By Andrew Ganz
Wednesday, Jan 30th, 2013 @ 11:45 am
 
Unlike some of its rivals, Toyota isn't one to boast about its heritage.

And that's a shame, since the brand from Toyota City, Japan, should be known for more than just its workaday Toyota Camry and Corolla sedans. Hiding behind the stylized T logo is a history of high-performance sports cars, rugged off roaders and even some rather elegant mainstream sedans.

Should you find yourself in Southern California, where it all began for Toyota in North America, you don't have to venture too far to get a glimpse into the automaker's past. Tucked into a non-descript warehouse district just inches away from the automaker's main North American market campus in Torrance, California, - where many of its cars are designed and developed - sits the Toyota USA Automobile Museum.

Open to the public for free by appointment only - but appointments are accepted during typical business hours - the museum is a treasure trove of Toyotas dating back to about a decade after World War II, when the automaker first began exporting vehicles to the U.S.

One of the longest-running nameplates in the world, the Toyota Land Cruiser was among the first Toyotas to cross the Pacific. Actually, the first shipment of Toyotas included nearly 300 Toyopet Crown small sedans and just one Land Cruiser, but it was the robust off roader that proved vastly more successful here compared to the overpriced, weak-performing Crown. Toyota's lineup here hasn't been without a Land Cruiser since 1958.

Although the collection in Torrance largely focuses on vehicles sold in the North American market, three of the automaker's ultra-valuable (think well into six figures) 2000GT sports coupes are housed at the facility. Notably, the collection includes a one-off gold 2000GT, which was built for fashion model Twiggy, as well as a red one with air conditioning.

If anything, the 2000GT isn't given enough room to shine at the collection, since it's the one vehicle that really could change modern perceptions about Toyota. Having three of the roughly 350 2000GTs hand-built by Yamaha in one place is rather special indeed.

Still, there's also something to be said about appreciating the mundane. Toyota has built a highly successful empire on more conventional sedans like the Camry and the Lexus LS and there is no shortage of either in the museum.

Unlike most museums, not all of the cars on display are picture perfect. A number of the classics were picked up after spending plenty of years on the road. And if you're interested in keeping your older Toyota going, museum curator Susan Sanborn holds the keys to a massive collection of service and marketing literature. If you happen to have some vintage Toyota materials taking up space in your attic or basement, the museum will gladly take donations. Contact the museum or curator Susan Sanborn through Toyota's official museum website if you can help.

Our photo gallery includes some of the more interesting vehicles in the collection. Make sure to click through all of the images since some contain images of the placards relevant to the cars.

Oh, and our favorite? We like the FJ40s and 2000GTs, but there was something about the obscure, dorky, ski-themed 1983 Tercel SR5 that piqued our true car nerdiness.

If you enjoyed this virtual tour of Toyota's California museum, check out our visit to the Honda Collection in Japan.