This week marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of CALTY Design Research, Toyota’s southern California design studio. Today, almost every non-US auto company has a studio in this mecca of car culture, but Toyota was the first. To mark the occasion, Toyota has released some images of CALTY-developed concept cars that have never before been shown to the public.
CALTY was quietly founded in 1973 at its original location in El Segundo, California. It was intentionally kept under the radar so as to not be influenced by the corporate mothership in Japan. The vision of two of Toyota’s most influential presidents — Eiji Toyoda, who held the post from 1967–82, and Shoichiro Toyoda, who succeeded him from 1982-92 — it was established so Toyota could tailor cars to American tastes. They wanted it to “develop a unique identity and provide fresh, creative inspiration to Toyota’s global design headquarters in Japan.”
One of the earliest concepts was a small 4×4 based on the FJ40 Land Cruiser. It reached the stage of a 1/5 scale model, which was presented to executives, including then-president Eiji Toyoda (far right). It almost looks like the original 3-door RAV4, which helped kick off the SUV craze, could have sprung from this idea some 20 years later.
The 1970s were spent researching future trends in design under studio head Mamoru Yaegashi. Designers were urged to think outside the box, and as such they weren’t restricted to only regular cars and trucks.
In 1975, CALTY designers dreamed up a travel trailer. It’s a shame it wasn’t developed into something more, as we would have loved to see what an interior with Toyota’s excellent packaging and efficiency would have looked like. With lots of windows and a sleek profile, it would have paired perfectly with the small Land Cruiser-based off-roader.
In 1978 CALTY relocated to its current location in Newport Beach. “California was a youthful, vibrant epicenter of fresh ideas, a cool car culture, and the glamorous movie industry that inspired CALTY to create innovative designs and establish new trends,” explained Kevin Hunter, the current president of CALTY.
Back then the pinnacle of engineering and design was still high-performance sports cars, and in 1982 CALTY came up with their first. The Toyota MX-1 Concept was a mid-engine supercar with scissor doors and a large jet figher-like canopy.
The MX-1 actually reached a full-scale model, which was presented to execs including Eiji Toyoda. It was intended to be a halo sports car but, sadly, never reached production. Toyota did bring a mid-engined sports car to market the following year in the form of the AW11 MR2. Imagine how mind-blowing the MX-1 would have been.
The followup to the MX-1 was the 1983 Toyota MX-2, being shown now to the public for the first time. Once again, CALTY designers reached the full-scale model stage. The MX-2 was built entirely in-house by CALTY and featured an FRP body and gullwing doors for both the cabin and the engine cover. Inside, a steering wheel mounted on a swingarm could switch from left- to right-hand-drive in an instant. Its aerodynamics were described as “close to a pure race car”.
One of the most “out there” ideas was the 1980s “future high-performance concept”. Another full-scale model, the wild design features a single-seat monoposto configuration with completely enclosed front wheels. There aren’t many details about this car, but if we had to guess the massive Formula 1-style intake at the rear probably fed another mid-mounted engine. It’s probably just a coincidence, but to our eyes the front headlight area bears a resemblance to that of the FT-1 Concept, which begat the new Supra.
Last (for now) but not least is the Scion NYC concept that CALTY conjured up in 2012. The frog-like city car was designed for urban density, with a tall greenhouse in which the driver stood almost upright. For a car of such strange proportions, the design actually looks quite nice. The upright head and taillights, mimicking the position of the occupants, are a clever touch.
We’ll have more about CALTY as it looks back on 50 years. Half a century is a long time, and in addition to these concepts the studio has also been responsible for a great number of Toyota production cars. From the A40 Celica in 1978 all the way up to the new Land Cruiser, its output has been prolific and there’s a lot more to come.