Taking heights to new lows

1991 Toyota Avalon concept

Toyota described its 1991 Avalon concept as a premium leisure cruiser. At roughly the length of a modern Corolla, it was designed to comfortably transport four adults on quality weekend getaways. (Notice, thus far, the description is asterisk-free.)

Measuring just 37.8 inches tall, the Avalon concept stood shorter than a GT40.*

You may recall the Toyota Avalon concept from Mystery Image No. 7. However, weeks prior to that, when I’d come across the peculiarly shaped car, a brief search for information and pictures came up largely unfruitful.

1991 Toyota Avalon concept

1991 Toyota Avalon concept, ready to be driven.

Thankfully, Calty Design Research stepped in to help. That was good because Calty designed and built the 1991 Avalon concept. Their resume also happens to include the production Avalon’s design for 2000… as well 2005, 2008 and 2016.

What is Calty? Let’s detour for a moment.

Calty Newport Beach Studio
Toyota established Calty, also called “California Toyota,” on October 2, 1973, in response to U.S. import/export procedures. Not so much an acronym, the name “Calty” comes from three abbreviations which, according to their representative, are California Toyota Yamaguchi. Their facilities, located in Newport Beach, are responsible for future innovation and creativity. Calty subsequently added facilities in Ann Arbor, Michigan which focus on production design development. Their third branch is the Toyota Innovation Hub, back on the west coast but farther north, in San Francisco. Altogether, Calty currently employs about 100 people.

1978 Toyota Celica GTStarting with experimental work for Toyota in the late 1970s and through to the present time Calty has developed approximately two dozen concepts and three dozen production cars. The first examples were the 1977 F100 and 1978 Celica, respectively. In the decades since, their responsibilities expanded to include the Lexus and Scion brands.

As you can imagine, working with and receiving emails from manufacturer’s and their design representatives is exciting. Yet, even more exciting is when the emails have image files attached. Which is why when I saw one from Calty with three JPGs included, my anticipation quickly mounted but, even quicker, turned to confusion.

calty abstract objectsHowever, the rep did note she’d explain the photos during our pending phone call. She did. See, going into the 1980s, Calty designers started drawing inspiration from abstract shapes in an effort to shy away from the increasingly smoothed and rounded surfaces that prevailed during the era. Their goal, she said, was to come up with “dynamic, mysterious style with a new design taste.” This method combined both ends of the design spectrum, using inverted forms and contrasting surfaces. The practice was employed not only on the Avalon concept but many production designs, an early example being the 1991 Lexus SC, and continues to this day.

With Calty’s credentials on the matter established, I figured time was all that stood between me and a trove of fascinating new imagery. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. In fact, with one exception, they sent the same low-resolution shots already floating about the net. (GM’s methodical archiving practices truly have set a high bar I’ve grown accustomed to.) Calty did unearth the original 1991 Tokyo Motor Show press release and Toyota graciously handled translation.

So, as it turns out, there are just a few morsels to cover. But first, has anyone questioned if the Avalon concept is indeed shorter than a Ford GT40? Have you looked at the proportions and thought, “it’s just not possible”? If so, you’d be right.

Before you accuse me of contradictions, remember the asterisk.

1991 Toyota Avalon concept roof operation

The 1991 Toyota Avalon concept is just 37.8 inches tall — when parked.

Continue to page 2, below.

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