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Posts filed under ‘Toyota’

Scion FR-S Returns Toyota to the Driver’s Seat

December 1, 2011 by Matt

Scion FR-S FRS Toyota GT-86 GT86 Subaru BRZ Red

Another bit of large-ish news from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show: After months of photos and tentative specs, Toyota and Subaru officially unveiled their jointly-developed trifecta of badge-engineered RWD coupes.

Scion FR-S FRS Toyota GT-86 GT86 Subaru BRZ Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Gauges

As reported previously, the common ground between the Subaru BRZ, US-only Scion FR-S and rest-of-world Toyota GT-86 is their 2.0l, 200 hp flat-four engine, overall shape, light-ish 2800 lb weight and RWD architecture. The brand- or sub-brand-specific fine-tuning is up to the individual automakers, and so far it looks like Subaru’s going to give their BRZ a harder performance edge in contrast to Toyota’s selection of a more docile feel for their coupes. Either way, expect a myriad of further trim lines and variations on the basic theme, both from the automakers and from the legion of aftermarket tuning outfits chomping at the bit to get their hands on the cars.

I can hardly blame them; we’ve been waiting since ’05, when the Toyota MR2 Spyder left our shores, for a real enthusiast-oriented car from the Japanese automaker. For a time, they redirected their efforts toward dominating the market for hybrid cars with their Prius, neglecting the performance legacy established by the aforementioned MR2, Celica, AE86 Corolla and almighty Supra. I think I speak for many enthusiasts out there when I say, “Welcome home, Toyota.”

Scion FR-S FRS Toyota GT-86 GT86 Subaru BRZ Engine Bay Motor

A quick glance at the engine bay reveals some positive and some disappointing features for those of us in the do-it-yourself set, professional or otherwise. It seems the shock towers are already braced to the firewall, eliminating, or at least rendering irrelevant, the presence of an aftermarket shock tower brace, a favorite engine bay ornament of the Fast & Furious crowd. Speaking of the shock towers, I guarantee you their location relative to the wide, flat engine is going to make changing spark plugs a complete nightmare. Fortunately, most cars having a 100K mile tuneup interval, that’s probably not a procedure that will have to be attempted often. The airbox is situated prominently, right up front in the bay, providing a nice location for the inevitable aftermarket cone filter to draw warm air from under the hood, giving the supposedly performance-minded owner a couple horsepower debit over the OEM piece, which is an actual cold-air intake.

At the very least, the FR-S and its cousins may give wannabe racers a showroom-fresh, balanced, RWD alternative to their aging Nissan 240SXs, FC RX-7s and brawny Mustangs. I’ll drink to that.


Technical Curiosities:
The Hydraulic Cooling Fan

November 7, 2011 by Matt

Hydro Hydraulic Drive Fan Motor Cooling Radiator

I first ran across this one when I was doing the 7M-to-1JZ engine swap in my old Supra Turbo. Before the thought of a swap had even entered my mind, I remember puzzling over pictures of Japanese-market-only Supra engine bays fitted with the 1JZ-GTE from the factory, wondering why they seemed to have not one, but two power steering fluid reservoirs (yes, I sit and ponder things like that). I couldn’t figure it out, but when I finally had my hands on one and was lining up my ducks for the swap, I quickly discovered the reason for the extra container of hydraulic fluid: The car was fitted with a hydraulically-powered cooling fan.

In almost every instance, car engine cooling fans are powered one of two ways: Either directly by the engine off the front of the water pump pulley, or electrically using a large-ish motor. Typically, longitudinal (front-to-back) engines feature direct-drive, whereas engines mounted in a transverse (sideways) fashion, with their accessory belts rotating perpendicular to the ideal orientation for a direct-drive cooling fan, receive electric units. However, in a handful of cars, the engineers decided to grant the cooling fan its own, dedicated hydraulic circuit for motive purposes. In addition to the 1JZ-GTE in my ’89-’92 Supra application (the 1JZ was directly-driven in other Toyotas), the ’92-’96 Toyota Camry V6, Lincoln LS and ’99-’04 Jeep Grand Cherokee all featured hydro fans.

The disadvantages are obvious, but not outright deal-breakers for sensible and careful engineers: The setup adds another layer of complexity to the engine, with more parts to fail, and another fluid level for the owner/mechanic to check and service. As with Audi’s UFO brakes, the rarity of the solution means added expense for parts.

Hydro Hydraulic Drive Fan Motor Cooling Radiator 1JZ 1JZ-GTE 1JZGTE 1JZGTTE 1JZ-GTTE Parts Diagram Schematic Pump

There are some distinct advantages, though: The decoupling, as it were, of the fan from the engine gives the developers some leeway in term of radiator and accessory placement. The hydraulic drive can draw more power from the engine than an electric fan, and thus move more air through the radiator for more effective cooling. And compared to a directly-driven unit, the hydro fan’s speed isn’t dependent on engine speed—the solenoid that controls the flow of hydraulic fluid through the fan motor can opt to run the fan on high speed as the engine idles, for example, or completely freewheel the fan on the highway.

In the final analysis, if you can accept a little added complexity under the hood, the hydro fan combines the best qualities of both directly-driven and electric cooling fans: high power and flexibility, respectively. It’s a wonder to me that it hasn’t been more widely adopted.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting obscure automotive engineering solutions. Read the other installments here:


Whoops! New Toyota RWD Coupe Leaked

October 28, 2011 by Matt

Toyota FT-86 FT86 Scion FRS FR-S Coupe RWD

Add this to the Apple iPhone-style “probably intentional leak” file. In other words, in this day and age, what with all the buzz-building that takes place online, and given the FT-86’s target market is almost entirely comprised of tech-savvy 20-somethings, I’d wager not many folks believe Toyota really minds the extra publicity afforded by the “accidental” pre-release leak of the upcoming car’s showroom brochure.

Toyota FT-86 FT86 Scion FRS FR-S Coupe RWD

In any event, it’s neat to be able to size up the first true sports car offering from Toyota in quite a while, and this from a company that in the early ’90s had three sports car offerings in production simultaneously: the range-topping Supra, sidekick Celica and mid-engined MR-2.

The “FT-86” moniker (it will be marketed as the Scion FR-S in the States) of the new car is a giveaway that it’s meant to reach back a bit farther than the aforementioned sporty offerings and tap into the cult following achieved by the late, great ’83-’87 “Hachi-Roku” AE86 Corolla of Initial D fame.

As for the design itself, it’s appropriately well-tailored and refreshingly free of the unsettling awkwardness than characterizes what’s likely to be its main rival, Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe. The size and shape of vents in the fascia is definitely reminiscent of the legendary ’93-’98 Mark 4 Supra. Overall, the car exudes a crisp confidence, and will likely be just the starting point for the cottage industry of bodywork and engine tuners that will undoubtedly rally around it. They’ve been waiting for a worthy, all-new Japanese RWD coupe for a long, long time.


A Mid-Engined Near-Great

October 1, 2011 by Matt

First Generation Gen Toyota MR2 MR-2 AW11 Supercharged

Constrained by existing hardware, engineers can get really creative. Case in point: The ’84-’89 first-generation Toyota MR2, yet another in a long list of “cars to own before I die.”

What existing hardware were the car’s developers stuck with? Toyota’s freshly-designed 4-cylinder FWD powerplant, transversely-mounted, just introduced several of the automaker’s lower-end and midrange family cars such as the Camry, Corolla and Tercel. Tasked with cooking up an image-busting two-seat sports car, and aware of the fun-killing handling liabilities of a front-engine, FWD car, Toyota’s engineers ingeniously decided to flip the engine and transmission combo 180° and install it just behind the passenger compartment. The car abandoned all pretenses of being a practical family hauler, but that was really beside the point—what the car did, it did exceedingly well, blessed by the harmonious convergence of a low polar moment of inertia, a rev-happy DOHC 16-valve 4A-GE engine, sharp steering, nicely-tuned suspension and an admirably low curb weight of 2,350 lbs. The net result was a flickable, puppy-doggish handler, at once eager, reliable and safe.

First Generation Gen Toyota MR2 MR-2 AW11 Supercharged Interior Inside Cockpit

Although the first-generation MR2 deservedly attracts a cult following, why don’t its faultless dynamics entice a wider cross-section of the automotive community? Considering what it was—a brilliantly-executed Japanese take on classic Italian and British mid-engined sports cars like the Fiat X1/9 and various Lotuses—why didn’t it set the world on fire the way the later Mazda Miata did? The answer, I believe, lies in its styling, penned during a particularly bad spell for Toyota, when the automaker was banking a little too heavily on the boxy, techno-futuristic design trend to continue, when in reality it petered out in the late ’80s. Other than the awkward, two-angle fascia, the MR2’s outside is fairly restrained, but the interior is a pull-out-all-the-stops orgy of geometry, festooned with plastic wedges, angles and that weird canopy-like instrument cluster shroud. The ergonomics may work, but it certainly doesn’t look like the most visually appealing place to spend a Saturday afternoon tearing up the autocross course. I’m not saying the dated design details would constitute a deal-killer in and of themselves, but they do, unfortunately, keep the car from joining the ranks of bonafide modern Japanese classics like the 240Z and first-generation RX-7. It’s a shame, really, given the car’s milestone status and the brilliance of the engineers in its conception and creation.


The Return of Bland

August 24, 2011 by Matt

2012 Toyota Camry Rear

The 9th generation Toyota Camry rolls into showrooms this fall to…very little fanfare, relatively-speaking. Nevermind that it’s the bread-and-butter model for the world’s biggest carmaker in their biggest market. Most enthusiasts will respond with a ho-hum and flip to the five-way supercar comparo on the next page.

So why should we care? Simple: We’ll be surrounded by them on the commute home, and those of us who value eye-pleasing design would like to have something nice to look at through the windshield and in the rear view mirror. With that in mind, I’d like to draw attention to a fairly significant change with the new Camry: The taillight area.

2009 Toyota Camry Rear

Contrast the rear of the new Camry (shown at top) with that of the previous generation (shown above). The profoundly awkward contrasting angle between the bottom of the taillights and top of the bumper lip has been excised, the taillights’ “puffiness” is gone and the transition between the top of the rear fenders and the trunklid has been smoothed out. Small matters to most, but as a designer, those little details just made me…uneasy every time I’d see one at the supermarket parking lot, and I’m relieved they’ve resolved the issues. Even if the remainder of the styling is completely anodyne.

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Unforgettable: My 1982 Toyota Tercel

August 5, 2011 by Matt

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

First car. First whiff of true freedom. First opportunity to bond with a machine and develop hard opinions about makes and models. First taste of the “me versus the world” rush when you’re driving alone at night, tape deck stereo blaring, windows down on a cool fall evening, the soft glare of the dash lights and piercing stare of the streetlights merging to bolster the rhythm of the music in your mind. There’s something to it.

My conveyance for all those experiences was the chariot pictured at the top of this post: a 1982 Toyota Tercel. 1.5l SOHC 4-cylinder. 60 hp of fury. 5-speed. Twinkie.

Yes, Twinkie. Other than our present minivan (the Minkevan), it’s the only time a car of mine has acquired a name and it stuck. It was so named ostensibly because it was sort of Twinkie-shaped, light brown with white stuff inside. Yeah… The nickname was so apt, actually, that for a time Twinkie was more well-known in my social circles than I was. “Oh, you’re Twinkie’s owner,” was a phrase I heard more than once.

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

The car saw me through everything. It knew more about me than literally anyone. And it was the epitome of faithfulness: Over the six years and ~75K that I owned it, it broke down exactly once, when the timing belt snapped northbound on I95 near Roanoke Rapids. Even then, $45 and two hours repair at a local gas station later, it was back on the road, running as well as ever. Longitudinal, non-interference engines FTW.

The car’s time with me spanned my last two years of high school, and all of college, amassing countless stories, but I’ll just share this one. When I moved to Florida right out of school (early ’02) and got my first real job with a boatbuilding firm, I knew Twinkie was nearing the end of its time with me. Its paint was fading, its silver wheels were darkened and the rust spots here and there were growing, its deterioration exacerbated by the hot, salty climate in St. Augustine.

With the acquisition of my Supra Turbo a month or so after I arrived, I started looking for a new owner for Twinkie. Fortuitously, a coworker of mine, Bob (incidentally, my favorite person in Florida), needed another car. Bob was a ponytailed, chain-smoking ex-hippie who lived in a trailer that looked as if he had constructed it himself entirely of plywood sheets. He had an assortment of farm animals in the backyard and even kept two or three peacocks. He was handy with tools and had built his own catamaran when he lived in Clearwater, on the Gulf side of the state. His family was the most functional imaginable; his beautiful wife and two boys were beyond polite and hospitable.

He was also a VW Beetle enthusiast, with around a dozen rusting Beetle carcasses in his backyard along with some other projects like an old MGA roadster and a Triumph motorcycle in his shed. He drove an orange Beetle to work every day, but complained regularly about how hard it was to start in the mornings. He mentioned offhand to me how nice it would be if he owned a car that would start for him every morning. I told him I was selling Twinkie and we struck a deal.

1982 Toyota Tercel 5-Speed

It was hard to watch him drive away from my apartment in the car that had borne me on so many adventures, but I knew it was in good hands. The ultimate confirmation of that came a few days later. Walking from my usual parking spot into work, I passed Twinkie sitting in the lot and did a double take. Bob had completely cleaned it up. The rust spots were gone, filled in temporarily with some putty awaiting a sanding and respray. The wheels had been cleaned and polished. The front speakers, the little paper cones I had meant to replace for years, Bob had yanked and put in new 4″ Sonys. And the whole car had a nice coat of wax and was shiny and beaming. I knew I couldn’t have passed it on to a better new owner. It brought my time with Twinkie to a fitting close.