Toyota Crown Eight

One of my favourite time waster websites is the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan's historic information feature simply titled, 240 Landmarks of Japanese Automotive Technology. It lists many firsts, many developments, and does it without referring to other car companies—useful stuff when so much of the material on classic cars is still locked away in period publications.

And when looking for inspiration on today's car, they had it covered: today's car was the first from Japan to feature cruise control. With the Mitsubishi-AMG fresh in your mind from yesterday, I thought it'd be a good time to shine the flashlight on an important and well-regarded Japanese sedan, the Toyota Crown Eight (featuring a cruise control system called Auto Drive.)

The Crown Eight is a perfect illustration of the battle between car companies, who wanted to create world-class cars and the government, who had rigorous standards and enforced size, emissions, and other regulations from an early time. The Crown Eight, on-sale as the country began the nine day long celebration before Emperor Showa's birthday in 1964, exceeded every vehicle size regulation in a bid to compete with the large American cars that were favoured by executives.

For that, they'd also need a V8 engine—Japan's first in a production car. Yes, you read that correctly. The 2.6-litre aluminum-alloy V8 was much smaller than its American competition but was pretty state-of-the-art, especially as the country's first attempt at an eight cylinder engine. Making 115 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, I'd love to hear one of these engines run—it must sound quite unique. 

Japan's popular cartoon Mighty Atom (Astro Boy over here) had been on the air for more than a decade by this point, and when kids are watching a show where a robot is the star, Toyota must have felt it necessary to cram ever last whizz-bang feature into the Crown Eight: 2-speed Toyoglide automatic transmission, power steering, cruise control, power windows, light control*, and power vent windows.

The power door locks were electromagnetic, by the way. Updated to include a 4-speed manual transmission with a floor shifter and a 3-speed manual transmission version with overdrive, the Crown Eight ended up also being the country's first V8-powered sports sedan.

The Emperor picked a Nissan as his company car.

* Is 'light control' automatic headlights? Please leave a note in the comments.