September 2nd, 1945: Japan officially surrenders and WW2 ends. It takes years for Japan and its automotive market to rebuild. But in 1957, Toyota’s efforts were well worth it, and the Toyota Crown (or Toyopet Crown) became the first Japanese car sold in the states. Buckle up, as we’re about to get into the history of the Japanese car that started it all.
The Toyota Crown was a luxurious flagship sedan
As one could assume, Japan’s automakers struggled to get back on their feet after the war. The industry had to be rebuilt, quite literally, from the ground up. Lots of automakers went the route of teaming up and sharing designs, such as Isuzu and Hillman or Nissan with Austin. Toyota, on the other hand, stayed true to themselves, making their own cars rather than copying off of someone else.
The first Crown rolled off the assembly line in 1955, just 10 years after the war ended. At first, it had a 1.5L 48 hp engine and a three-speed, but later the Deluxe version offered 55 hp. It was fitted with two bench seats, meaning it could carry six people. But above all else, the Toyota Crown was comfortable, which made resonated with the wealthy.
Yes, you can imagine that after the war, cars weren’t at the forefront of consumer’s minds. In fact, the whole mentality of cheap cars is what inspired the Kei car market. At the time, the only people who would want an automobile were those who could afford one. Others interested in the Crown included businesses, the government, and taxi fleets, all in love with the unheard of levels of comfort due to the car’s double-wishbone suspension.
But from the start, Toyota wanted more than just Japan’s automotive market. And 1957 was the year that would make or break the Crown’s success around the world.
Toyota built a global reputation with the Crown
In 1957, Toyota entered a Crown Deluxe into the Round Australia Trial, an international rally that stretches 10,000 miles of the Australian bush. It’s a grueling event for automakers to prove just how tough they are, and Toyota was the first Japanese automaker to take part. In fact, this event marked Japan’s very first appearance in an international motorsport event.
Toyota entered to prove that their passenger vehicles weren’t just comfy, but built to last. And while the Crown was one of the only vehicles Toyota could’ve entered, it was also an ideal car for the race. Japan’s road network was nonexistent, and the Crown was built to cope with that without making the passenger’s miserable. Of the 86 cars that entered the race, only 52 made it out, the Toyota Crown being one of them. It finished 47th place overall, and third place amongst the foreign cars entered.
Now on the map, Toyota was poised for international success. That same year, the company sent two ambassadors and two Toyota Crowns to Hollywood California. Their hopes were high, but the American market is a whole different ballgame.
Was the Toyota Crown successful in the states?
There’s no denying the Crown was built for Japan. It could handle narrow, bumpy roads and operate in harsh conditions. America was the opposite. With highway networks spanning coast to coast, cars could fly down the smooth asphalt. Upon coming to the states, it was quickly discovered that the Crown couldn’t quite handle highway speeds, shaking vigorously as it tried to keep up.
On top of that, the Toyota Crown had a hefty $2000 price tag. According to Toyota Magazine, that represented 67% of the average American’s annual wage. Only 287 Crowns were sold in 1958, and by 1959 Toyota left the states, aiming to return with a vehicle that could handle America’s roads. The vehicle they brought back in 1964 was the Toyota Corona, and the Crown nameplate would return in 1967. After that, the company snowballed into what we know today.
So was the original Crown successful in America? The short answer is no. Couldn’t handle the roads, cost too much, and didn’t sell. But it got Japan’s foot in the door and led to the rise of becoming the international superpower they are today. In fact, the Toyota Crown is still being made, now onto its fifteenth generation, making it the longest-running sedan in history. So in the long term, the Crown was not only successful as the first Japanese car in America, it solidified Toyota’s spot in the automotive world.