ISTANBUL – The iconic Turkish automotive manufacturer Tofas has for decades been a popular choice among collectors, but now an increasing number of young drivers have taken to the vintage steering wheels in an act of rebellion.
The automaker, founded in 1968 in the city of Bursa, started producing vehicles under the Fiat Group and its first car was a saloon Fiat 124, locally named Murat 124.
Later the Sahin (falcon), Kartal (eagle) and Dogan (hawk) models were released, all nicknamed after birds, and followed by a revamped version of the Fiat 124 known as the Serçe.
But in 2003 Tofas stopped producing vehicles under that acronym, and by then over 1.2 million vehicles of the so-called bird series had been made.
No car has been made with the Turkish name since then although the manufacturer continues to produce cars under the Fiat Group, both for the national and international markets.
Trofas cars continue to rumble on the roads of Turkey, even though there is no gas for their engines, which originally ran on leaded petrol, and owners are forced to modify the vehicles so they can function on regular fuel.
For lovers of the vintage cars, finding replacement parts has become a key part of the hobby.
“I never dreamed of buying a BMW,” Oktay Bektas, a Tofas fan who describes his love for the vehicles as a mix of love, passion and care, told EFE.
“If I had a lot of money, I would buy a Tofas classic again,” he added.
And young people have jumped on the cult car bandwagon in recent years as the vehicles have become a symbol of rebellion and masculinity which at its worst takes the shape of illegal races and modifications.
One of the most popular alterations is the rear-wheel-drive, common until the 1980s, and that allowed for spectacular skidding, something universal front-wheel drives don’t do in such a dramatic way.
Upgrading to pneumatic suspension and modifying the exhaust pipe to pump up the revving noise are also high on the list for Tofas owners keen on pimping their cars.
“I do not understand the prejudices against us.
“Although we have all the documents in order, the insurance, everything, they stop us arbitrarily and give us a fine.
“The other day they gave me a fine of one thousand lire (150 euros) for changing lanes,” Bektas said surprised.
“The police don’t understand us. An agent came to shoot a friend of mine,” he lamented.
Bektas and his friends usually meet at dawn in industrial estates to show off their vehicles and play around them without police or pedestrians nearby.
For Bektas the Tofas community is a circle of companionship and solidarity.
“The other day a tire broke out, you call on the phone, and always, wherever you are, there is a friend to help you,” one of the Tofas enthusiasts told EFE.
Ömer Parça, a 24-year-old Economics student, is aware that the police have the Tofas community on their radar.
“There is a lot of prejudice against us, against this car.
“That is why I try to be very careful in traffic, without disturbing anyone,” he said.
Parça bought his car secondhand three years ago and with it has made it the star of homemade video clips, including one with Australian vlogger Supercar Blondie, who has millions of followers on social networks.