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Toyotafest: Accelerating into history

Sat, 08 May 2010

When you think of automotive history, the names that come to mind are carmakers celebrating their centennials such as Alfa Romeo, Ford and Mercedes-Benz. But the younger carmakers deserve some historical props, too. Toyota has only been in existence 77 years and on sale in the United States for only 50, but it has a small and growing cadre of dedicated enthusiasts nonetheless.

The Toyota Owners and Restorers' Club (T.O.R.C.) of Southern California held its 15th-annual All Toyotafest on May 8, celebrating anything and everything Toyota. The show was held under beautiful blue skies adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif.

History is relative here. The oldest models we saw among the 380 displayed were from the late '60s and early '70s. But the guys with the 1,000-hp Supras and the driftable AE86 Corollas love their cars just as much as any other car fan.

The show got some corporate sponsorship from Toyota, which was on hand with everything from a 1961 Toyopet to a modern NASCAR Sprint Cup entry.

The most popular car among Toyota lovers is likely the last of the rear-drive Corollas. Philip Pang brought his AE86 Corolla, into which he has poured money for years.

"I used to go to the junkyard every day," he said.

What did he change?

"Just about everything on the car," he said, rattling off mods to the engine, suspension and body.

The AE86 is prized among Toyota enthusiasts.

"It's light, it's tight and it's rear-wheel drive," Pang said. "When was the last time somebody made one of those? Who wants to drive front-wheel drive?"

A man after our own heart.

Watch video from Toyotafest:

Joel Luz used to work for TRD, but left in 1979 to start Toysport. He brought a beautiful red 2000GT that he bought in 1980.

"The car had a cylinder head problem and the [previous owner] brought it to a Ferrari shop. They couldn't fix it, so I bought it," he said.

He fixed the head pretty quickly.

While Luz enjoys the svelte body of the 2000GT, he realizes its limitations.

"There's no room in it," he said, offering us a seat to prove his point. "They made these in 1967, '68 and '69. You drive a 1970 Celica and it's so much better. You can fit in it."

Luz said that when Sean Connery sat in a 2000GT for a Bond film, the crew had to tear out the roof.

Ryan Bacsafra of Club Lexus was on hand with a number of his compatriots showing VIP-styled sedans. VIP-style is usually applied to large sedans such as the Lexus LS. Wild camber changes, lowered chassis and loads of wood trim inside are hallmarks of the look.

"It's a luxury/aggressive look," he said.

At the opposite end of the style spectrum was Paul Williamsen's one-ton heavy-duty Land Cruiser pickup.

"It was built for the U.S. Marines and actually saw duty in the first Gulf war," Williamsen said.

Parts? Williamsen doesn't worry about getting parts.

"You can order anything Toyota as long as you have a part number," said Williamsen, who works at Toyota during the week.

We estimated the crowd at a couple thousand throughout our visit. To join them at the next T.O.R.C. event, visit

By Mark Vaughn