There's nothing new about "stunt builds," the kind of one-off projects put together by shops and tuners eager to shock via unusual platform choices or out-there design decisions. Transcending that kind of made-you-look attitude and tackling a build that's well outside the mainstream due to a deep passion for the vehicle in question, however, is something else entirely.
When this particular '07 Toyota Yaris showed up at Nth Moto's Minneapolis, Minnesota, shop, it wasn't just a new frontier for the talented team that's more used to working on 2,000hp Dodge Vipers than entry-level compact hatchbacks. It was also a challenge to satisfy the demands of a customer who was dead serious about reaching the limits of what his beloved but humble commuter had to offer.
"This car is not a joke," explains Nth Moto's Aaron Miller. "It's well beyond attention getting. It is one of the most technically challenging projects I've ever been a part of. The idea of approaching the Yaris project as a real, usable vehicle, but with a show-car mentality and race tech baked in was something we couldn't say no to."
Nth Moto was tapped for the build after the owner, who resides in Bahrain, crossed paths with the Toyota Yaris Hybrid-R following its unveiling at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show. A big-time car collector who already owned a fleet of rare 'Yotes and Lexuses, the owner decided to finance a monster Yaris of his own, and he was referred to the Midwest modifiers by a mutual friend from the Viper world who knew of the shop's propensity for outside-the-box builds.
If you're thinking aftermarket support for a vehicle like the Toyota Yaris is somewhat lacking, you would be correct. It was a battle Nth Moto had to fight right from the very beginning—especially given the fact that the owner wanted to stick with the original drivetrain as much as possible.
"The engine wasn't easy, but we came up with a good plan and had good components made for it," Aaron says, referring to the car's 22R-FE four-cylinder engine. "The trick was the transmission. The car rolled off the trailer, and I saw it had an automatic—something I had never even thought to ask about during the prep stage, because I had assumed that, like 90 percent of sport compact cars, it would have a manual transmission."
With the Yaris' self-shifter set in stone—"The owner doesn't like using a clutch, and it had to be an OEM automatic" was the explanation—Aaron and his crew were on the hunt for a Toyota autobox that could handle the 400-plus horses planned for the four-cylinder. They eventually landed on an older transmission that featured a massive overdrive unit and had to rework the car's lower framerail so that its nearly double-size dimensions would fit. It also took a serious level of custom fabrication and tuning to adapt the new gearbox to the project itself.
"Automatic transmission control is a really interesting thing that so many OEMs do differently," Aaron says. "This particular one is unique in that it doesn't have an accumulator spring layout and does crazy frequency control over the solenoids, and we had to monitor that in normal operation and figure out how to duplicate it electronically so we could control it properly."
Stepping up the Yaris' 22R-FE from its 130 stock horsepower to the desired 400 was accomplished via a Garrett GTX30R turbo, customer-forged pistons and rods, a bespoke head stud and cylinder sleeve support system, and a ported cylinder head that maintains the motor's original VVT cams with upgraded springs and retainers. The entire exhaust system was fabricated in-house, as was the front-mount intercooler, and a custom wiring harness links an AEM Infinity standalone brain to oversee everything.
Putting that power to the ground was no less of a challenge. To help ensure the Toyota's front end didn't explode on the first throttle application, the Yaris features Driveshaft Shop custom axles with increased spline sizes, as well as a transmission cooler and an SFI-certified flexplate assembly on the high-stall torque converter.
"It's highly entertaining to drive," Aaron says. "At full blast, it's raucous, and it's got a lot of tire because we modified the chassis to get as much rubber under there as possible. It's not scary from a control perspective, but more a delightful form of frightening. The brakes are impressive, too—maybe even more so than the acceleration. The car is just constantly giving you the impression, 'There's no way I should be able to do this in a Yaris. '"
In the end, it's mission accomplished for Nth Moto and the Toyota's owner. Absolutely everything about the car matches the original plan in terms of performance, driveability, and rule-busting style.
"The sound is unique because it's a full equal-length stainless 4-to-1 header we made, and the owner was adamant that he wanted to hear the turbo a lot and enjoy the sound of the car, so the Garrett we chose just screams, at even low boost. On top of the epic blue color and the fishbowl glass revealing the pink interior, it really adds to the spectacle of driving it," Aaron says, a smile apparent in his voice.
"If you're a car guy and you hear it, you know it's serious, and you're like, 'That's not what was I was expecting at all.' And that's the entire point of this build. We took all the elements and practices that we apply to our exotic projects and put them to work here on this Yaris, and the end result is gross excess in every dimension. This is a wickedly violent and very quick car."