Finally: TTAC Gets Its Hands On The FT86. And Its Chief Engineer

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
finally ttac gets its hands on the ft86 and its chief engineer

Today was the day Toyota’s FT86 was officially revealed. Actually, it will be officially revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show, which will open its doors to the public on December 3. Today, the international media had a sneak preview of the car. Us, and maybe 20,000 people who lined the galleries of the Fuji Raceway where Toyota and Gazoo Racing held its TGRF (Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival). The masses could witness from afar as Akio Toyoda climbed out of an orange sports car, removed his helmet and waved at the adoring crowds.

The press corps had a chance to drive the car. That opportunity that was immediately turned into hoonery by a rough and tumble contingent from Australia. One of them drove the car with so much enthusiasm that it spun out , did a few twirls and had a near-miss with an Australian cohort. We immediately had proof that the car provided only the barest necessities in computer control, and that one has to know how to drive, unless a rendition of Swan Lake is desired.

Before we get to that, the essentials. The name of the car had been the target of endless speculation. Until yesterday evening, Toyota steadfastly referred to the car as nothing else than a “compact real-wheel-drive sports car.”

Some at TTAC had recommended that the car should get a Japanese name. Toyota listens to its customers and complied.

The car will be called “Hachiroku.”

This is Japanese and means 86.

Yes, Toyota simply dropped the “FT”. It also wants to carry on the spirit of the AE86 of lore.

For me, the most interesting part of today was to sit in a quiet room with Tetsuya Tada, and a handpicked group of journalists. (The man on the right is Hans Greimel of Automotive News.) We could listen to Tada’s comments about the car. We had talked before, in August, but this time, the Chief Engineer of the 86 could be less circumspect and was able to talk openly. He sure did. For starters, I learn that Toyota’s test drivers had given him a very hard time:

“Mr. Toyoda almost continuously participated in the development of this car. Not as President, but as a test driver. Usually, when they say that the president of a company is test driving a prototype car, then it is mostly ceremonial. Mr. Toyoda’s participation was not simply ceremonial. He was a serious test driver and had some pretty tough comments. In some phases of the development. he said: “If that is the best you can do, why not quit now.” One by one, we overcame these problems.

In the grand scheme of things, Akio Toyoda had been polite. Stronger words came from Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s chief test driver who found an untimely death by crashing his LFA into a BMW 3series on a rural highway close to the Nürburgring. Tada remembers:

“When Naruse-san was still alive, he participated in the tests many time and gave us some quite harsh comments, like: ‘This is a miserable car. You are doing very poorly.’

We tested this car at the Nürburgring. Naruse-san died very close to the Nürburgring, and each time we testdrove the car later, we made sure to pass by the memorial of Naruse-san. We tried to keep Naruse-san’s spirit alive.”

One by one, the challenges thrown up by the test drivers were met. But there were other people, Tada had to contend with.

“We visited with car enthusiasts in Japan, America and Europe. The feedback we received was almost always the same. They said there are a lot of sports cars with high horsepower that are very fast, but these are not the sports cars that they want to have. They want small compact cars that are controllable, that they can tune themselves. However, that kind of sports car is not on the market. Therefore, these sports car enthusiasts are forced to continue to use older cars from a long time ago, because there is no new alterative on the market.”

Their requirements clashed with another group: Toyota’s board. The board wanted a car that goes faster than other cars. Tada’s colleagues at other car companies had to contend with the same problem:

“We also went to competitors and asked them: “Why do you focus on fast cars?” The response almost always was: ‘Actually, we really don’t want to develop these kinds of cars. But once we bring a plan to develop that car to our board, the first question the directors of the company would ask is: How much faster is that car compared to what the competition has? How many seconds faster around the Nürburgring? What about the acceleration? These questions always come up because numerical performance is the easiest to understand.

Now how did we get the permission from our board? The only reason was that among the directors, there was a person called Akio Toyoda, who is a car enthusiast himself.”

Tada not only had to convince a board that was fixated on numbers. He also had to do something highly risqué: Ditch the Toyota Way of developing cars:

“There is a Toyota standard for designing new cars. This standard was to a large extent ignored. Why did we do this? There are cars that are accepted by a lot of people. Practical cars that are easy to drive and that do not break easily. These are standard Toyota cars. The 86 is not a car like that. We had to change our design approach for this car. We may have to do this again for other cars.

It is impossible to develop a sports car that appeals to everybody. If you try to please everybody, the car would be half-baked for everybody, and not particularly good for anybody. This car is not developed by a committee, or by consensus.”

And would you believe that even Toyota’s advertising department did not like the car?

“When we first presented this idea to our advertising people, they were drastically opposed to this idea. They complained that the car doesn’t have a particularly fast time on the circuit, it does not use any new technology. They also could not think of a catchy headline for the catalogue.”

Someone should have a chat with that advertising department.

The word of mouth enthusiasm for this car is so strong, maybe it doesn’t need any advertising. Thousands of grassroots racers around the world are looking forward to a car they can tinker with. Tada built it for them:

“To make the car customizable, we did away with computers to the highest extent possible. A lot of the cars on the market today are controlled by computers. People have the feeling that they are driven by the car instead of them driving the car. That makes for a boring experience. That is why we decided to go back to the basics of car making. With the low center of gravity, the driver now is in personal touch with the road again.”

How much will this car cost? This remains a state secret. All Toyota says is that it will be “affordably priced.” Asked what that means, Tada launches into a dangerous discourse, with his press handlers getting visibly nervous:

“30 to 40 years ago, there was an AE86, and the price of this car was 1.5 million yen. At the time, that was the starting salary was for a university graduate. We kept that in mind when we priced the car. In the meantime, there has been a rise in prices, and the starting salaries rose also.”

The starting salary of a university graduate in Japan is around 2.5 million yen. In today’s undervalued dollars, this would be around $32,000. We will have to wait until early 2012 when the car is officially released. There will be no pricing announcement at the Auto Show.

All the specs that are available can be downloaded here.

Ah, the test-drive.

I drove the same 86 the Aussie hoons pirouetted through a sharp turn. All I did was make the tires chirp. At a test drive, I like to return the car as I found it. It drove very nicely. It does not press you into the bucket seat with jet fighter g-forces. I am told it will do 230 km/h (143 mph) and will go 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in 6 seconds.

Would I buy it?


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5 of 195 comments
  • R.A. Gregorio R.A. Gregorio on Jan 07, 2012

    I'm waiting for the four-door version. That'll be more practical than this two-door. Basically, it would be what I've been looking for in a car - a simple and affordable RWD sports sedan that puts the pleasure back to what driving a car was 10 to 20 years ago. That was before automobiles became either commoditized appliances or over-weighted quarter-mile racers. I just want to feel like I'm driving again instead of being driven.

    • See 2 previous
    • Plribault Plribault on Jan 07, 2012

      @burgersandbeer Actually, the Japanese press is talking about a sedan down the line since quite a long time. The storyline is that Toyota was not convinced that the market for a coupe would be able to recoup the development cost alone and therefore a sedan, in the lines of the much loved Altezza (the japanese name of the first gen of the Lexus IS), would be a good idea. Mockups for a sedan come up from time to time in the scoop pages of the various publications. We will see. Most recently, stories about an open top version are also popping up.

  • Burgersandbeer Burgersandbeer on Jan 07, 2012

    Good to hear they are thinking about it. I basically want a mainstream, reliable brand to make the functional equivalent of a BMW E46 or E39. FR layout with available manual transmission in a practical package. I can easily give up the leather interior, power seats, moonroof, etc. Lower running costs would be much appreciated too. I think something based on the FR-S/BRZ would fit that bill. Too bad I think it would have a tough time selling.

  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.