Editor’s Note: Today marks Toyota’s 60th anniversary in North America, so, we’re dedicating this issue of Driver’s Seat to the last 60 years of cars and popular culture.
Elvis hit the scene, rocking jailhouses and poodle skirts simultaneously. Jack Kerouac hit the road in 1957, the same year Toyota found its way to America, opening up its first stateside dealership in Hollywood, California. The number of Toyotas sold in America that year? Exactly one. A Toyopet Crown. But, whoever bought that Toyopet Crown probably paid about 24 cents for a gallon of gas, which was the average price for the decade. And they probably drove that Crown to the drive-in to see Ben-Hur
The ’50s were a simpler time, sure. But there was plenty of global strife. The Korean conflict raged early in the decade, and bomb shelters were later all the rage. Perfect time for a Japanese car company to make the move to America, right? Maybe not. But Toyota did. And here we are.
At the beginning of the decade, the world was awash in Beatlemania. John, Paul, George and Ringo swept the nation and impressed Ed Sullivan.
Toyota further established itself. In 1967, the (Sean Connery) James Bond film You Only Live Twice
showed the world how freakin’ cool the Toyota 2000GT (above) was. And while the 2000GT was a shooting star, the Corolla was a sustaining energy force, debuting in 1966. And at 31 cents for a gallon of gas, you could cruise around. But with an average annual salary of $4,473, you may not get that far.
In 1962, Harper Lee debated the pros and cons of killing a mockingbird, and Holden Caulfield upset a lot of square people. Mrs. Robinson seduced Dustin Hoffman shortly after graduation, and in 1965 we finally answered the age-old question of whether or not Mick Jagger could get no satisfaction (he can’t). The Packers won Super Bowl I. And Super Bowl II. But Broadway Joe came through on his Super Bowl III guarantee.
A couple other small things happened over the decade. In 1963, the president was shot in Dallas (bad!). We went to the moon in 1969 (good!). Oh, and in 1965, seatbelts became mandatory on all passenger cars (finally!).
Whether you were into Led Zeppelin or Donna Summer, the ’70s was a pretty fun decade. Not only was the music amazing, the clothes alone are enough to take a time-traveling field trip. People lounged in leisure suits. Platform shoes offered a little more height, and the wider the collar, the harder the partier.
The modern era began to take shape, as VCRs made movies an at-home affair, and the Atari made Pong the living-room rage.
A group of upstart rebels took on Darth Vader’s (above) empire in 1977, just a year after Rocky went the distance against Apollo Creed, proving he weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood. Oh, and The Godfather
Gas started out way less than a dollar a gallon. But late in the decade, a shortage pushed that to well over $2 per gallon. People were not happy. But on the bright side, that led to Congress enacting fuel-economy standards.
A few classic Toyota models showed their face in the ’70s. The Celica got sporty in, the Cressida came aboard, while the Supra and Tercel took to the nation’s highways.
Oh, and the Calty design studio opened, playing a major influence in Toyota’s design going forward.
People went to the movies to see the cutest extra-terrestrial ever in 1982. And, somehow, even the least cool among us identified with Ferris Bueller. Everyone freaked out over Thriller,
especially when Michael Jackson moonwalked at the Video Music Awards, and the Nintendo Entertainment System gave us 8-bits of awesome.
Let’s be honest, fashion wasn’t the greatest in the ’80s. Basically, you could get by on loose and puffy. And the looser and puffier your clothes were, the cooler you were. And that seems a little odd.
But the cars? Well, they were pretty cool. Toyota made its mark with the debut of the Camry and the 4Runner. Gas was $1.03 per gallon, which seems about right. So you didn’t have to pay too much to drive around town blasting Hungry Like the Wolf
or With or Without You
on the radio. Oh, and rap was mainstream now. Run-DMC was the most notable. So you might see a Camry gas pedal pressed to the metal by Adidas tennis shoes, sans laces.
And as Toyota grew large in North America, it decided to make cars here, too. Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky opened its doors as Toyota’s first manufacturing plant in North America.
Also coming onto the scene in 1989? Lexus, which started sales with the LS and ES.
Nirvana (above) and Pearl Jam made the early ’90s grungy. Friends
made the rest of the decade, well, friendly. And Seinfeld made the decade about nothing.
Actually, though, the ’90s were about the internet and the tech boom. Technology became a larger part of everyday life. Amazon.com came online in 1994. Apple released the iMac in 1998, its cute colors and quirky shape making the internet a not-so-scary place.
made teen girls swoon for Leo. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
introduced us to Samuel L. Jackson and brought John Travolta back into our lives. For some reason, white Ford Broncos were really popular in late 1994. Could have had something to do with that O.J. chase. Oh, right, The TRIAL OF THE CENTURY ended with a not-guilty verdict. Car-wise, SUVs became more popular, the golden age of minivans was upon us, and jellybean-shaped sedans took over.
Toyota? Oh, Toyota wasn’t doing much around this time. Except, you know, changing the world. The Prius launched globally in 1997 and might be the most iconic and meaningful car of the decade. Other new Toyota models in North America at the time included the Avalon, Sienna (in 1998, just in time to catch that minivan craze), RAV4, Tacoma and Tundra. Lexus struck crossover SUV gold with the RX. It also released the LX full-size SUV and the GS sedan.
Toyota also said hello to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana.
A new millennium. How ‘bout that?! A decade marked by tragedy — 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War — also saw the advent of social networking. MySpace was weird, but addictive. Facebook started at Harvard, spread to colleges around America, and now your grandma can’t stop poking you. (Hi Grandma!)
Remember how crazy everyone was for The Da Vinci Code
? True story. Not the book. That was false. Or was it? Girls wore UGGs, guys wore cargo shorts (which should never have gone out of style for their convenience alone.) Outkast was popular. So were boy bands. *NSync’s hearts were torn (above), Backstreet Boys wanted it that way (but Burger King wanted it your way). Cars? More SUVs. More hybrids. Speed was big, thanks to the Fast and Furious
movie franchises. In 2000, Toyota came to NASCAR. Now, we’ve won more than 100 races. Yaris came aboard. Scion joined the Toyota family in 2003, selling over a million cars over its 13-year run, including the iconic xB. Not to be outdone, Lexus created the midsize SUV GX, the compact IS and performance-oriented F Sport editions.
Also, Toyota kept making stuff here, opening its manufacturing plants in West Virginia, Alabama and Texas.
Obama. Then Trump. Trucks and SUVs. Then gas-sipping sedans and hybrids. Now, trucks and SUVs again.
The 2010s have been a fickle decade. But that’s true for just about every modern decade. Culturally, the 2010s are a golden age of television, with shows like Breaking Bad
and Game of Thrones (above)
dominating the landscape. Star Wars
rebooted with a well-received sequel. Superhero movies joined forces so Batman and Superman could face off, and the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy could take turns saving the world.
Wanna talk cars? It’s all about technology. Fully electric cars finally came to the mainstream with the Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt. The Prius Prime serves as a great example of a gas/electric hybrid. Self-driving cars are thisclose
to being all the rage. But that’s likely more of a 2020s thing. Though the testing of and breakthroughs in the technology could ultimately help define the 2010s. One breakthrough we’ve seen in the last few years is hydrogen. No, we didn’t discover it. It’s been around a while. But with the 2015 release of the Mirai, Toyota brought the first hydrogen-powered car to market. Also, Toyota opened a plant in Mississippi.
Over the last seven years, Lexus has upped the ante in terms of high-performance, fun-to-drive vehicles. It started in 2011 with the LFA, one of the greatest supercars of all time. Since then, Lexus has captivated the industry with the RC and the LC. Meanwhile, several models, including the RC, NX, RX, GS and LS, got an injection of F Sport.
Oh, and Toyota moved its North American headquarters from Torrance to Plano, Texas.
So, yeah. All that happened. Kind of a crazy 60 years.
By Dan Nied