No, it’s not real. Yes, it could be. Chances? No better than fifty-fifty, most likely. On the other hand, this dramatic pushmobile (it does have a little electric motor to move it onto auto-show stands) got this far because it’s a great PlayStation character, and after “driving” it, Akio Toyoda himself decreed that it should exist as a realistic concept model. That costs real money (although not nearly as much as a complete, drivable car), showing the seriousness of the concept. Toyota has a long-running and highly irregular relationship with sports cars, starting with the charming little Sports 800 back in the mid-1960s, the 2000GT, three generations of MR2s, the last near-supercar Supra, the current shared-with-Subaru sport coupe (the Scion FR-S), and some amazingly good prototypes. I cherish the memory of driving—really fast—the fully realized 4500GT concept car at the Toyota proving ground in the late ’80s. It was completely engineered, but its aerodynamically superior body shape was “too strange” for most people, and the project was dropped.
While talking with the leaders of the California-based FT-1 design team—Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, and project design manager William Chergosky—at the Detroit show in January, we learned that this truly is a stylistic fantasy. The FT-1 has never been in a wind tunnel, and it doesn’t really have an engine (there is an artful cover for the imagined in-line six the team desires for its relationship to the engine in the 2000GT), nor is there an existing component set suitable for the race-car-like chassis they would like to see beneath its skin. Toyota’s performance group, TRD, was called in to have a look, and they thought the FT-1 was “pretty good” as is but would have to test it to be sure.
So, like the original Viper concept car, this “dream car” could evolve into a serious product (or, like the Dodge Copperhead, disappear forever). Let’s take a look at what’s here and imagine what could exist one day. It’s interesting that the choice was to put the engine up front, Corvette- and Viper-style, rather than expand on the mid-engine scheme of Toyota Le Mans cars and the MR2. Many engineers and designers think that a front-engine car is much easier to live with on public roads, less likely to bite an inattentive driver in “ordinary” extreme situations. It also happens to give really good proportions, with a longer hood and a shorter rear.
The best part of the car is the interior, which is seriously thought out, beautifully made, and extremely satisfying to be in once you struggle past the wide sill. I would love to see a production version of the FT-1 with the exterior toned down a bit and perfected in a wind tunnel. It’s not a complete design yet, but it’s definitely on the right path.
Front 3/4 View
1 The blunt center evokes thoughts of the classic Cord 810’s “coffin nose”—and the Panoz Le Mans cars from a decade or more ago.
2 An awful lot of scoopin’ goin’ on in this front-end design: big holes on either side of the central nacelle and good-size ones cooling the front tires, apparently.
3 Triple round lamps recall Jean-Paul Oyono’s Alfa Romeo design study for Zagato, later picked up by Giorgetto Giugiaro for his Alfa Romeo Brera and other Alfas.
4 Fake air-deflecting blades are all the rage among stylists right now, but these can’t do anything real; they’re solid to the body and just add drag.
5 Handsome huge wheels are not very race-car-like, generating far too much turbulence.
6 The door skins are exceptionally convoluted and become an impressive sculpture all by themselves if removed from the car.
7 So what’s behind these huge holes that needs cooling? Radiators? Then why the huge holes up front? Terrific styling, questionable design.
8 A particularly nice detail is the glass-to-glass joint outside the A-pillar, carrying a tint all the way around the sides.
9 Double-bubble roof is again a sort of must-have cliché, from Abarth to Zagato, with Corvette, Mazda, and others riding along.
10 Transparent covers for engine compartments are getting to be standard on high-level sports cars. Nice for bystanders, but one wonders about keeping them clean.
Rear 3/4 View
11 Very small outlet for so much air scooped in up front. There’s no question that hot air has to get out, and this is probably not big enough.
12 These ribs are pure styling, Hunter admitted, but TRD says it might help push air toward the center and the gigantic retractable wing.
13 Yep, have to have a fuel filler as a design element. But for Le Mans, it ought to be on the right-hand side of the car . . .
14 The surface between this sharp line and the backlight is a wing mounted on four struts (presumably hydraulic) that lift and tilt the panel.
15 These squared-up corners clash more than a little with the rounded spoiler, body, and fender cross-sections through the wheels and really don’t make sense.
16 Bulbous surround for the exhaust pipes evoke 1950s “jet pod” details on show cars. Exhaust tips are cut at an angle, as though pointing outward.
17 Another nonfunctional air-deflector blade, again glued to the surface behind it so no air can pass between it and the body. But cool looking, right?
18 This sow-belly sagging curve recalls some BMW concept cars and the Z3. It doesn’t appear to do anything useful, but again, it looks serious.
19 The moderately tight radius running from the bottom of the front outlet to the top of the rear inlet gives some definition to the body side, and, of course, the convolutions beneath it strengthen the door panel.
20 The pedal assembly is a work of beauty, all precision-machined. The bottom hinging is slightly out of the past, but it worked well for many of the world’s best cars.
21 The feeling of a single-seat cockpit for the driver is emphasized by the metallic section that rises from the central tunnel and continues on the door.
22 The head-up display panel is configured like an old-time racing windscreen, a nice, rather poetic touch.
23 A clever and useful indicator in the steering-wheel rim tells what gear you’re in and how quickly you’re approaching the redline. Surprisingly, it’s not at all distracting.
24 The seats aren’t racing-car light but are very beautiful in execution.