Toyota @ 80: the brand’s greatest moments…


As Toyota reaches its eighth decade we pick the brand's finest moments...

Toyota is a prism.

Shine light through it and you can see a spectrum of automotive colour. As the company celebrates eighty years of automobile production, we thought we’d highlight some of the most towering achievements.

1973: HiLux (2nd Gen)
There’s been a lot of sticky balls spoken and written about the HiLux and its indestructibility. Sure there’s a lot of these trucks still on the streets after a couple of hundred thousand miles – but this is not the main reason we love them. People forget what a cute little format the lifestyle pickup is. If you get it right the pickup is the perfect youth vehicle – a practical, two seat runabout that can haul anything from your dirt bike and your surfboards to your camping gear and friends. It was the second gen HiLux that really got a grip of this idea. There’s a three box simplicity to the HiLux concept that survives even longer than the trucks themselves. And yes, landscape gardeners, Arctic adventurers and Paris Dakar nut-cases love them too.

1997: Prius
The Prius demonstrates Toyota’s audacity. It may not be the sexiest car out there, and you probably associate it too strongly these days with your friendly Über driver to take it seriously as an object of desire. But stick some moon discs on the first successful mass-market hybrid and you’ll see that it can even hold its own in the aesthetic stakes. If the future of cars is that of a post-fuel world then the Prius was the opening statement of a global industry. Because of that the exceedingly unattractive first gen Prius may be the most perfect of collectors items. A real watershed.

2011: GT86
The GT86 is more fun than a barrel of yakuza on fine Japanese whisky. Trust us. Taking its inspiration from the AE86 Hachi Roku – the decision to release these little sportsters, in collaboration with Subaru of course, was inspired. Funnily enough the contemporary Toyota range doesn’t really shout that loud about how great these little cars really are – and they sit strangely in the product range. Rest assured though, this is a real inheritor of all the good things about Japanese sports cars. They rev enthusiastically without killing the planet in one fell swoop and handle like a smooth running cart – especially in the mountain twisties that were its inspiration. Little wonder that manga character Initial D hopped in one recently in a tribute to the genesis of the drift scene. A great little plaything this. More please Toyota!

1972: Celica Gen 1
If anyone out there doesn’t believe that Toyota made a viable version of the ‘Stang in the early seventies then step to me. Check out these pics of the first gen Celica. Those lines, louvres, intakes. The perky rear, the sweeping pertness of the three quarter profile. It all speaks of a brilliant take on what made the Pony Car truly desirable. The design whispered of power and dynamics – but with a compact, revvy power unit is articulated with the oil crisis nicely. The first gen Celica has proved one of the most perennially satisfying Japanese car designs ever.

2016: 4-Runner TRD Pro
It’s a bit archaic. It’s a bit lumpen. It’s based on a pickup truck. You can only buy it in the US (preferably Texas). And it will cost the earth to run in the UK. But despite this the pure badass looks of Toyota’s 4-Runner TRD Pro, especially in that amazing ‘Quicksand’ colourway, makes it for us the best looking adventuremobile on the market. This truck makes us want to move to the wide open spaces of the Wild West and get all anachronistic. A motor to tackle the apocalypse. And that looks more likely than ever.

1969: 2000GT
OK, it might be a bit obvious. But Toyota’s late sixties masterpiece had to be mentioned here. It’s one of those designs that you can’t get tired of looking at. The design takes the format of a FHC E-Type but crosses it with the vibe of Datsun’s Z-Car Fairladies. This makes it uniquely Japanese and exotic. The lines are heartbreakingly bold, refined and beautiful. This is a perfect example of how Japanese companies have been able to take a very foreign idea (that of the long-legged Gran Turismo) and reinvent it perfectly. Silly money these days. Twenty years ago very affordable.