Travel: The Second Annual Japanese Nostalgic Car California Touge Was As Awesome As It Looks

The Second Annual Japanese Nostalgic Car California Touge Was As Awesome As It Looks

By Andrew Golseth
April 4, 2016

Photos by Erik Ruggels

The Italians have their Mille Miglia, the British have their rallies, and the Japanese have their own word for spirited driving through back roads: touge. Pronounced “toe-geh,” the foreign phraseology translates to “pass,” meaning routes of mountainous switchback tarmac with extreme elevation changes optimal for some good old-fashioned driver competition.

Though popular in The Land of the Rising Sun, the challenging Japanese rally is a recipe few stateside enthusiasts have been able to taste. That was, until last year when Japanese Nostalgic Car cofounder and all-around petrolisti Ben Hsu decided sunny Southern California would be the perfect place for the inaugural JNC Touge.

After the 2015 California Touge success, Ben and fellow event coordinator Patrick Strong set out to make the follow-up 2016 affair even better. We gathered at 10 am in a small lot near Lake Wohlford just outside of Escondido. My navigator/photographer and I arrived a bit early so we could watch the very special JNC trickle in—we quickly realized we were in for quite a treat.

For quality control and keeping the tight schedule under reign, the JNC staff vetted vehicle submissions to limit the number of entries to ensure a diverse group participated. Once everyone had arrived, a brief driver’s meeting covering the navigation instructions and event details were provided. With our trip meters zeroed-out, around 11 am the first run group began, with the second released shortly after.

It was made clear from the get-go: this touge isn’t a wheel-to-wheel competition but rather a friendly spirited drive to celebrate Japan’s finest classics and the enthusiasts who keep them on the road. Safety was a priority and though no times were recorded, it didn’t make the demanding circuit any less entertaining. Ben and Patrick spent months preparing for the event and their effort showed through.

The 200+ mile touge took us through the most breathtaking northern San Diego and Orange County mountainous roads. The drive was well-organized and broken into a number of stages, offering ample opportunity for scenic views, grub, and rest stops. Midway through, we even stopped to refuel—we didn’t want those rotaries going thirsty!

The last leg of the course ended at the Corona Del Mar beach for a beautiful California sunset—the perfect finale to the 2016 California Touge… or so I thought. Ben and Patrick mentioned at the beginning of the event there was a surprise at the end. Thanks to the event’s primary sponsor, Mazda, after the orange sun had set we were instructed to make our way a few miles inland to the Mazda North America Operations HQ.

Upon arrival we were provided with a BBQ buffet encompassed by an impressive Mazda lineup ranging from an early Cosmo to their new MX-5. Tired and hungry from the taxing day of motoring, we indulged in the decadent dinner and conversation of like-minded enthusiasts. With bellies full, Patrick and Ben announced the winners—anyone who completed the touge on course. We were called up individually to receive our trophy—a small but tasteful “I survived the 2016 JNC California Touge” sticker. It’s a token I’m sure will adorn all of our respective JNC.

As if the food, good company, and completion recognition wasn’t enough, Mazda North America Director of Public Relations Jeremy Barnes hopped in the company’s 1992 RX-792P racecar, with a grin on his face, and awoke the 750 hp four-rotor. The starter whined until the fire-spitting powertrain sparked to life. Jeremy let the car bellow until idle reached warm temperatures. The revs slowly climbed until he repetitively pegged the accelerator, amusing us with sounds more shrieking banshee than mechanical combustion.

With a final flame shooting from the side exit exhaust, Jeremy laid the officially retired but still track-driven racer to rest. Jeremy and Mazda Product Communications front man Jacob Brown then lead us around side the HQ building, down a ramp, and into the North American “collection”. The underground garage isn’t a museum; it’s an active garage containing over 75 Mazdas spanning the life of the marque’s history—quite the ending to an already incredible day.

I asked Jacob Brown why Mazda chose to sponsor the event. He enthusiastically said, “I got to participate in the event last year and just seeing the enthusiasts so excited, it really spoke to our company’s ethos. You know, ‘Driving Matters’ isn’t just our slogan; it genuinely comes from the heart. Everyone here at Mazda is an enthusiast first. Our VP, who races that 787 over there, has stated he wants all of our heritage cars driven, not left sitting in a museum. Everyone attending the JNC Touge is an enthusiast first, regardless of what brand he or she drives. It just seemed to fit what we believe in.”

After another successful California Touge under the JNC belt, expect to see the annual exhibition to continue for years to come. If you’ve got a classic Japanese auto and would like to attend next year’s event, keep an eye on the JNC homepage for details and be quick to sign up! It’s definitely an experience you’ll never forget and you’ll likely run into one or two Petrolicious featured J-tin!


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Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson
8 years ago

Did someone demo the Car & Driver RX-2?

8 years ago

My sister works for Mazda, and she was the driver of the Mazda Heritage Collection RX-7 at the event! I was so jealous.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
8 years ago

A couple of quick comments ;

1) Recognition of the ‘ genuine ‘ [ not the pedestrian and mundane ] Japanese classics has been well over due .. but
2) Now that the recognition and respect is finally here with events such as this my fear is the Japanese classics … even the most mundane.. much like the French/German/Italian and to a lesser extent British classics have … will become gentrified and excessively over priced as well .

Which is to say .. if you’re hoping to get in on the ground floor with Japanese classics .. you’re probably about three years too late

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