TUPELO – It’s taken three years of off-and-on work, but the prized Toyota Toyopet that found its way to Tupelo is up and running again.
With a restored engine, transmission and radiator, along with a new paint job and re-chromed fenders and bumpers, the half-century old car is almost as good as new.
“I’ve lost track of how much time we’ve spent working on it,” said Allen McDaniel, the curator of the Tupelo Automobile Museum where the Toyopet is currently housed. “It probably sat there for 10 months with nothing done to it, but we’d get a chance here and there to work on it.”
The Toyopet was Toyota’s first vehicle imported to the U.S. in 1957. But it was underpowered and overlooked, selling only 287.
Still, with Toyota’s plant in nearby Blue Springs, officials with the Community Development Foundation and several supporters wanted to have a link with Toyota’s past and present.
The 1958 Toyopet Crown Deluxe, one of only four known to still exist, was found on eBay in July 2008 and bought for $22,322 by the CDF, which had received donations for the project.
Another $20,000 has been raised for the restoration effort, and McDaniel said about $15,000 of it has been spent so far.
Renowned automobile restorer Frenchy “Dr. Detail” Dehoux did the engine and transmission work, taking more than year to rebuild the engine. Because parts are no longer available, he had to have some parts custom made, including the gaskets.
He shipped the engine in October and came to Tupelo over the weekend to install it.
“It was still wrapped up, we took it off Saturday, put it in and on Sunday we fixed it up,” Dehoux said.
And the car does run, even after more than 50 years of sitting idle. But there’s still some work left to do, and the complete restoration of the car should be finished by the end of the year.
The interior still is in good shape, and it is the only known Toyopet Deluxe Crown to still have a clock and radio.
McDaniel said the car belongs to the community and hopes to share it with as many people as possible.
– To see more on the Toyopet, visit
– To see more of Frenchy Dehoux’s work, visit www.frenchysrides.com
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal