To get a feeling for how heavy the slab-sided 1958 Toyopet Crown sedan is, consider this: At the time, most American car bodies were constructed of sheet steel 0.8 millimeters thick. Remember, this was in the late 1950s, when American metallurgy had not embraced either its artistic or scientific side.
By comparison, the Toyopet Crown body is built from sheet steel 1.2 millimeters thick. Big deal, you say — less than a half-millimeter's difference. But on a percentage basis, we're talking half-again as thick. Spread out over an entire car, that makes the difference between Dr. Bruce Banner and The Incredible Hulk.
It doesn't help that the Toyopet Crown is powered by a wheezy 1.5-liter engine that propels it leisurely from 0 to 60 mph in the time it takes you to read this article. The motor takes up so little room in the engine bay that acres of asphalt are visible when you open the hood.
Not that the Toyopet is a complete dog. Although it doesn't have power steering, it has remarkably nimble handling and could even be called darty when at speed. The three-on-a-tree column shifter works efficiently, and the clutch actuation is refined.
Toyota already had figured out that consumers liked shiny objects, and the Crown has more chrome than many similar cars of the era. The styling is derivative of early-1950s Chevrolets.
Toyota's relationship with Denso already is in clear evidence: The supplier provided the heater unit, points and distributor. The suicide doors abut a single contact point to activate the interior lights, saving on redundant parts.
Because Toyota was still figuring out what consumers want, there were myriad changes with each model year. For instance, the 1958 model's gas filler pipe is mounted in the rear quarter panel, but in 1959 it moved to a hidden niche beneath the liftable left turn lamp, similar to Cadillacs of the era. That makes finding spare parts for specific years hard to find.
Also, nowhere on the car is the name "Toyota" in evidence. It doesn't appear until several years later, on the Tiara model.
Driving the Toyopet in modern traffic is dicey. The first tester model, an unrestored 1959, had to be abandoned when a fouled plug brought the Crown to a standstill when it breached the 50 mph mark. The car limped back to the Toyota Museum with a kindly Nissan Maxima guarding our rear flank with its hazard lights flashing.
The second tester, a restored 1958 model, fared slightly better, though again the engine felt pressed at 50 mph. The car's trucky suspension seems designed for Japanese roads of the era — still pocked with bomb craters from the war — rather than the relatively glass-smooth American highways. The car's drum brakes are slow to respond — scary, since the Toyopet has lots of mass.
Latent angry feelings about Japan aside, it is clear why Americans did not embrace this car in the postwar era. While a noble effort, it doesn't measure up to what else was on the market, and it was too expensive to boot.
— Mark Rechtin