Small cars with big engines nearly always result in huge fun. Car manufacturers are acutely aware of this, but few seem to have the nerve to take it to the extreme Toyota did with its Aygo Crazy. James Batchelor gets the inside line on the ultimate city car from Toyota's Scott Brownlee.
Out of all of the Skunkworks cars we've featured, it's arguably the Toyota Aygo Crazy that had the greatest job on its hands. When launched, the Aygo was a joint venture with PSA– Peugeot Citroen Group – which had a greater historical affinity with younger buyers than Toyota did, thanks to the Peugeot 106 and Citroen Saxo.
"We knew we had to come up with story angles to create cut through and get the new name across," Toyota's Scott Brownlee explained. "Various projects were proposed, and the two which got the green light were Aygo Crazy and Aygo football with Top Gear."
But there was a wider issue here, too. Creating a new city car is one thing, but getting the British public to pronounce its name correctly is quite another. The Aygo Crazy was tasked with this job.
"Aygo Crazy was really born from the idea of putting words after Aygo that helped convey the correct pronunciation of the new model name – for instance, 'I go do this' and 'I go do that'. At least that's the conscious reason – subconsciously, my history as motorsports press officer at Austin Rover when Metro 6R4s were competing means I set out to build a little version of that Group B rallying icon."
"The project took two years to complete, but it was not worked on continuously," recalls Brownlee. "It was mechanically finished in about six months then we kept it under wraps, often at my house for the weekend, waiting on the right opportunity to use it. That came in the run-up to the last British Motor Show. We billed it as a concept car you could drive, the plan always being that we could give this unique car to a journalist to drive rather than leave it pampered in a museum.
"The base car was one of the original launch vehicles and it was sent to our partner, Roger Dowson Engineering based at Silverstone, along with the various MR2 bits needed to turn an economical FWD hatchback into a mid-engined tearaway. The late Roger Dowson carried out all the engineering work and had the car ready in about six months.
"We put no pressure on them as the Aygo launch had gone well and there was no issue with awareness, so Aygo Crazy moved from being a launch project to a life-cycle support."
After this, the Crazy was dropped off to top classic Ferrari coach trimmers O'Rourke, which created the interior trim.
"During this time the little upstart sat wheel by wheel with multi-million-pound Ferrari GTOs and even Sir Norman Foster's re-creation of the Dymaxion, a futuristic car designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1930s," said Brownlee.
The original build cost was 'well over the £100k mark' and the car features a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 16-valve engine and rear suspension from a MKIII Toyota MR2, a TTE turbo charger kit, bespoke roll cage, custom seats and interior by O'Rourke, and adjustable dampers.
It's half-Aygo, half-MR2. Like most one-offs, the Aygo Crazy project was kept top secret. But a test outing at Goodwood before the car's official reveal almost blew its cover.
"I distinctly remember blasting around Sussex in it, including a visit to Goodwood where it was spotted by a German car magazine photographer who nearly scooped it," recalls Brownlee.
"The first track test was done at Bruntingthorpe Airfield. It was great right off, thanks to the expertise of Roger Dowson.
"The famous road tester we had evaluate it liked it straightaway and asked for no changes to the setup.
"I had a few laps at Bruntingthorpe, including a heart-stopping spin that fortunately caused no damage, then drove it home to Sussex."
The Aygo Crazy isn't the only mad one-off created by Toyota GB. Along with the Picnic Sport featured in this magazine there have been a number of projects which didn't make it from Brownlee's brain to sheet metal.
"In the past there have been ideas to marry a Toyota Rav4 MK2 with running gear from a Corolla World Rally Car, a Prius convertible and a Lexus SC F – an SC 430 fitted with the transmission and 5.0-litre V8 from the IS F."
Will Brownlee have his own way? Quite possibly, as it seems there's no shortage of mad ideas at Toyota GB.
"We still have the SC 430 base car – it used to hang from the roof of our HQ building in Epsom – so we could still do that one day..."
Model: Toyota Aygo Crazy
Price: £100,000 (est)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 200bhp, 240Nm
Max speed: 160mph
0-60mph: 5.9 seconds