The “Tofu Car” has been a hot topic in the model car forums and social media sites in Asia and the USA. Many people have no idea about the car, especially Europeans, and some have never eaten tofu or don’t even know what tofu is. So what exactly is the Tofu Car? Well, tofu is soy bean curd, or basically soy cheese. It is consumed the most in Asian countries and especially in Japan and China.
The car in question is nicknamed Tofu Car because it is the ultimate tofu delivery car, an aging white and black Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 driven by Takumi Fujiwara (藤原 拓海). This is not a real person, or even a real car, but in fact part of the world created by the Japanese comic series Initial D (頭文字Ｄ), written and illustrated by Shuichi Shigeno. It was serialized in Young Magazine in Japan from 1995 to 2013, and the chapters were collected into 48 volumes with more then 40 millions copies sold. The story focuses on the world of illegal Japanese street racing, where all the action is concentrated in the mountain passes and rarely in cities or urban areas, with the drift racing style emphasized in particular. Shigeno’s characters and storylines center on the Japanese prefecture of Gunma, about 100 km northwest of Tokyo, and more specifically on several mountains in the Kantō region and in their surrounding cities and towns.
The story is all about a young boy, Takumi, who develops his racing skills driving an old Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86 for his job delivering tofu for his father’s shop to Lake Akina every morning and evening. Because tofu is soft and fragile, Takumi has to take care of the tofu he delivers and keep it in good shape, so he needs to drive and drift the family car smoothly, developing an impressive amount of skill behind the wheel on the twisting roads surrounding nearby Mount Akina. Eventually, he becomes one of the fastest drivers in Kanto.
AUTOart has produced a 1/18th-scale die cast model of Takumi’s car. Unlike the cars of other fictional characters such as James Bond or Mad Max, which carry special weapons and are heavily modified to suit the different situations the characters must deal with, the Tofu Car has no unusual modifications to boast. It is just an uninspiring, three-decades-old Toyota AE86 launched in 1983, the AE86 being the last generation of Toyota’s small, rear-wheel-drive economy cars before Toyota joined the industry-wide migration to front-drive. On Takumi’s car, the stock wheels have been swapped for a set of black 8-spoke wheels that are wider in size for better cornering, the stock engine modified into TRD Group A spec and the bonnet has been replaced with a carbon fiber one. There are also some minor tweaks in the interior. The most unique feature of the Tofu Car is the few Japanese words on the right door, which say “Fujiwara Tofu Shop,” the tofu shop that Takumi works for and is owned by his father. The Fujiwara Tofu shop is definitely the most famous tofu shop in the world. Millions of people know about it, and yet the tofu shop doesn’t exist except in the comic books and films.
The popularity of the comic series is cited as the main cause of the AE86’s relatively high resale price in the whole of Asia. Owners who buy them used often change them to appear the same as Takumi’s car in the comic series, going so far as to put the Japanese lettering of Fujiwara Tofu Shop on the door to show that the driver is good at drifting and ready to meet any challenge in the twisty mountain passes.