LETTER | Why I paid a deposit to secure my Toyota GR Yaris without knowing its R715k price

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• Steven Darge shares his story of acquiring a limited edition Toyota GR Yaris.

• Darge has been in contact with his local dealership about the car since June 2020.

He says he paid a deposit to secure his order without knowing what the car would cost.

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I should start this story with the Toyota Corolla in my garage right now as it's central to the quite entertaining account of how the GR Yaris found its way into my hands. It's a one-owner car, and although I'm its only driver, it's actually registered in my mom's name. She bought it new in 1997, and it was her daily driver for eight years.

It remains registered in her name to protect that elusive "one-owner car" status. It's clocked over 400 000km on the original motor, which has never been opened up - another feather in its cap. Over the past 24 years, it's never left me, or anyone in my family stranded, whether it be a trip from Joburg to Cape Town or a 2km drive to the local pizza place.

Although my care of the car started long before, when it was given to me as an 18th birthday gift, I kept on treating it with the respect that such a faithful servant of a car deserves. I became a member of the Toyota Twin Cam Club and took the car to plenty of events. It was even featured in a Toyota SA TV promotion for the Corolla Quest when it first launched. My love for the Toyota brand was already set in stone, and I waited for the day when another properly sizzling set of wheels would come along.

The day had come

I reckon it was only natural that that day had very clearly arrived when I saw the GR Yaris for the first time in press photos. It looked like it would be such a hoot to drive, a proper rally homologation special, and a real challenger to beat the GTI-brigade. At the time, I didn't think I'd ever get another opportunity to own what is such a significant breed of a car - it shows that deep down, among the boring and tedious hybrids that Toyota had instead become known for, there were still some Toyota employees brave enough to create a rally car for the road from the ground up.

Even when the news broke that the FIA had changed the World Rally Championship (WRC) rules with the effect that GR Yaris wouldn't be able to compete, Toyota's engineers kept going. Can you imagine the pushback they must have had from the accountants?

But there was no firm indication that it would make its way to South Africa. I willed, and I hoped, and I spoke to the car gods and in a 'what the heck' moment, I called, funnily enough, the same dealership from which my mom had bought the Corolla. The salesman I chatted to, Francois Viljoen, was stumped. He'd never heard of the GR Yaris at that time.

"Look," I said, "I've heard that Toyota SA is thinking of bringing a few cars in. If you hear anything official about it, please, please, give me a call." That was in June 2020. My heart sank when I heard back from Francois on WhatsApp a few weeks later: "According to Toyota SA, they are not bringing the GR Yaris to SA." Still, I hoped - but there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind that the GR Yaris would be forbidden foreign fruit.

steven darge,toyota gr yaris
Steven Darge's Toyota GR Yaris just being delivered.

Receiving the confirmation

Francois kept my details, and in October 2020, unexpectedly messaged with the following: "We received confirmation from Toyota SA that the GR Yaris will be coming to South Africa around the middle of 2021." Because Toyota hadn't brought a properly quick car into SA since probably the Yaris TS back in 2009, I figured that the GR Yaris would be a limited-run car locally. But there was no way I wasn't going to be on the list for it. Francois said he'd make sure my name was on that list.

December 2020 rolls around, and finally, the news breaks publicly that the GR Yaris was coming to SA. My name's on the list, says Francois, but orders aren't open yet. Come 5 February 2021, and I happened to send him a message saying that I'd seen lots of activity online about the GR Yaris and wanted to know if he'd found out more about it.

"Funny you should ask," he says, "I just received an email about it this morning." Luck? Maybe... On 10 February, I paid a deposit, not knowing how much the GR would cost. On 15 March, Francois frantically called me to say the order book had opened: "What colour do you want? Are you getting the ordinary car or the Rally? I need to know now. Lots of people are asking about it. I don't think you'll get one if you don't tell me today."

Of course, there was only one route: a Rally-spec car in red. How could you not want a four-wheel-drive, limited-slip-diff equipped Yaris? And why red? Well, I thought the GR could be a homage to the car which lit the flame of my love for the motoring world - my red Corolla RSI.

Stay tuned for a follow up article of Steven's purchase of his Toyota GR Yaris next week.

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steven darge,toyota gr yaris
Steven Darge's new Toyota GR Yaris parked nose-to-nose with the Corolla RSI he received as an 18th birthday present from his mother.
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