I need to start this event story off on a bit of a tangent. For those of you who are either employed, freelance or hobby photographers, if there was one thing you avoid doing at all costs, what would it be?
For me, it’s dropping my camera. And guess who managed to do just that a week before the event in question? This guy. Thankfully, a friend was gracious enough to lend me a camera for the day while mine is still out for repair, but being a completely different brand it felt like wearing someone else’s shoes; it serves the same purpose but just doesn’t feel right. Either way, camera in hand, I made the trip up to Caffeine & Machine near Stratford-upon-Avon for what would be the Corolla Brotherhood’s 11th annual Retro Toyota Gathering.
The hour drive gave me some time to reflect on the event and how it has progressed over the years. I’ve devoted nearly a third of my life to AE86s (and delved deeper into what these cars mean to me in a previous post on Speedhunters) and being honest, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Granted, you either get it or you don’t, but very few people have come away from AE86 ownership without fond memories – just ask Ryan, who is now well on his way down the Hachiroku rabbit hole.
From a small group of owners meeting on Chelsea Bridge in London one evening sparked the idea for an annual event, which while hasn’t necessarily grown massively in size, has evolved into a staple for the UK community. At the Retro Toyota Gathering you have the opportunity to catch up with all your friends in one place, see what changes have been made to their cars over winter and discuss future plans.
The day of this year’s event coincided with a display of both historic and modern F1 cars organised by Race Against Dementia, a charity founded by Sir Jackie Stewart. This provided the ideal juxtaposition of low-powered, mass-produced Japanese cars for the common man against high-powered, single-seat race cars built solely for the pursuit of speed.
While the ‘Corolla Brotherhood’ name would suggest the events are model-focused, I always try to attract a variety of retro Toyotas year on year. While AE86s were still the dominant presence this year, Cameron Palmer’s MX41 Corona Grande was a particular highlight. Since taking ownership he has added subtle improvements to what had already been done – most notably engraving a section of each wheel which took close to six months in total. If you think this car deserves a more in depth look, let me know in the comments.
The constant ebb and flow of cars throughout the day meant that there was always something which turned heads, be it retro Toyota or otherwise. From an ex-McRae GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX owned by Prodrive to a Plymouth Hemi Cuda, Caffeine & Machine has well and truly established itself as an automotive oasis amongst the sea of bland, uninspiring econobox automobiles in the UK.
Two cars which drew masses of attention on the day were Nick Mason’s Ferrari 250 GTO and 365 GTB Competitzione, brought along by Marino Franchitti and Holly Mason-Franchitti. The 250 GTO on its own was worth more than all the other cars attending on the day.
A recurring theme year on year is the event sticker for charity, designed by an ex-AE86 owner, and for the older UK owners, the guy that started the now defunct eight-six.co.uk forum. A total of £250 was donated to Race Against Dementia on the day, proving the only thing that’s better than hanging out with friends and great cars is being able to do so while raising money for a worthy cause.
While two body styles (two-door notchback coupe, and three-door hatchback), two model names (Corolla Levin – fixed headlights, and Sprinter Trueno – pop-up headlights), and two spec revisions (zenki – early, and kouki – late) existed over the lifespan of the AE86, you would think that the cars would largely all look the same. However this is not the case, and every car on display at the Retro Toyota Gathering reflected its owner’s vision of how an AE86 should look. Not all were complete (project cars rarely are, right?) but over the years the cars have slowly evolved, be it a change of wheels, bumpers, interior or paint, and continue to draw inspiration from Japan and elsewhere.
While I accept this annual meet will never be the biggest or the best, the main goal I always set out to achieve with the Retro Toyota Gathering is that everyone who attends has a good time. If I can make one person’s day by having run the event, my job is done. So here’s my challenge to you: If you wish someone would organise something in your area, or for X make or model of car, why don’t you become that person? Take the time you would have spent arguing on the internet and channel it into creating something positive for you and the like-minded individuals around you. Who knows, you could meet some awesome people along the way.
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