Vellum Venom Vignette: Flexing success via throwback rendering?

Flex Ventures

Your eyes do not deceive you: That is a late-model Toyota Tacoma wearing a front clip inspired by a Toyota J60 Land Cruiser from the early 1980s. Tacoma door emblems notwithstanding, the truck is called the Renoca Windansea, and it is made by the folks at Flex Ventures. The pickup is part of a broader line of Toyota throwbacks under the Renoca moniker but appears to be their first venture into the wildly popular/profitable North American pickup truck market. (Check out the J80 Land Cruiser-based Renoca 106, Wonder, and Phoenix to see where it all began.)

Clearly, the Renoca Windansea’s value proposition would never exist at Toyota, as the company is far too aloof to make an obvious throwback vehicle. OEMs have a team of highly compensated, talented, and creative car designers to make something a little less literal. Case in point, the introduction of Toyota’s new Land Cruiser is retro done with grand designs, especially the model with the round headlights that kinda look like yesteryear’s rounded sealed beams.

Part of me wishes that Toyota would go retro in as literal a fashion as Flex Ventures has with the Renoca family, but that would be a disservice to the rest of the modern coachwork. Even worse, the throwback treatment would be a slap in the face to all the insane engineering under the Land Cruiser’s sheetmetal, which gives impressive performance on- or off-road with safety and low emissions to boot. Toyota has access to wind tunnels and to the most expensive 3D rendering facilities; with those resources, it can make a vehicle all street-legal in the blink of an eye. When you’re a customer, buying something beautiful isn’t cheap, but when you’re a manufacturer, making it beautiful is even more costly.

That’s because car design—Tesla Cybertruck aside—is a game of finesse. The artistry of each vehicle is so subtle that, to understand the sculptural goodness,, you need to fully concentrate on the final product with perfect lighting for minutes, not seconds, at a time. If you haven’t been in a design studio lately, imagine the fastback of a 1960s Impala coupe as the setting sun slides down the vehicle’s frame, or a the iconic face of a Land Cruiser at high noon, with mud sliding off the fascia.

I doubt such a deep visual analysis would net the same results with this retro-ized Tacoma. The lifestyle-oriented video above does not do the Renoca Windansea any favors, either. Perhaps if Flex tossed out the boring soundtrack and got a Millenial/Gen Z take on glam rock or synthwave? The music would put us in a throwback mood but without prompting fears of finicky emissions controls or rudimentary electronics. Listen to what’s in my ears right now, and admire the dreamy guitar riffs worthy of Alex Lifeson and the syncopated hi-hat technique on par with that of Stewart Copeland.

Flex Ventures

Hagerty doesn’t keep me on the books to praise a new generation of musicians for embracing the lightly electronic vibe of Rush and The Police, so let’s get back to this throwback Toyota design. The Renoca Windansea eschews the Gaping Maw of all modern vehicles, instead using a full-length, externally mounted front bumper akin to that of the FJ Cruiser. All the lighting pods look like off-the-shelf bits for a J60. The fenders have been carefully crafted to continue the door’s bulbous contours, but the nose never got that curvaceous memo.

Put another way, there’s just something about the Renoca Windansea’s upright nose that lacks the finesse of the Land Cruiser. The grille lacks the J60 Land Cruiser’s integration with the top of the headlight trim ring; instead, it pokes upward like that of a 2013 GMC Canyon. It might be a source of pride, as Flex Automotive suggests the “exterior begins with a straight-line hood design intended to enhance the vehicle’s distinctive appearance.”

From a head-on view, it looks about right. And the hood bulge of the Renoca Windansea likely looks pretty radical from behind the wheel. But body parts aren’t designed in a vacuum: Step to the side, and the Tacoma-like fenders demand more contouring everywhere else on the front end. And there’s simply no contouring to spare: There’s no surfacing around the grille, nor is there tumblehome in that front fascia to match the rest of the bodysides.

The implementation is more of a forced fit, ensuring that the nose of the Renoca Windansea looks like a pug struggling with Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Compare it to the unique front clip that Mitsuoka Motor bolts to the Toyota RAV4 to make the Buddy SUV, a modern tribute to Squarebody Chevy trucks with the Deluxe Appearance Package. More to the point, the Buddy looks nothing like the Chevy … but it certainly reminds you of one.

Here’s the important part: Mitsuoka took that Chevy grille and adapted it to the contours of the RAV4. The Renoca Windansea is trying to be something it can never be—a square grille jammed into a round hole, if you will.

Flex Automotive

I am sure the designer(s) of the Renoca Windansea would kill for technical support on par with that of Toyota, but Flex Ventures didn’t spend/have the money. Or perhaps it lacked Mitsuoka’s luxury of creative interpretation: Flex painted itself in a corner with its previous Toyota Land Cruiser-based throwbacks. We may never be able to walk in the designers’ shoes, so perhaps we take comfort in the fact they did a good job given their budgetary and Taco-truck design constraints?

No matter, the Renoca Windansea is cooler than ‘most any other Toyota Tacoma on the road. And that’s worth a round of applause, no matter what.




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    Here’s the thing… I have heard enough from modern Toyota owners to believe that they are good. But they haven’t always been good. I owned Toyotas from the 70s and 80s, and even though people will come out of the woodwork to argue with me, I got very good at finding 20R and 22R engines (and the associated transmissions) in junkyards and replacing them. Most of my Toyotas ended up there themselves due to severe cases of cancer… Like rot holes the size of a fist in strut towers and rotted frame cancer… So I really don’t know that throwing back to this era is a really good move

    Considering the value of these vintage Toyotas in the classic car market? Yes, it’s a great move. But I am with you, at some point the value present in their quality over their competition stopped being a value. The amount you pay for a Tacoma over a Ranger (and probably a Land Cruiser over a Suburban/Blazer) just doesn’t justify these are all old vehicles with plenty of maintenance needed to fix the sins of past owners.

    The Buddy is interesting… it reads more as GMT400 than squarebody to me in the grill. The wheels read older I agree. The color schemes are older again. The overall impact makes me think AMC product or even early Plymouth minivan… I do think it is interesting though.

    The Tacoma with the retro grill just doesn’t work for me. Some of the companies turning recent-gen Camaros into Bandit Trans Ams did a much better job of catching a vibe.

    To be honest I would throw that back into the ocean.

    While prices may be up on vintage Toyota trucks and SUV it is not all due to massive demand. The trouble is there were not many made and even fewer left.

    Value is about supply and demand and in this case supplies are the key for the value. This is not like a 1970 Blazer that is still easy to find but yet demand is great on the many still around.

    Most Asian cars of the past are an acquired taste. They would get it right once in a while but most were bad copies of something.

    I read the article twice and had the same thought – why? Sajeev, what am I missing – I supply FLEX with a perfectly good Toyota Tacoma, they make it less attractive and I pay them to do so? Just to get something that looks like a Land Cruiser. Coming of driving age in the 80’s, I guess this type of thinking turned Fiero’s into Ferrari look-alikes, and mid-70’s Lincoln’s became Bugazzi’s – is that what I am to glean from this styling exercise? Colour me confused…

    Rob I think the only thing you’re not considering is how desirable anything that looks like a Land Cruiser is in our little world of classic cars. Combine that with the fact that people love modern crew cab/short bed trucks, and you have a formula that likely works for enough people to justify the expense to Flex.

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