Phil Toledano’s Classic Collection Is A Reflection Of His Evolving Personality
Photos by Hagop Kaladijan
Phil’s a curious character. He and I have never actually met in person, yet we talk what seems like daily. He was introduced to me through friends in the watch world in New York City, but I’d been aware of his work subconsciously for years. As these things go, when a friend of a friend has a garage full of homologation specials, you eventually start talking about it. Long story short: I’m incredibly honored that he opened his whole garage to us to play in for a day.
TG: How did your love affair with cars begin?
PT: My parents, they had some amazing cars growing up in London in the ’70s… [laughs]
TG: Did they? What did they have?
PT: My father, he had a honey colored Austin Maxi, and that was followed by the “incredible” Volvo 345.
PT: The Austin Maxi was brown on the outside and and brown on the inside. It was like driving around inside a turd, minus the half-eaten peanuts and semi-digested corn kernels
TG: Well, once you left your parent’s house then, was it obvious that there was a whole world of incredible cars out there?
PT: Well yeah. The first car I remember being totally infatuated by, and this is really embarrassing, but bear in mind I was living in England at the time, so it was incredibly exotic—it was a Z28 Camaro. I saw an ad for it in Time magazine, in the Casablanca Airport in Morocco. My parents bought me the magazine, and I cut out the ad and put it on my wall. That was the first car ever, and the only car ever on my wall actually: a red Z28 from 1984.
TG: Classic. What was the first car you were driving?
PT: The first car I ever owned was an ’84 Volkswagen Rabbit GTS.
TG: Great car.
PT: That was an amazing car. What was even better was when the muffler fell off, and it sounded incredible.
TG: Like a rally car.
PT: Exactly. That’s where I realized that it doesn’t matter how quickly I’m going. It matters how the car sounds.
TG: You had that when you were in college or university or when?
PT: That was in college in the states. Then there was a long gap between that and my next car. I lived in Europe and Paris and et cetera for a while and then I moved back to the states in the early ’90s and I bought a Volvo P1800 in white. It was an amazing looking car, but it drove like a sit down mower.
TG: Mr. Simon Templar.
PT: Exactly. Looked incredibly cool driving around New York, but it was kind of slow and didn’t sound that great. I’d leave it I’d park on the street when I lived in the East Village, and when it rained it would rust. I would buff off the rust on the chrome and then it would rain again and the chrome would get rusty and I’d buff it off again.
And then I had a ’91 Porsche 964, which was great. It was fantastic and those cars were so cheap at the time. I think I paid like $27k for it and it was the most insanely expensive thing I’d ever bought. I couldn’t believe how much money that was for a car.
TG: At this point where were you in your photographic career?
PT: Nowhere. I was working in advertising.
TG: For what agency?
PT: A bunch of them. The last one was Chiat Day. I got fired from a bunch actually. That was my special skill.
TG: Self removal.
PT: Yeah exactly. Self removal. That was excellent. I was very environmentally conscious-I was recycling before it was cool.
TG: At what point were you in the position to start owning multiple cars?
PT: I guess in the late 2000s. I remember the very first really fancy car I bought was a 246 Dino GT, a European Dino in dark blue. I bought it three days after my Dad died. I had been looking at this car for two months, watching the price drop from 150 grand all the way down to ’90. I kept looking at this car and after my Dad died, I thought, fuck it. I should just do something dumb, which actually turned out to be really smart. I should do things I think are dumb on a regular basis.
That’s the first car. Then it just kind of turned into an automotive tsunami. I bought a Iso Grifo. I bought a Alpine A110. I bought a Lancia Stratos.
TG: You were buying these when they were still relatively affordable, at least compared to today.
PT: Yeah, exactly. I mean the Iso was ’90 grand. I mean relatively affordable. In the grand scheme, that’s a shitload of money, but in the context of what they go for today, it’s a lot cheaper. Do you want me to run through the bloody list of all the mad stuff I’ve bought?
TG: Yeah let’s hear it.
PT: I bought a Lancia Fulvia Fanalone. I really got into the rally thing. I realized that I really loved cars that were designed for a reason. There is something intoxicating and romantic about a car that had a purpose other than to look good. The rally thing was something I grew up watching on TV, and the ability to buy a car that was more or less the same car that was raced was an amazing thing for me. To be that close to something that was that distant for me. So next I bought a Lancia 037, and then I bought an M1. I fell in love with homologation specials. I got the porsche 924 GTS Clubsport, and then a Mercedes Benz 190 Evo 2. Basically, I sold everything I had that was beautiful from the ’60s and bought ugly bricks and wedges from the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t own anything with a curve in it anymore…except for the Fiat Dino Spider 2.4…which I’m selling…I just bought a Lancia Delta S4 Stradale about six months ago.
TG: How do you like the S4?
PT: I honestly cannot stop driving it. This one has four thousand kilometers on it, and I found out it was customer car number one, which is kind of cool. I think the reason it was never driven was because it was sent straight from Italy to Japan. When it got to Japan it had to be federalized for the Japanese market. They had to put a different chip in the car. They put a catalytic converter, so it never really ran right. When we got the car it sounded terrible. It was a disaster, so we brought it back to stock and it is just insane.
TG: How does this fit into your collection?
PT: I’ve got three generations of Lancia rally cars now, which makes me fizz with joy. I’ve got the Stratos, the 037, and S4.
TG: Not everyone gets to experience all three of those cars. They are lucky if they get to experience one. Explain the difference in driving between the three as somebody who’s owned them for several years.
PT: The Stratos is a real automotive trouser changer. It’s basically a car that’s waiting to mug you if you do something stupid. It mocks you ruthlessly for not having any skills. I was always a little ginger when i drove it, because it’s got such a short wheelbase and weighs as much as a bag of chips. It’s pretty twitchy—you can sneeze while you’re driving and cross four lanes. I did the Copperstate Rally in it this year, 1000 miles across Arizona. I was really nervous, but it turned out to be fantastic, and really fun, although as it turns out, the front lifts above 100 mph.
Then the 037 is an incredible. It’s a very simple car with incredible grip and handling. And then the S4. Well, I’m obsessed! It’s a glorious chorus of supercharger whine and turbocharger whine all stuffed into silly looks, like a Group B Aztek…and it corners on rails.
TG: Explain why you feel it’s on rails.
PT: Did you drive it?
TG: I didn’t drive it, but I’ve been in the car when it’s being driven in anger and I feels much squirmier than I would be immediately comfortable with.
PT: Really? For me at least, maybe I haven’t driven it in proper anger. Your friend Tim Pappas is a racing driver. I’m sure that he’s driving his in anger. I’m driving more in mild irritation; also, Tim’s car has got more horsepower.
TG: Yeah. His was set up pretty aggressively.
PT: He’s got another sixty or 70 hp in his car. I cannot imagine what that car must’ve been like with eight hundred horse power during qualification for a rally stage. I cannot imagine how mental that would be.
TG: Like sitting on a bomb.
PT: Yeah, exactly. Well it is and it isn’t, cause at least its progressive. There’s not really turbo lag. The 924 has hilarious turbo lag. You know when it’s going to come cause it comes in around 4,000 rpm. One minute it’s Eastern European taxi and the next minute it’s the fucking Millennium Falcon. That car is really special too, because there’s just so many interesting and fascinating bits and pieces in the car.
TG: There’s fifteen in the world, is that right?
PT: Yes. They have all these cool bits and pieces in them and it’s all factory, the aluminium roll cage, 935 race seats, perspex windows. They weigh 2,300 pounds, and have 270 hp, so when it goes, it bloody goes.
TG: Right. And how’s the M1 driving?
PT: Well actually, that’s a really important car for me, because that’s the car that totally changed my mind about everything that I was interested in collecting. I had gone down to Florida to by a DeTomaso Mangusta. The Mangusta. It was a four headlight car, silver car, beautiful. I sit in the car and literally five minutes later I get out of the car because it’s just such a miserable piece of shit to drive. I mean, your head is squashed against the roof, where the roof meets the windscreen. I felt like a pressed ham. It’s like driving a UPS truck but not as good.
The guy had two M1’s in his showroom. I was never really that intrigued by them—they seem underwhelming from the rear three quarters. But I thought, “Fuck it, I’m here. Why not have a go and try the M1?” I got in it and literally, my head popped off. I came out of that car just fizzing with excitement. I had to get my hands on one at all costs.
When I bought the M1 it made me realize, you know what, I’m not really interested in the ’60s cars. I just prefer the way the slightly more modern stuff drives. Then I sold my Dino, I sold the Iso, I sold all sorts of things and I started buying stuff from the ’80s and the ’90s, the early ’90s.
TG: My experience with the M1 is that it’s actually extremely well planted because of the shape. All the mechanics at BMW Classic, before they handed me the keys, were really nervous, because they view the car as extremely powerful and extremely happy to step out on you. Even in the rain, I found it to be the exact opposite. I found it to be the most, not tame, but planted car that I’d ever driven.
PT: That’s exactly right. I went on a drive with a bunch of R Gruppe Porsche people, and we were on these tiny tiny back roads, and the M1 was just amazing. You know, tiny roads, sharp corners, the whole thing it was just totally planted the entire time. The M1 and the 037 are quite similar, but the 037 is like the unhinged younger brother of the M1.
TG: Yeah. I buy that.
PT: The M1 is incredibly civilized and easy to drive. The 037 and the S4, especially the S4, both have super on-off clutches. The M1 is just nice and sensible, like a BMW.
TG: It’s no more difficult to drive than an E30 M3.
PT: Yeah, exactly. The other car I bought was an 1990 Alfa Romeo SZ. They were really cheap and I just thought at like 50 grand, how can you go wrong? Zagato-bodied, low production numbers, and super cool looking…
TG: I love it. I think it looks like Jay Leno.
PT: It does. You’re right. That’s genius. It’s incredible to drive. Who knew driving around in Jay’s chin would be so much fun!