“Fun to Drive” was the tagline of Toyota Japan for much of the 1980s, and it was absolutely true. Toyota once had a whole portfolio of stylish, slingable cars that were also — and this is a key component of fun — affordable. Thanks to the new venue for Toyotafest this year, there was even more space to welcome greater numbers of these delightful machines.
The model that personified the fun-to-drive ethos for the longest run in Toyota’s history was the Celica. Whether a Japan-inspired coupe like Boggie Dizon’s ’72, stock survivor liftback like Mike Malnick’s ’77, or the nisei style street machines of Jeff Yee and Brian Karasawa (lead photo), there are countless interpretations for just the first generation alone.
John Garza’s ’77 takes a different tack, a Lexus in Celica’s clothing. Beneath the flawless exterior was a Lexus 2JZ-GE inline-six, matched with gorgeous Lexus Glacier Frost Mica paint. If John’s car looks familiar, that’s because it’s also a Touge California survivor.
Even after a layout change from rear- to front-wheel drive, the Celica managed to retain its place as an enjoyable and handsome coupe with a devoted following. We found a brilliant ST162 droptop looking 80s-tastic, a perfect LA cruiser.
Nearby was an ST184 owner with a good sense of humor.
There’s something inherently fun in driving a 50 year old car that can keep up with modern traffic. A barikan Corona like Judith Mendoza’s is the oldest Toyota design that doesn’t feel like a holdover from a more primitive age.
You can even use it as a daily driver, as Oscar Leclere does with his ’67. Though he’s owned it for just 10 years, he even has the original Fujitsu Ten radio service booklet and instruction manual, along with a logbook detailing mileages and fill-ups.
Perhaps the only hairy aspect are the brakes, but Edgardo Pelayo and Robert Medina somehow discovered that first-gen Acura Legend brakes could be swapped into their 1969 sedans.
Overall, T40-generation Coronas were well represented, but Josh Segovia had the only coupe. It was in fact a rare 1969 1900 Deluxe hardtop coupe with a factory 4-speed, rescued from a wrecking yard.
A car that gets almost no love is the T80-series Corona sedan, but we were happy to see one represented. Daniel Acosta’s 1971 RT83 is a beautiful specimen, looking sharp lowered on original SSR Star Sharks.
Few forms of automobile embody driving fun better than the hot hatch, and Toyota had its entry as well. However, the Starlet stood out as one of the few front-engined, rear-wheel-drive examples of the breed. What was considered outdated technology back then is a coveted premium today. Slap on some Riverside 3-spokes and you’re golden.
Let’s also not forget that Toyota is one of the few manufacturers to build an honest-to-god mid-engined sports car that you didn’t need to embezzle money to enjoy. We’ve seen strong turnouts from the MR2 contingent at previous T-fests, but this year the congregation was truly astounding.
Rows and and rows of them came, from as far away as Canada. Interestingly, the trend of 90s-era snorkels and over-vented body kits is long gone. Even if performance modded with a turbo upgrade and suspension work like Chad Vyse’s 1993 Turbo, most owners chose to keep the look to a subtle body kit and/or a set of tasteful wheels, like Chad’s TOM’s C7Rs.
It was impossible to photograph them all, but here are some of our favorites, starting with a British Columbian SW20 on Work Meisters and a tasteful nod to vintage Toyota racing livery.
RJ Panlilio’s 1993 was an homage to the TRD parts catalog. Everything from 17-inch Alumi-K wheels to the sparkplug wires came from Toyota Racing Development.
Brent Litjen’s Signal Yellow 1993 was gorgeous in its originality. It makes us happy to know that at least one example in a coveted, rare color exists unmolested in the world. Brent even has the window sticker, showing that the car was sold for $27,406 out the door.
MR2 presence extended to AW11s as well, with notable examples like Ray Sebastian’s 1989 Supercharged on Work Meister CR01s.
From 1988-89, the last two years of AW11 production Toyota offered only one two-tone color option, Super Silver over Gray. Unlike earlier two-tones where colors were simply divided into upper and lower halves, this colorway was more complex, with a thin band of the secondary color running through the center section, across the nose, and over the rear deck. This example is actually the only one we’ve seen in person.
We end with a brilliantly 80s example made complete by a set of rare TOM’s Racing Vesta wheels. The aero style that was so popular in the 80s is the perfect complement to the MR2 wedge, as the red lettering is to Toyota’s trademark 3E5 Super Red paint.
It’s fashionable to bash Toyota for making commuter cars, but we challenge the naysayers to drive any one of the cars shown here and not leave with a smile on their face. We couldn’t stop grinning, and we didn’t even get a turn behind the wheel.
To be continued…
Our Toyotafest 2017 coverage continues, but in the meantime check out Part 01 and Part 02 of our 2017 Toyotafest coverage, as well as a few special highlights. You can also revisit Toyotafest 2016 (Part 01, 02, 03, and 04), Toyotafest 2015 (Part 01, 02, and 03), Toyotafest 2014 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2013 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2012 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04), Toyotafest 2011 (Part 01, 02, 03, 04, 05), and Toyotafest 2010 (Part 01, 02, 03).