The strong brake smell and high-pitched sounds of tires on the road… If these sound familiar, it means you know about Tofaşk – a group of passionate people who devote themselves to modify Tofaşk cars, which were discontinued in the early 2000s. Let us introduce you to Can Görkem Halıcıoğlu and his TOFAŞK series, which documents the lives of these groups and their relationship with cars.

How did you become interested in photography?

My father had a beloved Premier disposable 35mm camera. He’d take it with him when he was traveling or taking a short trip, and would take landscape photographs. I guess my interest in photography sparked back then but it took me about 10 years to start doing it myself. It was my brother’s Zenit. Then came the dark room, developing and printing. I started to spend most of my time around the streets and in the dark room. This soon turned into a passion for me so I decided to study it at the academic level to be able to take it up as a profession.

Is Tofaş one of your childhood memories?

Yes, I rode around in a beige Muray 131 and a red ’95 model Şahin. When my father’s beloved Murat 131 had to retire, we promoted to Şahin, with which I learned how to drive. Though I wasn’t a kid who was in love with cars, these two have a special place in my childhood memories.

How did the idea to create a TOFAŞK series come about?

I started a research for my diploma project at the end of 2015. I had plenty of time and was looking for a subject I could investigate at length. TOFAŞK has always been on my mind, and the idea sort of took root thanks to Tofaş cars I saw around all day. I started a research on Tofaş aficionados for the pre-submission process, and felt sure that this would be the subject I’d be working on.

What do you think makes Tofaş different?

I think it’s the featuring Turkish sign – Turkish Automobile Factories Inc. Co.

The cars were designed by Italians but were improved according to the road types and family structure in Turkey and began to be manufactured here for affordable prices. This was a factor that directly affected the Turkish consumers.

What is the force that brings together Tofaş drivers?

Tofaş girls! (laughs) I’m kidding, of course. They’re not even visible for that group. Today, I think that force is the Internet. There are Facebook and Instagram accounts with millions of followers. A driver who owns one of these cars suddenly finds himself/herself in this community. Actually, you’re not just buying a car, you’re also buying an identity.

About a month ago, I had to explain Tofaş to someone, Stanley Green, who’s never heard it before. Almost everyone else knew it better than I do. But though Tofaş has a very unique role in for the Turkish people, there are many examples of these kinds of bond with vehicles around the world; it’s a thing to build a culture based on certain automobiles. Germany has The Beetle, the U.S. has Harley, and Russia has Lada. Our difference from the developed worlds is that we’re not the manufacturers, but the consumers. Today, these cars have been revived through modification since they were discontinued in the early 2000s. So we can say that there’s a national connection with this automobile, which is the best contender to be a Turkey-made car. But the reality is not so simple; it’s classic Turkey, pretty convoluted.

I worked on this project for 6 months and it still continues. I’ve made many friends and heard countless stories in this period. The most fun ones were the races on the wide boulevards along the luxury villas on the Istanbul Park road on Saturday nights. These entertaining races begin after midnight and last until the first light of morning like a festival. It’s, of course, illegally organized on roads that are open to traffic. At first, I couldn’t bring myself to understand how no one interfered with this because it’s impossible not to be disturbed by the sound and burnt smell caused by tires. A few weeks later, one or two police cars stopped by, threatened everyone to take their license plates, and left. However, these visits were as routine as the Saturday gatherings themselves. It became to a point that the last racers would call themselves in at four in the morning.

I once witnessed an odd phone conversation. The Tofaş drivers called the police and said, “Officer, this is outrageous! It’s four in the morning and the streets are filled with drifters. I’m living in villa that’s worth millions of dollars, and don’t have to listen to this noise!” They reported themselves and said to me, “Wait and see, they’ll be here soon.”