November 10, 2008

Five Axis injects 60's racecar cool into.... a Yaris?

Since Troy Sumitomo founded Five Axis Design in 2002, his Toyota-centric carrozzerria has always been known for unconventional designs executed with great skill. Well, this year's SEMA project car was no exception.

Who else but Troy could look at the plain-jane, commuter car lines of a Yaris hatchback and think of building a 60's-inspired roofless racer?

With the idea of paying homage to the Toyota 7 — one of many legendary Japanese race cars — in mind, Sumitomo set out to build a stripped-down, no-nonsense driver's car.

Off came the roof, then most of the windscreen followed by all of the interior. In it's place, a custom hard tonneau cover, turning the Yaris into a single seater with a fairing that frames the drivers headrest. The US-spec bumpers, headlights and taillights were all removed, to be replaced by their JDM counterparts, taken from the Vitz RS.

Under the hood, Sumitomo and his crew knew that the stock 105-hp 1.5-liter four banger wasn't going to do the job if left unmolested. So on went a TRD-designed Roots supercharger and custom cold air intake. Paired with a prototype exhaust header designed by DC Sports and backed up by a GReddy titanium exhaust, the combo added another 60 horsepower and more importantly, about 70 pound-feet of torque.

Countering the added go with whoa is a set of GReddy disc brakes, using 282 mm rotors clamped by six-piston calipers up front and two-piston calipers out back. The custom built brakes are framed by a set of Sumitomo's own rims. 17-inch diameter and 7.5 inches wide, the FIVE: AD S6 rims are powder-coated in a satin gunmetal color and wrapped in 225/45 R17 Yokohama tires sporting a custom tread carved by the designers at Five Axis.

Ensuring the Yaris Club lives up to its racing credo is a set of Tein Super Street coil-over dampers, with a TRD Yaris strut brace up front. To stiffen the Yaris' chassis and retain the structural strength lost by removing the roof, the interior is framed by a very stout perimeter cage, with a roll hoop integrated into the fairing behind the driver's seat.

As for the interior, there's not much left. A Sparco steering wheel, racing seat, shift knob and pedals replace the stock Yaris equipment. A TRD Vitz RS gauge cluster sits in a custom housing braced by a brushed aluminum frame. And smack dab in the middle of the dashboard is custom designed rear-view mirror that looks like it was plucked off the 7 itself.

The only bit of un-futzed-with Yaris interior I could find was the interior door lever on the driver's side. It's buried under the mass of the car's bright red roll cage; you really have to hunt for it.

Which brings us to the paint.

Some of you won't recognize the Toyota 7 in any context outside of Gran Turismo 4. But despite that, the 7 was a remarkable machine in its day. At a time when big block V-8s ran the table, the 7 took the opposite path, introducing the era of turbocharging, overhead cams and small-displacement, high-output motors that we all take for granted today.

So to see a Yaris wear the 7's searing crimson and white so perfectly is a little confusing, very satisfying and more than a bit frustrating.

Confusing, because a Yaris is best known as a commuter car.

Satisfying for memories it evokes -- a time when Toyota built sports cars for the common man.

Frustrating, because it takes a visionary like Troy Sumitomo to create a new one.

Toyota, are you listening?
[Five Axis]

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