A pencil tip moves across a sheet of paper, leaving a thin graphite line. Perhaps a millimeter across, it could be swiftly erased. Or it could become the spark for the greatest performance cars that have ever existed: perhaps Marcello Gandini’s 1966 Lamborghini Miura. Or Jean Bugatti’s 1937 Type 57 SC Atlantic Coupe. Very different designs, but both born of a mere line arcing across paper. For Alex Shen, studio chief designer at Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, California, the words describing the sports car’s styling concept came first — words like “sexy,” “honest,” “organic,” “kick-ass.” Followed by proportions — front/mid-engine, rear drive, just the right scale. And a wild guess at price — maybe $60,000? “It’s a Toyota,” says Shen. “It ought to be affordable.” Only then did lines start to appear. But when they did, it was an avalanche. Virtually every designer in the 65-person studio submitted sketches, hundreds of them, many drawn at night, some sketched on lunchtime napkins, altogether exploding the number of lines Calty’s president, Kevin Hunter, and Shen’s team slowly culled for the very best ideas. At least the hurricane of lines that would become their sports car was now just a flurry.
Let me back up here. Usually, when people draw cars, they’re actually creating an outline, which in drawing parlance is a contour line — delineating the “contour” between the positive space (the car) and the negative space (the emptiness around it). In the realm of car designers, the language differs; for them, the line’s a “silhouette.” A contour is applied across a surface to understand its shape. For Shen, though, it would be a challenge for his silhouette not to recall that of the Mark
The canted roofline creates visual stress without unbalancing the overall shape.
4 Toyota Supra. It’s iconic: a long, melted nose, abrupt windshield rise, tight roof peak, and lengthy plunge to a mini ducktail flip. And it was a line Shen and his colleagues simultaneously embraced and struggled to resist. Their task was to create a Toyota sports car for the future, a point emphasized by its eventual name, “FT-1” — for Future Toyota-One — which recalls their stillborn 2007 FT-HS project and parallels Lexus’ “LF” (Lexus Future) naming scheme. The FT-1, set to debut at the North America International Auto Show, is not a “real car,” but a “concept car” — a three-dimensional frenzy of winks and side glances, sucking scoops, and brutal downforce-generators, all peeking at us from behind a curtain where the future is being created. It’s the essence of a potent potential new sports car that’s for now an instant of bodywork turbulence, shock-frozen in fiberglass.
When Calty pitched its plan to Toyota’s Nagoya headquarters, its timing couldn’t have been better. At the 2011 Tokyo auto show, Akio Toyoda had insisted, “Now we have a new slogan, ‘Fun To Drive Again.’” And he’d made no secret of wanting a Supra-like car restored to the lineup. Calty was wise to the pitfalls, too, having been down this particular road five years earlier with its hybrid-drive, Supra-esque FT-HS, a car stillborn during the freefall of the great recession. But with the world economy healing and Toyota’s helm in the hands of a guy who’d donned a helmet to drive in the Nürburgring 24-hour race, the starter button was firmly pushed. With Akio’s blessing, Calty’s in-house Supra-esque sports car got the green light to become a concept car to be judged by the world. A timeline was plotted, milestones marked. The team set to work. Unlike the Supra, the FT-1 has racing fingerprints all over it. The wind is shat- tered by a prow dominated by a Formula 1-inspired beak. Consequently, the radia- tor’s air is divided between twin shark-like mouths, each stuffed with electric fans sitting atop angled splitters whose shape is repeated higher up via streaking light signatures that fishhook around intense, triple-LED headlights.