Torrance, in south Los Angeles, has a hidden gem of an automobile museum. It's the Toyota USA Automobile Museum and it's by appointment only, so you can't just wander in off the street. But once you're inside you'll find dozens of beautifully maintained Toyotas, from reserved and sedate sedans to prize-winning race cars and trucks.
Fortunately I got in with my cameras and took lots and lots of photos for you.
Here's a look inside.
Toyopet to Lexus
It's a pretty nondescript building. Fairly industrial, like nearly every other building in the area. Small signs indicate what's inside. When you first enter you're greeted by an immaculate, red 2000GT. Certainly one of the best-looking Toyota models -- if not the best.
Nearby are a 1961 FJ25 Land Cruiser and 1958 Toyopet Crown. These well-preserved classics show Toyota's early days in the US, and are just a taste of the coolness to be found in the actual museum.
Step through into the museum itself, and it's Toyotas everywhere. Unlike Toyota's main museum in Nagoya, there's not much decoration. It's largely a warehouse with cars packed tightly together. However, this works too since nearly every car is labeled with its name, age, and a description. There are also a lot of cars.
Near the entrance are older cars and trucks. Along the opposite wall, a long row of Lexuses. It's hard to miss the stacks of race cars on the right wall though. Stacked three high and six across, they're almost like Matchbox cars on a shelf.
There isn't as distinct a "flow" to the organization like there is at the museum in Nagoya. There are distinct "zones" though. In the center of the space is a collection of one-off and concept cars, including the futuristic and curvy Lexus used in "Minority Report."
One aisle shows the evolution of several cars, including old and new Celicas, MR2s, Supras and more.
Then there's the truck area. Pickups and SUVs from the 60s until now. In the center, an FJ45 that would make any collector drool.
One of the things I liked best about this museum is some of the odder cars in the collection. You expect to see Celicas and Supras, but minivans? A handful sit in the truck area, and given how popular they were in their day, it's easy to understand why they're here.
The museum has three 2000GTs, one of which is owned by Lesley Lawson, the model better known as "Twiggy." The most special model is in the lobby though, and it's a red beautiful beast. As I wrapped up my tour, I asked on a whim if I could take pictures of the interior, expecting them to say no. It is worth $1,500,000 after all. To my shock and delight they said yes. Not only did they say yes, but they said I could sit in it. Day made.
The 2000GT is much smaller than modern cars. I could easily touch the opposite side. The dash is fairly high, but offers a solid view down the curvaceous hood. It all fits around you like a welcome hug. No part of you is more than a slight movement from a part of the car. Your knees can touch the transmission tunnel, your shoulders can touch the window. I love it.
They opened up all the doors and hatches for me as well, showing off every part of this special machine. This was one of the nine models equipped with the larger 2.3L straight-6, probably partially accounting for its hefty price tag.
I was sad to see the doors, hood, and hatch close, and my time with the car and museum come to an end. As I stood back and admired the 2000GT, I mentioned how this was easily the most expensive car I'd ever sat in. Chris, my host for the day, smiled wryly: "It's easily the most expensive car I've ever driven." Color me jealous.
If you want to set up a special event or see if you can visit on a guided tour, check out the museum's website. Otherwise, enjoy the photos and videos above.
In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, medieval castles, iconic music studios and more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter and Instagram, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel. Got a tour-worthy spot you think he should check out? Let him know!