Hokubei Mainichi Newspaper / Toyopet story

One of the many stops during the Toyopet research trip to San Francisco that was made included a stop to the Hokubei Mainichi newspaper.  The Hokubei Mainichi newspaper was a daily bilingual newspaper in San Francisco that closed it’s doors recently after over 60 years of service (http://www.nikkeiwest.com/index.php/the-news/past-articles/2-hokubei-mainichi-japanese-american-daily-bilingual-newspaper).

Before they closed, Daron Pitts and Jamie Kennedy visited with Kumi Yamauchi, an employee at the paper, to try to locate any old articles mentioning the Consulate General and his Toyopet.  Since this was the local Japanese newspaper, and the Toyopet was the first Japanese car in the US, there must have been a story or a photograph concerning the car – or so they hoped.

No such article was located in the print archives in their office.  The team then attempted to view old microfilm versions of the newspaper at the San Francisco library, but had no luck trying to locate the specific Japanese symbols they were told to look for.

Lefteris Kafatos, a reporter from the Hokubei Mainichi, watches Jamie Kennedy steer the Toyopet out of a garage where it had been stored
Lefteris Kafatos, a reporter from the Hokubei Mainichi, watches Jamie Kennedy steer the Toyopet out of a garage where it had been stored

When the team loaded up the Toyopet, Lefteris Kafatos, a reporter from the Hokubei Mainichi came and did a story on the Toyopet.  The story and the newspaper website are no longer online, but a copy can be seen on the Internet Archive website and the text of the article is below:

FROM: http://web.archive.org/web/20090107224615/http://www.hokubei.com/en/news/2008/07/Toyopet-Links-Past-and-Future

07 – 26 – 2008


A blast from the past — a 50-year-old Toyopet.

by  LEFTERIS  KAFATOS Hokubei Mainichi

Jamie Kennedy and Daron Pitts of the Community Development Foundation (CDF) in Tupelo, Miss. are men on a two-part mission.

The first part was to track down and obtain an elusive car from Toyota’s past, the 1958 Toyopet. That part of the mission was accomplished on July 24 in San Francisco at Eddy and Van Ness, where they picked the antique car up from a local body shop.

Now Kennedy and Pitts begin the next leg of their journey, which is to haul the car across the country, have it fully restored, and ultimately bring it to display at its new home at the Tupelo Automobile Museum.

Kennedy and Pitts are not simply taking a nostalgic trip down auto history lane. This project is part of a bigger future development that links the Japanese automotive giant Toyota to the city of Tupelo, where Toyota will be opening its first North American Prius plant. The displaying of this antique car is thus fitting as firsts go — it will be the only Toyota displayed at the museum in the only U.S. city to have a hybrid-only Toyota plant.

Tracking an Elusive Car

Despite the daunting task of finding information on this little-known car, the two were up to the challenge. Kennedy told the Hokubei, “It’s fun being on an adventure like this.” Indeed, the project involved searching and legwork of epic proportions. They had to pore over mounds of documents and archives to find information on the elusive car, of which there were rumored to be only four remaining in the entire country.

Their detective work took them all over the Bay Area, from the Japanese Consulate, to the Maritime Library at Fisherman’s Wharf, to the shipping company American President Line (APL), on which the first Toyopets made their journey to the U.S. five decades ago. Said Pitts, “We’ve been everywhere looking for stuff on this car.”

Then there was actually obtaining the car and securing it for the trip to its new home. As luck would have it, they went online and found a San Francisco man advertising a Toyopet his family had owned since 1964. CDF made a successful bid for the car and the rest, as they say, is history.

Giving History a Face-Lift

The Toyopet they found was indeed in “classic” condition, and although the engine turned over, it was far from roadworthy. When the Hokubei met up with the two, they had just gotten the paperwork and were going about loading the car into a trailer, which they would later drive to Phoenix, Ariz. in order to have the engine rebuilt. While that engine work is being done, the body will continue to Mississippi to receive much-needed tender loving care.

Said Kennedy, “We hope to have it fully restored and ready to display in about eight months.”

A Piece of Mobile History

Kennedy and Pitts found interesting information on the Toyopet in the Hokubei’s archives, namely an article dated Sept. 4, 1957, stating that then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi was encouraging Japanese officials to use Japanese cars for official business. Kishi himself apparently “shifted from a 1953 American-made car to a 1957 Japan-made Toyopet crown model.”

Although the pair did not find “a smoking gun” that definitively proved that back in the late ’50s, the Japanese consul general of San Francisco was actually riding around in the car, they did find documents proving that their Toyopet was originally registered to the Japanese Consulate.

Doubtlessly, the people of Tupelo hope the Toyopet’s past is not reflective of the fate of Toyota’s future venture.  Over 2,000 jobs are riding on the success of the new Prius plant.

Unlike today’s popular hybrid, the Toyopet was a dismal failure from the get-go. It was one of the first Japanese cars ever introduced to the new U.S. market, and Toyota had expected to sell 100,000 units per year. The little sedan, ill-suited for wide U.S. roads, ended up selling only 287 models.

New Beginnings

Construction on the new Toyota plant in Mississippi began in 2007 and the latest Prius models are scheduled to begin rolling out in 2010. And, according to Kennedy, it will be a model for environmentally sustainable auto manufacturing, featuring the latest in green technology. Indeed, this is a reflection of recent times, since the plant was originally slated to produce an SUV — the Toyota Highlander.

The last time the Hokubei spoke to the pair, they were in Palm Springs still heading towards Phoenix. We hope that Kennedy and Pitts have a safe journey as they take this piece of history to the future of their hometown.


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