We’ve had around a year to come to terms with the shocking news that one of the most important cars of our generation is a Toyota Yaris. Unlikely as it seemed back in September 2020, the GR Yaris immediately spoke for itself for a number of key reasons; you see, this is no ordinary hot hatch. This is a limited-run motorsport project, built in the vein of the Group B homologation specials of the 1980s, created solely to be excellent rather than to be affordable or cheap to build. There are whisperings that a significant part of the decision-making process to infuse so much BMW in the new Supra was to leave something in the coffers for the hot homologation Yaris – after all, the hatchback market is much bigger than the sports car one, and the halo effect of this little tearaway was seen as something that could shift a lot of units across the range.
Make no mistake, this isn’t just an ordinary Yaris with a hot motor stuffed into it. At £29,995 this wee beastie costs nigh-on Civic Type R money, so it needs to be special… and it is. In fact, it’s got an entirely different bodyshell to the mainstream Yaris, with fewer doors and a slopier roof. And you know that sort of engineering shift ain’t cheap. Under the bonnet resides the coolest three-cylinder engine this side of a Charade GTti; the world’s most powerful three-pot, it’s a 1.6-litre with a ball-bearing turbo kicking out 257bhp and 266lb.ft. There’s a close-ratio six-speed manual hanging off the back, and a super-lightweight four-wheel-drive system. The bodyshell is super-lightweight too, with a carbon fibre roofskin and aluminium doors, boot and bonnet. If you tick the £3,500 ‘Circuit Pack’ box, you also get forged 18in BBS wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, uprated suspension and brakes, and mechanical front and rear Torsen diffs. Alternatively, the £1,500 ‘Convenience Pack’ gives you a premium JBL audio system and head-up display.
A stock GR Yaris will rocket from 0-62mph in 5.5-seconds, and yes, it will drift: ‘Normal’ mode splits the torque 60:40 front-to-rear, ‘Track’ is 50:50, and ‘Sport’ is a hilariously lairy 30:70. So yes, the Toyota Yaris is now, somewhat improbably and completely unexpectedly, one of the most important cars of our generation. A genuine future classic.
…and you know what happens with zeitgeist-capturing cars? Of course you do. They immediately get pounced upon by the aftermarket. And few models in recent years have captured the imagination of the aftermarket quite as vividly as this baby pocket-rocket. Just ask Matias Mäenpää, owner of the extraordinary Toyota you see here. It’s a bold move to tear up the warranty on a brand-new car, but life’s too short for what-ifs and this dude has ripped into the Yaris with gusto: power mods, chassis upgrades, and that unmissable lairy bodywork. This is modifying par excellence.
“I’ve had few project cars before this GR,” he explains. “It’s been mostly JDM, and a few German cars. Low and stanced has always been the thing for me, and my last two projects have been on air. But with this Yaris I wanted to do a racing-inspired style, so BC Racing coilovers and meaty tyres was the way to go.”
The way it sits is equally important to the way it handles, and Matias put a huge amount of thought and research into the specs throughout to ensure it’d be a perfect fusion of form and function. After all, that was Toyota’s own philosophy in the first place.
“My last project was a BMW M140i, and I loved it,” he continues. “After around a year of ownership, a friend of mine insisted that he wanted to buy it, and so I was left without project car! But then I saw the Pandem render of the GR Yaris online, and I just knew that I had to have one. Straight away I called my friend at the local Toyota dealership and ordered the car – and right after that I was ordering the bodykit. Factoring in the fact that Finnish rally legend Tommi Mäkinen made his impact in this car’s development, it felt like a very cool idea, along with the fact that it had been tested extensively in Finland too. And let’s not forget that in this day and age there won’t be many WRC homologation cars to come. So there were a number of reasons why I had to buy this car.”
Matias was straining at the leash to get stuck into reinventing what was already an achingly cool machine. He couldn’t resist taking it out for a drive, and then just driving and driving until the roads ran out, but after 400km he could wait no longer and the transformation began in earnest. As winter closed in through darkest December, the workshop lights burned brightly as the power tools were unleashed. “We mounted the fender flares, and cut the body as much as was required,” he says. “The interior needed to be stripped to make room for the custom half-cage, and then the cabin was painted with the same epoxy paint we used on the wheel wells. I knew that the genuine carbon roof was hiding under the ugly carbon wrap, so that wrap needed to be removed immediately.”
With the bodywork moving on apace, the Yaris was then delivered to the pipework artisans at Martelius to develop a bespoke cat-back exhaust system, and then it was time for the body to receive its fresh paint.
“It took me a long time to decide which wheels would suit this project,” Matias ponders. “Fortunately I waited long enough for Volk to release their newest model, the 21C. These wheels took about six months to arrive, so we had plenty of time to finish the other details of the build. The BC Racing coilovers arrived, and the CAE shifter, all of which was extremely easy to fit to the car. And in the final days before the wheels turned up, JM Detailing polished the car, then Oa Hyvönen wrapped it with the custom livery designed by @junnu94. Once the wheels came, everything was ready – it only took some suspension adjustments to get it sitting nice and low.” And with that, the transformation was complete. An iconic machine for a motorsport-hungry generation, artfully remixed by a serial modder with an eye for the offbeat. Fusing bespoke elements with off-the-shelf parts, the result is a true one-off – and absolutely one of the coolest builds we’ve seen in 2021.
Photographers used in the post above : flomediaofficial | artusleroux | tlframes