Before Toyota started designing vehicles in California, there was no such thing as "West Coast car design."
For nearly 25 years, through the early 1970s, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena had churned out several generations of car designers, but their only destinations were Detroit, Japan or Europe. Some designers went freelance and got into the California hot rod scene, but no manufacturer had a design presence on the West Coast.
In a bold stroke, Toyota opened a design studio in 1973 in a leased warehouse adjacent to the Los Angeles airport. And a new era of design was born.
It was an Art Center teacher, Strother MacMinn, who helped Toyota envision and create the California studio. MacMinn, who died in 1998, has been referred to as the honorary father of Calty Design Research Inc. — and, as such, the father of the West Coast automotive design scene.
MacMinn had nurtured a long relationship with Toyota. Soon after Toyota started selling cars in the United States, it began sending designers from Nagoya to the Art Center for instruction. In 1964, MacMinn went to Japan to give Toyota designers hands-on training, recalls Hiroaki Ohba, who was part of MacMinn's Nagoya class and became the top Japanese executive at Calty from 1987 to 1992.
"Mr. MacMinn advised Toyota that its designers needed to live in the U.S., to understand American sensitivities and values firsthand, if Toyota wanted to expand in the United States," Ohba says.