We’ve seen the test mules, we’ve pored over teaser renderings and we’ve driven it around virtual racetracks. But from May 2012 we will finally be able to order our very own Toyota FT-86.
I’ve been waiting for this car for a long, long time. In the time it’s taken Toyota Motor Corp and Fuji Heavy Industries to design, plan and build this car, I’ve got married, built a house and become a Dad. And none of those things has dampened my need for this car. The earliest reference to this project that I can find in my notes goes back to April 2008, when Autocar reported on a joint venture between ToMoCo and FHI. It was pitched as a Subaru Coupe at the time, and we all thought it would be only a matter of time, given that Subaru were such a sporting bran… Oh.
It would be cheap, we were promised. This was to be a car for the young, the enthusiast, the everyman. Affordability was a primary concern, this car was going to be sold in Japan for less than 2 Million Yen, with a more powerful turbocharged version for 2.5 million yen. That’s supermini territory. And even allowing for the extra costs associated with selling a car in Europe, we were dreaming of a car cheaper than a Golf GTi with 180 BHP and rear wheel drive.
The hype of the time was bouyant, with Nissan proclaiming they were going to build an S-Chassis successor, smaller than the Z cars, but yet RWD and turbocharged. We speculated that Hyundai could bring the V8 Genesis from North America. The Mustang was back. The Camaro was back. The Challenger had returned. Spy photographers posted shots of heavily disguised mules at the Nurburgring and the Arctic circle.
But then the bottom fell out of the world economy, and cheap fun cars were no longer a priority.
Sporting cars fell out of favour, as carmakers watched their margins and downplayed plans. Toyota switched track to produced the halo model LF-A, its baby brother left on the drawing board. Across the Internet, fans wailed and gnashed their collective teeth. Sites like FT86club, which had popped up to collect news and rumours, and to give fans a chance to share their thoughts on the project. Who was going to champion the sports car? The MRS was dead, the S2000’s days were numbered, and the MX5 was getting fat.
Evenutally we were fed bit and pieces, leaked from the industry. One Toyota insider confirmed that the 086A (how we loved that, they we calling it the Hachi Roku!) was still in development, that there was only one body style, and that the Subaru and and Toyota version would share a 2+2 coupe bodystyle, with their own front and rear end treatments. Target weight was 1200kg, propelled by a two litre, EJ20-derived flat four, with Toyota’s D4-S direct injection system.
It wasn’t until the Tokyo Motor Show in 2009 that we finally managed to get look at the car we now recognise as the FT-86. And it would be another year before we would see it again in G’s Sport Guise, with carbon bonnet and pearlescent Maziora paintwork. It featured as a star in the fifth Gran Turismo game, where we were able to sit in its virtual cockpit, and stare at its garish neon dashboard. Hey Toyota, remember your promise to keep it cheap and cheerful?
Subaru’s approach to their product has contrasted significantly, as they re-aligned their vision for their version of the car. No longer involved in rallying, and scrambling to shift its focus to satisfy a market more interested in CO2 figures than Special Stage times, their BRZ Concept has the looks of a school project bodged together late on a Sunday evening by a parent who doesn’t want to let their child down, but really wished they were doing something else. We’ve had a blue Tupperware box, and in Frankfurt this year, a lime green Tupperware box. All the better to see the boxer/RWD drivetrain, perhaps, but still only a C+ for effort. Could do better.
This may all be academic, however, as Subaru stated early in the project that they do not intend to export the car outside Japan, while Toyota has shown with the Scion FR-S concept that North America will get its own versions, and Europe may still get the Corolla GT.
Toyota released two versions of the FT-86 in the last year, most recently at the Frankfut Motor show, where it now sports fang-like DRLs and winglets and other associated clutter. Not as clean as the earlier versions, but even if the car goes on sale looking like this, keen modifiers will have kits available pretty soon after its release, and even sooner if we can “overnight the parts from Japan…”
Toyota Ireland have not yet fixed a date for sale, but have mentioned to completecar.ie that it intends to start in March 2012. Fingers crossed, touch wood, and all that…