“A harsh environment of competition toughens our people and cars,” said Toyota Motor founder Kiichiro Toyoda once said. It’s a quote framing the Toyota Automobile Museum in Aichi, Japan’s newly opened an exhibit highlighting some of the company’s historic race cars. Titled “Toyota Motorsport Biography: Everlasting Challenge Spirit”, the six-month rotation spans fifty years of the company’s competition machines.
The oldest car in the exhibit is a Toyopet Crown RS Deluxe decked out in the livery of Toyota’s entrant to 1957’s running of the 10,500-mile, 19-day Mobilgas Trial of Australia. And though the Crown finished mid-pack, to merely complete the route was a huge feat. It was so tough, only 48 out of the 87 cars did. Mostly, though, this car was notable for being not only the first Toyota to compete in an international race, but the first Japanese car to do so.
Sadly, the original car is long gone, and the Crown on display is a replica. The same goes for the second oldest car in the exhibit, the yellow and green Yatabe speed record 2000GT. The original was destroyed, but it’s still a 2000GT and a faithful replica of the 1966 car that broke 16 FIA world records amidst a torrential downpour. Though it didn’t turn the 2000GT into a sales success, it was enough to prove that Toyota (and by extension, Japan’s auto industry) was to be taken seriously.
By the way, the artwork for this exhibit is gorgeous, and taking front and center position is the Toyota 7. In fact, there are no fewer than three Toyota 7 racers in this exhibit. The first one, the No. 8 car, was the winner of the 1969 World Challenge Cup Fuji 200 Miles, a Japanese Can-Am race. Powered by a 530PS (523 hp) 5.0-liter V8 jointly developed with Yamaha, it was a formidable rival on the circuit.
The 1970 version was to be even more terrifying, its aerodynamic bodywork dominated by giant NACA ducts on either side, an enormous wing, and further development of its V8 engines. The blue and white example was naturally aspirated, but the orange and white one added twin turbos to the V8 for an estimated 830PS (819 hp). Sadly, the series it was developed for was canceled after Nissan pulled out, but the cars made exhibition runs at the 1970 All-Japan Fuji 1000 km race and were seared into the memories of race enthusiasts across the country.
From there, we skip ahead to an IMSA GTO Toyota Celica Turbo. It appears to be the car Chris Cord drove to cinch the 1987 IMSA GTO championships, but it’s labeled as a 1988 model. In any case, it’s great to see a piece of American Toyota racing history in the museum in Japan.
Next is a 1989 Toyota 89C-V, powered by a 3.2-liter twin-turbo V8. The red and white No. 38 car placed first at the 1989 Inter Challenge Fuji 1000 km. Then comes a 1998 Toyota GT-One, one of the most beautiful prototype racers ever built. A similar car placed second at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. And finally, there’s a 2009 Toyota TF109, a reminder of Toyota’s ultimately not-so-successful attempt at a Formula 1 program.
You may notice that there’s a distinct lack of WRC rally cars. Those are in a different exhibit celebrating the history of the Celica model (more on that later). Even without the GT-Fours, it’s a tremendous opportunity to see so many (and such a wide variety) of Toyota’s most iconic racing machines all in one spot. Toyota Motorsport Biography: Everlasting Challenge Spirit runs until April 11, 2021.
Images courtesy of Masumo Hiroyuki/Toyota Automobile Museum.