Origins: Tomica Limited Toyoda AA

I’ve been meaning to cover more Tomica here on Lamley. Collecting Tomica Limited Vintage was how I discovered this blog and I’m still as much of a nerd about Japanese cars than I am about old Fiats and odd little Euro boxes. I’ve covered Tomica stuff before of course, but I’m really keen to show you all the rest of my collection and share with you my love for old Nissans, Isuzus, Toyotas, Mazdas and the like. And this is maybe the best place to start, with Tomica’s replica of Toyota’s first passenger car: the Toyoda AA.

And yes, that’s correct. Toyoda. Not Toyota. Toyota’s first passenger car initially carried the name of the company founder Sakichi Toyoda. The brand changed their name after a 1936 public competition to suggest a new logo. But why the change to “Toyota”? Company executive Rizaburo Toyoda wanted a switch away from the original name, prefering “Toyota” simply down to pronunciation, simplicity, and a dash of Japanese superstition. According to the Toyota website:

“First, “Toyota” represents a voiceless consonant sound in Japanese, which is considered “clearer” than voiced consonants like in “Toyoda.” The number of strokes to write Japanese characters, called jikaku, is also a factor. Eight strokes is believed to be connected to wealth and good fortune, and “Toyota” (トヨタ) contains exactly eight strokes. The change also signified the expansion of a small independent company to a larger corporate enterprise.”

The origins of Toyota as a car making brand begin with the founding of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works by Sakichi Toyoda in 1924. Toyoda had invented not just a pioneering loom but also a manufacturing process capable of producing it. The company licensed their loom design to a British company named Platt Brothers and the deal was a huge success, generating a large sum of revenue. Sakichi’s son Kiichiro Toyoda had been curious about automobile production and shortly before his death in 1930 his father urged him to pursue his dream. One year later the raging Japanese war in Manchuria began and with it came an increased need for domestically produced vehicles to keep import costs low, create jobs and make the country more independent. Up until this time Japan’s vehicle market was dominated by US brands Ford and General Motors, whose products Toyoda studied intently. In January 1934 the company formally announced its intent to build cars and by September they had made their first engine; the 3.4 litre, straight-six Type A, which was a direct copy of Chevrolet’s famous “Stovebolt” engine. May 1935 saw the creation of the A1, of which three prototypes were built. With minor changes the A1 morphed into the AA, which went into production in 1936.

The AA remained in production until 1943 and only 1404 were produced before the model was replaced. It remains the rarest Toyota of all time with only 1 original example left in existence. In 2008 a Russian student contacted the Louwman Museum in Den Haag, The Netherlands. His Grandfather, a Siberian farmer, had been using a car he had been convinced was a Chrysler/De Soto Airflow, a car from which the AA borrowed heavily from for its design. The car had been used on the family farm until the 1990s, and at some point the mechanicals had been exchanged for that of a GAZ-51 truck, probably for the ease of maintenance and to tackle rougher terrain. However the student was convinced it had different origins and it transpired it was indeed an AA, and had probably arrived in Russia as a war trophy, perhaps captured during Russia’s invasion of Japanese occupied Manchuria.

The surviving AA at the Louwman Museum in The Netherlands (image from Japanese Nostalgic Car)

The AA is an incredibly interesting vehicle in the history of Japanese cars, and also a very pretty vehicle in my opinion. And the Tomica version is a very pretty diecast.

The model was part of Tomica’s Limited range, introduced in 2001. The same range gave us the incredible Dome Zero I covered in January last year and was full of gems, including the AA.

It’s an incredibly handsome casting packed with detail. There’s rubber tyres wrapped around fabulously replicated wheels, opening doors and working suspension. And the colour is perfect.

As you can probably tell I spent a lot of time photographing it. It’s a beautiful looking thing, and a real must have for fans of Japanese cars. Diecasts of 1930s vehicles don’t come along that often, especially 1930’s Japanese vehicles. I’m so glad this exists.

I can’t finish this article without thanking diecast supremo Mac Ragan, whose post on the AA gave me the shove to finally add one to my collection. And for that I’m very grateful indeed. I am already looking forward to the other Tomica and indeed the other Japanese oddities from my collection that I can bring to you all here at Lamley!

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(Find the Tomica Toyoda AA on Ebay)

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