Our six favorite Toyotas from Toyotafest 201906/03/2019
Toyotas are not boring! For proof, look no further than Toyotafest, the big celebration of all things Toyota put on every year for the past 24 years by the Toyota Owners and Restorers’ Club in Long Beach, Calif. This year’s show featured 600 cars, vans, crossovers and trucks from the marque and there wasn’t… okay, a few might have been boring, but their owners didn’t think so. And there wasn’t a single Camry on the lawn.
The Corona was actually fun to drive in its day
After Toyota’s disastrous debut in the U.S. market with the Toyopet and Tiara, both of which were heavy and underpowered, the company came back strong when it introduced the Corona to the U.S. market in 1964. With a 1.9-liter four making 90 hp, it was by far the most powerful car in its class, beating even the enthusiast-loved Ford Cortina with that car’s 1.5-liter 64-hp four-banger. Plus, the Corona was an entirely practical car, with room for four – maybe five – adults and a spacious (relatively spacious) trunk.
This car’s owner, Steve Alper, has an eclectic mix of tastes. He’s a dentist with a practice in New York but is working on an architectural project in L.A., a house to be built at the base of the Hollywood sign called The Last House on Mulholland.
The Corona is more of a show car for him.
“I don’t take it below Sunset,” he said. His everyday driver when he’s in L.A., the car that does go below Sunset, is a mighty 1979 Mercedes 450SEL. He found the Corona, meanwhile, as one finds all good things, across the river in Jersey.
“I found a guy in New Jersey at a car dealership that was selling it,” he said. “They had a kind of museum and they were selling a lot of cars.”
He was on the fence as to what to buy when he saw it.
“I was going to get this or a Datsun 410,” he said. “I bought this for the style. It was all about looks.”
In 1968, only a few years after launching the Corona, Toyota introduced a compact pickup truck to the U.S. market that was something of a mini-revolution. Where previously only full-zed Fords and Chevies ruled the rural roads, now suddenly there was this compact option that cost a lot less while offering much of the same practical pickup purposes.
Kelvin Corpuz drove his 1980 SR5 all the way down from the Bay Area. He and some Toyota-truck-owning friends made the trek just for Toyotafest.
“We’re just goofy guys who hang out,” he said of the group.
The distinguishing factor on Corpuz’ truck is, obviously, its lack of doors.
“It’s fun,” he said of the tube-frame structures that kept him and his co-pilot inside the truck’s cab on the long drive south. “Like, you look out the door and you see the road going by, it’s just… joyous!”
I want to hang out with these guys.
The Lexus LS revolutionized the U.S. luxury car market 30 years ago. Where previously only the Mercedes E-Class ruled the gated communities of the east and west coasts of America, the LS not only offered a new alternative, but in many ways it offered a better alternative, with a quieter ride and an even-more-luxurious interior, not to mention reliability and dealer service that made JD Power flip his five-star lid.
And while Lexus now offers a full line of luxury SUVs, Natasha Adams decided to make her own. She bought a 1990 LS 400 from her cousin for $700 plus a $100 gas card then, in what will surely have Lexus product planners screaming into the night, she raised the ride height two and a half inches and added Jeep offroad wheels and tires.
“I think they should come stock like this,” she said.
Jhenny Smith and Jeff Correa’ with Jeffs 1998 Lexus LS VIP Style
Just a few cars down from the Mud-A-Luxe was Jeff Correa’s 1998 LS 400. Unlike Adams, Correa did not jack up his ride — he went the other way, lowering it down about three or four inches with air ride suspension. Then he added items and a look the kids call VIP style.
“It’s what the Yakuza drives,” he said, referring to the Japanese mafia.
Indeed, with its unique hood ornament, stylish dash and lowered stance, Correa’s LS would look impressive cruising through the Roppongi district of Tokyo.
“Really? Thank you!” Correa said when we suggested that.
The flags are a nice touch and offer diplomatic immunity
The Century is a special car in Toyota lineage. It was the car in which travelled the Japanese prime minister, visiting dignitaries and even the Emperor himself. The model was launched in 1967 and the name celebrates the 100th birthday of Sakachi Toyoda, whose son Kiichiro would found the car company with the family name on it.
So seeing one anywhere outside of Japan, and even anywhere inside Japan, is something special. Eric Roehm imported this one two years ago from Japan, after having someone inspect it first.
“I like weird, different stuff,” Roehm explained.
The flags on the front, bought here in the U.S. from a company called www.flagsoncars.com, add a certain diplomatic allure.
“I get people saluting me,” Roehm said. “I salute back.”
As you may guess, it is a comfortable car to drive. Roehm drove it up to Monterey for car week and spends a lot of time behind the wheel.
“This is by far the most interesting thing I’ve ever had,” he said.
Buying them is something of an adventure. You can get them in Japan fairly cheap he said, but you won’t necessarily know what kind of shape they’re in. He said prices can range from $4500 to $35,000. Roehm recommends going through Duncan’s Imports & Classic Cars in Christiansburg, WV, which specializes in offbeat cars from Japan (it has 600 cars in stock, mostly Nissan Figaros, but all kinds of others, including Centurys).
“Every single car is different,” Roehm says of the Century. “They were hand built.” For more on the Century, check out Murilee Martin’s recent visit to the factory — if it can even be called that.
Ray Sebastian has owned four MR2s, but this one here is the car. After plotting and dreaming for years, Sebastian finally got this one set up just as he had been dreaming of. He had a company called ETL Motorsports in Ontario, Calif. swap in a 2.0-liter 3SGTE engine with a turbocharger on it. It is fully BAR’d, Seb said, referring to the Bureau of Automotive Repair that certifies emissions standards on cars registered in California. He did the Recaro seats himself and went through the suspension to not only handle the slight increase in weight but to make it corner better, too.
What’s it like to drive?
“It’s a dream,” he said. “It handles like a go-kart. With the new motor, it woke up.”
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