6 Toyota models that didn't get the recognition they deserved
Spoiler alert: the Supra isn't here
If you ask a thousand people about the coolest Toyota ever made, I bet 90% of them will respond by saying "the Supra". The Japanese brand has spent the best part of the last 50 years occupying the number no. 1 spot in the list of best-selling and largest manufacturers in the world and on any given day, any given year, there are at least 20-30 models available worldwide, and that's before we consider the endless list of prototypes, limited editions and concept cars.
I thought it'd be interesting to put together a list of 5 quirky and interesting and/or pretty Toyota models that didn't necessarily get the recognition they deserve, including - and starting with - my personal favourite. The FJ Cruiser.
FJ Cruiser (2006-present)
The FJ Cruiser was designed with the US market in mind, and first teased at the 2003 NAIAS as a concept car, before making its official commercial debut, again at NAIAS, in 2005. It was loosely based on the Land Cruiser Prado but it stood out because of the retro-styled bodywork, the truncated suicide doors at the rear and... three windscreen wipers.
It's never been officially available in Europe (as far as I'm aware) but it still being sold in some markets in Asia and South America, equipped with a 4.0-litre V6 engine, which can be paired to either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed auto.
It was 15 years ahead of its time, in my opinion, because it still looks modern today and, more to the point, it looks good. Further proof that SUVs needn't be ugly or boring.
Toyota AA (1936-1945)
Based on the De Soto Airflow, the AA was one of the first road-going Toyotas ever made. The company built 3 prototypes and around 2,000 units between 1936 and 1945. In the same period, Toyota also began building the AB, a convertible variant, and the AC, a slightly smaller and boxier version. It had suicide doors and a a 3.4-litre I6 engine with a 3-speed manual.
Unfortunately most of the AA, AB and AC models have been destroyed or lost. In 2008, one of the oldest AA models in existence was discovered in Russia. It was in terrible condition and the I6 engine had been replaced with the drivetrain from a GAZ truck. It currently lives inside the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands (above).
Toyota 2000GT (1967-1971)
Arguably one of the best-looking Toyotas ever made, the GT2000 was designed in the late 1960s in partnership with Yamaha and immortalised in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Toyota only built 350 fastback coupes and one roadster prototype, most of which were powered by a 2.0-litre I6, even thought a 2.3-litre I6 was also available at some point.
The 2000GT can also boast a relatively successful racing resume. In 1966, it won the 24 Hours of Fuji and the Fuji 1000 Km the next year. Even Carroll Shelby drove one to compete in the 1968 SCCA championship.
Toyota Tundrasine (2015)
Toyota: "so here's our new 26-foot, 8-door limo with a V8 in it."
In 2015, Toyota shocked the audience at the Las Vegas SEMA with an enormous 26-foot pick truck with 8 doors and a 5.7-litre V8 under the bonnet. It was based on a Tundra 1794 Edition CrewMax but it had a much longer wheelbase (235.9 inches) and a completely revamped interior. It obviously made zero sense, but that's what makes it amazing.
Steve Appelbaum, Marketing Manager of Toyota USA at the time, said that "SEMA members take their vehicles to extremes, and Toyota definitely goes to a new extreme with the Tundrasine. It stretches beyond what is normally expected of a stock Tundra. SEMA is the perfect event to debut this concept vehicle that takes the best of Tundra and turns it into the pinnacle in executive transport . . . limo style.” He had a point.
Toyota Mega Cruiser (1995-2001)
The Mega Cruiser was basically the Hummer H1's Japanese cousin. Just like the Hummer, the Mega Cruiser was specifically designed for military use and for the SDF (Japan Self Defense Forces). Toyota reportedly built around 3,000 units between 1995 and 2001, 133 of which were sold to civilians.
It was longer and taller than the Humvee, and much lighter - tipping the scales at 'just' 2,850 kg (6,283 lbs). The engine was a 4.1-litre I4 turbo-diesel engine, producing 153 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque, with a 4-speed automatic. It was also fitted with four-wheel-steering, chiefly because Toyota wanted to make sure it had a narrow turning radius.
Toyota Origin (2000-2001)
By 2000, Toyota had delivered 100m vehicles worldwide and decided to give itself a birthday present to celebrate this momentous achievement. It was called the 'Origin', based on the Brevis and the Altezza but much more intriguing because Toyota wanted it resemble the original Crown from the 1950s.
It featured rear suicide doors, jewel taillights and round headlamps, and rearward-slanting C-pillars. Even the wheels were inspired by the Crown. The engine was a 3.0-litre I6. Toyota originally wanted to build 1,000 units but ended making 1,073, each priced at ¥7,000,000, equivalent to around $65,000 at the time and about $95,000 when adjusted for inflation. Ouch.