Since the Supra’s departure from US shores in 1998, Toyotaku have been eagerly waiting for its return. Every year or so there’d be rumors about a new halo sports car for the Toyota brand, including the weeks leading up to this year’s Detroit Auto Show. The only difference was, this time the rumors were true. Behold, the Toyota FT-1 concept.
Yes, there’s that ugly word “concept” tacked on to the end. But even if it’s not ready for production prime time, it’s an crucial step for Toyota itself. In company parlance, “FT” stands for “Future Toyota” (remember the FT-86 concept augured the neo-hachiroku), and despite all the negative associations with the brand, Future Toyota Number One is not a Camry, Prius variant, or some weird alternative-fuel unicycle. It’s a proper sports car, just like the Toyotas we used to know.
“The name says it all,” according to Toyota’s official statement. “The FT-1 is the ultimate expression of a Toyota coupe design, building upon Toyota’s rich sports coupe heritage, dating back to the 2000GT…”
The FT-1 was designed at Toyota’s Calty studio in southern California (we toured the facility in 2011), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It was the first design center established by any automaker in America’s car culture mecca and has penned some of ToMoCo’s most memorable cars, including the T180 Celica, A80 Supra, and the original Lexus SC.
The first Calty design, however, was the A40. That, of course, was the car started life as a Celica but founded the Supra dynasty when Toyota stuffed a straight-six under the hood to create the Celica Supra.
To underscore how much Toyota is drawing on its heritage with the FT-1, they even re-created an archival photo of the A40 project. What a difference a few decades makes. More team members, fewer porn-staches.
On the FT-1, Calty’s studio chief designer Alex Shen said, “Our team was heavily influenced by Toyota’s sports car past, especially Celica and Supra, and we sought to capture some of that history. It is an aggressive, track-focused sports car concept with a presence that has been amplified for shock and awe.”
Other elements of Toyota history are included as well. For one, the double-bubble roof harkens back to Toyota’s first world-class sports car, the 1967 2000GT. The distinct wraparound windshield and side glass is also a tribute to the 2000GT, and we’re thrilled to see what JNC readers have dubbed the Nozaki Arc repeated on both the FT-1 and the Scion FR-S. This could, and should be a recurring theme on all Toyota coupes.
Though powertrain details were not revealed at this time, the long hood was sculpted to give the impression that a inline-six was lurking beneath its curves. Toyota has largely abandoned that configuration in favor of more compact V6s, but the lineage of the 2000GT and Supra’s straight sixes were important to the design team. Toyota would only say that any engine would be a non-hybrid petrol unit mounted aft of the front axle.
The bump on the rear deck is also reminiscent of the last-gen Supra. A spoiler activates at speed, but rather than a tiny tilting lip it’s a massive, retractable two-post wing evoking the A80 Supra as well.
The overall look of the FT-1 is incredibly aggressive, even rawer and more muscular than the Lexus LFA. Though its vents and scoops are reminiscent of the LFA, especially in the rear, they’re more cohesive and better integrated into the body. In fact, it splits the difference quite beautifully between the Scion FR-S and LFA, giving middle-brand Toyota its own halo car and unique look that’s still clearly part of the extended family.
Perhaps most importantly, the FT-1 represents a new direction for Toyota itself. When CEO Akio Toyoda took the helm in 2009, he vowed to create sports cars for enthusiasts. At the time, Toyota had spent the better part of a decade killing off the Supra, MR2, Celica and anything that wouldn’t sell by the boatload to the point-A-to-B masses.
If it looked like those cars had been designed by committee, that’s because they were. Akio Toyoda is one of us, an enthusiast and racer himself. He uprooted the company hierarchy and mandated that Toyota products be invigorated with wakudoki, a Japanese word for “a palpable, heart-pounding sense of excitement.” The result was a streamlining of the corporate approval process, directly impacting how the FT-1 was brought to fruition. Upcoming models will benefit as well, and with fewer cooks in the kitchen each car can now stay truer to its core mission.
The FT-86 took three years to go from concept to production so Toyotaku may be waiting a while yet for the FT-1, but it’s clear that a sea-change has taken place back at Toyota City. All three Toyota brands now have a clear directive in the sports car realm, and the future of Toyota is looking bright indeed.