Today we take a look at the first automotive import from Toyota, the Toyopet.  We found this example recently at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.  Both the Petersen and Toyota provide insight into how this little import fared on American soil:

In September 1957 the first two Toyota Toyopets were unloaded at the port of Los Angeles, representing some of the first Japanese passenger cars ever to be exported to America.

Styled for American tastes, the first Toyota Toyopets featured chrome wheels, whitewall tires, and fins.  Although Toyopets could be well equipped in comparison with other imports of the 1950s, they were too small for the average American consumer and could not maintain the high average cruising speeds needed to drive safely on America’s growing network of freeways.


When road testing the Toyopet engineers discovered that it did not have enough horsepower (a mere 58 hp!) to pull the vehicle over the hills near Los Angeles. Under these mountainous conditions, the engine overheated, power plummeted and loud, threatening noises radiated from under the hood.


As a result, Toyota temporarily withdrew from the American market only to return in 1965 with the Corona, a vehicle that established new standards of comfort and economy for compact cars.


After stumbling in sales the first two years Toyota halted passenger car exports to the US altogether in December 1960, until a new car, better suited to America, could be designed.


In 1965 Toyota introduced the completely redesigned Toyopet Crown, renamed the Corona.


While the poor little Toyopet didn’t initially experience the success in America that Toyota had hoped for, we can certainly appreciate their efforts at mid-century styling for American tastes.  The white wall tires, chrome trim, and fins make this little Toyopet as cute as a button.  We have to admit, the longer we looked at it and the more we learned about it, it kinda grew on us… although learning that it only had 58 horsepower was a bit of a downer!

What we really love is that this Toyopet is a perfect example of the fine curating at this museum.  The variety that the Petersen consistently gives their museum patrons is superb.  Be it exotic or unusual, import or domestic, the Petersen always provides vehicles that delight and surprise us!


2 Responses

  1. sapltexana

    My 1966 VW only had 50 hp, so I don’t think it was lack of horsepower that doomed the Toyopet. Remember the Crosley? How much hp did they have?

    • Wes

      It is true that the 58 horsepower was similar to other cars, but the overheating issue is what initially killed the car in the US market. The Crosley would have a hard time getting out of its own way. It only had around 27 horsepower.


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