The Toyopet Crown – First Japanese Car Sold in the United States

In late 1950s, the United States found itself in the midst of a sharp recession, which caused a market shift towards small imported economy cars. One company who noticed this trend in the United States was Toyota Motor Corporation, a then-small Japanese automaker that marketed its products under an odd-sounding nameplate: Toyopet. In an effort to tap this potentially huge market, Toyota imported the first Japanese car to be officially sold in the United States: the Toyopet Crown.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan.

First imported to the United States in 1957, the Toyopet Crown was designed for the small, but growing, Japanese market, which was in the latter stages of its recovery from the devastation of World War II. When the Crown was first introduced, private automobiles were rare in Japan because they were too expensive for the average Japanese citizen to own and operate. In addition to that, much of Japan’s highway network at that time still consisted of rough unpaved rural roads and narrow city streets, neither of which permitted high-speed driving. Such conditions put a strong premium on economy and durability.

In terms of design, the Toyopet Crown was a thoroughly conventional small car for its time. It rode on a 100-inch wheelbase and employed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive setup. Initially, power was provided by a 1.5 litre engine, which produced a decidedly modest 60 horsepower and gave it a claimed top speed of 65-70 miles per hour. Outwardly, the Crown was fitted with a body shell featuring American-influenced styling, which included a chrome-bedecked front end and small tailfins in the rear. Its interior was surprisingly roomy, able to seat 6 adults in reasonable comfort. The Crown was also notably heavy for a small car, weighing in at 2,668 pounds.

Trade catalog for the 1960 Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan.

Although the first two examples of the Toyopet Crown arrived in the United States in August 1957, it was not released to the American motoring public until July 1958. Unfortunately for Toyota, the car did not do well in the American market. To start with, the Crown was ill-suited for American driving conditions. Overweight and underpowered, it could not be driven at high speeds for extended periods without causing serious mechanical damage. The Crown was also overpriced, costing at least $600 more than the 1958 Volkswagen Beetle, the best-selling import in the United States at that time. From a marketing point of view, its image was not helped by its use of the nameplate “Toyopet,” which some potential customers associated with toys and pets instead of cars.

Although the Crown was heavily criticized, it did possess a number of desirable qualities that were duly noted by some automotive critics of the time. It was praised for the high quality of its construction. It was also found to be economical to operate, capable of fuel mileage in excess of 30 miles per gallon. The Crown revealed itself to be surprisingly rugged and durable in low-speed city driving conditions. Such attributes greatly helped Toyota’s position in the American market a number of years down the road.

2,137 Toyopet Crowns were sold in the United States between 1958 and 1960 before it was replaced by the Toyota Tiara for the 1961 model year. Although unsuccessful in terms of sales, Toyota learned much from this car’s experience in the American market. The Toyopet Crown is credited with laying the groundwork for Toyota’s long-term presence in the American automobile market.

Sources

Conceptcarz

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 772-773.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1600.

Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan…the world’s greatest automotive value, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyopet Crown Custom Sedan for 59, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyopet Crown, “it’s a the big little car”, “it’s the little big car”, Toyota: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: Crown Custom, 1959-1961, n.d., Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Toyota Motor Corporation

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The Citroën 2CV – A French Icon

Trade catalog for the 1950 Citroën 2CV.

During the mid-1930s, market research conducted by Citroën, the ever-innovative French automaker, revealed a great deal of interest in a small utilitarian car, especially among France’s rural population. In response to this perceived need, Citroën’s vice-president Pierre Boulanger ordered the development of a car that met all of the following criteria:

1. Cheap to operate
2. Easy to repair
3. Able to seat four adults in comfort
4. Able to carry a barrel of wine or a large sack of potatoes
5. Able to carry a basket of eggs across a plowed field without breaking them

Development of the new car was delayed for many years by the German occupation of France during World War II, which forced Citroën’s engineers to work on it in secret. But the firm’s efforts paid off in 1948 when it introduced an odd-looking, albeit technologically advanced utilitarian car that became a much-beloved French motoring icon: the Citroën 2CV, also popularly known as the Deux Chevaux.

Trade catalog for the 1953 Citroën 2CV, showing the car’s interior.

Designed with the needs of French rural dwellers in mind, the 2CV is arguably one of the most ingenious cars ever conceived. It featured a design that was advanced, yet the same time, amazingly simple and practical. The 2CV was tiny, riding on a 94.4-inch wheel base. It employed a front-engine and front-wheel drive layout, a setup Citroën successfully used on its famed Traction Avant. Initially, power was provided by an air-cooled flat-2 engine, which displaced a mere 375 cubic centimeters (22.9 cubic inches) and developed 9 horsepower. The engine was mated to an advanced four-speed manual transmission. The 2CV was also equipped with a sophisticated 4-wheel independent suspension system, which employed a leading arm on the front and a trailing arm on the rear.

The 2CV’s body and interior were equally advanced, yet simple and practical. The body shell was bulbous and odd (and some argued ugly) looking, but it featured easily removable bolt-on fenders and a detachable hood and doors that slid off their hinges. The car’s interior was remarkably roomy, able to seat four adults in reasonable comfort. The 2CV’s cargo space could easily be increased by removing the rear seats and rolling back the canvas sun-roof.

Image from trade catalog for the 1963 Citroën 2CV, demonstrating it off road capability and usefulness to farmers.

In terms of performance, the 2CV proved very well-suited for its time. In its initial form, the 2CV had a top speed of only 37-40 miles per hour. But it was very economical to run, being notably easy to repair and capable of gas mileage in excess of 35 miles per gallon. The car’s combination of front-wheel drive gave it excellent handling and impressive off-road capability, which allowed it to safely negotiate rough roads characteristic of post-war France and also permitted it to be driven in farmers’ fields. The 2CV was also renowned for its comfortable ride and its ability to carry fragile cargo without damaging it.

Over the course of its extraordinarily long production life (1948-1990) the Citroën 2CV became a French motoring icon. It was regarded very fondly by the French motoring public for its quirky looks, and was also much appreciated for its role in helping France recover from the devastation of World War II. The 2CV received a number of upgrades over the years, most notably in the form of larger engines and suspension improvements, but its basic design and concept remained unchanged.

The last Citroën 2CV rolled off the assembly line in 1990. More than 5 million Citroën 2CVs were built.

Sources

La 2 CV Citroën, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The 2 CV Citroen, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Citroën Car Club UK 

Citroënët 

Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 185-194.

freedom in 2cv, Citroën: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, 2CV, 1948-1970, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 298-304.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1932 Ford Model 18

Trade catalog for the 1932 Ford Model 18. Note the “V-8” emblem on the car’s grille.

In 1930, Henry Ford, the aging founder of the Ford Motor Company, embarked on a truly ambitious project. Working in secret, Ford and a team of engineers set out to accomplish a task considered impossible by many within the automobile industry: the design and construction of a V-8 engine that was cheap and easy to produce. The efforts of Ford and his engineers paid off when the company introduced the world’s first low-priced V-8 engine car: the 1932 Ford Model 18, also known as the Ford V-8.

The Model 18’s development was largely prompted by the onset of the Great Depression. Ford offered a popular low-cost car at the beginning of the depression, the 4-cylinder Model A, but the worsening economy severely reduced demand for this car. Additional motivation was brought on by fierce competition from Chevrolet in the low-cost sector of the American automobile market. In response to this combination of a bad economy and tough competition, Henry Ford ordered the development of a low-cost V-8 engine. He did so hoping that a high-powered and low-cost car would capture the imagination of the American motoring public. He also hoped that the development of a V-8 would steal a technological march on Chevrolet, who had recently one-upped Ford by introducing a low-cost 6 cylinder car in 1929.

Trade catalog image of the 1932 Ford Model 18 De Luxe Coupe.

In terms of design, the Model 18 was essentially a more powerful version of the Model B, Ford’s 4-cylinder economy car for the 1932 model year. It employed the same chassis as the Model B and rode on a 106-inch wheel base. Handsomely styled by Edsel Ford, the Model 18 was offered in the same 14 different body styles as the Model B, ranging from the 2-Door Roadster to the 2-Door Convertible Sedan. Outwardly, the Model 18 was distinguishable from the Model B by its now-iconic “V-8” emblems, which were placed on the car’s grille and hubcaps.

But it was the car’s innovative Flathead V-8 engine that set it apart. Manufactured from cast iron, it was a 90-degree side-valve unit with a cylinder displacement of 221 cubic inches. The engine block, including its crankcase and cylinders, was cast in a single piece, which made this power plant cheaper and easier to produce than all other V-8 engines of the day. Ford claimed a then-impressive output of 65 horsepower for the Flathead V-8, which was enough to give the Model 18 a top speed of around 80 miles per hour.

Trade catalog image of the 1932 Ford Model 18 Fordor Sedan.

The Model 18 was formally introduced on March 31, 1932. Sold at the astoundingly low price of $460-$650, the public response was overwhelmingly positive. The motoring public was impressed with the Model 18’s combination of high-performance, low-price, and handsome styling. The car sold well, but not as well as Ford hoped, mainly due to the prevailing bad economic conditions of the time. The Model 18’s Flathead V-8 engine experienced serious teething troubles, including but not limited to piston failures, bearing failures, and cracked blocks. But Ford soon solved these problems and the Flathead V-8 became a mainstay in the company’s engine lineup, remaining in production until the 1950s.

The Ford Model 18 was replaced by the Ford Model 40 V-8 for the 1933 model year. Approximately 223,000 Model 18s were built in the United States and overseas. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.

A sales catalog for the 1932 Ford Model 18 is available for viewing on the Vinson Digital Collection

Sources

“1932 Ford Models B and 18,

Early Ford V-8 Club of America

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 562.

A Great New Motor Car, The New Ford, Ford: Trade Catalogs, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library

Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 571, 591-592.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The 1962-1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder – A Forgotten Classic

Trade catalog cover for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder. Note the illustration of the “Turbocharged” emblem which appeared on the rear deck of the car.

The Chevrolet Corvair holds the unenviable distinction of being one of the most maligned cars in American automotive history. It is best known for being harshly (and I would argue unfairly) criticized in consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed. This is unfortunate because the bad publicity obscured the fact that the Corvair was an innovative American car for its time and that its model lineup included a technically fascinating high-performance economy car. In 1962, Chevrolet took the then-novel approach of installing a turbocharged engine in the sporty Corvair Monza. The end result was a truly innovative, albeit much overlooked classic: the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

Introduced in the spring of 1962, (only a few weeks after the world’s first turbocharged passenger car, the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire), the Corvair Monza Spyder was a limited edition version of the Corvair Monza. It was the product of considerable market research. When first introduced in late 1959, the Corvair was originally intended to be a small economy car. But Chevrolet soon discovered that many customers who bought Corvairs were motoring enthusiasts who enjoyed the car’s lively handling characteristics. The company also learned that many of these enthusiasts desired more horsepower. In response to this demand, Chevrolet’s engineers went back to the drawing board and determined that turbocharging was the most feasible way of increasing the horsepower of the Corvair’s engine to high-performance levels.

Trade catalog illustrations of the two body styles available for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

In most respects, the 1962-1964 Corvair Monza Spyder closely resembled its stable mates. It employed the same rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and rode on a 108-inch wheelbase. However, it differed from its Corvair brethren in that it was offered in only two body styles: a 2-door Club Coupe and a 2-door Convertible. Outwardly, the Monza Spyder was identifiable by discretely placed emblems, which included “Spyder” emblems placed on the front fenders and a “Turbocharged” emblem placed on the rear deck. Inside, the Monza Spyder was given a sporty interior, which featured bucket front seats and a special instrument panel that included a 120-mile per hour speedometer, a tachometer, a manifold pressure gauge, and a cylinder head temperature gauge.

Trade catalog illustrations of the instrument panel and engine for the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder.

But it was the Corvair Monza Spyder’s engine that really set it apart. The engine itself was a 145 cubic-inch flat-six power plant. An innovative engine for its day, it featured an aluminum block and employed air cooling. The engine was fitted with a turbocharger supplied by Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge, Incorporated, which was powered by exhaust gases. To cope with the heat generated by the turbocharger, the engine received a number of modifications, including a chrome-steel crankshaft and a modified exhaust system.

Thus fitted with this turbocharged power plant, the Corvair Monza Spyder was capable of an impressive level of performance. The engine produced 150 horsepower at a then-impressive ratio of just slightly over 1 horsepower per cubic inch. The car also had excellent acceleration, able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 10.8 seconds. The Corvair Monza Spyder’s performance was further improved by some upgrades it received over the course of its model run, which included receiving a 164 cubic-inch engine in 1964 and transverse leaf springs on its rear suspension that same year.

The 1962-1964 Chevrolet Corvair was arguably a more successful turbocharged car than the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire. Approximately 40,000 cars were built before it was replaced by a turbocharged version of the Chevrolet Corvair Corsa for the 1965 model year. Surviving examples are prized collector items today.

Sources

Corvair Corsa

Introduction to the 1962-1964 Corvair Spyder, HowStuffWorks

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 216-221.

New Sun and Fun Car!!! Corvair Monza Convertible, Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, Corvair, 1960-1962, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Step Out and Go with New Corvair Monza Spyder, Sports Car Optional Equipment, Chevrolet: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models, Corvair, 1960-1962, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.