A Brief History of Toyota Racing Development (TRD)

Last month, Toyota revealed its new Tacoma, a new take on a long-standing nameplate for the brand. With that came a number of trims, including a rugged, overland-focused Trailhunter trim. As ever, a new TRD Pro trim was unveiled as well. Now, the name TRD holds quite a lot of weight with the Toyota fans. That wasn’t always the case and now feels like a very good time to get into where the brand’s racing arm started and how it came to carry the weight it does today.
Toyota Tundra TRD 6 photos
Photo: Toyota
Toyota TRD Le Mans 2018Toyota Tundra TRDToyota 2000GTCelica WRCTundra NASCAR
To understand Toyota Racing Development (TRD), we have to go back to 1957, since the racing arm is nearly as old as the brand itself. That year, Toyota was the first-ever Japanese automaker to have a go in the Round Australia Rally. It’s a brutal, grueling race that sounds like what it is – a circumnavigation of Australia. The efforts in Australia spawned a new motorsports-focused arm of the company called Toyota Sports Corner. You’ll often see this abbreviated to Tosco.

Tosco was the arm of Toyota that prepared the brand’s Round Australia entrant. The car itself was a Toyotpet Crown Deluxe. These were mass-market sedans, and it was common to see brands the world over taking mass production cars racing at the time. Three were entered, but only one finished, and in 47th position. It was, to say the least, not a strong start.

Tosco continued to produce race cars for Toyota into the 1960s, at which point the brand was preparing for the first-ever Japanese Grand Prix, to be held in 1963. By now, interest in motorsport at home was growing, and Toyota fielded three cars as a result. A Crown, a Corona (which ironically means crown), and a Publica were all entered into the weekend’s various events.

This time, Toyota was far more successful, with all three cars winning their classes. If you’re a real Toyota nerd, you may also know that Tosco oversaw the construction of the legendary 2000GT, which was produced around the same time. One even set three world speed records, famously running for 78 consecutive hours.

Toyota 2000GT
Photo: Toyota
Five years later, and Toyota would produce its first-ever ground-up racer through partnership with Yamaha. The Toyota 7 was entered in the 1968 Japanese Grand Prix and managed a respectable eighth place overall. Multiple iterations of the 7 were made, including a turbocharged one. By 1973, the world faced its first real international oil crisis, which ironically helped shape TRD as we know it today.

While brands battened down the hatches, suspending motor racing to cut costs and survive the oil crisis, Toyota continued, especially in its touring car racing efforts. That year, a Celica Turbo won the Fuji 1000-kilometer (621-mile) race. At this point in time, Toyota made a decision that arguably spawned TRD – and modern aftermarket support – as we know it. The brand started selling performance parts for its road cars.

With this decision came a rebrand. A very important one. In 1976, Tosco became TRD. Now, the brand focused not only on racing itself, but on getting performance parts into the hands of its customers as well. TRD USA was founded three years later, in 1979, as part of Toyota’s push into the American autos market, again brought on by the oil crisis.

With the 80s came some of TRD’s most important racing years. Toyota was in just about any form of motorsport going on at the time. From Group B rally to touring cars to Group C sports car racing, TRD had its hat hung in every paddock from Tokyo to Munich. Most critically for TRD, the brand saw some success in the IMSA GT series. Following that famous adage, what raced on Sunday sold on Monday for Toyota, helping the brand gain footing in the ever-expanding (and ever-profitable) North American market.

Celica WRC
Photo: Toyota
Moving forward a decade, and Toyota started to see real success in rally thanks to names like Carlos Sainz. Toyota and tuners TOMs entered into Le Mans, finishing sixth in 1990. Later, the brand would manage second place in ’94, hinting at its future of Le Mans dominance. Of course, Toyota’s image in motorsport at this time is dominated by not only its World Rally Championship victories, but its WRC failures as well. Toyota was caught red-handed, using a fake restrictor plate in the engine of its Celica rally car. The car made far more power than was allowed, and Toyota was ultimately removed from competition for the ’95 and ’96 seasons.

In the 90s, Toyota also began making street-ready versions of cars tuned by TRD. In 1998, a tuned MR2 called the TRD 2000GT was released. This was a wide-body version of the SW20 generation MR2, and only 35 were made. Each got its own TRD VIN.

By the early 2000s, TRD as we know it is taking shape, thanks, in part, to these rebadged Toyota models. In America, efforts in NASCAR, Funny Car, USAC sprint cars, and other motorsports lead to the development of various cars and engines. Seeing an opportunity to sell on Monday yet again, Toyota began producing TRD-badged production vehicles, like the Tacoma TRD.

Today, Toyota will sell you TRD parts and TRD-badged models and actively participates in a number of motorsports disciplines. It’s easy to argue that the company’s recent dominance in Le Mans is the brand’s most notable achievement, and we’ll see if that dominance continues as anticipation for this year’s race at Le Mans builds.

Toyota TRD Le Mans 2018
Photo: Toyota
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About the author: Chase Bierenkoven
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Chase's first word was "truck," so it's no wonder he's been getting paid to write about cars for several years now. In his free time, Chase enjoys Colorado's great outdoors in a broken German sports car of some variety.
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