During World War II, Toyota Trucks Only Had One Headlight to Keep Things Simple


Dec. 20 2023, Published 11:38 a.m. ET

A Toyota Model K truck from the 1940s with one headlight.
Source: Toyota

The Gist:

  • Toyota Model K trucks were manufactured with only one headlight during World War II because of a shortage of everything in the country during the war.
  • The Model K was streamlined in many ways to make it as efficient as possible.
  • Toyota almost went out of business in the years after World War II because of the general economic devastation that faced Japan after the war.
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It probably goes without saying that cars today look quite different than they did 50 or 75 years ago. Amid all this change, some features have remained almost entirely the same for years. Most cars have a windshield with wipers, for example, and a fender.

Most cars also have two headlights, which were originally designed for driving in the dark. Two headlights are better than one here because the bulbs can light more area and keep drivers safer. Some old Toyota trucks, though, only had a single headlight. Why did Toyota trucks used to have only one headlight? Keep reading for all of the details.

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A Toyota logo surrounded by snow on a Fender.
Source: Getty Images

Why did Toyota trucks only have one headlight?

During World War II, Toyota was responsible for truck production for the Imperial Japanese Army. Japan faced severe shortages during the war, and as a result, the trucks had to be kept as simple as possible. That meant plenty of different changes to the design, but chief among them was the single headlight. The trucks used less material and required less power than two headlights would have.

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Toyota was lucky that Japan surrendered when it did. The Allies were preparing a bombing run on Toyota's manufacturing facilities that would have destroyed the company. Instead, Toyota retained most of its manufacturing capacity through the end of the war. The company managed to introduce two new truck models in 1947, just two years after the war ended.

The trucks with one light weren't the only trucks that Toyota produced during World War II. Another, known as the Su-Ki, was an amphibious truck that was designed to be much larger than the Model K, which had only one headlight. These trucks were also much more armored and were designed in part to facilitate the movement of troops around the Pacific theater during the war.

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Toyota almost went out of business after World War II.

Because of the devastation that the war brought to Japan, the country was economically destitute in the years after the war. Toyota almost went out of business in 1949 and 1950. The company was only saved thanks to loans provided by other countries and severe cuts to its number of workers. Although the company only produced 300 trucks in June 1950, it's now one of the most successful auto manufacturers in the world.

Ironically, Toyota was fully revived by the Korean War, which brought an order of 5,000 trucks from the U.S. military with it. That order saved the company from bankruptcy just five years after World War II almost ended it.

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