It's one thing to learn by forcing yourself, it's another to learn all on your own.
History professors in school often find most of us lapsing on details, gazing out the classroom window or being asleep in class altogether. It's always been seen as something mandatory to learn how civilization developed or how our country ended up where it is today. While I agree that it is a key aspect of a well-rounded education, let's just say that it's a subject matter that's usually more interesting to few than most.
What if instead of an old museum about ancient civilization, you were taken through the stories of how the great cars of yesteryear came to be? What if you were given the chance to see these cars in all their sheet metal glory and take in what made them the legends that they are? I bet you'd pay much more attention now, huh?
The Toyota History Garage is exactly that: a small tribute by Toyota Motor Co. to the history of the car... and we're about to pay it a visit.
In the Toyota History Garage, cars from various manufacturers - not just Toyotas (which makes it even cooler) – are displayed, each with their own traits that made them establish themselves as a permanent fixture in the history of the automotive world.
Upon stepping through the doors on the 2nd floor, immediately the atmosphere sets in to enable you to experience all the cars in a proper setting. A 50's to 60's-esque setting of European shops and back-alley backdrops fills the halls of the museum, all the while being softly illuminated to highlight the car. From this photo, I began walking towards the left-hand side and eventually came full circle by ending up on the right side. First up, I was greeted by this rather dated – yet totally different – pair of cars.
This place being the Toyota History Garage, it's quite proper that we start with one... sort of. This is the first generation Toyopet Crown. That name sounds unusual now because when Toyota started selling cars from the late 1940's they branded the smaller vehicles under 'Toyopet'. This brand continued till the 1960's when eventually everything was all badged under Toyota and the Toyopet name was scrapped altogether.
Parked on the opposing side of the hall from the Crown is a car that, ironically, comes from the other side of the world. This Fiat Cinquecento (500) certainly sets the initial impression of this place as being one that thrives in the diversity of cars from around the globe. An icon in its own right, this car was sold with a twin cylinder air cooled motor and was known to be one of the first mass produced city cars.
A few steps forward and immediately the best from the era of classic Japanese sports cars were already lined up and ready to strike a pose for the camera. I'm sure these three are familiar already to most Japanese retro car guys, as these are some of the most coveted cars in motoring history.
For starters, we've got the tiny red Toyota Sports 800 pictured in the foreground. Affectionately called the yotahachi, this car actually started out as a sports concept for the Toyota Publica, a car originally sold as a family car in the 1960's. Its light body paired with its opposing twin piston engine (Read: Boxer) made it a rather light car that was renowned for its handling. This characteristic of the Sports 800 eventually made it one of the three cars in Toyota's lineup to become the foundation of the creation of the Toyota 86.
Come to think of it, the Toyota 2000GT is the second car they've drawn inspiration from. The svelte bodylines derived from the Jaguar E-type have mesmerized car enthusiasts since it debuted in 1965. At the time, this car single-handedly proved to the world that the Japanese could build cars that were at par with western quality, performance, and styling. Hence, this car is a permanent fixture in Japanese automotive history and heritage as it was the one that displayed their design, engineering and manufacturing prowesses. Seeing as this car was sold in very limited numbers, it is very much sought after to this day; a unicorn as far as cars and car enthusiasts are concerned
Before I got to the orange Fairlady in the background, I had a quick look behind me only to find this: a Nissan Skyline 2000GT hiding in the corner.
While the Skyline became globally famous in the 90's thanks to the 4WD turbocharged monsters that made other touring cars on the circuit their ragdolls, this particular car was actually the first Skyline to be given the GT-R badge. The Hakosuka (Read: 'Hako' is 'Box', and 'Suka' is short for 'Skyline' in Japanese, hence 'Box Skyline') set out to compete in Japanese touring car races in the 1970's and dominated for a good number of years. The twin-cam, six-cylinder S20 motor in the originalGT-R are so venerable and respected by enthusiasts that even till today there are shops in Japan still building parts and finding ways to improve upon its performance!
It may be a little ungentlemanly of me to be distracted from a Skyline with a Fairlady, but there is a good reason: this orange Z isn't a run-of-the-mill 240Z... this a limited edition 432 model.
With 4 valves per cylinder, 3 carburetors and 2 camshafts, the Z432 sets itself apart from normal stock since it is running an S20 motor straight off the Hakosuka Skyline.
The last car in the hall was this Mazda Carol 360; a model hailed as one of the very first 4-door subcompact cars to come out of Japan. Its rear mounted 358cc 4-cylinder motor is still one of the smallest motors to be used in a passenger car till today.
It's quite quirky that some cars have their own little corner in the museum. You get the impression that these corners were actually built for the cars. This BMW Isetta fits right into this awkward little corner quite well I might say. The staff would've had to push this car into place though (or by dolly), as the Isetta has been infamous not only for having three wheels, but for not having reverse as well.
Anyone have any idea what this car is? I didn't either, thankfully there are small tarps on the floor with short descriptions for each car! Apparently this is a Citroen Traction Avant 11B, a car made special because it is the first mass produced front wheel drive monocoque car. It appears the Honda guys have this car to thank somehow then.
After the hall with the Japanese sports cars, the next corner opens up to a host of American and European cars that share the space of a wider hall. This Ford Mustang, Cadillac Eldorado, Corvette Stingray, and Porsche 356 not only had their own garages, they also each had a projector behind them showing commercials and PR material from when they were first being sold; quite a view, to be honest.
This trip down memory lane even includes Hollywood's favorite time machine: the DeLorean DMC-12. While being notorious for looking faster than it actually is and for locking people inside its electrically operated gullwing doors, the DMC-12 still retains its Hollywood status with its Giugiaro-penned, brushed stainless steel body.
The Italians, suffice to say, have much to contribute to the history of the automobile in terms of design, exclusivity and overall flair. This Dino 246 GT is one of Ferrari's first exercises into producing mid-ship road vehicles back in the late 1960's. While it is widely known nowadays as a purebred Ferrari, you will notice that the Dino does not have a prancing horse insignia on it at all. This is because the 'Dino' name used to be reserved for Ferrari vehicles with fewer than 12 cylinders, as back then Enzo Ferrari wanted the Ferrari brand to be exclusive to only their best cars. Dino is also the nickname of Enzo Ferrari's late son, Alfredo Ferrari, and was made to honor his memory.
Italians really do love red don't they? Not that I'm complaining, because the cars they build certainly do the color justice. A good number of Alfa Romeos have come from the same design houses that penned the more exotic Ferraris, hence they've also been known to churn out pretty good looking cars. The Giulia Spider is no exception, and with its top down it's easy to appreciate that signature Alfa Romeo engine howl too.
At the time I paid a visit there was a small exhibit of documents as well as some vehicles from pre-war Japan. While it was rather intriguing, most of the details were in Japanese and unfortunately my Nihonggo isn't that good to interpret them. A quick round into this corner however reveals a rather interesting part of the museum.
A small hall full of shelves and books? This is a museum after all, and a quite interactive one at that too. From the latest copies of Option Magazine, rare service manuals to old advertisement posters there's enough reading material here to keep the obsessed car guy standing for hours on end!
On the opposite side there are glass shelves with displays of miniature scale models. Here we see all the Toyota racing models taking up a lion's share of shelves.
There's also various artwork and posters of yore to admire and thus completes the whole library ensemble of this hall.
It's funny to think that if this hall were filled with academic related books we wouldn't as much bat an eye, but since it's filled with our favorite subject matter we'd gladly pour hours into taking in all the details and learning.
At the end of that library hall is the last room on the 2nd floor where most of the pre-war Japan display is located along with all the documents and even some cars on the floor.
After that section there was another corner with a VW Samba Bus decked out into a rolling café.
I noticed a door that was open and led to an open balcony where I could see the whole Greek-inspired driveway of the Toyota History Garage, this area is linked to the neighboring Toyota Mega Web where the latest models in Toyota's lineup are displayed.
At this point I've gone full circle and back to where the Toyopet Corona and Fiat 500 were parked. If you go back to that photo you'd notice a staircase right in front of the Fiat, this leads to the first floor where the driveway and café are as well as some other cars on display.
Right beside the staircase is a car we've all come to know and love, the AE86. This one is in Levin guise with fixed headlamps as well as a set of RS Watanabes to round out the look.
On the end leading to the first floor entrance is a restoration-in-progress of a Jaguar E-Type cabrio. The Toyota History Garage keeps people interested on their next showcases by even leaving their restorations for all to see. Soon this car will be part of their collection and will be displayed with the rest of the vehicles upstairs. A peek outside the window found me walking outside to see other vehicles parked out front.
These cars, namely the Datsun Bluebird SSS (A.K.A. Datsun 510 for the US), Toyota Sprinter, Corona, and Celica were parked right outside and looked rather weathered compared to their brethren inside. Perhaps these are works in progress as well? Or maybe they've really just run out of space!
On the opposite side of the driveway where the shade was this pair: a Toyota Z20 Soarer and an Isuzu 117 Coupe... both of which were GT offerings by their respective manufacturers in the 70's and well into the 80's.
Seeing the Honda S600 makes me wonder why Honda ever veered away from their rear wheel drive platforms in favor of front wheel drive. I suppose it established them for the better, but then you have to wonder what could've been if they continued to develop this. Maybe there would've been something in between this and the S2000?
Parked beside Honda's little sports coupe was the predecessor of the Toyota Sports 800: the Toyota Publica. While initially intended to be a compact family saloon, it still had convertible variants during its production run.
After taking a look outside I went back into the café and the museum's own scale model shop. There are plenty of items here that would certainly pique your interest, whatever brand you may fancy. It's honestly really easy to burn through the rest of your trip's budget here so watch out. At this point I was ogling over a 1:24 Scale Mazda 787B Le Mans Die-cast (being a fan of rotary engines) when I heard a loud noise of what can only be a car with a straight-through exhaust right outside at the driveway. Obviously I ran out to have a look and to my surprise, something special was waiting.
Parked right outside was this: the Gazoo Racing Toyota 86. I totally had no idea what it was doing there, but then it returned for a couple more rounds with some other 86's.
For the most part there was a parade of Super Taikyu Endurance 86es and BRZs going around the driveway.
Exciting was this demo given how the other 86 was even kicking it sideways through the narrow roundabout. I had to find out where these slew of machines were coming from which meant I had to walk to the neighboring Toyota Mega Web to check it out. This pretty much concludes my trip to the Toyota History Garage, but in truth this is only half the story for the day. Check out the next part of this feature on TUNED in the coming weeks!
P.S. Here's a quick teaser of the Hokkaido Rally Spec 86 whipping its tail out of the driveway!