Where there’s a WiLL there’s a way. Or so the president of Toyota thought when he established a venture start-up aimed at targeting Japan’s youth market. More specifically, young women in their 20s and early 30s.
The result was the Toyota WiLL Vi, or rather the WiLL Vi, because the Japanese oddity features no clues as to its parentage. It’s why the WiLL Vi continues to confuse even the most passionate car enthusiasts; every so often you’ll see post on social media from a discombobulated car nut.
It arrived around a decade after Nissan’s Pike project, which resulted in four curios: Pao, S-Cargo, Be-1 and Figaro. Retro styling based on a conventional platform.
Toyota adopted a similar approach when creating the WiLL Vi. It would be a stretch to call it ‘retro’ – although the reverse rake rear window offers a hint of the Ford Anglia and Citroën Ami – but beneath the skin lies the beating heart of a 1.3-litre Toyota Yaris. A waste of a good supermini or a touch of genius? You decide.
The back is the WiLL Vi’s most striking/challenging/awkward/inspired (delete as applicable) feature. A definite nod to the Fiat Zic concept of 1994 and a forerunner to the Mk2 Renault Mégane of 2002. Toyota was shakin’ its ass long before Régie.
It was a bold idea. Toyota cosied up with four other manufacturers – all from different sectors – to target young Japanese consumers. WiLL produced everything from fax machines to chocolate, vacuum cleaners to beer, and cushion heaters to air fresheners.
The Vi was the first of three cars, with the WiLL VS unveiled at the 2001 Los Angeles auto show. It’s the least distinctive of the trio; if you haven’t seen it, picture the result of a quick bonk between the Proton GEN-2 and Vauxhall Astra GTC. As a precursor to the Scion brand, the VS has secured a place in American automotive history.
Ever wondered what an unlicensed video game version of the Mk2 Renault Mégane would look like? That’d be the WiLL Cypha, which is most notable for being odd enough to rival the WiLL Vi.
“Everything a driver would want is already standard,” said WiLL project manager Jun Yasumatsu at the time. “The beauty of the vehicle is in its simplicity.”
‘Beauty’ is a stretch, but the Vi is certainly interesting. The only options were the audio system or the roof type: conventional hardtop or canvas sunroof. Manually operated, the roof folds up and back, then ties down when open.
“Parked under a clear night sky with the roof open and the seat back, the WiLL Vi offers you a refreshingly different perspective, whether you’re an astronomer or a romantic.” Not PetrolBlog’s words, but the words of the Toyota press pack.
There’s an industrial quality to the design. The parallel grooves on the bonnet, boot, hubcaps, doors, steering wheel and dashboard lend the Vi a feeling of solidity. It also featured exposed boot hinges, because Toyota’s research discovered that young Japanese women love the things. Probably.
Was the design of the rear door designed to evoke memories of a young woman’s childhood? When they fantasised about handsome princes and being whisked away in a horse-drawn carriage. “Madame, your carriage awaits,” proclaimed Yasumatsu, so the idea isn’t as preposterous as it sounds.
Toyota developed a Virtual Venture Company (VVC) to handle the sales and marketing of the WiLL Vi. Though not earmarked for export, a small number arrived in the UK as grey imports, including this pastel pink example.
It landed in the UK just 18 months ago and has passed a couple of MOTs since then. The ‘UFO’ number plate is a nice touch, although the 1.3-litre engine means that flying is unlikely. What’s the hurry? Far better to slow down and enjoy the confused looks on people’s faces.
Chris Pollitt, editor at Car & Classic and all-round good egg, said: “Cars such as this and the Nissan Figaro are a great entry or starter classic. With rock solid mechanicals, they are easy to service and maintain yet still look and feel very special.
“Right hand drive and automatic means they are an easy import to get to grips with and the more practical four-seat WiLL is far rarer, with just 21 on the UK’s roads.”
Romantic female astronomers with a thing for exposed boot hinges should form an orderly queue. The auction starts at the end of the month.