Dependable Fun with the Classic Toyota Club, Part 2

When we last left the Classic Toyota club, we ended with a hot little red first-generation Celica coupe. Today we start with another one, this time with a much more custom vibe.

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The standard-size pair of headlights should give you an idea of how small this car is. This generation of Celica comes from the period when small cars were actually small and not just “small” in size class. The Celica that immediately followed was an American design, and was noticeably larger as much by actual measurement as by design.

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In contrast to the previous red Celica, this one is a little more “tough” in execution. The black bumpers, streamlined mirrors and jutting aero kit come together with the tinted inner lamps and smallish dished wheels to create a street-hardened vibe.

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The look is finished off with a ducktail spoiler and the same blackout treatment for the rear bumper.

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It isn’t the most perfect example out there, but it would definitely make for an impossibly cool daily driver.

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Sat beside the blue Celica was this peerless example of 1980s Japanese optimism: the AW11 MR2. The headlights were popped up, in perfect reference to the high that the Japanese were feeling in this car’s period.

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Nobody had expected this car from Toyota; coming from a long history of sporty-yet-practical cars, nobody expected a 2-seat mid-engine sports car. But then again, it was the 1980s. Money was abundant, greed was good, and conspicuous consumption was the name of the game. What were you prepared to expect from 1980s Japan? Nobody else could touch the sparkling technical resumes of their products, and the future was infinite!

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In reality, the MR2 was a bunch of familiar components arranged in an exciting manner, then wrapped in a computer-edgy rectilinear design, and that was its genius. You had proven power from the 4A-GE in the middle, parts-bin components revised by good engineering, and a light, futuristic body.

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Regarding that futuristic body with all the straight lines, you have to remember what the original Tron looked like. Computer graphics were still mostly blocks and lines arranged to form different shapes, and the AW11’s design spoke to that.

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Model designation script on the back recalls the immortal “Star Wars” script, even if bragging about a twin-cam engine is so very 80s.

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Such characterful wheels.

Comparing the MR2 to the Miata is an easy thing to do, but really isn’t necessary. The Miata appeals to those who like familiar pleasures from a time when sports cars put the motor up front and the drive out back. The MR2 presents more of a challenge, with spiky mid-engine handling and challenging mid-engine packaging.

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The AW11 is Toyota’s first modern sports car, a shining example of what they are capable of creating with their economies of scale, and I’m glad that someone brought this perfect example to the parade grounds.

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Beside the AW11 was the perfect counterpoint: this first-generation Toyota Corona Mark II coupe. This was how Toyota usually did their sporty cars, by taking a sedan platform, subtracting two doors, adding a tasteful roof and greenhouse, and finishing it off with a high-performance engine.

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A very well-preserved example, this is, with some mild custom touches from the owner. It isn’t the prettiest car from the period I’ve seen, but it certainly can’t be discounted on character. So yes, the styling does look a little safe and upright, but you do have to remember that at the time this was typical of the period. Adventurous styling was still a few years away, and American influences were yet to reach their peak.

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In an interesting row of cars, certainly the AW11 stands out best, but what about interesting spins on old body styles?

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Like this T130-series Corona Liftback. Age has claimed many of these cars, but this one looks just as fresh as the day it left the factory.

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Normally, cars with such a rear hatch would be called a hatchback, but in the interest of marketing, Toyota called their larger hatchbacks “liftbacks”. I feel that Toyota’s decision to adopt the liftback moniker is a good move; it distances the cars from smaller hatchbacks, and isn’t quite as flat as “5-door”.

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Big as the caboose is, there’s enough power to get the car moving with some authority. While I’d love to take any of the previous Celicas home, this is probably my favourite car of all, mainly because I’ve always been a fan of this generation Corona, and I love how clean this car is, from the pristine white paint to the deep Compe 8s.

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On many cars, huge black bumpers are an eyesore. For some strange reason the big black plastic bumpers work on this Corona. In fact, they work so well I’m seriously doubting that the smaller chrome bumpers would be an improvement. Perhaps it’s just the magic of the big rear hatch? Well whatever it is, I just love this car.

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Another stand-out was this tough-looking TE37 coupe, sporting not-too-shiny black paint, bumper delete and a very menacing face.

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Never mind the modern wheels, there’s enough attitude in this car for days. It isn’t a car to everyone’s taste, but if the owner likes it that way, that’s good enough for me. At the end of the day it’s someone else’s car, built to someone else’s taste.

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Speaking of taste, here’s another shot of Doods dela Rosa’s drift car. No, not a lot of people will like the way it looks, but I think it’s just the right amount of crazy. The world needs more of that, I think.

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Serving up the same kinds of just-right crazy was this KE30 Corolla sedan. As far as vintage Japanese iron goes, this is still a pretty mild take on the rat-rod/bosozoku look.

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No bosozoku car is one until you have exhaust pipes of ridiculous length. Again, while this is a pretty mild take, you do kind of wonder what kind of attention this gets from road authorities.

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Woah.

Perhaps you like your Corollas with a whole lot more power? Or maybe you just like going everywhere sideways.

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Either way this might be the car for you. I have no real idea what happens when the taps are opened all the way on that 1UZ, but whatever it is I’m sure it all happens quickly set to a deep bass soundtrack of V8.

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From the outside it looks to all the world like just another modified TE37, but I’m guessing there aren’t many cars that can keep up with this. That is of course under the assumption that traction is not a problem.

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But what if you don’t want to peel your face off every time your foot touches the throttle? So the old engines don’t give you enough power, but you don’t want to run the risk of shooting across the country with one too-eager squeeze of the gas pedal?

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Well how about a 4A-GE? Supposedly a streetable clone of the Cosworth BDA, the 4A-GE has long been the poster child of Toyota 4-cylinder performance. It’s been in production long enough that there are well-established methods of getting power out of it, and despite the introduction of the ZZ-Series engines has remained a default choice for fast 4-banger Toyotas.

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Or perhaps you just want a clean, usable old Corolla?

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Well here’s a clean white KE30 coupe for inspiration. I find this to be a little special, if only because you basically don’t see coupe bodies of these Corollas around.

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Again, it’s just a very nice looking car, with very thoughtful and minimal modifications to improve upon the car’s basic good looks.

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Back in the olden days of motoring, the manual was the standard transmission, and automatics were something of a novelty and seen as deserving of external identification. This is just like the “twin cam” and “turbo” badging of the 80s and early 90s.

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How about a showroom-fresh restoration? I have had a chance to poke around this car in a different venue, so I can verify that the quality of the restoration is right up there with the best.

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Every conceivable detail is correct, from the interior to the engine and its ancillaries. That also means that this car does not come with air conditioning, but you can always roll the window down.

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I think the last time I saw one of these wheels covers was in my grade school days, when I watched my parents’ wedding video on VHS.

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Another unique participant was this E50 Corolla Liftback. Coming up off the E30 generation of the Corolla, I find the E50 corolla to be one of the prettiest cars to ever wear the Corolla name. This is quite possibly the only car Toyota has ever produced that comes close to meeting the shooting brake aesthetic. The shooting brake aesthetic is most commonly identified as a coupe that has had its roof extended backwards and a rear hatch added. The result is a sleek longroof, the best examples of which would probably be the Volvo P1800ES and Jaguar XJS-based Lynx Eventer.

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As for the E50, the closest stylistic relatives would be the Lancia HPE and Reliant Scimitar GTE. The shooting brake isn’t a particularly common body style, most of them coachbuilt cars that have been converted after the cars have left the series production line. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other Japanese shooting brake: the 1986- 1989 Honda Accord Aerodeck.

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Toyota has a fine stable of engines available for swaps, and while today’s swaps and tuners pour their attention on the 4A-GE, 2JZ and 1UZ, those on a more old-school bend will usually have something similar to this engine under the hood. The distinctive head – designed by Yamaha – is shared by the 2T-G and 18R-G, the pinnacles of Toyota performance engines before the modern engines came along. The new engines might be able to handle ludicrous amount of tuning, but the older motors can still keep up, and look just right sitting in these older engine bays.

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Starlets are a significant part of the local vintage Toyota scene. Placed at the bottom of the range when they Corolla came along, the Starlet nevertheless held many of the same thrills for the enthusiast.

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If anything, the Starlet offers an even better platform for a menacing-looking build, if only because it’s such a small car.

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Like this one, with its unpainted fiberglass fenders and huge flares. It’s obviously a track toy, with the roll cage, partly stripped interior and general relaxed concern for perfect looks. Seeing this tearing around a track exactly as it is should be great.

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Smaller, lighter and cheaper than their contemporary Corollas, they still have rear wheel drive and ample space under the bonnet for big motors, and could be turned into fearsome speed machines with the right mindset. Tuned right, a Starlet can effortlessly blur the world around you.

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Which isn’t to say that the rest of Toyota’s offerings were staid cars for the mundane everyday commute. See, Toyota’s older period is what most enthusiasts mean when they say that current Toyota has descended into hopeless mediocrity. In their time, every single car you see in this picture could be had with some form of high-performance engine. It didn’t matter if you were a young man buying a twin-cam Sprinter coupe or an older gentleman looking for a comfortable Corona sedan with power, you could always get a Toyota with a great drive…

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What you want to be looking at is the green Cressida.

…and great styling. Toyota’s big sedans and coupes always had their own twist on the styling trends of the time, from the upright styling of the first-generation Corona Mark II coupe to the British-inspired lines of the first-generation Cressida, which was really an export-market third-generation Corona Mark II.

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Yes, the Cressida certainly had style, and if you squint you’ll see some Jaguar XJ in the front end. This is not a bad thing, and it certainly helped create a sophisticated, if slightly snobbish, look for the Cressida.

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That just looks right.

But what is really surprising about this Cressida is that it’s of the coupe variety. The sedan is far more common here in the Philippines, so seeing one like this just roll into the parade ground is certainly a big surprise.

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Pictures cannot do justice to the presence that this car had. It quickly drew a small crowd after being parked, and the older gentleman who stepped out of it seemed happy at the attention his beautiful Cressida was getting. The lines and curves are there, just so subtle that you’re not really seeing them in the pictures. The deep metallic green paint was doing a very good job of showing every single subtle curve. No, it’s not a perfect example, but it’s well-kept and obviously loved.

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Finishing the Cressida off perfectly were these Campagnolo wheels. Unmistakably European in design, I cannot imagine any other wheel to fit on this car. Style-wise, this Cressida coupe just blew everything else out of the water. Watercolour images of late-night drives down a coastal road come to mind when you look at this car.

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So yes, while old Toyotas would let you have fun in anything you picked, newer Toyotas could still provide real driving excitement.

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The AE100-series (“bigbody”) Corolla sedans are still ripe platforms to turn into fast cars, being easy recipients for 4E-GEs and capable of producing good results with all the usual suspension tricks.

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The later AE110s (“lovelife”), being largely the same underneath the body, have the same potential.

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That being said, the overarching shine of driving excitement seems to have largely left modern Toyota’s passenger car offerings.

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Good thing then, that the company itself recognises this and are trying to rectify the situation. Part of their attempts is with the Vios Cup, a one-make manufacturer-sponsored spec series with a relatively low buy-in cost. One of the race cars was present at the show, boasting all of its race modifications.

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I think the most surprising aspect of these cars is that you can still clearly see the street cars they have been derived from. Can you imagine hailing a cab and opening your door to this?

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The Vios Cup cars would, of course, be terrible cabs, partly because of the brace of bars inside the car, but mostly because there’s basically no interior left and only one seat inside.

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The cars feature no fancy digital instrument panel, and in fact most of the dash is basically left intact…

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Shown: moulded “stitching”.

…with a few modifications to fit the cage of course. The cars are based off the 1.5-litre Vios sedans, so many vestiges of the base car’s high trim spec remain.

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Shown: more moulded “stitching”.

Again, were this an isolated picture, you might think that this is from a typical Vios. I like how they kept all the door controls, and even the door pockets with bottle holders. Come to think of it, having a place to secure water bottles in a race car might not be a bad idea.

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This is not some weak cage though, it’s a real roll cage with real metal bars and real welding. The buy-in for the series is around one million pesos, and for that price you get the car, the modifications and support for an entire season.

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Always a good idea to keep around.

Apparently, you can pay the entry price at any Toyota dealership, and that dealership will provide your support for the season. The Vios Cup has so far been a good bit of marketing for Toyota, injecting some enthusiast life back into their new cars.

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The spec cars certainly look the part, and by all accounts have the necessary performance to make for exciting, but not deadly, racing. Should they have thought of this sooner? Well of course! How long the series will run, though, is something we’ll all have to wait on to find out.

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While passenger cars have suffered something of a malaise, off-road Toyotas have never had such a problem, especially the Land Cruiser.

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Yes, the wheels are a little “glitzy show truck” compared to the J80 we saw previously, but there’s still some serious kit under the wagon body. A quick swap of the rolling stock and a smattering of mud is all this Land Cruiser needs to look alright.

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Like I’ve said before, there was also a smattering of other marques in the lot at the end of the parade grounds, and among those cars were these Lancers.

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The box type Lancer has always remained a popular car because of its edgy styling and the relatively big impact even simple modifications can have on the car’s looks.

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Winning in the Mitsubishi party though, was this bright blue A70-series Lancer coupe. These cars are just so distinctive, especially with that raised centre bonnet section and chrome lamp bezels. Clearly, they are of another era, but just don’t go out of style, much like the green Cressida coupe.

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As for the Nissan corps, this beige B12 Sentra wagon (AKA the Sunny) was absolutely killing it.

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AW11 in front.

Another of those instantly-recognisable cars, it is so very easy to ruin this car with a few modifications. This one, however, was just perfect, with basically little more than a fantastic shade of beige, some choice wheels and reduced ride height. What great taste.

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Toyota, the big seller than it is, has a huge community of fans and enthusiasts backing it up and hoping for a return to more fun days. The vintage movement is strong, and the cars from the 1980s and 1990s are starting to find their enthusiast niche.

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Whether Toyota eventually gets to finishing the journey back to fun cars that the GT-86 started is still up in the air. What you can be sure of now though, is that the good old cars from the good old days when Toyotas were dependable fun will never die.

As long as these guys are around, “Toyota” will always stand for something more than just everyday reliability.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag.

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