Friday, December 7, 2007

Toyota automobile Museum

While visiting Japan, my good friend Yutaka took me to the Toyota Automobile Museum, which was about an hour’s drive from his home in Nagoya, as I’d previously learned about the museum while watching an episode of Car Krazy with Barry McGuire.

And what a wonderful museum it is. Very nicely designed, it features three stories, spaciously laid out with escalators in a sun lit atrium running up the middle of the floors. Stepping off the escalator you’re able to view the fast collection of automobiles (120) housed on either side of the building.

The entry features a replica of the very first Toyota automobile, the 1936 Toyota AA, which was re-created from original drawings. Stepping off of the escalator, on the second floor is another replica, this being the very first “Horseless Carriage,” better known as the Benz Patent Motorwagen of 1886.

The floor starts with an offering of vehicles displayed in diorama style with various period related artifacts, i.e.; magazines, books, photos, prints, paintings, etc. interspersed with various automobiles. There was an olive green US Army WWII Willys Jeep, Nissan Skyline, Porsche 911 and a Toyota 7.

Isn’t it interesting to travel around the world in order to discover an automobile you’ve never heard of or seen? As I was totally unaware of the fantastic looking Toyota 7, which seemed quite similar to the all conquering McLaren Can Am cars of the late 1960’s. As this beautiful “two seater” race car was built as Toyota’s entry for the Japanese Grand Prix, which were originally Sports Car races, (1963-69) as the first Formula 1 race wasn’t held at Mount Fuji Speedway until 1976.

The Toyota 7 was built to Group 7 standards, which were the FIA rules for (Can Am) sports car racing; hence I suppose the simple moniker of “7,” as this was part of Toyota’s evolution of racing machinery.

And I have to say it’s a very beautiful car, as Yutaka and I stood transfixed at it while his daughter Riona wanted us to hurry up! This would be the first of two Toyota 7’s on display… As we were drooling over the original non-turbocharged prototype, which featured a 3.0 liter V-8.

Finally moving on, there were various Japanese vehicles along with an eclectic array of European and US pre-war vehicles, before we took the escalator to the third floor. This floor is totally dedicated to Japanese vehicles and it was here that I finally got to see a Toyota 2000GT in person! This car as well as the original Datsun 240Z thru the early model 280Z seems to draw much inspiration from the Ferrari 250 GTO…

The Toyota 2000GT was Japan’s first true sports car, which totally changed the world’s perception of Japanese automobile design. A bi-product of this extremely low produced vehicle (337 units) was Toyota’s decision to go motor racing with it. (Along with building two faux convertible versions for use by Sean Connery in the 1967 James Bond movie; “You Only live Twice.”)

Toyota hired some “Texan,” none other than ‘ol “Shel” himself, to turn the little cars into race winners. Although Carroll Shelby had run the tables during his long standing relationship with the Ford Motor Co. (Cobra, Daytona, GT40, GT 350, Trans Am) Shelby had mixed results in the SCCA’s C Production class in 1968 and simply ran out of Snake Oil, with Toyota pulling the plug after only one year of racing.

There was also a second Toyota 7 on display, this one being the twin turbocharged “Monster” 800bhp, 5.0 liter V-8 car built for the 1970 season, but was never raced. “Oh, What a Feeling!” The Toyota 7 is simply AWESOME…

Then we went back down to the main floor to have lunch at the museum’s restaurant, which even had silverware for us to use, as I’m quite rusty with chopsticks…

After lunch, we walked to the museum’s Annex, via a short bridge walkway, which led us into a cavernous single story room which was filled with every sort of item relating to the culture of the automobile and Japan. There was another Willys Jeep along with several “Micro Cars,” large 1/5th diecast models, bicycles, trucks, pictures, trinkets, etc. There were several diorama style settings with a single car parked inside “C” shaped rooms with related artifacts. There was even a large scale model of a “Series 100” Bullet Train engine… (As I’d ridden on my very first Bullet Train to go to Yutaka’s, informing me I’d ridden on a “Series 700.”) As we walked towards the final vehicle, it reminded me very much of a cross between a Shelby GT350 & Mustang II. It was a 1975 Celica lift back.

Next we visited the extremely “Pricey” gift shop, where Riona purchased a small RC mini-van, which we spent several minutes driving around the living room later that evening.

After the Automobile Museum, Yutaka drove us to the Toyota Introduction Center, which is a vast two story building nearby one of the company’s assembly plants. The center of the building is a large room with several new Toyota’s parked for people to try out. This reminds me of going to the Auto Show, yet it’s not nearly as crowded or rushed. There was even a mini-van which side doors close automatically!

Then Yutaka pointed out the two Toyota TF105 Formula 1 cars on display, which I was immediately drawn to. One was quite interesting as it had been turned into a “cut-away” car. For some strange reason the Jarno Trulli chassis had Ralf Schumacher’s crash bucket on its side pod…

After viewing these extensively, we walked thru a corridor which led to a monstrous room that was filled with floor to ceiling projection screens flanking all three sides of the room. There we stood watching the various videos played of the different sequences of producing a vehicle. There was: Painting, Assembly, Welding, etc. And I’m still trying to figure out how I can get a room like this for watching the Grand Prix’s!

There were further displays, like a miniature assembly line model, a prototype 4Runner Fuel Cell vehicle, A smashed up Lexus & Toyota, etc. All this just on the first floor as the second floor is closed on weekends…