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Detroit show: Toyota teases Supra successor

Supra-car?: Toyota's outlandish FT-1 concept revealed in Detroit could pave the way for a return of the iconic Supra.

Toyota tears covers from the FT-1, a sexy concept with mysterious underpinnings

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Toyota logo14 Jan 2014

By MIKE COSTELLO

TOYOTA today revealed a sexy rear-drive sportscar concept in Detroit that signals its continued move away from conservatism and points to a potential road-going successor to the defunct Supra supercar.

The reveal of the car, dubbed the FT-1, at the North American International Motor Show today comes as small surprise - rumours suggested as much - but Toyota achieved the rare feat of not allowing images of the car to leak online ahead of the reveal.

Penned by designers at its Calty studio in California, the FT-1 - short for ‘Future Toyota’ - features lean and mean lines inspired in parts by the 2000GT of the 1960s, that car’s modern successors, the Supra and MR2 of the 1990s, plus the Lexus FT-HS from 2008 and 2012’s Lexus LF-LC.

Toyota went as far as to call the FT-1 “a spiritual pace car for the global design revolution occurring within the company”, and a car “that represents a taste of the excitement people can expect to see in future Toyota production models”.

But there’s a catch: Toyota is staying silent on any production potential for this car, and whether any road-going version would wear the coveted Supra badge.

However, given Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s enthusiasm for sportscars - Mr Toyoda himself is a race driver - and the company’s success with the smaller and cheaper 86, expect to see some variety of this car on the roads within a few years.

It is expected that such a car will use a joint architecture developed alongside BMW. The Japanese and German automotive giants signed a deal to co-operate on, among other things, a sportscar platform in the next few years.

Mechanical details are scarce, save that the show car uses a conventional internal combustion engine rather than a hybrid powertrain, mounted at the front of the car and visible through a clear glass panel on the bonnet. Power is sent through the rear wheels.

Speaking from the show stand following the world premiere, Calty president Kevin Hunter said the FT-1, while just a concept at this point, was indicative of Toyota’s mission under Mr Toyoda to ditch dull designs in favour of sex appeal.

“This is the Toyota we are evolving into,” he said. “For many years Toyota has relied on… consumer studies and a degree of internal consensus. The goal was to produce a vehicle that was liked by everyone.

“As a result we took less risk and tried not to stray too far from designs that had been a success. Toyota’s design efforts are less reliant on consensus now, we have empowered our designers and engineers to develop a creative and passionate vision.

“As car enthusiasts ourselves, this is the kind of project we dream about working on.”

Toyota also said that designs such as the FT-1 point to an aim of creating a more “satisfying ownership experience” that complements its reputation for bulletproof reliability: in other words, injecting an emotive edge into its practical product.

The FT-1‘s design features curved and muscular body forms with taut surfaces and oversized fenders and numerous air vents scattered across the red surface.

At higher speeds, a retractable rear wing deploys and tilts forward to create additional downforce.

The cabin’s wraparound windscreen and side glass openings are a nod to the design of the 2000GT. The driver sits behind an F1-inspired steering wheel, and the A-pillars are set far back to help cornering vision. A colour head-up display projects information just above the steering wheel within the driver’s line of sight.

The minimalist cockpit has an emphasis on light-weight components. The composite seat is covered with scant padding in only the areas that come into contact with the driver.

In preparation for pitching the concept to Toyota management, Calty worked with Polyphony Digital, creators of the Gran Turismo driving simulator, to bring FT-1 to life in a virtual world.

Toyota executives were offered the opportunity to take FT-1 for a timed lap around a computer-generated Fuji Speedway. Behind the wheel of the concept, Mr Toyoda completed the virtual circuit faster than his best real-world lap time at Fuji in his LFA.

From that moment, Toyota says, “he was convinced and the concept was approved to be built in model form for the international motor show circuit”.

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