This year Toyotafest fell on a very special occasion — President and CEO Akio Toyoda‘s 58th birthday. Since taking the helm of his great-grandfather’s company in 2009, Toyoda-san has vowed to bring the wakudoki back. What’s wakudoki? “A palpable, heart-pounding sense of excitement,” says Toyota. To do that Toyoda-san, an occasional race car driver who’s done laps in a competition-prepped Lexus LFA, has sworn to imbue Toyota’s lineup with fun, sporty cars the marque was once known for. Wait, Toyotas were sporty and exciting? Here’s a reminder of what was.
Perhaps no other model defines “classic Toyota” better than the Celica. It’s always been the sporty one, the one with great looks, and the one that’s not too big, not to small. From Jorge Aguilera’s green 18R-G turbo to the TE37V-shod coupe sharing space with a lifted Tundra at the Rays Wheels booth, it is always well represented. If Toyota were to ever to a modern interpretation of a nostalgic design like Ford, Chevy and Dodge have done with the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, the Celica would be the natural choice.
Irwin Aquino’s white coupe was one of our show favorites. It really felt like a 1970s touring car thanks in no small part to step-lipped SSR Star Sharks, fiberglass flares and a purposeful stance.
Second-gen Celicas also made a showing, although not in as large numbers as the first. Unlike my roachback Supra the coupes are the more desirable body style, especially the kouki ones with the four square headlights. The yellow example was actually one of the nicer zenki ones we’ve come across, and Drew Magno’s red sled was even a rare US-converted Sunchaser model.
By the mid-80s Toyota had migrated Celica to a front-drive platform, but kept performance-minded buyers happy with the rally-bred All-Tracs. 3S-GTE swaps are a common theme amongst ST165 owners, even with Joey Sana’s IMSA GTO Edition, just one of 77 imported for 1987, a full model year before the regular All-Tracs went on sale.
With mods, they can be quite the sleeper. Chris Yip’s black 1990 runs 352hp at the wheels, although those in the know might be able to ID it as an All-Trac. To really blow the pants off an unsuspecting patsy, you need a Beams 3S dropped in an otherwise stock-looking Celica ST. Our “Made in the 80s” decal looks perfect for this Cali cruiser.
And yes, someone did really import a RHD bugeyed GT-Four.
While the Celica may have looked the part, Corollas saw just as much action. In the motherland, Toyota routinely dropped the same performance engines found in top-spec Celicas into the smaller and lighter Corolla platform. From TE27s to AE86s, they had just as much street cred as Celicas, 510s and Sunnys, but the reputation faded once RWD Rollas went the way of the dodo.
Today there is no shortage of classic Corollas at Toyotafest. Many were clearly works in progress, but one of the nicest was once again Patrick Ng’s. His mango was wearing yet another new look, designed by our very own Ricky Silverio and inspired by 1970s Japanese touring cars mixed with a little TTE Castrol TE27 and the classic TOM’S colorway. It’s basically a “what if” TOM’S demo car, showing the myriad of motorsports arenas Toyota was once involved in.
Of course, it was the spirit of the RWD Corolla that inspired Akio Toyoda to fast-track the Toyota 86/Scion FR-S into production. In the process, he brought the entire idea of an affordable, light, rear-drive sports coupe back into the automotive world. It’s no surprise there was a metric buttload of them at Toyotafest, repping every aftermarket company from Cusco to Hayashi Racing.
Now that the FR-S is the tuner car du jour, there’s speculation that a droptop FR-S and even a four-door are coming down the pipeline. It faces zero competition in the world of tuners (we did spot a Subaru BRZ sneaking out of the parking area, but a twin isn’t really competition), a standing that will change when Nissan puts the IDx into production.
It’s crazy to think that a major automaker would produce a tiny, inexpensive mid-engine two-seater sports car, but that’s exactly what Toyota did at the height of the Bubble Economy with the MR2. Walter Salguero’s 1988 supercharged (left) is proof of just how bonkers ToMoCo was back in the day. Minna Guo restored her naturally aspirated 1986 (right) after finding it in a barn for $500.
Another pleasant surprise was the large turnout of SW20s, many of them even sporting tasteful mods with period wheels. Impressively, Duncan McKay’s black CDM Turbo and Russell Turnbull’s white 2GR-FE V6 swap came all the way from Canada to join the festivities. These are a far cry from 10 years ago, when it seemed like every second-gen MR2 was rocking bright yellow paint and at least one (sometimes two) snorkel intakes, and the world is better for it.
San Francisco-based AZN Motorsports always turns out work of incredible quality. The dark green AE86 wearing black Wats and the red 2T-G-powered mango on TOSCO wheels are exactly the type of high-end yet understated builds that capture the feel of vintage Japan. The money and sweat have been put into the right places rather than invested in flash. We’d like to see more of this in the classic Japanese scene.
Bridging the gap between Japanese and American styles are the Nisei cars. Instead of fender mirrors and Wats, these stateside old schoolers rock door mirrors and Libres. As pioneers of the import scene, these guys put the true meaning into “back in the day.”
You might recognize Brian Karasawa’s orange Celica Liftback from the Electric Federal video, or Jeff Yee’s blue Liftback from it appearance on the Toyotafest flyer and medals from this year’s show. These are the dream builds of street racers and cruisers that were tinkering with Toyotas and Datsuns decades before it became cool.
Last but not least are the cars of Janet Fujimoto, a one-woman army of Toyota preservation. Not only does she own two of the finest, award-winning hachiroku in the country — which she and her partner Duane Segawa restored from basketcase status — she also has a beautiful SW20 MR2 Turbo that is all original except for the easily reversible wheels and suspension.
This year’s show had fewer classics from the chrome bumper era than any Toyotafest in recent memory, but not when it came to sport coupes. Clearly this was a category Toyota once thrived in, and Akio Toyoda is right to look upon such examples to guide his company’s future. Seeing the care and love bestowed on classic Toyotas makes one appreciate how the cars struck a chord with their respective owners. Is that not the greatest birthday gift of all?
That’s it for Part 02 of our Toyotafest coverage, but there’s still more to come. In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s Part 01 – Luxe & GT cars.