|1958 TOYOPET CROWN RESTORATION
Toyopet is ‘Pet Project’ for Portland VDC
Story by Brin Wall, writer for Toyota Today
For years it sat, parked in timeless tranquility, accompanied only by the wind and the occasional
scratch of feral feet, until, weathered by the elements, its spider-webbed windows cracked away.
When Rickie Moore jumped a fence two years ago to investigate an old jalopy rotting in a field near
his father’s ranch in Centerville, Wash., the inquisitive Toyota Logistics Services (TLS) associate
found more than he expected.
“I’d been driving by that car for years and always wondered what it was,” says Moore, a self-
admitted “car guy” and maintenance associate for the Portland Vehicle Distribution Center (VDC).
“One day I had my dad pull over. We hopped the fence, and popped the hood. When I read
‘Toyopet by Toyota,’ I was pretty excited.”
Moore wasn’t the only one excited; when he returned with news of the find, Logistics Services
Manager Ron Corbin told him to get it – a 1958 Toyopet Crown Deluxe, one of only 287 cars sold
the first year Toyota sold cars in the United States.
A Fortuitous Find
To retrieve the vehicle, Moore and his father tracked down the ranch owner, who had the car but not
the title. The rancher had bought the land and everything on it from a man named Don Brashers, who,
coincidentally, had worked with Portland VDC Kaizen Engineer Doug Warneke in the 1980s.
Warneke called his former co-worker, learned Brashers had purchased the car in 1961 and taught all
four of his kids to drive on it. When the vehicle quit running around 1972, Brashers parked it in the
field, where it sat for almost three decades, gathering dust – and bullet holes. He sold the car to TLS
The Next Step
With the acquisition of such a gem, the Portland VDC decided to restore the car as a group project
and began searching for parts. Warneke hit the “virtual” pavement, where he tracked down another
Toyopet Crown in nearby Auburn, Wash.
This Toyopet owner, Shannon Leatherwood, had gotten the car from her grandparents in the 1960s.
When her grandparents sold their house, she vaguely remembered an old car in a separate garage
and asked about it. Her grandparents had bought the car new, and they told her if it was still there, it
was hers. The garage was overgrown with blackberries, and it took Leatherwood four hours to hack
her way through the brambles, but inside was a 1958 Toyopet Crown, her mother’s childhood toys
still in the rear seat.
Leatherwood originally wanted to restore the car but quickly realized the cost was prohibitive.
Instead, she stored it for 10 years before finally selling it back to Toyota, through Warneke, with the
understanding it would be used for parts and that her family would receive credit for her contribution.
With the proper supply of parts, restoration began in earnest in December 2002. A machinist started
on the engine, and the body went to a local shop, Custom Automotive Restoration, where the body
and frame were completely disassembled, down to the last nut and bolt.
Many Toyota associate also contributed to the effort. Webb Smith, TLS production associate,
transported the vehicle; Jim Ely, a field tech specialist for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) Portland
Region, produced a parts/assembly manual; maintenance associate Bob Mazzga worked with Moore
on the transmission; Ken Grischow, TLS skilled trades associate, painted all of the restored body
parts the original light blue.
And Warneke continued to chase parts. “The whole project has been a hoot,” he says. “We’ve
posted pictures so everyone could follow each step of the process, and now that it’s painted and
starting to look like a car again, people are really excited.”
Restoration will be complete this year, just in time for the Portland VDC to display the Crown at the
ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new facility in January 2005. It also will participate in local parades
that spring and be offered to the TMS Portland Region to build traffic in area dealerships. Finally,
says Warneke, the Crown will be donated to the Toyota USA Automobile Museum in time for the
company’s 50th anniversary in 2007.
“This car represents significant history,” says Warneke. “A lot of the vehicle, like the spot welds, was
pristine. Now we probably build more vehicles in an hour than we did in all of 1958, but it’s nice to
know that even our first cars were really well built.”
As it turned out, and I wasn't to find this out until December 2007, the actual Crown that
was fully restored turned out to be Shannon's red Toyopet. The one that was originally
found in the field by Rickie Moore needed too much work, and so Toyota decided to put all
their efforts into the better of the two. That car from the field eventually found it's way to
Frenchy Dehoux of Arizona. Frenchy is the Operations Supervisor for Phoenix Toyota
Transport, and was restoring another Crown of his own at the time. Hopefully I'll have a
story on Frenchy's Crown sometime soon. You can read more about Frenchy and all his
cars at Frenchy's Rides. And here is his write-up on his very own 1958 Toyopet.
The online story that appears above, was only available to Toyota associates and
dealerships through a secure website. Later that year an abridged version was published in
the September/October issue of the print edition of Toyota Today. Most of the story
remained the same, but by then the restoration was complete...
Toyopet is 'Pet Project' for Portland VDC, continued
By spring 2004, only the "little" details remained. New vinyl floor mats were cut; a jeweler created a
Crown glovebox emblem from Japanese artwork; and an industrial glass artist molded and tinted a
windshield to spec.
The Crown was finally finished in mid-June, just in time for the Portland Region dealer meeting. From
there, the vintage vehicle went on to steal the spotlight at its first car show, the Forest Grove
(Oregon) Concours d'Elegance, July 18.
"The whole project has been a hoot," says Warneke. "And now that it's finished, it just sparkles."
The Portland VDC will display the Crown at its new facility, which is scheduled to be completed later
this year. Eventually, says Warneke, the car will be donated to the Toyota USA Automobile Museum
in Torrance, Calif., for the company's 50th anniversary in 2007.
"This car represents significant history," says Warneke. "A lot of the vehicle, like the spot welds, was
pristine. Now we probably build more vehicles in an hour than we sold in all of 1958, but it's nice to
know that even our first cars were really well built."
The 58 Crown
By Terresa Holmes
My family and I went on the most wonderful field trip not long ago. We arranged to meet Doug
Warneke at the Portland Vehicle Distribution Center. What fun! We pulled up to the security gate
and the guard asked us “who we were" and "what was our business?" We told him we were there to
see the 58 Crown and then he had us show him our picture ID before he issued us visitors passes,
safety glasses and hard hats. We felt pretty important when he raised the gate and let us in. Then,
before our eyes was a sea of multi-colored Toyotas, Scions and Lexus’. Do you think they’d miss
Doug was there to meet us at the main entrance. He opened a big garage door and revealed the baby
blue Crown jewel in all her splendor. The paint and chrome just glistened. Doug was beaming with
pride. After we "ooed" and "aahed" for awhile, Doug offered to take us for a spin. We cruised the
parking lot, and since it's such a big place, it wound up being a pretty long drive. The Crown just
purred. She had a 3 on the tree... just like my Tiaras. My son, Andrew, thought he'd found his dream
job. He asked Doug why there were so many brand-new, shrink-wrapped Toyotas zipping by. Doug
explained that 3 ships a week arrive in Portland and about 1700 cars have to be loaded off each ship
and onto double and triple level train cars. Doug said it's not a job for the faint of heart because the
ramps look pretty scary. The people who do this job are called "shaggers." Andrew thought that
driving those brand new cars all day would be pretty cool (and so did I). After the ships unload the
Portland cars, they cruise on down to Long Beach and empty about 2500 cars there.
The Distribution Center was scheduled to move into a new facility on October 29th. We got to tour
where the new cars get their "options" added. It's a huge building with state-of-the-art lighting. There
was an atrium entrance into the business offices where the Crown was due to be displayed in a
roped-off area for the grand opening of the facility.
Doug said the people who worked on the Crown restoration told him how impressed they were with
the workmanship of the car. She was really built to last. The exterior baby blue looked gorgeous with
the interior navy blue contrast and Doug had a jeweler make the little crown emblem that goes on the
dash. It was beautiful. I wanted my Tiaras to shine like that. But I didn't want them to be so nice I'd
be afraid to drive them.
When we were leaving the facility, I looked back one final time at all the cars. They were parked in
perfect formation and the paint colors looked so pretty. We were lucky to visit where these cars had
a brief stop before they are purchased by Americans. Toyotas are part of daily living for a lot of us
and the Crown was the start of it all. She was so special. She was completely unique and unlike any
other classic car I've ever seen.
|Above: The car that started a restoration project for
the Toyota Portland VDC. This is the Toyopet
Crown that TLS associate Rickie Moore spotted in
a field. This car eventually made its way to another
Toyota Associate, Frenchy Dehoux, to help in his
own restoration project, this time in Arizona. Photo
|Below: The car that started it all for me. This is the
one that got away from me - Shannon
Leatherwood's red 1958 Toyopet Crown as it
appeared in 2002 when I was trying to buy it.
|Below: Skilled Trades Associate, Ken Grischow,
paints the rebuilt body of the 1958 Toyopet
Crown. Toyota apparently decided to go with a
baby blue rather than the original red. Photo
Ah, but the story doesn't end here. My friend, Terresa, just
happens to live not too far from the Portland Vehicle
Distribution Center where the Crown was staying during the
winter of 2004, and she had gotten in touch with Doug
Warneke and arrangements were made for a visit. Here is her
story as it appeared in the Winter 2004/2005 issue of the
TORC newsletter (then called 'Crossroads').
After Terresa's visit, and Forest Grove Concours
d'Elegance, the Crown sort of goes on hiatus for a while,
but then by July 2007 it resurfaces, this time in Torrance,
where it makes it's first public appearance at the 'Rock
Around the Block' celebration hosted by the Torrance
Historical Society. Since then the car has resided at the
Toyota USA Automobile Museum and has appeared at
various events including the TORC All Toyotafest and the
Japanese Classic Car Show, and even made a cameo
appearance on the Jay Leno Show.
While I was sorry to have lost out on the car of my dreams,
I'm now happy that it went to Toyota and has been fully
restored. The Toyota museum now has 3 Toyopet Crowns,
and they continue to be ambassadors for Toyota.
|Below: Doug Warneke with the almost fully
restored Toyopet Crown at the Portland VDC.
Photo courtesy Terresa Holmes.
|Below: The Crown makes an appearance
at a Torrance Historical Society event in
July 2007. Photo courtesy Katysnest.
|Below: The 1958 Toyopet Crown
appears at the 2008 All Toyotafest.
This story hits close to my heart, since I was actually trying to acquire this car back in 2002. I can't recall exactly how it all began,
but if memory serves me correctly, the owner had contacted me in regards to an old Crown she had 'inherited'. The car had belonged
to Shannon Leatherwoods grandparents and they had parked it back in the sixties because it blew a rear brake cylinder. The car had
a mere 30,000 miles on it. Basically Shannon couldn't keep the car and she wanted it to go to a good home. I had made her an offer
on the car, and was almost ready to get it, when she told me she sold it to someone else. It turned out that at the last minute, she
received a better offer from someone at Toyota, and they planned to do a full restoration and eventually place the car into the
Toyota museum in Torrance, California. This is what Shannon and her family wanted all along, and so they went ahead and accepted
Toyota's offer. That was the last I heard about the car until a few years later...
The following story originally ran in the March 2004 online edition of
Toyota Today. Toyota Today is “the magazine for Toyota
dealerships.” I found the story quite interesting, especially since I was
actually in negotiations for the Crown back in 2002 (before Toyota
made Shannon an offer too good to refuse). So it was good to finally
learn what had been going on with the car that got away from me. I
contacted Lisa Yamada, Editor of Toyota Today, and she graciously
gave us permission to reprint the story in the May/June 2004 issue of
the TORC newsletter.
|To learn more about Toyopet Crowns or to share your own stories or knowledge about these cars, please visit and
join my Toyopet Crown Group.
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