The Toyota Automobile Museum sits between Nagoya and Toyota City, the global headquarters of the automaker, and is housed in a massive, three-floor building that combines a 29,000-plus-square-foot cultural gallery, a massive display of automobilia, and—of course—51,000 square feet devoted to almost 140 cars.
But the twist that that, like the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, Toyota’s facility not only houses its own vehicles but also showcases vehicles from a variety of automakers past and present. If a vehicle is important, it’s a candidate for inclusion, no matter who originally built it. Here are 10 that stood out:
1936 Toyoda Model AA Replica
It makes sense that this vehicle kicks off a viewing of the collection, as the Toyoda Model AA was the first passenger car built by the firm (prior to it adopting the current spelling of its name). The car was heavily influenced by Henry Ford’s vehicles, and also drew inspiration from other foreign manufacturers who were selling cars in Japan. But where many of those operations failed to succeed in Japan, company founder Kiichiro Toyoda learned from their mistakes.
Toyoda is said to have built the car using a Chevrolet engine and the chassis and electrics from Ford. While it looks similar to early Ford cars, it does feature one unique difference in its rear-seat amenities. Looking closely, the car’s rear seats have more legroom than the fronts, and they also feature a foot rest and armrests. This was done to mimic the rickshaws in popular use and helped convince people to make the switch from carts to cars.
With only 1,404 built, it was believed all were lost to time, and this replica was built in 1987. One original example has since turned up in the Netherlands.
1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen Replica
This three-wheeler is said to be the world’s first gasoline-powered car, and it features a steering stick to control direction and can travel up to 9 mph. The engine is belt-driven, the gearing is by chain, and it has a small, one-gallon fuel capacity in the carburetor.
Interestingly, it was Karl Benz’s wife Bertha would make history with this car. Not only did she finance the development process—although she didn’t get the patent rights due to laws at the time—she was also the first one to drive it over a long distance, piloting herself and her two teenage sons from Mannheim to Pforzheim (about 66 miles). Along the way, she had to stop at apothecaries for more fuel—gasoline could only be bought from chemists/pharmacists—and used a pin to clean a blocked fuel line. She also had a blacksmith mend a chain for her and swapped out the wood brake material for leather after the wood began to fail. The trip was not only successful, but also created a great amount of publicity that forced her husband to reconsider marketing the vehicle.
1910 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Silver Ghost
Its red paint shining brilliantly with gold accents, the 1910 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is certainly captivating. From the oversized headlights with their gilded lamp design to the gold inlay paint on the hood and open top two-row seating, this is the very definition of an early touring car.
The model originally was known only as the 40/50 HP, but later acquired the Silver Ghost moniker after the first model demonstrated how quiet it was in operation. This car was conceived to bring awareness of the then-new company, and to showcase its reliability. To that end, a Silver Ghost underwent a 15,000-mile test wherein it ran from London to Glasglow 27 times—a risky endeavor considering the road conditions of the day. Nonetheless, the car accomplished its mission and cemented Rolls-Royce’s reputation for reliable and luxurious vehicles. Auction prices for the model have surpassed half a million dollars, which is understandable: It’s not just an automobile, it’s a rolling work of art.
1926 Bugatti Type 35B
Naturally, once automobiles became a thing, people wanted to race them. Many of the first races were highly publicized and were pivotal for the success of automakers. This 1926 Bugatti Type 35B has all the characteristics of a period racing car, and with its open top, long hood, and rear-wheel drive chassis, the car is among the most recognizable and famous produced by Ettore Bugatti. The unique wheels and its overall engineering characterized the latest automotive innovations of the time.
1928 Hispano-Suiza 32CV H6b
Packing aircraft technology into a luxury car, the French-built Hispano-Suiza H6 and its many advancements gave it an in-period reputation of being the king of prestige cars. One such innovation was its servo-operated brakes, which were used in only in aviation at the time, a setup that placed a lightweight aluminum drum at each corner. The power assist was driven by a special shaft in the transmission that used the car’s own momentum to help provide decelerative power. It was a first in the automotive industry and was later licensed out to other companies. Powering the car was an all-aluminum straight-six displacing 403 cubic inches and based on a Birkigt aviation V-12, although the car used a new overhead camshaft. The model was built until 1933, and several specially prepared versions won prestigious races. Also cool: This example uses real snakeskin in its interior.
1939 Delage Type D8-120
One of the most stylish cars in the collection is this Delage Type D8-120, one of a model run built from 1929 through 1940 and draped in coachwork from various famous builders. Delage viewed itself solely as a chassis producer and outsourcing the bodywork and final design resulted in individual cars featuring their own unique and elegant aesthetic.
Toyota’s example was bodied by Figoni and Falaschi, the premier French coachbuilder of the time. It was powered by a 401-cubic-inch straight-eight, a first for a French model. Postwar economic struggles relegated Delage to the history books, but not before it helped define the golden age of low-volume luxury cars.
1939 Packard Twelve (Roosevelt’s Car)
One of the most grandiose vehicles on display, this 1939 Packard Twelve was built for U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. It’s big and bold, and the word “roomy” doesn’t even begin to accurately describe how much space there is inside.
Sitting on a large plinth befitting its heft, the Twelve is dotted with American presidential décor and not only has a sofa-sized rear seat, but also several riding positions for Secret Service members. Reinforced body panels with tanklike armor and thick bulletproof glass also help protect the President inside. Powering the beast is Packard’s famous Twin Six engine (eventually renamed the Twelve), which was essentially two cast-iron straight-six blocks mashed together. The excitement was so high for this engine that, according to Packard expert Robert E. Turnquist’s book The Packard Story, the news of its arrival was flashed on the stock market floor. A legendary engine in a historically significant American President’s car sitting in a museum in Japan—an odd arrangement but undoubtedly cool.
1950 Porsche 356 1100 “Pre-A”
This early 1950 Porsche 356 shows possesses some of the same styling cues, such as its side panel contours and lighting elements, in use on today’s Porsches. The 356 was Porsche’s first production automobile, and was designed by Ferry Porsche, the son of Dr. Porsche who along with his sister founded the company.
It’s laid out in the now-familiar Porsche way, with an air-cooled four-cylinder engine mounted out back and driving the rear wheels. It was intended to be lighter and to offer better handling than other contemporary sports cars. The last 365 rolled off the line in April 1965, after the start of production of the 911. It’s thought that as many as half of the 76,000 356s produced have survived.
1965 Jaguar E-Type Roadster
One of the main roots of the tree that is Jaguar’s iconic design language, this 1965 Jaguar E-Type Roadster is immediately recognizable. It was an early U.S. sales success for the British automaker due to its styling, performance, and competitive pricing. An evolution of the D-Type racing car which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three consecutive years beginning in 1955, its engine and front suspension were bolted directly to the body tub. This helped make the car lighter, nimbler, and faster. As such, along with numerous other advancements, it helped influence sports cars across the industry.
1968 Toyota 2000GT
No trip to a Toyota museum would be complete without a look at a 2000GT. The 1967–70 2000GT changed the world’s view of the Japanese automotive industry; prior to that time, Japanese products were viewed as nothing more than practical and boring. This limited-production, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car quickly changed that perception. (Albeit not totally.) The 2000GT held its own against European models of the day, with period reviews extolling the virtues of its dynamics. Today, the 2000GT is the earliest collectible Japanese sports car, and each one that hits the market commands big money.