When I was in the fourth grade, our school required us to carry nearly a dozen different notebooks to school every day. Of the eight that I carried around, I’d say about 90 percent of the notetaking was done on two. For most kids, the rest of those notebooks would stay blank for the entire ten months of school… Not me, though. You see, the summer before the fourth grade was when my father finally relented on buying us a Playstation. And unlike kids these days, with their iPads in tow 24/7, we were only ever allowed to use it on the weekends and holidays. So, for the better part of the week, I was reduced to fantasizing about playing Gran Turismo and Need for Speed: High Stakes on my desk. When I wasn’t busy, I would think about what to do to with my cars and sketch them out on my notebooks before the weekend was up. I’d add skirts, spoilers, rims, decals—the works! I even roped in a couple of kids and started something of a car drawing club.
Fast-forward to 14 years later, I was a green-horned, idealistic art director for a local advertising agency whose main client was Toyota. By then I’ve traded in my notebooks and pencil for Adobe Photoshop and instead of designing the cars, I was advertising them. That was, until the higher-ups in Toyota Motor Philippines decided that in line with the launch of the all-new Toyota Vios that year, they wanted to give it a sharper image and shed its reputation as the quintessential taxi. The launch was to be a raver, complete with lasers, free-flowing drinks, and the top DJs spinning tunes all night long. The commercials were a series of full-page ads that showed people from different walks of life, using the car for work, picking up dates, and going on beach trips. And lastly, they wanted to create a one-make race with both celebrities and regular people competing all year ’round in various circuits and street courses all over the country. And when my creative director approached me and said, “Wowie, we’re going to need you to design the race car for the event,” My eyes just lit up.
Let it be said, though, that it wasn’t going to be some sort of carte blanche affair. Toyota’s instructions were that the car had to include the Philippine colors, stars, and sun. Second, despite it looking like a flag, it still had to look fun and edgy. And lastly, and most importantly: No black. Black was apparently unlucky, and they were extremely superstitious about it. The next three weeks would be a painful ordeal of dozens of back-and-forths from designing, revising, and then rejecting. I developed this system of taking a stock image of the car and just doodling the lines on it before sketching it out on Photoshop. I discovered that doing this saved me the effort—and heartache—when it got turned down.
Unbeknownst to my superiors and the people over at Toyota, I was actually making sketches of my own that didn’t follow any of their instructions. I would stay an extra hour after work channeling my 9-year-old self. I took a step back and thought about what my Vios race car would look like: I’ve always loved how the Gazoo colors looked so imposing and aggressive, so I decided to use it as the base. I was still bearing in mind the whole black-equals-unlucky rule and so I designed a version of their color scheme that wasn’t so much red and black as it was red and gun grey. I wanted it flashy, so I put a giant Vios logo on it, and underneath it was a huge lightning bolt that spanned the entire length of the car which I put a note next to that said that the lightning had to be chrome. I went into some more detail indicating that the rims were to be Volk Racing TE37s or something similar. Through Photoshop, I fabricated a spoiler, skirts, and pen-tooled the body closer to the wheels to lower the car. The night before the last presentation I printed all the designs, including the one I made for myself, and went home.
The following morning, a few people from Toyota and our advertising counterparts from Singapore went over to meet us to discuss the latest versions of the car. Predictably, the designs were met with even more disappointment. After discussing that most of the “flag” designs still weren’t fun enough to be on a race car, they all stood up to leave. Just then, in a stroke of utter boldness, I yanked the printout of the car I designed for myself from my notebook and passed it to our accounts guy who happened to be standing next to one of the people from Toyota. The man, who was this Japanese man in his 50s who hadn’t said anything all meeting long, saw the paper and promptly took it instead. I saw a tiny smirk on his face before handing it over to his colleagues who then walked out with it. What did that mean? Did they like it? Am I fired for trying something with hints of black on it? Whatever the answer was, at least I knew the car I really wanted to design was in their hands.
Several days later, I get a tap on the shoulder from my accounts executive and my creative director. “Wowie, Toyota wants to talk about that last design we made.” By then it had totally escaped my mind that I had even sent my personal design in. “They’re bringing Tuason Racing in, they say they want to make it.” I recall shrugging my shoulders with a satisfied grin on my face but in all honesty, I was dumbfounded. It literally had none of the things they had asked for. In fact, it went against everything they mandated. But undeniably, despite it looking like nothing they wanted, the one thing it did look like that was unlike all the designs they commissioned, was fun and edgy.
After a month or so, I was invited to head over to Clark International Speedway to finally see the prototype being tested. Since it was a closed track, and with the permission of Toyota and Tuason Racing, I took my entire family to see it for the first time with me. There on the paddock, I finally saw it: My baby, parked halfway through the garage, 2007 Super GT champion Daisuke Itō standing next to it, putting his helmet on before climbing inside. It was just like I drew it: chrome decals, white TE37 rims, the body kits—everything. I heard the loud guttural roar of its engine before it pealed out into the track. I stood by the pit wall for about an hour and just watched Daisuke-san complete lap after lap, testing its aerodynamics, its brakes, and its suspension. It was then that it dawned on me: one of the things I drew was finally real.
By and large, I can honestly say that the Vios Cup car was the highlight of my life as a designer. Not because of its scale or its prominence, but because it let me realize a unique dream. A few years later, after I had already left agency life to chase another childhood dream, someone sent me a photo of a first-generation Vios with the livery I designed plastered on it. I couldn’t help but chuckle in disbelief. Most childhood fantasies were meant to stay doodles on paper. With a stroke of luck and a little bit of gumption, I managed to make this one fly through the pages and into a racetrack.