The Touge California 2016 was held April 2 on the backroads of Southern California, starting in Escondido and ending in Irvine. The 2nd annual rally covered roughly 200 miles of scenic and challenging roads through San Diego and Orange counties, including several spirited “Touge” stages through mountain passes.
Founded in 2015 by enthusiast and JNC editor-in-chief Ben Hsu, the Touge (pronounced “toe-geh”, Japanese for Mountain pass) California is the only all-Japanese vintage road rally in the US. For 2016 Ben teamed up with rally master Patrick Strong to coordinate the route on this relaxed(or so I thought!), non-competitive event.
The entry list for the 2016 Touge California would make any J-tin fan proud, with a banner selection of 28 Japanese classics from the ’60s through the ’80s. Mazda stepped up as the title sponsor for the event, rolling out classics like the 1975 Rotary-Engine Pickup (REPU), 1985 RX-7 GSL-SE and a 1978 GLC compact hatchback from its Heritage Collection–all to be driven not just for display!
We participated in this year’s rally behind the wheel of my 1967.5 Datsun Roadster. I made the 460 mile journey down to San Diego from San Jose with no hiccups, big thanks to ZCG for the suspension refresh, quieter exhaust and rally prep. Requisite navigation duties were handled by my brother-in-law Jun K. who resides in La Jolla. On Saturday morning Jun and I drove to the meeting spot and rally start at Lake Wolford, Escondido. I don’t think either of us were prepared for the ensuing adventure! Upon arrival we were greeted by just over 2 dozen rad Japanese classics:
The lot was a paradise of vintage Datsuns, Mazdas, Toyotas, Hondas, and a lone Mitsubishi and Subaru. I was immediately drawn to a fellow Datsun Roadster painted in a shade similar to Sora Blue. Owned by John S from Nissan Design America, the 1965 SPL310 was very stock right down to its charming, original hubcaps. The 4-speed shifter did however hide a full 5-speed transmission from a later 2000 model roadster! Bonus points for sporting matching shoes:
After checking out the cars, rallymaster Patrick Strong briefed drivers and handed us our Route Book, door magnet and “white envelope”(more on this later). At 11am the rally was underway!
Our first checkpoint would occur 35.9 miles later in the town of Julian, where event coordinators provided us with warm apple pie, of course!
While enjoying the pie I also enjoyed this tasty specimen, a very rare 1970 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO owned and restored by Matt De Mangos:
A fairly brisk pace with changing scenery led us to a lunch stop at near Lake Henshaw, but not without some casualties. Danny M’s sweet flared S30 lost its rear brakes. The 1977 Honda Civic had to be towed and the REPU truck had exhaust issues. The ultra-rare hubcap from John S’ Fairlady roadster jettisoned somewhere, but we hear he later found it!
Danny M. bailed out of the Touge safely and caught some of us on video leaving The Round Up Grill, enjoy!
Media coverage of the event was also impressive with photographers seen staged at various spots ahead of the rally drivers. Larry Chen, editor of Speedhunters, Andrew Golseth of Petrolicious, Mark Vaughn from Autoweek and even the Petersen Automotive Museum attended. Even JNC’s Ben Hsu was hard at work:
We were given ample time to enjoy breathtaking views near Mt. Palomar and attack more challenging roads ahead:
Any notions of this event being “relaxed” and “easy” were thrown out the door as we tried to chase down Smith M’s red SA22 RX-7 on the Touge stages. The “Couser Canyon Touge” was particularly thrilling with endless high radius turns and a sheer drop-off with no guard rails present. Outside of a track day at Laguna Seca, this 6 miles stretch was enjoyably intense! As we caught up to Smith at the stop sign he said with a smile “I don’t think anyone is behind us anymore”. Smith’s RX-7 was shakotan low sitting on NOS vintage Enkei barrels–10″ wide with stretched tires. He drove it passionately 🙂
What if you didn’t want to drive spiritedly? Afraid of overheating? Remember that “white envelope” we received at the rally start? Inside were alternate routes to ensure that cars/drivers could make it to the next checkpoint safely. The consequence of breaking the seal on said envelope? If opened, participants would not receive the coveted “I survived the Touge California” sticker. One car we were totally impressed by was Mark N’s 1972 Subaru GL coupe. This FWD , 80hp green machine survived indeed…even if it had to be floored in 1st gear to make it up the steepest grade!
The event coordinators thoughtfully included fuel stops between checkpoints (likely to quench the large rotary contingencies’ thirst!). Speaking of rotary-powered cars these two Mazda RX-2s were ultra-clean and made all the right noises. Loved the different flares and exhaust treatments:
With over 150 miles under our belts the journey continued on, taking us to Lake Elsinore, over the Ortega HWY to the PCH and our last leg to Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach. The sun was starting to set and it was fun to watch our fellow participants roll in triumphantly.
This was also our last chance to survey some of the cars before dark, and there were a few surprises under hoods! We suspected this rather butch-looking Honda Civic to be sporting something special in the power department as it seemed to pull quickly in the canyons…sure enough it had a B18B engine swap:
I love the first generation Toyota Celicas. We followed this TA22 for miles and noticed a un-4cylinder like exhaust note that could only come from a…
…NA 2Jz swap! The transplant was done to an OEM-level of fit and finish with power steering and A/C.
I think the most significant car to participate was this yellow Datsun 240z. Its owner was none other than Mr.K. We think he would be proud to see that his Z was being enjoyed and it was one of the highlights of the day to be carving through the hills with it.
Mandatory Datsun content: more Z’s and a couple of 510s in attendance:
Andrew G’s Toyota Century, complete with backlit plates was a hit with the crowds…he piloted the large luxury cruiser in opulence while on the Touge!
Lastly, we could not forget the actual vehicle featured on the Touge California poster, Armando’s 1974 RX-4 coupe:
With the sunset long past I noticed it was 9pm. Jun gave me final directions to arrive at Mazda headquarters in Irvine. We were just a few miles from our ultimate destination and final checkpoint where Ben and Patrick mentioned that we were in for a treat!
The courtyard of the Mazda Headquarters building was lined with classic cars from their Heritage Collection up to the new MX-5, all on display while we enjoyed a catered BBQ dinner. Ben and Patrick got on stage to hand out awards: whomever completed the event without opening the white envelope received a “I survived the Touge California 2016” sticker. We were advised not to place it on our minivans.
After dinner and dessert, it got better. Mazda PR Director Jeremy Barnes climbed into the RX- 792P race car and revved it up for us to hear the glorious tune of 4-rotors screaming:
To top it off, Jeremy gave us a tour of Mazda’s underground collection. This garage beneath the main building did not house “museum” pieces and Jeremy emphasized that each car was driven or in the process of restoration. It was a special treat to see cars ranging from the original Miatas that were introduced to the public for the first time in 1989, all the way to the LeMans winning and weathered rotary-powered race cars.
After the tour, Mazda sent us off with goodie bags and Jun and I headed back down to San Diego from an 11-hour day of intense driving fun. Kudos to Ben and Patrick for a seamless event that showcased passion for our cars and driving them. From the epic routes, Touge stages, efficient checkpoints and stellar staff, this was truly one for the J-Tin books. I highly recommend it for all Japanese classic car owners.
We hope you have enjoyed our coverage of the Touge California 2016 and don’t forget to see our extensive gallery below for more pictures of the rally and Mazda’s collection. Stay tuned for another report as my trip to SoCal was not over yet! The following day I visited Nissan Design America and the Japanese Car Meet at the Petersen Museum all on the way back home to San Jose.
Datsuns Are Driven!