Japan's coolest cars at the Toyota Automobile Museum (pictures)

Located near Toyota's headquarters in Nagoya, Japan, the museum is a fabulous space filled with makes and models from around the world and throughout automotive history.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Cool cars await. I just realized looking at the picture that the sign is a "T".

For the full story behind the tour, check out Take a tour of the Toyota Automobile Museum.

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First, the old

The tour begins with some seriously old vehicles. The one in front is a Benz Velo from 1894. It had a blazing 1.5 horsepower.

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Chevrolets and Fords

A mix of Fords and Chevrolets from the Teens. Model T on the right, Series 490 on the left.

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Shiny as new?

On the right is a Cadillac Model Thirty, the first car with an electric starter. On the left is a Chevrolet Superior Series K.

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A Morgan Aero in the middle -- a British brand notable for still using wood in most of its vehicles. Behind is a Jaguar 100.

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Moving into the 1930s, you can start seeing the first moves towards aerodynamics.

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Narrow eyes

Typical French oddness, with headlights so close together on this Peugeot 402.

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Cars of this era sure were gorgeous.

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Pictures don't do the Porsche 356 justice. It looks bulbous in photos, but in person it flows very nicely. Hiding behind is not a Beetle. It's a Toyopet Model SA. It was Toyota's first small passenger car. The name "Toyopet" was picked in a public contest.

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What else is there to be said about one of the best looking cars of all time?

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I want a plaid interior in my next car. No, seriously. Don't you?

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The 1955 Toyopet Crown Model RS, a very important car for Toyota. Suicide doors and a 1.5-liter engine.

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Early kei

Two early kei cars, A Suzulight SL by Suzuki on the right, and a Mistubishi 500 on the left.

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Early production

Post-war Japanese vehicles, including the legendary Land Cruiser on the left.

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Not all Land Cruisers

Aiming for low cost and small size, many post-war designs look a little...odd to the modern eye. On the left, a 1955 Flying Feather, followed by a Fuji Cabin 5A then Subaru's first production car, the 360 Model K111.

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In this early era of Japanese domestic auto production, it's pretty obvious style wasn't high on the design checklist. Then again, this was true of most automakers in the '50s (US domestic not included).

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The Nissan Austin A50 was built under license. Great paint job.

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Into the '60s

As Japan's economy started to bloom, the cars started to reflect this. Most notably they got larger and more stylish. Up front, the Toyota Publica UP10 from 1961. Behind, the 1964 Prince Gloria Super 6 by Nissan.

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Super 6

After rows and rows of boxes, this one's got some style. Could be the gold paint that really draws the eye.

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The Datsun Fairlady SP310, Japan's first mass-produced sports car.

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A classic, simple interior with some lovely big gauges. At the bottom you can notice the top of the third seat, which faced sideways.

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Honda S500

Honda's first passenger car, and what a way to start. The 500cc engine revved to 9,500 rpm. Can't imagine what type of machines it made before this car...

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It's a simple interior, but looks great. Masterful work the museum has done to maintain it -- it looks brand new.

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Toyota Sports 800

This one was new to me: the Toyota Sports 800, Toyota's first production sports car. It borrowed many pieces from other Toyota models to keep costs low. Great looking in person.

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Mini-car boom

On the right is another competitor to the S500 and Fairlady, the Daihatsu Compagno. Next to that are two of the popular mini-cars of the '60s, the Suzuki Fronte 360 and Honda N360.

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Sedans for everyone

On the right, the Datsun Sunny B10. On the right, the Toyota Corolla, which did pretty well for Toyota over the years.

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Great design

The olive-green coupe is the Nissan Silvia, which was popular over many generations. The Mazda Cosmo is even cooler looking, and was the world's second car to use the rotary engine.

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The big 1967 Toyota Century. This is a fascinating car. It's Toyota's flagship car in Japan. It's only been redesigned once in its nearly 50 years in production. It basically doesn't export it. It even comes with a V-12, made by Toyota, and not used in any other vehicle.

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It may not look like much, but this is the granddaddy of the modern Skyline GT-Rs. It's a Prince Skyline 2000GT-B. Nissan did what has often created legends in the auto world: took the engine from a bigger car and squeezed it onto a smaller one.

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The '70s certainly saw Japanese auto manufacturing come into it's own. That's a Honda Civic on the left, with a Toyota Corona behind. On the right, the green monster is a Subaru.

I also did a short 360-degree video of this room, if you're interested.

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Honda CVCC

The Honda Civic was available with the CVCC engine, which was able to pass emissions regulations without catalytic converters -- no small feat.

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GTO and Celica

I hadn't heard of the Mitsubishi Galant GTO or this era Toyota Celica. They looked familiar, though. Probably from Gran Turismo.

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Datsun 240Z

There are a plenty of these still rattling around Los Angeles (my home base), but none are as spotless as this.

The Nissan Fairlady Z, or Datsun 240Z as we got it.

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Probably the first Japanese car that could easily be called "beautiful." Only a handful were made and they're exceptionally expensive now.

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I've come so close to buying one of these so many times. Supercharged, of course. This one is from 1984, a few years before that was an option.

The MR2 was Japan's first domestically produced midengine car.

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As boring as it looks, this is a pretty important car. The Toyota Celsior, or Lexus LS400 as it became known in the States. This one is from 1991, two years after Lexus' US launch.

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Modern era

The magnificent LFA looks over all.

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Jeremy Clarkson said the LFA was the best car he'd ever driven.

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Hybrids and hydrogen galore.

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Best-selling sports car of all time. The description of this one was one of my favorites:

"After the lightweight sports car in Europe had become extinct because of their failure to adapt to the times, Mazda developed..."

I think it meant to say "...failure to not rust to the ground in a month and occasionally start."

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A short walk on a skybridge brings you to the Annex, where there's an exhibition on how the car influenced Japanese culture through the decades.

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Each section covers a different decade, with period electronics, cars and other notables.

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Rapid advancement

Pretty big difference between this 1960 Datsun 211 and the 1953 Mazda three-wheel truck behind it.

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Music and TV

My favorite part about this diorama is that the CRT TVs were fake, just plastic gels of images. The TV showing old footage was an LCD.

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Finish line

The Toyota Automobile Museum is a great way to spend an afternoon.

For the full story behind the tour, check out Take a tour of the Toyota Automobile Museum.

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