Toyota 86 Birthday Celebration :: Canberra & Sydney
A few weeks ago we received an email from Toyota Australia asking us to get in contact with them as soon as possible and of course without hesitation we hit the reply button. Soon we found ourselves on the phone with Blake who was kind enough to offer us one hell of an invitation…
Toyota’s latest sports car was having its’ first birthday and so to mark the occasion, a group of Australian motoring journalists were all invited to revisit what made them all fall in love with the 86 just twelve months ago.
Like any birthday celebration there was plenty of amazing food, tonnes of games and of course family. Tetsuya Tada was flown in from Japan to join in on the festivities. Tada San is arguably the father of this astonishing little sports coupe and it was certainly an amazing opportunity to gain some insight as to what went into creating such a fun car.
Flashing forward to the big event, it wasn’t until I was waiting to board my flight that the excitement was actually starting to kick in.
After a short flight from Melbourne to Canberra and a quick drive to our hotel, I met up with the other lucky journalists (including a few familiar faces like Matyas from Downshift and Ryan from The Lowdown). After all the formalities, we jumped on a bus to make our way to a very special dinner.
It was almost too good to be true, but yes, Toyota had found a restaurant in Canberra named ‘eightsix’ and booked it out for the event!
Later we learned that the name for the restaurant was inspired by an old term used in New York to describe a runout item on a menu.
I spent most of the evening speaking with Tony Cramb and Mike Green from Toyota. Tony had recently spent two years working in America for Toyota’s subsidiary, Scion. Now back in Australia, Tony works as the Director of Sales and Marketing. He has gained an understanding of generation Y and the importance of online social media in his time working for Scion and found out how to make it work to their advantage. They have adopted a similar marketing approach to the 86 here in Australia, which might have something to do with our invite. Big thumbs up Toyota!
Soon the food begun leaving the kitchen and arriving at the table! We were treated to an amazing range of dishes, hand picked by the restaurant’s owner Sean, each more delicious than the last.
Our pick had to be the slow roasted lamb shoulder!
The guest of honour, Tada San, was more than happy to cross off the last dish and sign the blackboard marking the end of our evening. We all headed to back to the hotel and parted ways for a good nights sleep to ensure we were ready for the day of action ahead.
After an early wake up and a substantial breakfast, we hit the road and made our way out to the driver training facility not far from the airport. Here we found a whole heap of 86’s sitting, waiting for our planned activities.
First up for me was the closed street course where we could experience the 86 on a tight and twisting mountain road. We were handed the keys to two 86’s. We were then given the opportunity to try an updated model that Tada San had personally organised to have the parts flown in from Japan for Toyota to fit here locally. The update included a new set of BBS wheels, stickier tyres and upgraded suspension.
Though there were relatively few upgrades, they could not have transformed the car any further from the original! The first one we drove seemed to be much more fun and the suspension was ‘soaking up’ any bit of over steer, allowing the car to straighten up and continue on. The new car became much more of a handful and felt very serious in comparison and a lot less forgiving. Having never driven an 86 before, I was intent on getting a feel for the car and finding my own limits in the process.
After a few fun laps in the current version, I was found myself facing the wrong way in the upgraded 86 not once, but twice!! The car just didn’t seem to respond to my sloppy driving style the same way at all.
A few disappointed looks from the instructors and it was fair to say, I had a chink in my armor.
Things started to look up for me as the next two courses involved getting the car as sideways as possible!!
Australian drifting great, Beau Yates was our instructor for the wet skid pan.
Beau took each of us out for a lap and then sat shotgun while each of us tried our hand sliding the little 86 around the wet course.
Things seemed so slow and peaceful watching on from the sidelines, in stark contrast to the controlled chaos from inside the car. If you’ve ever driven on a wet skid pan before it can be quite hard at first as the car requires little to no power at all to keep sliding so very light burst of acceleration are all that are needed.
Some seemed to have a natural flare for getting sideways but regardless everyone spun, just some more than others!
Then Tada San came by and asked to have a turn. Beau happily jumped into the passenger seat to give the 86’s father a chance to steer.
Tada San was all smiles as he took off. Now I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly felt like everyone was hoping (if not expecting) a perfect lap from the man himself and after a few corners it happened…
He spun and there was this sort of sigh as everyone watching on seemed a little disappointed.
After his two spins on his first lap, Tada San had certainly proved himself by completing one of the cleanest laps of the day!
After a few more successful laps, Tada San was met with a round of applause from the crowd as he pulled into the pitlane.
Then we moved onto our third and final round…
A Motorkhana session with instructor Darryl Bush.
The course was simple, clip the yellow flags with the left side of the car and the white flags with the right side of the car… Easy right?!
The huge area meant we could really let loose and enjoy the 86. Ryan was setting a great pace with plenty of tyre smoke and hand brake turns.
Darryl was a great teacher and had us all improving our times significantly over the course of the afternoon!
This was by far the best part of the day! Enjoying the 86’s precise steering and responsive hand brake had me grinning from ear to ear, dying to get out for another session before we called it a day.
Here’s a shot of me chucking the 86 around one of the hairpin flags of the course.
It seems my enthusiasm for the Motorkhana had not gone unnoticed as I was awarded the ‘most improved’ trophy (or a wooden spoon if you will) after my antics on the closed street section in the morning.
Matyas also picked up a trophy for his Motorkhana efforts thanks to a lap time faster than that of Rally champion Neil Bates from the previous day!
Well done Matyas!!
With our day quickly wrapping up, it wasn’t the end of the birthday celebration at all as the party was set to continue back at Toyota HQ in Sydney the very next day!
Dubbed ‘#Festival of the 86’ some 700 people and around 250 cars made the trip down to Toyota HQ.
The event wasn’t limited to just current 86’s, Toyota also chose to celebrate the original AE86 too.
There was also plenty of official merchandise available to remember the special day.
It really was amazing to see such support from Toyota for car enthusiasts during a time where there has been a lot of negative stigma around the scene. Inviting the local car clubs to join in felt like a step in the right direction.
Tada San also extended his trip to stay and meet local 86 owners and was happy to sit still for 2 hours just signing various things like books, brochures and magazines…
… He even signed some actual car parts for owners!
Beau Yates came along and brought all three of his cars for display!!
It seems he is the perfect ambassador for the 86 with a clean as hell street driven AE86, drift AE86 and his new drift 86 project!
Tada San was very happy to inspect his drift and street AE86’s and spent some time talking with Beau about them all.
This was our first chance to get up and close with Beau’s not so secret weapon.
The new project is gearing towards completion in time for the ADGP series that will be kicking off in early October.
Everywhere you look this car is being finished in amazing detail and will have a host of tricked up parts making it a truly competitive chassis.
It’s shaping up to be one hell of a car and we cannot wait to see Beau behind the wheel in just over a month!
The boxer engine remains but will be worlds apart from it’s factory delivered specifications, now sporting a massive turbo hanging off the front!
What an amazing way to celebrate what is quickly becoming one of the best Japanese cars of the last decade and with a very low price tag this is an easily obtainable, no frills sports car.
I had personally never driven an 86 before this event and if I bought into and believed all the ‘internet talk’ concerning power and “why didn’t it come with a turbo?” I would certainly be eating my hat now after my time with one.
This car really does not need a turbo from factory and anyone who says otherwise probably hasn’t driven one let alone tried to chuck it around a few corners. Even after all that thanks to Toyota helping the aftermarket parts industry there is literally a tonne of parts readily available for the 86 for those wanting coilovers, turbos and even superchargers!
Here’s to a bright future ahead with Toyota releasing two new sports cars and plenty more updates in the pipeline for the 86.
Thanks for reading,
Additional images courtesy of SB Captures | Simpson Tein and Paul Bradshaw.