1961 Toyopet Crown Custom And 1967 Toyota Corona 1900 – Motor Trend Classic

18 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 1961 Toyopet Crown Custom And 1967 Toyota Corona 1900 – Motor Trend Classic

The Sun Also Rises: How Toyota Snatched Victory From The Jaws Of U.S. Market Defeat In 8 Years

After Emperor Hirohito surrendered in 1945, Toyota Motor also began producing trucks and buses. Postwar Japanese industrial output was one-tenth its prewar level, while almost all important business leaders were purged, says the Toyota anniversary book. The postwar Japanese economy had to start from zero.

British Major Ivan Hirst saved Volkswagen. The Marshall Plan saved Europe’s economy. And the U.S. provided Japan with $2.5 billion in foreign aid to kick-start its economy. Toyota launched its SA compact for the home market in 1947, and in 1948, the Japanese government initiated a five-year plan to get total vehicle production, including Toyota, Nissan, and Isuzu, to 120,000 a year.

After the Korean conflict broke out in June 1950, U.S. military demand for Japanese supplies — mostly textiles and metals — helped spur the country’s economic recovery. By the mid-’50s, Japan was booming. As the Suez Canal Crisis put some urgency on better fuel efficiency — and sparked a worldwide recession — Toyota figured the time was right for a move to America. On October 31, 1957, Toyota Motor Sales U.S. opened in an ex-Rambler dealership in Hollywood. Actual sales commenced in 1958.

The Toyopet Crown was first. At 173.6 inches long on a 99.6-inch wheelbase, the Crown was almost 5 inches shorter overall than a 1958 Rambler American six and rode on a 0.4-inch-shorter wheelbase. It had a 1453cc (88.7-cubic-inch), Type R inline-four and a three-speed, column-mounted manual, control-arm independent front suspension, and live-axle three-ply leaf-sprung rear.

The Toyopet Crown Deluxe we tested for the October 1958 issue of Motor Trend listed for $2356, including a $94 AM radio and $75 whitewall tires. Its base price of $2187 port of entry, including heater and undersealing, was $32 higher than Chevy’s most basic four-door, six-cylinder sedan, the Del Ray, and $10 more than the Rambler Rebel V-8 four-door sedan. The base Toyopet Crown listed for a few hundred dollars less.

Sound and sensible, we called the Crown in that issue, one of the sturdiest small imports ever to fall into the hands of Motor Trend’s test staff. At 2700 pounds, it also was one of the heaviest. The Toyopet is so rigid that jacking up one wheel at the rear bumper quickly lifted the other rear wheel. With a full front bench, the Toyopet will carry six people in comfort, we said, with effective drum brakes, slow steering (about five turns lock to lock), and a soft, cushy, Detroit-like ride.

We reported an overall average of 23.5 mpg for 407 miles of city and highway driving, while Hearst newspaper Chicago’s American recorded 34.6 mpg after a 12-hour nonstop drive within Chicago city limits, including rush hour in the Loop. Americans were not amused. Two-third-scale Detroit sedan or not, the 88.7-cubic-inch OHV four had just 60 hp to push around 1.35 tons.

There was no automatic transmission option. In its first full year, Toyota U.S. sold just 287 Toyopet Crowns. Total. Oh, and one Landcruiser (later Land Cruiser). It was a bleak debut, indeed.

The Crown, especially the earliest version, was too ‘American’ and too conventional for people in the foreign car market then dominated by VW, Renault, and the Brits, says Grand Venusian Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics, guest judge for Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year and one-time Crown driver. It was too small and too primitive for people looking at entry-level domestics. Plus it was ‘Made in Japan,’ a phrase that had serious negative connotations at the time.

For 1959, the base Toyopet Crown started at $1989, and the Crown Deluxe got a price boost to $2329 POE. Sales more than tripled to 967 units, but it was still a dismal showing.

New York auto show literature in April 1960 lists a Crown Custom family sedan and a slightly longer Custom station wagon ($2111 for the two-door, $2211 for the four-door) available from Toyopet. Even with the added body styles, though, sales fell to 659 Crowns for 1960, the model year marking the onslaught of Detroit’s Big Three compacts.

The 1960 Ford Falcon (435,676 produced, sold mostly in the U.S.), Chevrolet Corvair (250,000 sold), and Plymouth Valiant (193,292 built) made the neither fish-nor-fowl Crown look more out of place, Hall says. Big Three compacts introduced for 1960 and ’61 killed off all but the sports cars and hardiest imported sedans in the early ’60s according to a two-part import report, Detroit’s Economy Car Gap, in the March and April 1967 issues of Motor Trend. Yet Toyota soldiered on.

Toyota unveiled its new, smaller Toyopet Tiara in the U.S. with the Crown’s 1.5-liter, 60-hp engine, so the Crown was upgraded to a new, 1.9-liter OHV four, rated 90 hp. The ’61 Crown was available only in Custom trim, $1795 for the four-door sedan and $2080 for the four-door wagon (no more two-doors). Toyopet sold 225 Crowns that year and 74 in 1962, no doubt all leftovers. Then an all-new Toyota Crown launched for 1963, dropping the Toyopet name.

It was longer, lower, and wider with new single-overhead cam inline-sixes added to the overhead-valve-four in the engine lineup, plus a Chevrolet Powerglide-based two-speed automatic, called Toyoglide. Sales inched up to 1096 Toyotas (all models) in the States in ’63, then 2909 in ’64. By that time, Toyota was working on a new Tiara replacement, designed specifically for the U.S. market. It turned out to be the car that saved the company here.

The 1966 Toyota — not Toyopet — Corona had clean, spare styling with tasteful chrome highlights, a shovel-grille nose housing quad headlamps, and a modern Italianate rear deck and window. A two-door hardtop version could almost be described as sporty-looking. With the same 115.8-cubic-inch OHV-four as in the ’61 Toyopet Crown, it was the largest engine offering among the 10 cars in our two-part review that included everything from the Beetle to the Renault R-10 to the Opel Rallye Kadett.

Larger displacement is the simplest, most conservative approach to finding the power and torque needed for an automatic, and the Toyota was exceptionally smooth and quiet, we said in April ’67. It started easily and never balked, even when the engine was cold. We noted the slushbox needed more than two gears, and that its PNDLR pattern conflicts with the standard layout prescribed in federal auto safety legislation.

We found the handling very impressive, especially in view of the live rear axle, and the drum brakes better than some of the discs we’ve come across. We recorded 18.0 mpg in hard mountain driving, 26.3 mpg in expressway cruising, and 20.8 mpg in the city, making it just about the thirstiest of the 10 tested. The $1717 manual-only Beetle recorded 28.5/30.7/28.1 mpg.

At 161.8 inches long, the Toyota Corona sedan was about a foot and a half shorter than Detroit compacts of the era, though the large, boxy greenhouse and low beltline adds to the feeling of airy spaciousness. It turned out to be the right car to introduce Americans to the subtle charms of the common Japanese compact. Toyota’s Stateside sales leapt from 6404 in 1965 to 20,908 in 1966, with 14,764 of those Coronas.

In 1967, Toyota sold 31,099 Coronas, then 56,617 in 1968 and 79,354 in 1969. By the end of the Lyndon Johnson administration, you didn’t need to go to California or the Eastern Seaboard to find a Toyota on the street. Thanks to the Corona, Toyota had finally arrived.

Drive a 1961 Toyopet Crown Custom and a 1967 Toyota Corona back to back, and you’re likely to favor the earlier car just for its novelty, its suicide doors, and three-on-the-tree. The Toyopet’s hood ornament looks like a Tri-Five Chevy’s, and the fuel filler hidden under one of the taillamps is like the ’56 Chevrolet’s.

There’s 1955-’56 Chevy in the car’s headlamp bezels and the chrome letters on the hood. (The Crown you see in these photos, registered as a ’61, comes from the Toyota USA Museum in Torrance, California.) The car’s tall, narrow, boxy look must have contributed to its U.S. market failure. If the Holden FJ (MTC, Spring 2011) looks like a 3/4-scale ’55 Chevy, the Toyopet Crown looks something like a 3/4-scale Holden FJ, which might have worked well only until the longer, lower, wider 1957 Chryslers knocked GM design on its tuchus.

The interior feels like it wants to be in a big, Detroit sedan, with its brocade cloth and those big, outboard rear seat armrests. Both Toyotas have floor-button high-beam controls, broom-handle handbrakes, and big car horns, with the half-circle horn rings doubling as turn signal switches. Wheel the ring a click to the left or right. The Toyopet’s interior handles are placed unusually low on the front doors.

The Toyopet is Detroit sedan-cushy, with loads of suspension travel and good ground clearance for Japan’s notoriously rough postwar roads. It yaws over heavily, and feels like a handful even at bicycling speeds. Yes, the car is slow off the line, especially when deliberately negotiating the column-mounted H-pattern.

No wonder MT recorded just 23.5 mpg to the American’s 34.6. Six years newer, the Corona is too lacking in drama for its age. Its manual steering feels pretty good for a ’67. Though the Corona also has heavy body roll in the turns, it handles quite nicely, with quicker and more precise steering. It’s a much more modern car in faux ’60s Fiat or Alfa sedan skin.

While slow off the line, the Corona has enough oomph to merge into modern traffic. As an automotive historical artifact, the Toyopet Crown evokes an era of trying to emulate American sedans. It does so more faithfully than anything from Europe, and, because of Japan’s singular culture and the nature of international communication at the time, it misses the mark completely.

The Toyota Corona tackled the challenge of the U.S. market in a much more rational, much less derivative way, and it opened the floodgates for other modern Japanese imports, eventually transforming our market and knocking the Big Three off their lofty perch.


Engine: 115.8-cu-in/1898cc OHV I-4, 1×2-bbl carburetor

Power and torque (SAE gross) 90 @ 5000 rpm, 105 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm

Drivetrain 3-speed manual, RWD

Brakes front: drum, rear: drum

Suspension front: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; rear: live axle, leaf springs

Dimensions L: 173.6 in W: 66.7 in H: 60.2 in Weight 2700 lb

Performance 0-60 mph: 25.9 sec, quarter mile: 23.5 sec @ 58.2 mph, 60-0: N/A (Motor Trend, October 1958, 88.7-cu-in/1453-cc OHV I-4)




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