Long-Lost Toyoda AA Discovered in Russia?

We love a good mystery, and Russian JNC reader Nitzer may have stumbled onto the mother of them all. Perhaps you can help determine if this is the Bigfoot of Toyotas or a man in a hairy suit. A gentleman in Russia claims to have purchased a genuine 1930s Toyoda AA, a car so rare that the company who made it doesn’t even own one.

That’s because not a single one is known to exist. All the examples photographed at the Toyota Automobile Museum are replicas.

The 1936 Toyoda AA was Toyota’s first production car. Even in its time, it was rare — only 1404 were reportedly built during its nine year lifespan. In 1980 Toyota sought to restore an original AA, but failed to locate any remaining vehicles.

Instead, they raided the archives and tracked down retired employees that had actually worked on the originals. Keep in mind, 50 years had gone by and many of the employees had already passed away. It took six years to finish the project and the handful of cars that emerged are now on display in various museums in Japan.

On November 19, a member on the Russian site Retro-Auto posted a car he claims to be an authentic AA. Right away it’s obvious several things don’t match, including the grille, hood, and chrome trim along the side.

However, after 80 years of abuse — entire sections of the body have been cut out — it’s likely those bits have been scavenged from other cars, or fabricated from scratch altogether.

The thread on JNC immediately began debate on whether or not it was a very similar-looking 1934 Chrysler Airflow, but the strongest evidence pointing to the AA is that of the three cowl “louvers.” The Airflow had many louver designs, never in that shape with the tapered ends:

chrysler airflow louvers

Unlikely as it may sound, we have to remain open to the possibility that someone took an Airflow (or another similar car) and modified it to look like the Toyoda AA.

From the rear it becomes clearer that the chrome trim was definitely added on later. Note the character line curving down under the D-pillar.

toyota toyoda aa rear

Here’s a rear end shot of the Toyoda AA for comparison. It’s very similar to the rear of the Chrysler Airflow sedan, so we still don’t know if the Russian car is a true AA. Russia and Japan are separated by only 40 miles at the narrowest strait along the Sea of Japan. J-tin has been flowing into Russia like mad in recent years, so it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think an AA could have sneaked its way across at some point.

We’re posting this in the hopes that someone who doesn’t regularly delve into the forum mayhem can shed some light on the subject. Sorry we don’t have a definitive answer for you yet, but that’s the beauty of this mystery — it’s still unfolding!

We couldn’t include everything in this post, so check out all the evidence (and many more photos) for yourself in the Russian Toyota AA forum thread.

[Toyoda AA Photo Credit: Matumo, zzeri]

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33 Responses to Long-Lost Toyoda AA Discovered in Russia?

  1. Dan said:

    Get on it Toyota!

  2. Jon said:

    I’m no expert, but I say it’s quite possible this vehicle started life as a Toyoda AA. The windows are the primary identifier — it would be very time consuming to reproduce the window openings exactly as they are on the AA on another vehicle’s body.

    The major parts that don’t line up, aside from the chrome, are all on the front end, indicating that this vehicle probably had a front-end collision at one point in time. I can easily imagine the bumper, grill and hood being damaged beyond repair, but the rest remaining intact. New parts for the AA would obviously have been impossible to find, so it seems likely that they would have used what was available, and made it all fit.

    The rear end lines up almost perfectly with the AA, with the obvious exception of the large missing section. Potentially this was damaged in the same accident that claimed the front end, and was cut off and never replaced. There appears to be a bit of a pickup-truck bed quality to the rear. When you only have one vehicle, you make it fit your needs.

    The only other sources of question for me are the windscreen and the wipers. In the pristine AA picture, there is no center pillar and the wiper appears to be mounted above the windscreen. In the Russian example, the wiper is below the windscreen, and the screen itself has the center pillar. However, the windscreen could have been replaced with whatever they had to fit, and the pillar is actually attached to the glass, rather than the car. The windscreen almost looks like the windscreen on my ’46 Dodge WC.

    To me, there are too many similarities to a real AA to discount this as a fake. Window shapes/sizes/locations, door shapes and hinges, roofline, etc. All of these would take considerable time, talent and money to replicate, and I just don’t think this vehicle has had that treatment.

  3. Jon said:

    One more thing — I know it’s not easy to just pop on over to Russia for a close-up look, but assuming someone did examine it, it should be pretty simple to figure out. There should be serial number plates on the body and stamped into the chassis, which can be cross-referenced against known information — assuming that someone has access to the serial numbers for the actual Toyoda AA’s.

  4. BlownArrow! said:

    With my untrained eye I could tell but the prospect of the hole think is exciting!
    to me the rear window and tear drop 3rd window scream AA and the roof line looks unmolested BUT looking to the front with that same unmolested roof line you see a totaly diffrent windscreen, the AA has a singal flat down curved glass where as the sample in the snow has a two peace angled screen with a up word lines..
    just my 2 cents…

  5. Dan said:

    I choose to believe! The rear end is too similar to me. The Airflow’s rear end tapers more than that of the AA, and the tapering appears to start high up on the d-pillar. Even though much of the rear is missing on this car, you can see that it doesn’t taper the same way the Airflow does

  6. BlownArrow! said:

    Anybody notice the snow?

    TIRE TRACKS!

    Is this a current running car?

  7. bert said:

    Sorry Dan, But I have to say FFFFAAAAAKKKKEEEEE!!! The two cars are extremely similar, but the fine details just don’t mach up. The rear window on the AA looks wider. There are no rear quarter windows on the AA. The lines on the rear of both cars are very similar, but don’t quite match up. The Russian car actually looks a little bit bigger. And the curves on the front of the body around the windshield of the AA are a little more abrupt than those of the Russian car. It might be a Chrysler, it might be something else, but I don’t believe it’s a Toyota. Of course I’m not an expert, maybe we should ask the Cumberland Spaceman!(aka toyotageek!)

  8. bert said:

    I’d also be curious to know if Russia built a similar car around that time?

  9. Dan said:

    Also, it appears from google image searches that the Airflow had a little kink on the roof right above the front windshield, as a continuation of the crease in the glass. Although this Russian car has a 2-piece front windshield, the two pieces of glass appear to sit on the same plane and there is no kink in the roof above it.

  10. AKADriver said:

    I’d bet the quarter window was added for the same reason and with the same method as the divider in the windshield – to replace non-existent old glass with whatever small pieces of plate glass were around.

    Other details seem too similar to not be a AA, like the area around the upper hinge on the A-pillar.

  11. bert said:

    The steering wheel is on the wrong side though. These cars were made before and during WW2. The Japanese were not viewed fondly during this time, I don’t think they would have made vehicles for export. Don’t get me wrong, I love Toyota’s, and finding a vehicle this historic would be a great thing, I just don’t think this is one of them. If the owner could provide some documentation, or numbers off of the car, that might be a good thing.

  12. bert said:

    There seems to be one other possibility, the 1935-38 VolvoPV36 Carioca. It was heavily based on the Chrysler Airflow, with some minor differences, and the steering wheel is on the same side as the one in the pictures.

  13. Jim-Bob said:

    You have to remember that we are dealing with the Soviet Union here, and not the Russia of today. It may be that the car was a war prize which later got passed on to the proletariat after it’s useful life to the state had finished. At this time in the history of the USSR, the only cars they produced were by GAZ, and were variants of the Ford Model A and AA trucks. They were modified to fit the Russian conditions which included bad roads and much harsher winters than in their native country. Also, remember that it was VERY common for the Soviets to buy “samples’ of cars from other nations to learn from their engineering expertise. There are weird junkyards in places that have stores of foreign cars. Being a socialist state, they dealt with their junk cars differently than we do in the west. Junk cars were usually abandoned in fields and people were free to scavenge them for parts. This car may have been made useful again by a Soviet citizen who needed it for utilitarian purposes in farming, etc. So, don’t think of the USSR as though it’s car culture is like the US. Think more like Cuba. in Cuba, 50-60 year old cars run around on parts scavenged from military trucks, and whatever else there is to make them work. They make their own brake fluid from household items as there simply is none available. Scarcity is a cruel mistress and forces people to make do however they can.

    One final point to remember is that Japan took over some islands that were Russian territory during WWII. It may be that this car was originally used by an official during that time, and abandoned after the war.

  14. Jim-Bob said:

    I did think of one other agency that may have built cars at this time; ZIL or ZIS (depending on the year). ZIL made state vehicles for high officials like Stalin, but they also produced heavy trucks. As for other brands, AvtoVAZ, Lada, Moscvtch, ZAZ, etc. One final possibility might be the GAZ 21 Poebda, but I tend to think that it looks too new to be this car. It came out in 1946 (Poebda means “Victory”, as in the victory in what they called “The Great Patriotic War”, or WWII.) That car looks very similar to a Chevy of the same time, but had a 4 cylinder engine instead of the 6 of the American car. Ladas can be ruled out because they are just a license built version of the 1966 Fiat 124 (Still in production!). ZAZ was the Soviet Volkswagen/ Fiat 600 clone and dates from 1959 to 1994.

    As for this car, I HIGHLY doubt it is a Chrysler Airflow. That seems less likely than the Toyoda if for no other reason than geography. It would not have been part of Lend-Lease either due to the nature of the car in question.

  15. E-AT_me said:

    not that it really matters, but the wiper is in the wrong location.

  16. Alan said:

    FASCINATING!!! Can’t wait to see what comes of this.

  17. Mr.L.J. Nordvik said:

    I would like to belive,but if something seems too good to be true…well,you know.

  18. bert said:

    Look, all this could be cleared up really easy, if Ben and Dan used their new found influences within the higher ranks of Toyota, and borrowed the LFA to go over to Russia and straighten all this out!=)

  19. Rob said:

    Best bet is that since we know about this, Toyota does too. And i hear they have top men working on it right now. Top men.

  20. bert said:

    I thought it would be cheaper and more fun than taking a plane. Probably faster too!!

  21. cesariojpn said:

    To add to the point of Soviet Russia copying other people’s designs, remember that Stalin coveted the B-29 Superfortress, and when three of those bombers had to fly to Russia after problems over Japan during WWII, he had those planes copied faster than you could say “INCARCERATION IN GULAG!! ” into the Tupolev Tu-4.

    So I wouldn’t put it past Stalin or some other party member to have taken a Toyoda AA and tried to copy it.

  22. david said:

    why would the Japanese car be right hand drive and the Russian one left?? maybe it IS an American car.
    My guess is that it is not a Toyota AA

  23. ehdubya said:

    The two piece screen looks to be a poor fit and turned upside down and the hood is like a Volvo 444 but the rest looks right apart from the left hook and independent front suspension. All the Toyoda recreations appear to have a beam axle.

  24. FJP said:

    I have a thought about the different front suspension and the left hand drive. Could it be that an AA body (well, most of one at least) was mated somewhere along the way to a different frame?

  25. Robai said:

    Yes, well we could just as well argue that it is actually a Volvo Carioca as Bert says, an argument that holds exactly the same heft as it being the long lost Prima Toyoda:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carioca.jpg

  26. econobiker said:

    Door hinge locations appear the same.

    Feature line at A-pillar and upper hinge appear the same.

    Front windshield appears to be laminated on exterior of body with some evidence of the sunken original window frame viewable from the exterior and interior.

    Front hood is home built probably from the USSR Jeep type hood of the vehicle which supplied the frame and running gear as seen by the bed extending from the rear.

    This is most likely a body installed on a Russian frame or a potential Russian copy per the photos on the main thread…

  27. Jim-Bob said:

    There IS a second car posted on the Russian forum as well! It appears to also be a possible AA, but in far more complete condition. It is on page 16 of the forum posting. Also, there are several undercarriage shots of the black car on that forum as well. They seem to show a frame with an open driveline, whereas American cars of this time period typically had torque tubes instead. The leaf springs are VERY heavy duty too, and appear to have around 8-10 leaves each. This makes me think it is on a truck chassis of some sort. Here is a link to one of the pics: http://forums.drom.ru/attachment.php?attachmentid=747376&stc=1&d=1259245414 . I forget how to use HTML to post it, but a cut and paste would produce it. You will notice that the rear has a bit of a bustle to it, unlike the Toyota recreation.

  28. Shaun said:

    To me it looks like someone stole an AA in Japan, got it to Russia and gave it the Zil treatment to help it ‘blend in’ more, then added Volvo influence as the whole ‘scandanvian retro’ movement took off, went Airflow in the 50′s cos that was cool then, lastly converting it to LHD with with the hope of one day being able to pursue the owners dream of driving it to Goodwood Festival via Route 66.

  29. 4AGE KE70 said:

    Wow,nice classic car. I like the symbol of it,it’s a Toyota,right?

  30. Kashna said:

    Hey!

    I want to believe in this story, but there is also a very easy issue to the problem. Why do we need to look for chryslers or volvos…
    There is an update of the AA, which is the AC, produced from 1943 to 1948 (before and after the war… you see what I mean?). It is actually an update of the AA. The major difference is the front glass splitted…. Our Russian car has it….
    See the photo of the AC:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/1943_Toyota_Model_AC_01.jpg

  31. bert said:

    @Kashna-I thought about the AC, but the car still seems to large to me, and I can’t get over the fact that it’s left hand drive. As Ben mentioned, steering can be easily converted, but why would anyone want to? Especially with the way it looks! Rare car or not that thing is still a beater!

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