TOUGE CALIFORNIA: The Cars and Teams of 2016


The Touge California is done. We’ve covered how the epic, 8-hour, 200-mile rally went, but we also wanted to recognize all the fearless drivers, stalwart navigators, and gorgeous machines that participated. Here are the cars and teams of the 2016 JNC Touge California.

Touge_California_057-9067_Mazda RX7

1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE
Driver: Smith McGehee / Navigator: Chris Dannunzio

Leading the field for 2016 was Touge California veteran Smith McGehee and his unmissable bright red RX-7. Gone were his SSR MkIIs from the year prior, instead showing up with massive (and rare) 13 x 10-inch Enkeis AP Racing wheels. Smith’s car was selected by Touge sponsor Koyorad last year as the test car for their RX-7 aluminum radiator, which served Smith well through eight hours of hard driving. Proudly wearing his “I Survived the JNC Touge California” badge of honor from last year, it is currently the only car in the world to have completed all the Touge California events.


Touge_California_RS0365_Datsun 240Z

1971 Datsun 240Z
Driver: Jack Mardikian / Navigator: Danny Mardikian

Jack’s Z won the FR Super Unlimited class at the 2007 Super Street Time Attack. The wheels and tires might be the only thing that give away what’s underneath — a race-prepped reinforced chassis, a Rebello stroked 3.0-liter L-series, and custom subframe to optimize steering geometry. It is a prime example of a properly set up 240Z, but sadly suspension adjustment the day before the event left a rear brake line vulnerable to snagging. The resulting brake failure meant that the car would not be able to continue after Checkpoint 02. We hope to see Jack and his Z return next year.


Touge_California_126-9147_Mazda RX2

1973 Mazda RX-2
Driver: Kelvin Chung / Navigator: Guy Hashimoto

Not only did Kelvin complete all 200 miles of the Touge California in his RX-2, he bookended the event with trips from and to his home in San Francisco. A truly heroic effort. Kelvin completed his RX-2 in 2014 after owning it for nine years. With a bridgeported 13B underhood, it performed flawlessly throughout the day, heartily rebuffing any accusations of rotary engines being unreliable.


Touge_California_307-9363_Toyota Celica A20

1977 Toyota Celica
Driver: John Garza / Navigator: Cynthia Garza

Hailing from Phoenix Arizona, the Garza Celica appears at first blush to be a beautiful restoration of a last-year first-gen. Peek under the hood though, and you’ll find a Lexus 2JZ-GE inline-six where the old 20R used to reside. The swap looks like it came that way from the factory, as clean as its exterior. With a saddle brown cabin matched to a Lexus Glacier Frost white, it is a prime example of a resto-mod Celica. Needless to say, with the backing of one of the stoutest motors ever built, the Garzas took the entire Touge in stride.



1967 Datsun Sports 2000
Driver: Alvin Gogineni / Navigator: Jun Kim

Another intrepid driver that trekked all the way from NorCal was Alvin’s black beauty of a Datsun Fairlady Roadster. While keeping the exterior tastefully stock, a Silvia SR20 resides under the hood while the rear’s solid axle and leaf spring suspension has been replaced entirely with a 4-link setup taken from a Mazda RX-7. Alvin works at Datsun specialist shop Z Car Garage and has written an excellent report of what it’s like to participate in the Touge California as a driver on the shop’s blog.


Touge_California_179-9210_Datsun 240Z Mr k

1972 Datsun 240Z
Driver: Kenny Ueda / Navigator: Jose Dominguez

In a field of many special cars, one 240Z stood out. Why? Because it is the very car once owned by Nissan USA’s first president Yutaka Katayama. Better known as Mr K, he was pivotal in making Nissan — and by extension all Japanese cars — a respected marque in America with his passion for cars and people. Katayama customized his personal Z with a bright yellow paint job and a G-nose imported from Japan. When Mr K returned to Japan in the late 70s, he gifted the car to his long-time secretary, who still owns it to this day. It was an honor to have the in our event.


Touge_California_270-9316_Mazda REPU

1975 Mazda Rotary Pickup
Mazda North America Heritage Collection

One of three cars fielded by title sponsor Mazda, the REPU is part of the automaker’s Heritage Collection. Mazda takes much pride in the fact that, unlike some other automakers, the classics and race cars from their collection are not mere display pieces. Even the race cars are regularly driven on tracks.

As the name implies, the REPU is indeed a pickup powered by a rotary engine, but it is also unique in that it was never sold in Japan, only North America. While its rotary engine ran without issue, a 40-year-old muffler blew a hole, forcing the Motor Trend journalists driving it at the time to retire early.


Touge_California_110-9131_Mazda RX7 GSL-SE

1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE
Driver: Alex Bircheff / Navigator: Lou Bircheff

Father-son team Alex and Lou Bircheff have owned several rotary cars, including this gorgeous GSL-SE. Alex says that aside from a slightly lower ride height and a set of perfectly matched red SSR MkII wheels, it’s stock. As the second owner of this fine example, Alex has simply tried to keep it clean and original while enjoying it in events such as Touge California.


Touge_California_LARY0673_Datsun Fairlady Roadster 1500

1965 Datsun Sports 1500
Driver: John Sahs / Navigator: Michael DiTullo

If we awarded a prize for school spirit, John and Michael would have taken it in a landslide. Firstly, John’s car is basically the definition of vintage motoring. The pair even dressed the part, with clothing and shoes that matched the car’s Sora Blue paint (sora means sky in Japanese). Of course, John has an excellent eye because he is a designer at Nissan, where he penned the third-generation Cube (among others).

Despite losing a hubcap (later found) and rolling backwards while scaling a particularly steep Touge Stage (he reversed, got a running start, and reached the summit just as the stock 1.5 began to sputter), John did complete the entire course and kept the top down the whole time. His “I Survived the JNC Touge California” decal was particularly well deserved.


Touge_California_072-9086_Mazda GLC

1978 Mazda GLC
Mazda North America Heritage Collection

If you had been taking bets at the beginning of the day as to which car would not finish, it would have been the one with the 3-speed automatic between its 59 horses and the rear wheels. However, the little Mazda that could chugged through every highway run, every uphill Touge Stage, and every hairpin bend with sheer pluck. Cheers swelled from the crowd when we presented the “I Survived” sticker to the Mazda personnel who bravely guided it through 29,000 feet in elevation changes. The car had 7,620 miles on it at the beginning of the day, a few more by the time it went back into the Mazda Heritage Collection.


Touge_California_CHEN2952_Honda Civic

1977 Honda Civic
Driver: Thomas Marquardt / Navigator: Tim Mings

Thomas’s Civic holds the distinction of Farthest Traveled. It was brought from Ft Collins, Colorado to participate in Touge California. Thomas’s rescued the car from a Colorado field in 2009 and built it to what he calls “pro touring” spec. It sports 2nd-gen Civic hubs and a B18 B1 motor from a DC Integra. The team navigator was none other than was world-renowned N-series guru Tim Mings, who was commissioned by Honda to restore the first Honda car built for US export.


Touge_California_075-9089_Toyota Corolla TE27

1974 Toyota Corolla S-5
Driver: Carlos Hernandez Jr / Navigator: Carlos Hernandez Sr

Carlos says that when he asked his recently retired father, an ex-road racer from El Salvador, whether he wanted to participate in Touge California, “his eyes lit up like a kid’s in a candy store.” Their steed would be Carlos Jr’s Corolla S-5, an ultra rare, one-year-only companion to the Toyota SR-5. Carlos is only the second owner, and in 12 years of stewardship he’s upgraded the suspension and wheels but kept everything else original, right down to the factory decal package.


Touge_California_CH0142_Toyota Century

1984 Toyota Century
Driver: Andrew Golseth / Navigator: Erik Ruggels

While other drivers endured tight quarters, thundering engines, and the absence of modern conveniences, Andrew and Erik lounged in utmost opulence. The Century’s bespoke V8 devoured the miles like light snacks garnished with Wasabi Poupon, sailing over every ribbon of asphalt with full air conditioning, lace doilies on the seats, and even a beverage cooler built into the parcel shelf. Andrew and Erik also happen to be contributors to Petrolicious, so in case you were wondering what it felt like to touge in princely comfort, you can read his account.


Touge_California_CHEN2699_Datsun 240Z

1971 Datsun 240Z
Driver: Randy Rodriguez / Navigator: Julien Thiebaud

For those in the Z community, Randy Rodriguez needs no introduction. The designer of the Nissan 370Z, he’s loved Z-Cars his entire life. The passion began when his father brought one home, back when Randy was still a kid. Both Randy and Julien are designers at Nissan today.

Caged and equipped with a fuel cell for track duty, its L28 with S&K racing carbs tackled the course with no problems. Sometimes though, no matter how well our cars are built we humans are the ones to experience the occasional sputter (those damn flesh and bone bodies!). Because we still need enthusiasts like him to carry the torch at Nissan, we bid him farewell after Checkpoint 04 (don’t worry, he’s fine now!). Fortunately for Julien, there was a big comfy Toyota Century to ride in for the remainder of the rally.


Touge_California_249-9288_Mazda RX2

1971 Mazda RX-2
Driver: Albert Medrano / Navigator: Andrew Buenrostro

Anyone who was into Japanese cars during the Battle of the Imports days will recognize the name Albert Medrano. His drag-prepped Hondas were famous, with his Cyber Racing CRX credited as one of the first 11-second Hondas, as well as one of the cars that put AEM on the map. Today he drives a built, 13B-powered RX2 with a custom coilover suspension. It got around 12 miles per gallon, but like a true racer, Albert stopped short of revealing just exactly what had been done under the hood.


Touge_California_265-9309_Toyota Celica A20

1971 Toyota Celica
Driver: Jorge Aguilera / Navigator: Jorge Aguilera Jr

Another father-son team, Jorge Aguileras Sr and Jr took the Touge in a resto-modded Celica with plenty of presence. Nicknamed the Green Goblin, it housed a turbo twin-cam 18R-G setup under the hood with appropriate Japanese-style overfenders, chin spoiler and fender mirrors. It was certainly one of the most eye-catching cars of the day, a pleasure to watch as it carved the twisties.


Touge_California_218-9254_Datsun 240Z

1971 Datsun 240Z
Driver: Geoff Danielson / Navigator: Peter Reynolds

From Albuquerque, New Mexico came Geoff Danielson’s 240Z, winner of the “driver” category at the 2012 Z-Car Club of America’s annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. He certainly earned the award on this day. Subtly modified with a sport suspension, Enkei 92s and a high-compression L28, it covered 200 miles of mountain driving with aplomb.


Touge_California_193-9224_Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO

1974 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO GS-R
Driver: Matt De Mangos / Navigator: Cedu Oscon

While JNC‘s California-based staff spent most of the day working from various Mazda support vehicles, our web administrator Matt got to enjoy the day in his Galant GTO. A rare export model in GS-R spec with factory flares, there are probably only a dozen of these left in the wild.

At the beginning of the day, it was running a bit funny. The problem, it turns out, was newly installed ITB covers that restricted too much airflow. The engine returned to full roar as soon as they were tossed and behaved impeccably the rest of the day. As the official JNC entry, we were admittedly relieved that it didn’t break down embarrassingly.


Touge_California_Mazda RX7 GSL-SE

1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL-SE
Mazda North America Heritage Collection

When Mazda pulled this mint GSL-SE out of the garage in the morning, it had only 1,123 miles on the clock. Found in the collection of an Alaskan Mazda dealership owner, Mazda bought the car back some years ago. Needless to say, Touge California would be its longest continuous drive ever.

Having sat for nearly its entire life, any number of problems could have cropped up — dried seals, decayed hoses, seized components — so understandably there were some reservations about entering it. To their credit, Mazda insists on driving all their heritage cars, because “Driving Matters.” The fretting was for naught, however, as it ran brilliantly. Including the commute to the starting point, it added nearly 300 to its odometer, a quarter of all its miles traveled.


Touge_California_Nissan Bluebird 510 sedan

1969 Nissan Bluebird
Driver: Brian McIntyre Ray / Navigator: Christopher Ray

A genuine right-hand-drive Bluebird, Brian’s 510 was purchased from someone who imported it from Japan in 2007. Equipped with a naturally aspirated SR20, it hustled through the hills effortlessly, while the paint and trim looked incredible for an unrestored 47-year-old body. We admired Brian’s custodianship outlook of what he has christened “Whitebird.” It’s a car he says he will never sell, and intends to share experiences such as Touge California with his future grandkids.


Touge_California_281-9327_Mazda RX4

1974 Mazda RX-4
Driver: Armando Licon / Navigator: Chris Green

We were excited to learn that an RX-4 would be participating in Touge California because 1.) it’s one the most beautiful rotary cars of the era and 2.) it’s extremely rare. Amazingly, it is the third RX-4 Armando has owned. Positioned as a luxury coupe, it’s not the lightest of the rotaries but with its sculpted chrome bumpers and sloping hardtop profile, it has tremendous road presence. It had no difficulty keeping up with the V8 Century, whether climbing the Ortega Touge, or stretching its legs as we ran to beat the sun to the final checkpoint.



1972 Datsun 240Z
Driver: Louis Dube / Navigator: Paul Yannacopoulos

As the only bone stock Z that participated in Touge California, Louis’s orange beauty ran with the best of them, even the heavily modified examples. When purchased in 2001, it had 41,000 miles on the odometer. Louis, however, is a devout scholar of the “cars are meant to be driven” school of thought, and has since added 120,000 miles to that number.

Despite having been “bitten by the mod bug with everything else in life,” he hasn’t been able to bring himself to change a thing on the Z, except for a well-hidden stereo in the toolkit stow. It was a true thrill to witness it attack the curves, body roll and all.


Touge_California_212-9247_Toyota Celica A20

1972 Toyota Celica
Driver: Trevor Baker / Navigator: Terri Seiden

Trevor purchased his car in March of 2015, describing its condition as “a disassembled project that had been sitting in the previous owner’s garage for 15 years.” After five months in the body shop, it emerged anew and earned a set of Enkei Compes. With the 2.2-liter 20R from a later A20 Celica, it provided the a period correct driving experience with just a few extra cubic centimeters of oomph.


Touge_California_266-9310_Datsun 510 Wagon

1971 Datsun 510 Wagon
Driver: Daniel Silva / Navigator: Jacky Monterosso

As the sole representative of the wagon species on Touge California, Daniel’s 510 handled itself just as surefootedly as any of the sport coupes. Its era-appropriate L18 upgrade provided an authentic driving experience, albeit one slightly enhanced by a sport suspension. Best of all, its substantial cargo area gave Daniel and his navigator ample shade in which to kick back during the many checkpoints.


Touge_California_RS0382_Honda Civic CVCC

1977 Honda Civic
Driver: Scott King / Navigator: Sandy Edelstein

Aside from an upholstery job completed by the previous owner, Scott’s Civic CVCC was all original, with special American-market touches like the door guards, rocker decals and generous pinstriping. With a period roof rack that recalled the Civic rally cars of old, it was perhaps the perfect car with which to tackle the Touge. Sadly, the car was sidelined with a fuel filter issue before reaching Checkpoint 01. We felt terrible that they didn’t get to enjoy the Touge and have extended an offer to return next year with a waived entry fee.


Touge_California_194-9225_Subaru GL 1400 Leone

1973 Subaru GL 1400
Driver: Mark Nakashima / Navigator: Victoria Viramontes

The lone Fuji Heavy in the field, Mark’s Subaru 1400GL was another crowd favorite. You couldn’t help but cheer on its first-gear climbs to the summits of the Touge Stages. It may have had only 70 horses in its 1.4-liter flat-four, but the boxer had heart. Its many quirks — it was the only Subie, the only horizontally opposed engine, the only front-driver in the group — and sheer bright greenness endeared it to everyone involved. And we’re proud to report that despite some daunting uphill moments, it completed every Touge Stage like a little lime-colored mountain goat.



In case you missed it, also see our coverage of the 2016 running of the Touge California.

Special thanks to Yokohama TireHagerty Classic Car InsuranceKoyorad, Mothers Polishes and Waxes, Model Citizen Diecast, and Mazda North America. We’d also like to thank the Touge California and JNC staff: Rallymaster Patrick Strong, Checkpoint crews Ricky Silverio, Dave Yuan, Natalie Strong, Chris Hoffman, support driver John Moran, and sweeper Joe Batwinis. 

Some images courtesy of Larry Chen for Mazda.

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14 Responses to TOUGE CALIFORNIA: The Cars and Teams of 2016

  1. JovaTecH says:

    Nice cars and photos congrats!

  2. LTDScott says:

    Hey, there I am at 24:21.

  3. Oracles says:

    Outstanding event and hats off to Ben and company for pulling it off so well.

    Thank you

  4. elsin says:

    Any more videos of these beasts prowling in their natural habitats?

  5. Ant says:

    Wonderful collection of cars. I’m not a great Subaru fan, but that GL 1400 really stands out even in the company of the other cars here, and not just because of the colour.

  6. Brett says:

    Nothing I wouldn’t do for a Galant GTO GS-R. IMHO the nearly perfect JNC.

  7. bryan dickerson says:

    This is the stuff I love to see on JNC. Interesting cars AND people. Mr. K’s secretary? Are you kidding me? That’s just too cool!

    I’m a diehard 510 fan but I think those RX-2s were about the best looking little coupes ever made. I’d love to own one but the MPGs would be hard to live with.

  8. T Stockler - '68 SPL311 says:

    It would be cool to see a map, or description, of the route, for those of us who couldn’t take part, but may enjoy a nice ride with our friends or club – can you do it?

  9. Mark Newton-John says:

    Correction. The Corolla S-5 and SR-5 in the TE27 body code was for one year, but they were sold TOGETHER. The S-5 was a less expensive model to the SR-5, same fenders as the standard Corolla; SR-5 had exclusive fenders that mated to the steel flares, and the instrument panel was different as well.
    I have an original SR-5 my parents bought new, and the owners manual point out the differences.

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