It might be small - but this is actually a very interesting little car! And let’s just straighten one thing out - it is definitely not a “kei” car.
But it is an air-cooled twin-boxer lightweight sports car, with a removable targa top - that predates the Porsche Targa. Toyota’s Sports 800 was a zippier version of the Publica. To understand why it is what it is, we have to go back to 1955, when Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry suggested that the nation’s car companies get together and build a “national car.” Parameters included a top speed over 100 KPH, fuel consumption not to exceed one liter per 30 kilometers at 60 KPH (roughly 72 MPG) on a level road, weight less than 400 kg (880 pounds!), and a requirement that it wouldn’t require major repairs until 100,000 km. Does that all sound a bit like the brief for the original Volkswagen?
And so, Toyota made the Publica sedan, a bare-bones front-engine, rear-drive, two-door, four-seat sedan powered by a 697cc, 28hp, air-cooled, flat-twin engine. It was a sparse little machine: Though there was room for luggage, there was no radio or heater, even as options, for your 389,000 yen (a little more than $1,000). Looking at it, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a Trabant.
This is the “Standard” version - a Tomica Limited Vintage
Here’s the “Deluxe” by Konami. Polished aluminium hubcaps! Dual tone vinyl seats...
The Publica spawned the Sports 800, named in deference to its mission and its displacement. Launched in 1965, a stock 800cc engine (as seen in the facelifted Publica) had 36 horsepower, but the twin-single-barrel carbs and intake boosted things to a whopping 44.4 horsepower.
Its lines were realized by Toyota engineer Tatsuo Hasegawa, an aircraft designer in WWII, and Shozo Sato, a designer whose career was largely spent with Nissan. To keep weight down, a judicious use of aluminum included the trunklid, hood, roof panel and seat frames; what wasn’t aluminum was thin-gauge steel. The Sports 800 sported a removable roof panel before Butzi Porsche’s Targa ever graced a Frankfurt stand. The nose, which has more than a whiff of 2000GT about it, sported a grille with manually operable shutters to allow the engine to heat up faster in cooler weather.
Relatively few were built: just 3,131 between 1965 and 1969. More than a third of these sold in its debut year, 1965.
The three models shown here are two Dydos and one Konami. The red street version is by Dydo (with a removable targa top!), and silver Racing version is also a Dydo - but with a fixed top. The silver street version is a Konami.
There’s a TLV version also on the way, so that will make picking a favourite even harder. The Konami has the better details, but also a few wobbles in the fit and finish department. The red Dydo has the party trick with the removable targa top, but the pain is a bit too thick and obscures some details. The silver racing version is just too cute for words, if you ask me, and my personal favourite here. Unless the upcoming TLV betters it. Which is of course likely...
Most of the text comes from Jeff Koch’s article in Hemmings, found here;
The man is also a major, major diecast collector and former brand manager of Johnny Lightning, if you didn’t know already.