Toyota, without question, is one of the most revered names in automotive production across the world.
But it didn’t get there overnight. Yes, you might know that the Toyota Land Cruiser has some deep-seated history behind it, but did you know that the first ones were built for the United States government to use in the Korean war? Or that it utterly dominated the loom industry? What about the fact that the legendary 2000GT set a high speed endurance record amidst a raging tropical storm? Yeah, thought so.
Those are just a few examples of the facts you (probably) didn't know about Toyota. Here are the rest.
1. It was originally Toyoda, with a D.
Kiichiro Toyoda, its founder, oversaw the transition to "Toyota" after a contest for a new logo resulted in a popular choice—one that was more visually appealing in Japanese.
2. Sakichi Toyoda (Kiichiro's dad) was the Thomas Edison of looms.
Back in the late 1800s, Sakichi held dozens of patents that changed the modern textile industry, including Japan’s first power loom, which was so popular that Michio Suzuki formed his eponymous company just to make them. Looms were the basis of Toyoda for decades before it started making cars.
3. Toyoda Automatic Loom Works started making vehicles in the 1930s.
So that customers could easily find replacement parts, the earliest Toyota cars and trucks were designed to use a combination of Ford and GM components, as the Japanese car market was dominated by the two at the time.
4. The first Toyota engine was basically a Chevy.
After casting most of its own pieces and using actual Chevy pieces for the rest, the Toyota Model A engine produced 65hp, nearly 10 percent more than the American version.
5. And the car in which it went, the Model A1, was basically a Chrysler.
Kiichiro picked a Chrysler DeSoto as a body design because he knew it would take a couple years to get the factory ready, and he felt the DeSoto’s design was a couple years ahead of its time, and thus wouldn’t look dated when the Toyota came out.
6. Much of the company’s 1930s engineering was done by trial and error.
While developing advanced techniques—like using an electric foundry to cast iron and make new types of steel—Toyota would make a prototype, figure out what needed to be changed, then do it again. Kind of like you in middle school algebra.
7. Toyota developed the “Just in Time” method of factory organization, modeled after American supermarkets.
Essentially, just as your grocery store can’t overstock tomatoes, Toyota doesn’t need more hoods than cars that it’s producing on any given day, so it only produces exactly what it needs. It sounds obvious, but at the time, it was revolutionary.
8. The Land Cruiser was originally a Jeep. Really.
When it was designed in 1951, the Toyota BJ was commonly known as the Toyota Jeep until, well, Jeep told ‘em to stop in 1954, when the Land Cruiser moniker was officially adopted.
9. It started breaking off-road records while it was only a prototype.
One of Toyota’s test drivers drove the Jeep up Mount Fuji to Station Six, which is so high, it’s actually illegal to hike up there in the winter.
10. The first Toyota Jeeps were built for the United States government.
When the Korean war broke out, Uncle Sam told Toyota it wanted 100 Jeep-like vehicles.
11. The Land Cruiser single-handedly kept Toyota in the US.
Its other vehicles (the Toyopet Crown and the Corona) were fine for other markets, but seriously didn’t make the grade on American highways. Ultimately, Toyota suspended sales of everything that wasn’t a Land Cruiser until it could build a car worthy of being sold Stateside.
12. The J70 Land Cruiser from the mid-1980s is so fondly revered that Toyota is still making it today.
Sadly, the 30th anniversary edition is only available in Japan, but it is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new 30-year-old vehicle.
13. Toyota celebrated Japan’s first freeway by driving 100,000 miles non-stop.
After announcing a new design for the Corona, the company took three of their cars and drove them back and forth between Osaka and Nagoya as part of a publicity campaign.
14. The first Corolla was actually kinda sporty for a mid-1960s economy car.
It featured strut front suspension like a European sport sedan, had a floor-mounted, four speed stick shift, and had more power than its competitors. Within three years, annual production was nearly a quarter million cars.
15. Toyota learned how to make the Corolla a good winter car the hard way.
To prepare the car for Canadian sales, it sent a pair of Corollas on a road trip across the entire country—in the dead of winter in 1967.
16. Toyota’s most legendary sports car only existed because of Formula One.
The 1963 Japanese Grand Prix was a non-championship F1 race, but it’s credited with stoking the flames of motorsport in Japan. To prove its mettle in a technological showcase, Toyota designed the 2000GT, which also became a Bond car in You Only Live Twice. Today, they can go for over a million bucks each.
17. And it demolished all sorts of speed and endurance records.
Toyota ran the car at nearly 130 mph for 78 consecutive hours—partially during a tropical storm—setting a trio of world records in the process. Somehow, "highest average speed during a tropical storm" isn’t an officially-kept record.
18. Toyota’s first hybrid was actually built in 1968, and used a turbine engine.
Think of it almost like a jet-powered generator that feeds juice to electric motors. Batteries in the 1960s weren’t up to snuff, which is why it didn’t succeed.
19. The Prius was, however, the first mass-produced hybrid.
Ten years after its introduction (1997), Toyota sold its 1,000,000th unit.
20. Toyota developed a complex traffic app over 40 years ago.
In the early 1970s, the Comprehensive Automobile Traffic Control System featured a control room like you’d see in a movie. It perpetually monitored traffic and let any car with a receiver know which streets were jammed, so drivers could take alternate routes.
21. When the Celica debuted, it was powered by lasers.
Well, kinda. Its engine family was called Lightweight Advanced Super Response Engines, or LASRE. It marked the first time a Japanese company had marketed an engine as a brand, much like Hemi.
22. Developing the first Lexus took 450 prototypes to get right.
Even in an industry that’s famous for taking its time, 450 prototypes is a lot. There were also 50 full-scale clay models.
23. Toyota builds houses. Real ones.
Starting in the late 1960s, several of its divisions begin designing prototypes for window frames, kitchens, etc. Today, Toyota’s the largest house builder in a three-prefecture region in central Japan.
24. It makes boats named after a New Zealand island.
The Ponam series of boats has been around for 25 years now, and takes its name from Te Waipounamu, a small island inhabited by the Maori.
25. There’s actually a city named after the company.
Toyota, Japan was around for millennia as Koromo, but changed its name in 1959 to reflect its most successful business. The next year, it officially became Detroit’s sister city.
26. Toyota’s off-road racing history is as good as anyone’s.
From Dakar to Baja, if it involves going fast on dirt, Toyota’s won it.
27. One of Toyota’s chief TRD guys actually won the Baja 500 and 1000 as a driver.
Most days, Ted Moncure heads up the team that does everything from making superchargers to ensuring the TRD Pro trucks are up to snuff. That doesn’t mean he can’t drive the wheels off of ‘em though.
28. Toyota one-upped the Monorail.
Originally a design concept for a mass transit vehicle that was basically a series of buses that operated automatically, similar to a train, the Intelligent Multimode Transit System made its debut at a theme park.
29. It’s been working on developing "partner robots" for over a decade.
No, not Her. Think physical therapy robots to help you walk...that can also play musical instruments. Obviously.
30. Lexus, Infiniti, and the Dodge Viper were all introduced on the same day.
The 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit kinda had some lasting ramifications, huh?
31. Toyota and BMW are currently co-developing a sports car.
Some speculate it's a new Supra. However, a Toyota insider informed us months ago that those speculations were "wide of the mark." Oh well, if Toyota's history is any indication, I'm sure whatever it is will be worth the wait.