It wasn't exactly Waiting for Godot, but it must have felt that way. From 1961, when Toyota virtually pulled out of the U.S. car market, dealers who had hooked up with the manufacturer had to wait four years before the arrival of the Corona.
Stories of the Toyopet Crown, which preceded the Corona, are legendary — a mere 58 hp pushing 3,000 pounds. "It couldn't get out of its own way," recalls Dudley Hawley, former vice president of corporate service at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and now president of subsidiary AirFlite Inc.
The flop of the Toyopet Crown made Toyota realize how different driving conditions were in Japan and the United States. In Japan then, people drove 35 to 40 mph. "But at that time in the U.S., they had 55-mile-per-hour freeways, and they drove for a long time at high speed," says Mitsuo Yamada, now 77, who was a young employee in Toyota's export department during the 1960s.
Toyota was much more cautious about getting the right car the next time. There was no margin for error.
Toyota was determined to learn how to make the product fit the market, says Yamada. "We did tests from morning to night. We spent five years improving it to meet the U.S. market."