Akio's Assault Vehicle: Futuristic Sports Car Melds F1 Influences With Supra Styling
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.
Moving aft, its flanks are deeply slashed by even more air intakes that are themselves subsequently engulfed by rising rocker panels that suddenly erupt into muscular rear wheel arches. The roof is a sort of double-bubble, and the frenzy stays nonstop all the way to a tail that reminds you of a prototype sports racing car’s, complete with Venturi tunnel openings, a dense array of 35 tiny LED foglights, extendable wing, and twin storm- drain exhausts. None of this is by accident. During the FT-1’s gestation, Calty (involved in shaping Toyota’s Camry NASCAR racer) frequently consulted nearby Toyota Racing Development to ensure its shape was consistent with a sports car’s engineering demands. The result is called “functional sculpting.”
Red, which emphasizes highlights, was the only color ever considered.
Classic “silhouette cars” — ones you’d be inclined to draw in outline — are typically relaxed, simple fuselage forms that tran- quilly speak to you through their broad pools of subtly reflected light. Think of the soft, slightly balloon-ish shapes from the ’50s and ’60s — a particularly good example for me being the Lancia Aurelia B20.On the other hand, “gesture” in drawing puts an emphasis on the action and vitality. A good (or bad) example of gesture is the 1984 Ferrari Testarossa, a very, very busy design. Draw it, and your pencil becomes animated trying to capture the long strakes across its mammoth side-radiator gills. Recently, this sort of hyperactive, big-sculpture automotive design seems to be reemerging: the new Corvette, anyone? The FT-1’s extreme gesture mixes positive and negative space even more turbulently; somehow, it’s both windswept and forward-leaning.
Designers usually strive to have three key lines on a car. One, typically, is the roofline, which fades into a crease or angle across the hood or trunk; another, its beltline (established by the windowsill); and another, the fender line (or even the rocker panel). In designer-speak, these are all character lines. Look for them in the FT-1. They’re not there. In fact, the goal was to completely dispense with “line-design,” replacing it with “form first-read” shapes. “It’s all about highlights,” Shen explains, then pointing to the contrast of large and small forms at the rear. The FT-1 was always pictured in red, a color that emphasizes highlights; consequently, “shadings” — more characteristic of silver cars — weren’t as important here. Indeed, up to 18 different reds were considered. “We looked at so many reds, we were getting red spots before our eyes,” laughs Shen. And though the team viewed the car in other colors via their visualization software, the CGI experience that really mattered was when the folks at Gran Turismo rendered the car at various racetracks, sliding through corners. Kevin: “When we saw the car at Suzuka, we cheered.”
<img src="http://enthusiastnetwork.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/sites/42/2014/01/Toyota-FT-1-small-clay.jpg" alt="FROM PENCIL TO CLAY
Calty employs every available tool to design. At left, Scotchcal (from 3M) is used to wrap the full-size model for in-color visualization. It’s removed and reapplied in areas that need modification. The FT-1’s undulating shape echoes a recent taste for voluptuousness that can also be seen in the McLaren P1 and the LaFerrari.” class=”wp-image-2037756″ />
A detail I’ve been obviously evading so far is the FT-1’s smoked engine cover, which, at the moment, we’re going to have to regard as a crystal ball. What’s actually deep down there at present is a mere golf cart electric motor, just enough to move the rolling display around. In fact, the car’s most significant engineering feature is its four vertical rams that extend downward to raise it, expediting tie-strapping its wheels to transporters.
But if our crystal ball doesn’t offer any details, the recent announcement by Toyota and BMW to develop a shared sports car architecture, certainly suggests some outlines. Toyota’s tradition with sports car engines has always been inline sixes, which in later years became turbocharged. The 2000GT’s engine was a 150 hp 2-liter DOHC straight-six; the final Supra was powered by a (sequentially-employed) twin-turbo 3-liter straight-six with over twice the power — 320 hp. Today, there’s no better inline-six builder than BMW. So are we looking at a development of their 3-liter TwinPower Turbo? And, in BMW coachwork, might this chassis and engine combo power a future Z4?
It’s a Toyota. It ought to be affordable. — designer Alex Shen
Before Calty studio design manager Bill Chergosky began work on the FT-1’s interior, he and his colleagues went on two field trips. One was to a race-driving school where they quickly realized that, when you’re driving really fast, about all you actually see is your hands and the view of the road unreeling ahead. That took them to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, north of San Diego, where they studied head-up displays in fighter jet simulators. Toyota calls this process genchi genbutsu, which basically means, don’t read about it — go out and experience it!
Chergosky’s hyper-driver-focused cockpit is governed by a sense of authenticity for what its purpose is, and characterized by its concise data display atop the steering wheel rim and various projections onto its fighter-like, clear pane HUM (for head-up meter) standing above the dash. At speed, these two hold all the information you need (secondary info can be selectively dropped into the “dock” below, where traditional gauges would reside), so there’s no half-second distraction from glancing down. But if you do glance down—at casual velocities, of course — everything you require is a finger extension away. And aesthetically, it’s also exactly what you’d imagine a 23rd-century starfighter’s ride to look like: beautifully detailed in aluminum and polished carbon-fiber weave that’s starkly juxtaposed with heavy, saddle-stitched hides perforated for cooling air. The catchphrase Bill and his team used here was “slingshot”: Everything is stretched around him with the driver being the imaginary projectile.
It’s simultaneously thoughtful, technical art — and a seat a 13-year-old would go crazy strapped into. Curious, I asked Bill how his drawing has evolved in the 30 years since he was 13. He paused and then replied, “At that age, you’re fearless. Keeping the thread of that inner kid who’s willing to take chances is what makes a really good designer.”
With the car finished and the photography complete, it’s off to Detroit to face the fickle public’s judgment. But Kevin Hunter says he’s learned to recognize the initial signs of whether a concept car is a hit or a miss at an auto show reveal. “The true measure is when it’s dark, the headlights are on, and they just start to pick up some of the silhouette and realize what kind of animal this is.”
And it’ll also be the moment when we’ll finally know if Shen’s — and the whole Calty team’s — hundreds of original drawings have turned into a sports car with a mandate to be built.
Thanks to Scott Robertson of Design Studio Press and Thomas Bertling of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Their book, “How To Draw,” is a must for any young designer.