Today, automobiles increasingly use aluminum body panels to reduce weight and improve efficiency. The lightweight material was far less common in cars in the 1970s outside of high-end performance applications. Toyota made an early effort to change this and bring the metal to more mainstream machines with its weird-looking 1977 Toyota Aluminium Body Experimental Vehicle concept at that year's Tokyo Motor Show.

Let's be honest, the ABEV has a bizarre exterior design. You might expect the long hood hide a big engine, but that's not the case. The concept's powerplant displaces a mere 547 cubic centimeters.

 

The big front end leads to a stumpy passenger compartment. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any photos of the cabin, but the doors slide rearward to open, like the rear doors you'd find on a minivan. There's room for two people inside.

Toyota's 1977 press release about the ABEV said the concept came "in response to social calls for the conservation of energy and natural resources." The goal was to create a lightweight vehicle with improved fuel efficiency. "Its development was guided by the principle of a minimum of consumption for a maximum of work," the company said.

The concept measured 140.2 inches (3,560 millimeters) long, 58.74 inches (1,492 mm) wide, and 45.51 inches (1,156 mm) tall. For comparison, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback currently available in the US is 172 inches long and 70.5 inches wide, meaning the ABEV is a seriously compact machine.

The aluminum body kept the concept's weight down to just 992 pounds (450 kilograms). Toyota claimed the ABEV got an estimated 82 miles per gallon (35 kilometers per liter) while traveling 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour). 

After Toyota displayed the ABEV at the 1977 Tokyo Motor Show, the concept appeared on the cover of the automaker's 1978 corporate brochure, shown below.

 

Modern Toyotas make extensive use of aluminum. For example, the latest Tacoma uses the metal in its upper body and tailgate to save weight. The GR Corolla has the lightweight material for the hood and front doors. So it's safe to say the ABEV was a successful precursor for Toyota's future endeavors. 

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