EVENTS: 1st Touge California, 2015

057_Touge California Toyota Celica & Datsun 510

This past Saturday a group of select cars and their drivers gathered in Thousand Oaks, California for the inaugural running of JNC‘s Touge California. Named for the hallowed Japanese roads where racing heroes honed their skills and where drifting was born, the event was a 120-mile touring rally through some of the nation’s most scenic and renowned driving roads, through the Santa Monica mountains and along the Pacific Coast.

015_Malamut Museum Subaru

The starting point was the Malamut Automotive Museum in Thousand Oaks. Its owner, Michael Malamut, a former Porsche mechanic turned Honda dealer, has amassed a fantastic array of fine and eclectic automobiles over the years, from Messerschmitts to muscle cars, and he graciously opened his private museum for us to serve as the rally’s staring point.

019_Malamut Mazda R360 tin

However, his collection isn’t limited to just old cars. Walking through the museum’s doors sends you back in time into a Willy Wonka land of automobilia, from post-war tin friction toys (including a rare Mazda R360!) to neon signs that once adorned Googie dealerships.

025_Malamut Museum Pep Boys

The Boys of Pep and Bob’s Big greet visitors in plastic form as well, but Malamut has even gathered a stockpile of the stores’ branded wares, such as 1960s oil cans and dinnerware from when Austin Powers’ escape pod was still called Elias Brothers.

004_Malamut Toyota 2000GT Mazda Cosmo Sport

And then there are the cars, which comprise every marque you can name from Abarths to Volkswagens. Perhaps most relevant to JNCers, though, were his cars from Japan. Parked next to a gullwing Mercedes 300SL were two of his prized possessions, a 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport and a 1967 Toyota 2000GT with less than 5,000 miles on the odometer.

An entire row is devoted to cars of the Showa Era — a Subaru 360 in both ladybug and van form, one of the first 10 Datsun trucks imported into the US in 1959, and a rare Canadian-import LHD Publica — while nearby, off-roaders great (Land Cruisers) and small (Suzuki Jimnys) stand guard.

038_Malamut Museum Yokohama

Amidst these classic cars, vintage jukeboxes, Philco televisions, and Kelvinator refrigerators — all seemingly straight from the set of Mad Men — lunch was provided by Yokohama Tire. We felt the 98-year-old manufacturer of both street and racing tires as well as Advan wheels was the perfect brand for the occasion, as we would soon be pressing rubber to some of southern California’s most formidable blacktop.

010_Malamut Datsun042_Touge California driver orientation

Soon it was time for the driver’s orientation. Rallymaster Patrick Strong (also proprietor of Carriage House Models) laid out the rules: Each driver would receive a magnetic roundels from Yokohama Tire, a route book made possible by Koyorad Cooling, and a sealed envelope.

268_Touge California Roundel

The day’s route was not revealed until the Koyorad route books were distributed. Included were four Touge Stages, challenging strips of winding asphalt with up to 3,800 feet of elevation changes, just like the Japanese roads of lore. For those who doubted their cars’ abilities to stay cool or otherwise, the envelopes contained bypass instructions to the next checkpoint.

However, when we collected the envelopes at the finish line, if the seal was broken then the driver would not be eligible for a gold “I Survived the JNC Touge California” decal.

269_Touge California decal

And with that, the drivers were off to make history in the first ever Touge California! If there is any sight more beautiful than a fine vintage automobile, it is that of a fine vintage automobile in motion. And if there’s anything more beautiful than that, it’s a whole line of them, in motion together.

049_Touge California Nissan Skyline C10 Hakosuka

The first checkpoint came 28 miles in, at a picturesque rural area near the Ventura County line. With the first (and easiest) of the Touge Stages complete, enthusiasm was running high as the drivers lined up along a gleaming white fence. Julius Metoyer’s Hakosuka Skyline was just one of many imported cars to participate.

046_Touge California Mazda RX7 FB

Even ominous storm clouds that had formed did nothing to dampen the mood (or thankfully, the roadway). Smith McGehee’s Mazda RX-7 was the perfect car with which to tackle the back stretches. We already knew its minimalist profile and lightweight design looked at home in the canyons, but it fit surprisingly well on a country two-lane as well.

053_Touge California Datsun 510 Bluebird

The next leg took drivers through a serpentine downhill Touge Stage, each hairpin revealing a ribbon of road twisting away below. Unfortunately, the roads were so narrow there was no place to pull over for photos. However, we did catch Sebastian Hill’s Datsun 510 and Adrian Garcia’s RHD Bluebird Coupe emerging from the end of the stage.

065_Touge California Toyota TE27 Sprinter Trueno

If you’ve ever wondered why some drivers prefer small, this event illustrated the reasons. Japanese cars such as Victor Ansari and Francis Jones’ RHD TE27 Sprinter Truenos took the thin lanes with perfect precision. 500hp engines would be a liability on these roads, not an asset.

121_Touge California Nissan Skyline C10 Hakosuka

As the rally circumnavigated the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains by Oxnard, the storm clouds gave way to the beautiful blue skies California is known for. The cars returned to sea level and the route picked up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, where cliffs towered on one side of the road and tides swelled on the other.

075_Touge California

Checkpoint 02 stopped drivers at Point Mugu, an oceanside overlook perfect for photos. As it happens, a family of Japanese tourists stumbled upon the rally and were amazed at the collection of J-tin that had amassed.

090_Touge California Toyota Celica A20 Liftback

After photos were snapped the cars embarked on southeasterly direction for a coastal drive down the PCH. With the Pacific on the right, only two oceans — one of water and one of time — separated these cars from the land where they were born. It was a treat to watch the twin orange Celicas of Mike Foertsch and Mike Malnick move in synchronicity throughout the day.

Checkpoint 03 gave drivers a chance to refill both their fuel tanks and their stomachs before the most challenging (and most fun) of the two remaining Touge Stages (there was no checkpoint in between). The next leg would be the most daunting, but no one had yet to crack open their alternate route envelopes.

113_Touge California Toyota Century

Kirk Hubbard certainly didn’t, even though his Toyota Century weighed in at the two ton mark. Instead, the ultimate in JDM VIP, with 5-lug SSR Reverse Mesh and factory air suspension raised, handled itself like a yakuza boss.

136_Touge California Honda Accord

Nor did Chris Green open his envelope, showing impressive devotion to unlocking the “I Survived the JNC Touge California” decal achievement by hustling his 2-speed Hondamatic Accord up the mountains.

However, the honors of both furthest traveled and riskiest endeavor go to Myron Vernis, who shipped his ultra-rare Mazda Luce R130 all the way from Ohio to drive in the event.

161_Touge California Mazda Luce R130

Not only is it one of two R130s known to exist in North America (the other is owned by Mazda and is missing an engine) out of 976 built worldwide, but it’s the only front-wheel-drive rotary Mazda ever created. Parts are impossible to find or even borrow from like models, because there are none. If anything had gone wrong with this car, we would have felt very, very bad.

147_Touge CaliforniaToyota TE27 Sprinter Trueno

Cars like the TE27 Sprinter Trueno — ancestor to a machine almost synonymous with the word touge, the AE86 — were made for these roads.

151_Touge CaliforniaToyota

A trio of Toyotas from three different strata of society chase each other down a series of S-turns on the final Touge Stage.

169_Touge California

After 38 miles of curving tarmac and two back-to-back Touge Stages since the last stop, Checkpoint 04 took place atop a peak in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains.

180_Touge California

Drivers and cars gathered for a photo op for a job well done and to catch a breath. The vantage point afforded an amazing panorama of mountain ridge after mountain ridge in every direction. It’s easy to forget such vistas exist so close to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

191_Touge California

Cars not of the chrome bumper era included Chris Hoffman’s first-gen Honda CRX Si and a first-year MX-5 Miata piloted by Mazda North America PR man Jacob Brown. Though opposite in wheels driven and hardness of top, traversing the types of roads that dominate Japan’s landscape shows how two such disparate cars could have been built to serve the same purpose.

210_Touge California Toyota TE27 & Nissan Bluebird

As the sun ducked behind rocky crests, the drivers headed back down towards the coast, snaking through one last breathtaking valley before hitting the PCH.

224_Touge California

Dusk fell upon the group at the final checkpoint at Dockweiler State Beach. It had been a long day, longer than expected, but the hard driving was over. But the rally was not done yet. One more quick jaunt down the 405 remained, to the Toyota USA Museum.

By the time the convoy arrived, over 120 miles of road had been covered. Toyota generously provided a delicious Hawaiian style dinner of salad, teriyaki chicken, kaluha pork and brownies — a much-needed feast after a day of vigorous motoring. In the end, we were proud to report that not a single envelope had been unsealed. All Touge roads had been driven! A small ceremony took place awarding “I Survived the JNC Touge California” decals to each driver.

268_Touge California Toyota Museum231_282_Touge California Toyota Museum248_

The last surprise of the night came when Lexus executive Paul Williamsen gave everyone a tour of the Toyota USA Museum. We viewed the whole of Toyota’s history in the US, from the 1958 Toyopet Crown to concepts built and unbuilt.

291_Touge California Toyota Museum266_

From Crowns to Cressidas, the Toyota USA Museum is physical record of everything the company has sold in the US. Like most manufacturer museums, it is not entirely complete, but the collection is nonetheless amazing. In the early days the company sold what it could make, and so today they rely on finding cars to fill the gaps either through sale or donation.

286_Touge California Toyota Museum255_

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the museum is the motorsports section, which houses everything from Ivan Stewart’s Baja 1000 trucks to the last of the racers in the unlimited-class IMSA series, a league which Toyota dominated. There is currently a petition going around trying to keep the museum in California, but it’s likely moving to Texas along with the headquarters.

270_Touge California decal

Mothers Polishes, Mattel, Koyorad, Yokohama Tire and JNC provided gift bags that included some much-needed cleaning and detailing supplies after a long drive. Each driver also received a poster with the Touge California artwork (soon to be available in the JNC shop). We hope those who received the “I Survived” sticker wear it proudly, for it was not easily earned. And with that, a day of putting hard miles on irreplaceable cars came to an end, but based on the success of this running, we think there will be many more to come.

Special thanks to Patrick Strong of Carriage House Models, Joe Batwinis, Michael Malamut, Paul Williamsen of Lexus, Toyota USA, Yokohama Tire, Koyorad, Mother’s Car Care, Mattel, and our checkpoint staff Dave Yuan, Carrie Brzezinski, and Jill Green.


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54 Responses to EVENTS: 1st Touge California, 2015

  1. Nigel says:

    Sounds like it was an awesome event !!

  2. DJ says:

    This looks awesome, and I’m impressed with the manufacturers for supporting. Glad to see they still care!

  3. TE72_Sunny says:

    Wish I could’ve been apart of this. It’s always California, though. We have to do something here in the east coast, ASAP!

  4. Chris says:

    Looks like it was a great turnout.

    I’ve really been wanting to get something like this going in Colorado. We have so many great roads.

  5. Toyotageek says:

    Awesome event Ben. It was fun & I had a great time.
    A big round of thanks to everyone involved – Domo arrigatou gozaimasu!.
    Looking forward to next year!

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Thanks! I couldn’t have done it without Patrick, Dave, Joe, and the ever-patient Carrie. It was stressful to plan but despite a few hiccups I think it went well overall for a first-time thing. Glad you could make it.

      • CHM Patrick says:

        And in turn, I couldn’t have done it without our chase-car driver, Joe Batwinis. He was instrumental in helping make certain that every car was accounted for during the rally.

  6. Tyson says:

    Awesome write-up about a great event! I hope to be a part of it next year. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Oracles says:

    Like many others have stated it was an awesome event and I for one will always remember it.

    Driving my Trueno some 300+ km was an utter pleasure not to mention the collection of
    cars and their drivers was outstanding.
    All thanks to the vision and effort of Ben and company for putting it all together.

  8. damageinc86 says:

    Damn this looks awesome! Would love to participate next year!

  9. The Black CRX says:

    As the others have said, an unforgettable event and a great bunch of people and cars to do it with. It was so much fun to put 200+ miles on my car in one day, and over some of the same roads I used to carve up when my car was new. Thanks for a magical day!

  10. Ron Sinocruz says:

    Looked like fun! wish i could have gone =(

  11. whoa i wish i was part of this. Brilliant event and great idea!

  12. Lawrence Keller says:

    What a Great Saturday! This event was top notch, and very well planned. Kudos to Ben and his Team for this awesome event. Thanks goes out to the Malamut auto museum for opening it’s doors to us and Yokohama Tires for providing lunch as well as the Toyota museum for the well deserved dinner and beautiful cars… Looking forward to the next Touge California

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Thanks for coming, Lawrence. Your Corona was a beautiful addition to the festivities. Mark your calendar for April 2016!

    • Mike Malamut says:

      Thx Lawrence
      I appreciate your kind words
      It was my pleasure to have the group visit my museum
      Sorry I had to run off to Cuba: fun trip and great seeing American 50’s cars
      Look forward to participating in next years event
      Also a big shout out to Ben & Patrick
      Malamut Auto Museum

  13. Myron Vernis says:

    x100 to what all of the other said about the quality of the event, the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the participants and the amazing planning and execution by the organizers. It was a ringing reminder to me that our cars were meant to be driven in real life conditions to be truly enjoyed. I hope to have another car worthy of invitation to next year’s event.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      So glad you could make it, Myron, and for having the courage to drive one of the rarest, most irreplaceable cars in the country on these roads. Mark your calendar for April 2016!

    • Dave Yuan says:

      I think Myron definitely deserves the most heroic award for driving such a rare car on the touge! Thanks for bringing your beautiful Luce Rotary Coupé!! It’s one of my all-time dream cars, and never in my wildest dreams do I imagine watching one carving up and down the Santa Monica Mountains and PCH. Hope to see you next year!

  14. John Williams says:

    I agree with Lawrence & Myron and the rest. This event will be in the back of my mind until next time they decide to do one. The fresh cookies right out of a 1950’s working oven started the day off right. I like cookies!!! If I hadn’t tumbled down the stairs first thing that morning at the Malamut the day would have been a little better.

    Thank you Ben and crew for this fantastic event.

  15. Kuroneko says:

    Great coverage, and some of those roads to indeed look 峠-like. Impressed!

    • Ben Hsu says:

      In the true spirit of the Touge, the most daunting roads could not be photographed from any vantage point. I will take you on some of these roads next time you visit LA!

  16. Nakazoto says:

    Oh man I hope one day I can participate in this, it looks awesome! I’d love to go blasting down those back roads in my 117 or Bellett right alongside all the other beautiful tin!

  17. Kelly says:

    As soon as I saw the two TE27 Sprinter Truenos photo. I knew it was a R130 right next to them. I patiently waited to see if you guys would take some pictures of this beauty.
    Shoot outs go to Mr. Myron for getting his car out there.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I must admit if that had been my R130 I would’ve played it safe and probably opened the envelope. Hats off to Myron. That “I Survived” decal was well earned!

  18. Kane says:

    That looks awsome man, i need to start driving in the hills.

  19. 02Anders says:


    • Ben Hsu says:

      We’ll be waiting!

      • 02Anders says:

        If I could only secure myself a job there, I honestly wouldn’t hesitate to stick my ol’ Trueno in a container and be on my way! 🙂
        I’m about ready for a change of scenery from Hong Kong, and I’m pretty sure California would suit me and my family just fine…
        Got to find that job before April 2016 then, so I can participate next year.

  20. Francis J says:

    Hats off to Ben and crew for such a great event. Looking forward to the next one and hopefully it’s sooner than next year. Also a huge thanks to all the sponsors that helped this event happen as well. It was also cool to meet Myron and see his Mazda Luce in action. Until the JNC event.

  21. Andrew SV11 says:

    What are the guidelines in order to be a part of this? I have just finished putting coilovers, sway bars and V6 camry brakes on my 1986 Camry LE. It has stolen my heart with its athletic handling and pristine interior. Original drivetrain all still in tact, air con still functioning. I can thank my grandparents for perfectly preserving it until they passed it down to me. I would love to get involved in something like this. I have discovered through some trial and error this car shares a multitude of similarities with the early USDM FWD Celicas.

  22. Andrew SV11 says:

    Thank You! I understand the difficulty of organizing events. I appreciate the rapid response. I only have a couple of pictures at the moment of the car on this computer. This is also before I had her registered or waxed and detailed. She Just received a new water pump, oil pump and ball joints. Amazing fun for a 30 Year old chassis. She has been up to big bear quite a few times and really shines on those roads.

  23. Artsyken says:

    Looks like a great event! Wish I could of been there! Thanks for the coverage!!

  24. Nar says:

    Would love to participate in the next one. 😀 It’ll be quite a trip from Vancouver BC but i feel like it would be so worth it. Great job putting this event together. 🙂

  25. John Williams says:

    Is there any other coverage of the touge event.? There were a lot of cameras out the window of the chase van.

  26. John Williams says:

    Cool beans Bro.

    Thanks again,

  27. KennyJ says:

    great coverage and it looks like it was a lot of fun. thanx for sharing . i used to have a few mini-trucks including a 80 Toyota convertible Hilux, and a 79 Datsun 620 KC W/SR20DET and drove similar roads in WA state. hope you all had great time today, and i look forward to your coverage. there is also coverage of 2015 w/Ben’s pics on Hemmings….

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