IMG_4854

Literally translated as “mountain pass” in Japanese, touge has become colloquially synonymous with drift battles – two cars pitted against one another on twisty winding roads, and the term has become intrinsically tied together with Japanese performance driving and car culture.

IMG_4675This past weekend, some of the most epic swaths of tarmac across Southern California played host to the first annual Touge California, a 120-mile point to point road rally featuring some of the finest old school Japanese vehicles in the U.S.

Created by Ben Hsu, founder of the Japanese Nostalgic Car site, the rally was conceived to bring together like-minded enthusiasts and give them a chance to put their rides through their paces on the kinds of roads they were designed for:

“We at Japanese Nostalgic Car wanted to provide owners with a driving event where they could use these cars as they were intended. Those mountain passes in Japan are legendary for being the birthplace of underground drifting and where many of the country’s professional drivers cut their teeth. We wanted to connect American owners of classic Japanese cars with the roots of their machines.”

IMG_4609

Michael Malamut took to the mic after everyone arrived to share some of the history of the museum.

The event kicked off with a rendezvous and driver’s meeting at the Malamut Automotive Museum in Thousand Oaks. Owned by Michael Malamut, a former Porsche mechanic turned Honda dealer, the private collection offered a wide array of vehicles from different regions and eras, from 1960s American muscle cars to a fleet of vintage Fiat Multiplas.

A trio of cars that caught our eye were lined up side-by-side: a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, a 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport, and an immaculate Toyota 2000GT, and a whole host of old school memorabilia kept us busy when we weren’t ogling Malamut’s incredible car collection. In short, it was the ideal locale to bring together this particular group of enthusiasts.

Once everyone had arrived and settled in, a driver’s meeting with rallymaster Patrick Strong brought everyone up to speed with the rules of the event, and sets of Touge California roundels and route books were distributed to the drivers. The rally would include four Touge Stages – challenging strips of winding asphalt with up to 3,800 feet of elevation changes, chosen to mimic the Japanese roads for which the event was named.

IMG_4636

Patrick Strong briefs the drivers before the rally.

Also provided to drivers was a sealed envelope. In the envelope were instructions on how to bypass the most difficult parts of the rally, should a driver not consider their ride (or themselves) up to the task of completing the entire rally.

As an incentive to complete the entire rally, these envelopes also came with the warning that if the seal was broken when they arrived at the final destination point, those drivers would not be able to receive an “I Survived the JNC Touge California” decal (and the bragging rights that came with it, of course).

With the drivers assembled and ready to roll, the rally set off from Thousand Oaks toward Ventura County, with the first checkpoint at the 28 mile mark at a scenic rural area with ample parking to allow owners to show off their incredible rides and give everyone a better sense of the rally’s full roster of participants.

Julius Metoyer’s Hakosuka Skyline serendipitously landed as the lead car in the group, giving us a chance to take in the full splendor of this iconic performance car. Also on hand was Myron Vernis, who shipped his incredibly rare Mazda Luce R130 (pictured top right) all the way from Ohio to participate in the rally.

The next stage of the rally upped the challenge for the drivers as they entered the first Touge Stage, an extensive downhill sequence of hairpins and twisty sections that would put both driver and machine to the test, but Sebastian Hill’s Datsun 510 and Adrian Garcia’s right-hand-drive Bluebird Coupe were certainly up to the task.

IMG_4709

Cutting westward through the Santa Monica Mountains near Oxnard, the next stage of the rally would send us out onto to Pacific Coast Highway just as the morning haze cleared, providing an epic backdrop for these rarely-seen-in-the-wild vehicles as we reconvened at a picturesque coastline spot at Point Mugu.

Continuing on, the rally would send drivers southbound on PCH on a jaunt down the coast to let drivers prepare for the next Touge Stage, which would take the participants through the Malibu hills by way of legendary roads like Mulholland Highway and Kanan Road.

IMG_0606The rally’s design put the remaining two Touge Stages back to back without a checkpoint in between, so before embarking on the most challenging leg of the rally, the group came back together at Checkpoint #3 to refuel both car and driver, and to make sure everything was copacetic under the hood before tackling the course.

Here the group learned that none of the envelopes that had been distributed before the race had been opened thus far, a genuine point of pride for all involved.

With both cars and stomachs refilled, the crew embarked on the double Touge stage, which would include 38 miles of switchbacks, steep elevation change, and no shortage of winding tarmac to give drivers a sense of the kinds of roads these vehicles were designed to tackle. The fourth checkpoint would bring the group to another striking vista, this time at a peak among the Santa Monica Mountains.

IMG_0625

Here we catch the MX-5 of Mazda North America PR man Jacob Brown and Chris Hoffman’s first-gen Honda CRX Si (which was the focus a Petrolicious feature last year) rubbing elbows while the group got a chance to catch their breath and take in the scenery.

With the hardest stages of the rally behind them, the drivers set off back down the mountain to reconnect with Pacific Coast Highway for the final checkpoint at Dockweiler State Beach as the sun began to set behind them.

219_Touge California

With sunlight fading fast, it was time to head out from Dockweiler to conclusion of the rally at the Toyota USA Museum in Torrance.

The stop at Dockweiler would end up being brief as the day was running long and the rally group still had their last destination in front of them – the Toyota USA Museum in Torrance. There they’d be awarded for a long day of motoring with a Hawaiian style dinner and a tour of the museum, given by Lexus executive Paul Williamsen, which provided a visual history of Toyota’s legacy in the United States from the 1950s to present day.

Motorsports has played a big role in Toyota’s operations throughout the years, so it comes as little surprise that the performance and racing sections of the museum were among the most impressive, with a large collection of iconic racing vehicles on display, including Ivan Stewart’s Baja 1000 trucks and various sports racer and open wheel Formula cars.

289_Touge California Toyota Museum262_

Paul Williamsen shares some of Toyota’s rich motorsport history with the rally participants.

Along with its obvious connection to the enthusiasts participating in the event, the Toyota USA Museum was chosen because Southern California residents might not have a chance to experience it for much longer, as Toyota plans to move operations to Texas within the next few years, so rally organizers wanted to give the group a chance to see this fantastic collection while it’s still here.

269_Touge-California-decal-640x427Drivers were also awarded with gift bags provided by Mothers Polishes, Mattel, Koyorad, Yokohama Tire and Japanese Nostalgic Car that included detailing supplies, a Touge California poster, and those that ran the entire rally were given their “I Survived” decals to commemorate the accomplishment as well.

The day concluded with some reflection on the event, a truly grassroots effort by Hsu and his team to bring together some dedicated enthusiasts from across the region (and at least one from across the country) to celebrate their love for these amazing machines and give them a chance to stretch their legs on some of the most awe-inspiring and engaging roads on this side of the Pacific.

Judging from the passion of the participants and overall success of the rally, we fully expect to see Touge California become an annual event for lovers of vintage Japanese cars here in SoCal.