So just where did Toyota sell its first car in the United States?

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Inside Holt Motor Co. in Los Angeles.


In 1958, a little Japanese car called the Toyopet showed up in California. It got ridiculed. It got amazing mileage. And by the end of the year, it got about 288 sales. Who exactly made the first of those sales, however, remains a mystery, one which Toyota itself can’t resolve even though several entities have laid claim to being the first Toyota dealership in the United States.


Toyota Motor Sales president Shotaro Kamiya led the charge to introduce Toyotas to the United States as early as 1956 and after Toyota sent a few over for testing on American roads in late summer of 1957, the company began to devise strategies for selling the cars in the United States. According to Toyota USA archivist Jason Bell, Toyota initially wanted to sell the cars itself through a handful of centralized locations, but Shoji Hattori, the company’s executive vice president, advised the company to instead adopt the dealership model already prevalent in the United States.


According to Wanda James’s book Driving from Japan: Japanese Cars in America, Kamiya began signing up dealerships in 1957, with the road testing underway. She even pinpoints one in particular as the first – Ben Alexander’s Hollywood Toyota, an offshoot of his Hollywood Ford dealership at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard – and supplies a date for the establishment of the dealership – October 31, 1957.


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But that may not be the case at all. Bell noted that the dealership (actually located at 6000 Hollywood Boulevard, as seen in the above image) was more of a showroom operated by Toyota and relocated in 1960. “(It) was more of a temporary HQ from which they may have sold a few cars than an actual independent dealership,” he wrote. As for the current Toyota of Hollywood, Bell noted that it’s an entirely different entity established in 1981 at the original location, despite the dealership’s occasional claims of having been in that location since 1957. Officials from Toyota of Hollywood did not return calls for this story.


James notes that “surprisingly, only sketchy information exists in Toyota’s own archives regarding their early days in America,” and indeed, Bell can’t point to any one specific dealership as the first American Toyota dealership. Toyota records show that the oldest existing Toyota dealership in the United States, Krause Toyota in Pennsylvania, was established in 1959 and that the oldest existing Toyota dealership in California, Deal and Davie in Susanville, was established a year later, which only means that the first U.S. Toyota dealership, established in 1957 or 1958, is no longer in operation.


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Bell’s research over the years has come up with about nine candidates for the first U.S. Toyota dealership, all in California, though he points out that the evidence for any of them being the first is inconclusive. Two descendants of former Toyota dealers – Hil Probert in Larkspur and John A. Rose in San Diego – have laid claim to being the first, and a Los Angeles Times clipping from late July 1958 notes that seven Southern California dealers had started selling the Toyopet:


Avalon Motor Co., 900 W. Anaheim Street, Wilmington


Art Frost of Culver City, 11153 Washington Place


Art Frost of Glendale, 737 S. Brand Boulevard


Holt Motor Co., 8230 Van Nuys Boulevard


Walter G. Linch, 312 S. Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach


C. Standlee Martin, 1227 American Avenue, Long Beach


Balboa Motors, 1475 Broadway, San Diego


Of those, Bell seems to lean toward Holt Motor Co. “That is the only dealership that we have grand opening photos for and it is the only grand opening we know was attended by the top Toyota executives in the U.S.,” he wrote. But he also cautioned that Toyota executives may have attended grand opening ceremonies for the other six dealerships and that the newspaper clipping may have referred just to every Toyota dealership in Southern California and not in the entire state.


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Actress Nobu McCarthy and Toyota Executive President On Nakae at the Holt Motors grand opening, 1958.


Bell’s conclusion diplomatically acknowledges Probert, Rose, and Holt as “trail-blazing pioneers and among the very first Toyota dealers in America,” leaving the question of exactly which one of the three – if any of them – was the first.

2 comments

  1. pat crackel

    i care so do a lot of interesting people the first dealer in united states is a matter of history the dealer I can document was my dads in hilo Hawaii royal motors march 26 1957 landcruisers an toyopets arrive any correspndense would be most apreciated

  2. Frenchy Dehoux

    I worked for Toyota for the last 38 years and my goal was to locate the oldest Toyota I could find. Well I did find a 1958 Toyopet which is the same style seen here in the show room. I also had 2 1959 Toyopet and a 1963 Toyopet my 58 which was all original I sold to a dealership in Puerto Rico for his Toyota museum. I still have another 58 here in Phoenix which I will be working soon after my retirement in July of this year .

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