Toyota Sportscar Reliability
If you want to be technical, we did see the Toyota name at Le Mans in 1975, as the engine supplier to the Sigma Automotive entry. Oil pump issues ended the team’s effort after just a few hours though, so it was far from a noteworthy appearance. Toyota reentered the French foray in 1980 with a Celica LB (Long Wheelbase) Turbo. A car that was originally earmarked for the German DRM series, was adopted by TOM’S, a Japanese manufacturer of high performance and racing components, and the factory supported vehicle performance partner for Toyota, much like how AMG used to be to Mercedes Benz. The car however failed to make the starting grid for the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans. Toyota retired the car in favour of a new Celica based car developed by race car manufacturer DOME. The cars competed in the newly established Group C class of the World Sportscar Championship with Toyota engines and carried out a relatively inconspicuous existence.
1985 was the introduction of the 85C, Toyotas best Sportscar effort to the date. Team TOM’s entered one of the 85Cs while DOME Motorsports was in charge of the second car. The two outfits competed against each other, but were actually close knit organizations, working together in the creation of the 85C. DOME designed the car, TOM’S built it, and Toyota supplied the power. Toyota themselves knew they had a slim chance to provide any real competition to the dominant Lancias and Porsches, but that was not the true objective. Their aim was to finish the race, a significant achievement for a first attempt at Le Mans.
The DOME car had a race plagued with mechanical issues ranging from gearbox issues that cost an hour in the pits to repair, to a clutch failure that ended the race after 141 laps. However, in true Japanese form, the TOM’S 85C drove reliably to the finish. Toyota’s car managed 11th overall after 330 laps marking the first time a Japanese car had finished the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Toyota maintained their game plan in 1986, with the same division of labour among the involved parties. The 86C as it was named, had two entries in Le Mans under the same team organization. Unfortunately, TOM’s was unable to finish, and DOME could not complete 70% race distance to be classified as a finishing car. The car enjoyed success in domestic events however which kept hopes for improved European success alive in the Toyota camp.