Hanging like a cloud over the festivities of the 19th annual All-Toyotafest this year was the news that had been leaked to the press a week prior: Toyota USA was moving its headquarters, which had been a southern California fixture since 1957, to Texas. What would happen to the Toyota USA Museum in Torrance? To its vast archives of historic data? To Toyotafest? It was with this uncertainty in mind that we began to explore the fine specimens of Aichi steel that had taken the 57-year journey to the lawn of Queen Mary Park.
Since it seemed like the end of an era was upon us, let’s first take a look at the luxury sedans, grand tourers, and deluxe nameplates whispered in reverence that made Toyota great.
First up, the grandest of them all, the Toyota Century. It was never officially sold in the US, but even in Japan you had to be a head of state, CEO or some other ur-citizen before Toyota would even hand you a brochure. It is the original VIP sedan. Long-time Toyota Owners and Restorers Club (TORC) member Kirk Hubbard’s centurion even sports an old school two-digit Japanese license plate and a limited edition Mooneyes Parking Area sticker.
Before the Lexus SC, there was Matt Harada’s 1987 Z20 Soarer, another JDM import and the only second-gen Soarer fully registered and street legal in the state of California. Powered by a 1G-GTEU straight six and facing off against a lineup of front-wheel-drive Celicas, it’s a reminder that Japan was still building a wide range of rear-drivers in the late 80s.
The T110-generation Corona Hardtop Coupe is heart-achingly rare these days, but at least we’ll always have Lawrence Keller’s red 1974 RT114 and Robert Co’s white 1975 RT115 to remember them by. The Corona was the middle child in Toyota’s sedan lineup, bracketed by the Cressida on the upper end and the Corolla on the other, making these the disco era counterpart to the Solara. Ok, fine, so they’re not particularly luxe, but they make up for it with stately pillarless two-door styling.
Both owners have chosen to replace the stock engines — an 18R-C for the ’74 and a 20R for the ’75 — with the venerable twin-cam 18RG. In Robert’s case, an ultra rare, period correct HKS Turbo gives the car extra oomph.
The one name that even Toyota haters have no choice but to respect is Supra, and the king daddy of them all is the fourth-gen JZA80, or MkIV as the ‘Murricans call it. It’s one of the rare cars that was a classic since Day One, with prices that never dipped anywhere close to hooptie levels on the used car market. That’s why, unlike a Z32 300ZX or Mitsu 3000GT, you’ll never see a clapped out A80 with mismatched panels rolling around on steelies.
What you will see, however, are owners whose sole purpose for owning a MkIV is to have the longest mod list, preferably one that exceeds the space on the display placard provided by Toyotafest by several miles. For such a notable and rare car, there are precious few stock Supras left these days.
One exception is Roger Reyes’ red (above, with bronze wheels) 1997 15th Anniversary Twin Turbo that has only 37,000 miles and “BPU” mods (Basic Performance Upgrade in MkIV parlance, meaning downpipe, exhaust, increased boost and a boost cut controller). We hope the mods stay reversible.
The second-gen A60s were the first real sporting Supras and took America by storm when they debuted in 1982. There have been a steady showing of them at Toyotafest for several years now, and in contrast to the MkIVs there’s precious few cosmetic alterations. No hood scoops here. What little there is tends to be limited to an 80s-style aero kit and some period-correct wheels.
Platform twin to the JZA80 Supra was the more luxurious and drop dead gorgeous JZZ30 Soarer, or Lexus SC. Toytoafest welcomes all marques under the ToMoCo banner, so all manner of Lexuses were present, from spindle-grille modern ones to the completely grille-free early SCs. September 1989 is when the Lexus brand launched, meaning that some Lexus models are official nostalgic. Incredible, is it not?
The SCs, both 300 and 400, however, really stood out in a flotilla of VIP grandeur. It’s another one of those cars, where even the most vitriolic despiser of the Lexus brand cannot hate it due to its sheer beauty. It’s the Supra dressed in a fitted suit.
The MA70 and 71 Supras are classics too, and sit in that sweet spot between the old guard of AE86s and the insane offspring of the Bubble Economy. For a time, these were the Wangan brutes of their day. Though they were pre-Fast and Furious franchise a good number of them did succumb to the kandy stylings of the era. Now, however, high quality and tasteful builds have reclaimed the lead.
Craig Higa’s 1988 MA70 won Best Supra of the show. If you saw it on the street you’d think it was just an exceptionally clean naturally aspirated zenki but under the skin it was the subject of an extensive six-year build that saw a complete teardown of the engine with beefed up internals and a ported and polished head. It’s truly one of the finest non-turbo MkIIIs we’ve ever seen and winner of the first ever Toyotaku Award.
And here’s where it all started, the MkI Supra. This is my personal roachback, an elongated Celica with 110hp, a 4-speed automatic, 2000GT grille, and a name borne from porn. It also holds the honor of being the first Toyota — the first Japanese car, actually —designed in the US, at the CALTY studio in Newport Beach. That’s not moving to Texas, at least.
We’ll have more Toyotafest coverage coming soon, where we take a look at the less opulent offerings from ToMoCo. Stay tuned for Part 02.