaying a portion of the museum’s rare literature collection housed in archival cabinets.

IMG_4726Some of the pieces on display include these Japanese “Motor” magazines from the 1950s featuring a Hillman Minx (left) and Toyopet Crown on the covers. The museum also has the Igarashi collection, with literature and archives from the late Heitatsu Igarashi (1924-2000) a renowned automotive historian.

IMG_4748According to the museum, Igarashi devoted his life to educating the public about the history of automobiles in Japan and to collecting and preserving automobile-related documents. He also supervised the initial exhibition scheme for the museum and served as its historical advisor.

The Igarashi Collection was founded to fulfill his wish that the materials be utilized by future scholars of automotive history.

IMG_5008If you’re planning a trip to Japan, we recommend spending a day at the Toyota Automobile Museum. (1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz from the second-floor display is shown above.)

The Toyota Automobile Museum is located at 41-100 Yokomichi, Nagakute City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan thanks the staff of the Toyota Automobile Museum for providing us with media passes and full access to the facilities so we could bring you this story.

Story, photos (as noted) and videos © 2015

Additional photo (as noted) courtesy Toyota Automobile Museum

2 comments to “Toyota Automobile Museum in Japan – We Visit this Amazing Collection in Nagakute”
  1. Hi Steve,

    This is great that you do this! Thanks for sharing as I love to see all automotive museums. If you get to LeMay in Tacoma, would love to see their collection. Been to Mercedes in Stuttgart, Behring in Blackhawk (Danville), Peterson, Toyota in Torrance, Henry Ford, GM Auto Collection, The Candy Store in Burlingame..enjoyed all!
    Joe Garrow – Long Beach,CA

    • Hi Joe: Thanks. We have Toyota Mega Web Tokyo plus Honda and Toyota USA museums under our “Museums” tab. Planning to do more in the future. Best regards.

Comments are closed.