One of the few Toyota Sports 800s sold new on US soil

These days, it’s easy, but also not terribly difficult to see a Toyota Sports 800 in the US. Though Toyota never offered them in the US, they’ve been part of numerous car shows and museum exhibits. And with their build dates of 1965-69 landing squarely before even California’s strict emissions testing schedule, they are free to cross our borders as they please. This, however, is one of the few new Sports 800s sold officially on US soil (two others were sold in Hawaii). 

Matt Spielberg has owned his Sports 800 since 2015, but its origin story is a bit of an anomaly. As the story goes, the original owner’s interest in the Sports 800 was piqued when he saw a picture of the car on a flyer at a San Francisco-area Rambler-Toyota dealership. The dealership told him that the car couldn’t be sold in the US — which was true, as Toyota did not officially import the model — but the buyer apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer. This is what happened next, according to Matt:

Being a resourceful guy, he went home and got on the phone with a Toyota dealer in Guam and placed an order. The car was delivered to California just prior to January 1968.

In the early days of Toyota USA, things weren’t as bureaucratic as they are today. Nowadays, any Toyotas sold have to follow the rules set by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, which reports back to Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan. Back then, Toyota had several distribution channels for various US territories and regions, like Guam and Hawaii, and even the mainland US was divided up (west coast, gulf states, etc), each one of which had their own line to Japan. Just because one Toyota dealer wouldn’t do it, didn’t mean others followed suit. Some regions even sold models that others didn’t. Likely, Toyota never thought anyone in the US would be interested in the Sports 800, but one savvy owner was, and that’s how a Toyota Sports 800 was officially sold, brand new, in the US.

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16 Responses to One of the few Toyota Sports 800s sold new on US soil

  1. Yuri said:

    This is how you can still buy a Mazda2(Demio) brand new in the US today. Mazda dealers in Puerto Rico stock them.

  2. Mark Newton-John said:

    Uh, why bother? Isn’t the Yaris a Mazda 2 anyway?

  3. gaijinshogun said:

    There were Toyota Sports 800’s sold new in Hawaii….HI soil is still part of the USA, albeit the only state with “soil” growing in size.

    • Gary Tubesing said:

      The separate distribution channels is right. When I lived in HI in the sixties there were lots of Japanese cars sold there that were never sold on the Mainland. I bought one: a ’66 Datsun 411-C. The “C” denoted an upscale trim model with dual fender-mounted mirrors, foglights, cloth and vinyl upholstery, clock, etc. This trim level was never sold on the Mainland.

      I also remember the main Toyota store in Honolulu had at least three 2000GT’s on the lot in late ’67.

      On my first visit to HI in May ’66 as a tourist we rented an Isuzu Bellet. Never saw those – or the larger Bellel – on the Mainland either.

      A totally different market in those days, to be sure. Prince, Daihatsu, Hino – they were all marketed there.

      • gaijinshogun said:

        You are one of the few that cared to remember this. Some cars our friends owned in Hawaii included a Mazda R100, Mazda 1800 (Luce), Daihatsu Hijet and a Toyota Corona pickup.

        Toyota Hawaii sold seven 2000GT’s. The Isuzu dealership was located in the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is hard to believe given what it is today.

        In the ’80’s there was a junk lot where the least desirable cars went in Kailua. The memorable Japanese cars there including a Hino Contessa, Honda S600, Isuzu Bellel and many Mazda RX?. Most of these cars were probably given up because of the unavailability of parts, and they were complete and in decent shape.

        Tried to save a Prince wagon, but I just didn’t have the resources. However I did save a Nissan President, but that’s another story.

        • Gary Tubesing said:

          Ah, the Mazda 1800 Luce. A very pretty car. When I moved to Vancouver BC to take a job at the end of ’69 there were many of them on the streets there. Also the 1500 variant – no less pretty.

          While living there I also bought and enjoyed a ’74 RX4 coupe. What a rocket! The afterburner-type emission control system was annoying though when it would occasionally cause a backfire as I downshifted to enter the underground parking garage of my apartment building.

  4. SHC said:

    …….. and Guam being a U.S, protectorate makes the story slightly suspicious.

  5. An interesting little car with an unique story attached.

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