History Garage at MEGA WEB, Odaiba
This month, History Garage, which across from famed shopping center Diver City, is hosting a collection of incredibly historical World Rally Championship cars from Toyota. My girlfriend and I attended this showing, which is free for anyone who would like to go, and is presented in both English and Japanese. The viewing is until September 4th, 2016.
The World Rally Championship is a international car racing event that pits extremely tough cars on rough terrain with some of the most skilled drivers who ever lived. Until just under 20 years ago, it was known as a widow-maker of a sport, with tons of experimental steel smashed into trees, other cars, and unfortunately, fans. Mostly gone are the days when Group A/B rally cars buzzed by sideways at 95MPH on a mud road next to a group of photographers trying not to die, but the cars that raced those legendary races are not gone at all. In fact, a lot of championship winning cars are right here in Tokyo.
If you got this far and you’re not a car person, I gotta commend you for your effort to learn about Japan’s history of cars (or maybe you’re just really, really bored). Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Subaru are probably the three most famous Japanese brands that have raced in the WRC historically. In fact, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru’s WRX STI series of cars are based off of their real-life racing counterparts that participate(d) in the WRC. The big rear deck wings and wide fender flares are designed for stability at high speeds on roads that are more like…well…non-roads. So, it’s a bit of a non-traditional style of car racing, and with that in mind, we can look at these race cars for what they are—super purpose-built machines meant for one type of extreme racing.
Every car in the line-up here is famous in the sport, and several of them are regularly pictured in car racing magazines as legendary, especially the Toyota Celica GT-Four 1995 Safari Rally winner, which is one of the most ubiquitous rally cars of all time, partially due to its huge air snorkel and bull bar. In fact, each of these exact cars has it’s own wikipedia article where you can learn the details of it’s development. The amount of testing and production that went into each of these is truly amazing, especially since they are based off of regular production cars.
WRC Modified 1985 MR2
This sort-of brings us to my favorite of the bunch. Each of these cars may be considered a sort of working production prototype—such is the nature of car development in racing—especially since many of the ideas that were used on these cars evolved into faster trim levels back in the civilian world. But, there is one car here that is truly a prototype, since it was not actually used in a sanctioned WRC event—The Toyota MR2 222D.
Unmodified 1986 Toyota MR2
The Toyota MR2, first generation, is still widely regarded as one of the best handling affordable cars ever made, due to its mid engine, size, and lightweight. (It’s also known for something called snap over-steer, which is terrifying. Google it.) Using this car as a base, approximately eleven 222D spec MR2 race cars were produced with slightly differing features for different track types. All cars were tested and raced, and the final few cars that survived were proven to be demonic on the race track. Alas, shifting race rules and regulations forced Toyota to switch over to the Celica as it’s flagship WRC base-car.
Fender flairs add stability by allowing for wider wheels and tires.
There are but three surviving, original 222D MR2 cars. Two of these cars are white, one is black. One of the white cars is rumored to have a 6 cylinder engine while the others feature in-line 4 turbo engines. Frankly, I’m not certain which one was the one I saw, but dang, it really is an amazing sight to behold. The interior of a rally car is always fitted with all sorts of gizmos, but the inside of the 222D looks like the Millenium Falcon cockpit vomited inside KITT from Knightrider. Too bad I couldn’t get a good photo of it, but it’s exactly as I’ve described, I promise.
The bodywork on these cars is very extreme, with the only parts that even looks like it came off of a MR2 being the doors. The cars are widened by what looks like about 2 feet, and they are weight-reduced from an already light weight to less than 1,700 pounds. Oh, also, at least one of the white ones featured approximately 750 horsepower. It’s hard to compare a race car to a production car, but the Koenigsegg One:1, which is a pretty famous supercar with a strange name, has almost the same power-to-weight ratio, but it has 1,340 horsepower, which is more than 1/8th that of an average locomotive…and costs almost 2.9 million USD. I don’t know what each 222D cost to develop, but I prefer the ugly mini-Batmobile look myself. I just like all the vents. I don’t know why…
Anyway, all these cars are in great shape for being smashed into things, and I was very happy to get a chance to see such famous, historically significant cars when all I expected to see were a few Volkswagen Beetles (yes, they did have one). I hope you enjoyed this non-brief look at Japanese Rally cars of the Group A, B, and WRC era and didn’t fall asleep and/or smash your keyboard with your face.
P.S. It was this Beetle.