Toyota Origin

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Perception can be a difficult thing to see around. Studies have shown that confirmation bias—the tendency for us to favour information that supports our beliefs and ideas—is a huge part of how we live our lives.

So when I ask if it's likely or not that Toyota produced a handbuilt, retro-styled sedan in 2000 with suicide doors, wraparound rear windshield, a straight-six engine, and rear-wheel drive, you'd probably say…

"No. Toyota makes the Corolla and is boring as hell. They never do anything exciting or interesting." Of course, that wouldn't be entirely accurate. But there a few things you should know first.

Kanto Auto Works is one of Toyota's oldest production facilities. They're also the place to get a vehicle made if quality is important. They started as a coachbuilder and, in 1949 took on production of the Toyopet Super. 

This is during an era when the Japanese were not only just learning how to build modern cars—the Toyopet being among the first—but just being able to afford a car was difficult. In a country where the roads were terrible and private vehicle ownership was very rare, Toyopets produced at Kanto Auto Works became known as some of the best-made examples.

As a result, some of the company's most important vehicles have been made in the Kanto factory: Sports 800, Century, Crown, Corona, Soarer (Lexus SC430), and others.

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In 2000, when Toyota wanted to commemorate their 100 millionth vehicle produced, they dreamt up a fitting tribute: 1000 special, limited-edition sedans would be produced for the Japanese market. Only the most skilled workers from the Century production line were selected for the project.

Sharing a chassis with the Altezza—known here as the Lexus IS—and the Japanese-market Progrès sedan, the Origin was largely handbuilt around some shared components.

That means—drifters, take note—a rear-drive chassis and Toyota's stout 3.0-litre 2JZ-GE straight-6 engine…mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Overall performance wasn't the point here, obviously.

Sorry for the small image, finding press photos of the car is difficult!

Sorry for the small image, finding press photos of the car is difficult!

With a hand-finished interior featuring sewed leather and real wood trim—not to mention those inviting rear suicide doors—the Origin was meant to be a cruiser. Interestingly, Toyota chose to fit very modern technologies, including radar cruise control.

Base price? 7 million Japanese yen, or right about $70,000—which was more than double the cost of the car it was based on. A few more were made than originally planned, but even so, it's one of the more rare Japanese vehicles in recent years.

I think it's fantastic. Japanese manufacturers have a habit of producing a limited number of models for their home market, however, which tends to result in some machines that are much more strange than the Origin.

But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended Reading