For the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Daihatsu followed the torch from Greece to Japan

The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, Japan had yet to prove itself as a global force in the automotive realm. The country’s budding carmakers was eager to seize the opportunity that the 1964 Summer Games presented, to introduce the world to their wares. The boldest effort came from Daihatsu, which sent a small consort of cars to follow the Olympic torch route from Greece to Tokyo, a distance of 11,200 miles.

Daihatsu may seem like an unlikely candidate for such a highly visible operation today, but in 1964 it had as good a shot as any number of other carmakers in becoming an automotive giant. In fact, the Daihatsu Compagno Berlina was the first Japanese car to be exported to the UK, at the time seen as an advanced automotive powerhouse. The Compagno’s 800cc OHV fours made 40 horsepower and 47 lb-ft of torque, in a package that weighed about 1,630 pounds, and overall the car was rated quite favorably upon introduction.

As such, Daihatsu sent two Compagno Berlinas and a Hi-Line pickup to Olympia, Greece, manned by a crew of six. The team was comprised of employees of the Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers and a sponsor of the torch relay. To be clear, the Daihatsus did not escort the torch itself. The actual Olympic torch left Greece two months later and traveled by air. The journey began in earnest on June 12, 1964 in nearby Athens.

From Athens, the convoy passed through the Turkish cities of Istanbul and Ankara, then Beirut, and Damascus. While crossing Syria (photo with blue car above) and the Iranian plateau, daily temperatures reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, but the Daihatsus persevered. The expedition pressed on, visiting Baghdad, Kuwait, Tehran, and through Afghanistan before reaching the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore, and the Indian cities of New Delhi and Calcutta.

The trail goes a little cold after that. A map painted on the roof of the white car ends there. We think it continues on the roof of the blue car, but it has been lost to history and there doesn’t seem to be a photo of it. The actual Olympic torch, traveling by a Japan Air Convair 880M, then headed south to Kuala Lumpur, criss-crossing the South China Sea to Manila, Hong Kong, and Taipei, before landing back on Japanese soil in Okinawa. It’s not clear if the Daihatsus followed in all of those countries.

What we do know is that at least one of the cars arrived in Tokyo on September 22, 1964, about a month before the opening ceremony. The white Compagno Berlina now resides in Daihatsu’s Osaka museum. The blue car and the Hi-Line truck do not appear to have survived the decades. In total, it took the caravan 102 days to complete the trek. The car is still covered with the faded signatures of many of the people it encountered along the way.

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