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.
The 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.
The 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
We 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 CarNichiWa.com several months in advance of our arrival in Japan.
We’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.)
Parked 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
According 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.
This 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
While 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.
Toyota (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.
Your 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
Most 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
No 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.
The 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
Travel 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.
The 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.”
In 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.
This 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.”
With 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.
No 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.
Third Floor – The History of Japanese Cars
This 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.
According 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.
This 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.
Japanese 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.
Celebrating 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.
The 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.
Well 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.
We 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.
While 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.
Is 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.
As 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
A 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.
Displays 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.
These 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
The 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.
Some 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.
According 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.
For more information regarding hours, ticket prices and group tours, visit the museum’s website here.
The Toyota Automobile Museum is located at 41-100 Yokomichi, Nagakute City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
CarNichiWa.com 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 and videos © Copyright 2015 CarNichiWa.com