"This is coming straight from the top," Toyota designer William Chergosky tells me about their jaw-dropping surprise Toyota FT-1 sports car concept. "This is to prove that we're not a vanilla company anymore."
Straight from the top means it comes from CEO Akio Toyoda, a man on a mission to reinvigorate a brand with a proud sporting history that has lost its soul over the last 20 years or so. Toyoda races cars for fun, and his mandate is to put the love back into Toyota, to make cars that appeal to your heart first. The FT-1 exists to show the world that they can do that.
Chergosky — a project design manager at Toyota's CALTY design studio who penned the car's interior — is tight-lipped on whether the FT-1 will ever see production in some shape or form. We want it to be the new Supra, obviously. Its name stands for "Future Toyota 1," and that's encouraging, if nothing else.
The FT-1 is an interesting design that recalls a lot of previous Toyota sports cars and concepts and throws in some F1-inspired cues for good measure. (I think parts of it echo the SRT Viper and the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, which is not a bad thing.)
It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus LFA, the Lexus LF-Lc Concept, the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, and the latter's various concepts like the FT-86. Toyota is evolving a clear family design language these days, and it looks good.
It has classic sports car proportions. Long hood, low center of gravity, cockpit placed way back. Front engined and rear-wheel drive. You look at the FT-1 and you know what it is. It's a sports car and makes no apologizes for this; it does not try to wade into other genres or segments. It's pure.
Up front, the car draws inspiration from F1 aerodynamics, according to CALTY designer Bob Mochizuki. He tells me that it's all designed to be functional from an aero standpoint with those carbon fiber intakes and inlets and that squared-off cone of a nose.
And then there's that engine under a glass cover. The show car has no running gear, as it's just a design study, but if an engine were there it would be one they'd want to show off.
I prod Mochizuki on what engine could be under that hood, or at least, what he imagines in his mind could be under there. V6? V8? V10? But he stays tight-lipped.
"We made the engine ambiguous on purpose, but we tried to make it look mean," he says. "We wanted it to look like it's no joke."
Moving to the sides we see huge rear fenders that hug the tires, "deep sculpting" as Mochizuki called it, and big exaggerated lines. The roof curves up top as if to accommodate the helmets of its driver and passenger.
And then in the back, there's a spoiler that extends from the trunk lid. It's big, and that was done on purpose. "We wanted to keep it serious and badass, kind of like the old Supra," Mochizuki tells me. It's a very modern take on the most famous feature on their glorious 1990s sports coupe.
Of course, no good sports car would be complete without a good interior, and CALTY clearly had aspirations as high as those old Supra wings. Chergosky says that everything about the FT-1 is oriented towards the driver. It's a "selfish" car, as a sports car ought to be.
"We did a lot of research into what it means to go fast," he says. When you're driving at speed in any car, all you really see are your hands and the road. They call this heightened state "the zone," and so they designed the inside to take advantage of that.
Right above the steering wheel you have a "framed HUD," a transparent panel that keeps relevant information right within your line of sight. The rest of the inside surrounds the driver in a "hardened leather," which Chergosky likens to the kind of armor worn by comic book superheroes. He says that's appropriate because this car is supposed to be the superhero of the Toyota brand.
Mostly though, the cockpit is subdued, purposeful. "It's a slingshot," Chergosky says, "and you're the projectile."
Could Toyota ever build something like the FT-1? They certainly won't say, but it's being called a "spiritual pace car" for their future designs. It would be great to see it become the next Supra, or at least be a heavy influence on that car, if it ever comes to pass. If nothing else, designs like this show that they're trying, that their leader isn't a man resigned to the Camry-fication of the entire world.
I hope it becomes real somehow. I know I'd love to be the projectile in this slingshot.
Photos credit Toyota, AP, Patrick George, Alex Conley for Jalopnik