An alien presence in rural Yorkshire.
Our typical Sunday morning walk involves a drive long enough to warm the vitals through, but short enough to get back home quickly, should the capricious Yorkshire weather intervene. We drive through farmland and on to a pretty village where, if it weren’t for the hourly strike of the church clock, time might have stood still for decades.
The automotive population of the village usually comprises the inevitable assortment of SUVs, so mundane and commonplace as not to warrant a second glance. Today, however, an arresting sight met my eyes in the riverside parking area, an alien presence that had crossed both time and space to land in this rural idyll. The object of my fixation was a Toyota Blit.
That name, dear reader, is not a typographical error made by your author and overlooked by our esteemed editor. For reasons best (perhaps only) known to the inscrutable denizens of Toyota City, the ‘z’ was dropped from the putative title, possibly to avoid upsetting the denizens of Rüsselsheim. Even more puzzling, its full title was Mark II Blit, which is inexplicable as there never existed a Mark I of the same name.
I reached for my phone to record the alien presence, only to find my pocket empty of said device which was, at that moment, recharging in our kitchen. Drat! Who would believe me without the photographic evidence to back up such an implausible tale? Our walk was, predictably, accompanied by torrential rain, and the Blit had vanished by the time we returned, making me wonder momentarily if I had simply imagined its presence. Once home and dry, I was determined to find out more, so I turned to the repository of all fact (and, increasingly, fiction) that is the Internet.
The Blit was one of those strange JDM(1) models that exist to fill some perceived micro-niche not adequately served by the company’s more mainstream offerings. It was a rare, if not unique, UK sighting, being officially sold only in Japan, albeit with penny numbers sneaking into Australia, Russia and certain African countries. It was unusual in retaining rear-wheel-drive, some sixteen years after the similarly sized Camry had made the switch to being pulled rather than pushed.
Made over a five-year period from 2002 to 2007 at Toyota’s Motomachi plant, the Blit came only as a station wagon, although the element that made it so looked something of an afterthought, being perched rather incongruously out back. It was 4,775mm long, 1,760mm wide and 1,470mm high, with a wheelbase of 2,480mm. The Blit’s kerb-weight averaged around 1,550kg across the three variants offered. In typical Toyota fashion, the Blit majored on practicality and functionality, with room for five plus their luggage. Its styling was typical contemporary Toyota, albeit with hints of Volvo at the rear and a front end that pre-dated and predicted the 2009 Mercedes-Benz W212 E-Class.
Atypically for a Toyoya station wagon, the Blit featured the 2,491cc turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine more usually associated with the contemporary Supra sports car. In factory form, it produced either 197 or 276bhp (147 or 206kW). However, the engine’s potential for serious tuning and some preposterously large power outputs meant that the Blit could be turned into quite the wolf in sheep’s clothing, with only the zingy, fruity sounding exhaust note to give the game away, a perfect sleeper on the public road. Four-wheel-drive was an option but, disappointingly, not with the most powerful engine. One could also buy an entry-level Blit, still with an inline-six engine, but with a capacity of 1,988cc and power output of 158bhp (118kW) .
The Blit replaced the Mark II Qualis(2), a front-engined, FWD Camry-derived station wagon. The Blit was based on the ninth-generation MkII saloon RWD chassis, which debuted on the millennium. Suspension was double wishbones all round with self-levelling shock absorbers beneath that cavernous stern.
Available in white, silver, pale grey, deep magenta, navy, black and a butterscotch-leaning gold colour, any hue made this irrepressible estate stand out from the crowd. The interior featured leather trim, a sporting four-dial dash, three-spoke steering wheel, four or five-speed automatic dependent on trim level, aluminium pedals, three different alloy wheel styles in four different sizes, front and rear cupholders, a 12V socket in the cargo area and a high-end hi-fi.
The grille carried a different badge to Toyota’s usual intertwined ellipses, a silver and blue shield containing a star. Devoid of this badge (as many tuners removed them), the grille aped SAAB’s and the headlamps might have been shared with the Swedish automaker’s unfortunate Cadillac BLS model.
Shelling out extra Yen at the dealership could garnish your Blit with aerodynamic addenda in the form of either the Aero Sports Package or the more esoteric sounding ‘Aero Parts Set Type A’. The former added skirts to the lower bodysides, the latter made them ever-so slightly more aggressive. Both packages also added either faux mahogany or a metallic finish to dashboard and gear lever, rear cargo area scuff plates and sportier patterned passenger cabin floor mats. One could also specify the ‘Fortuna’ trim package, which featured a sculpted front air dam and a different wheel design.
Seen through wind-burnt and rain-soaked eyes, the Blit your author witnessed was most definitely white with the Aero Sports Package trim. Naturally, what first caught my eye was that distinctive C-Pillar. Shark-fin sharp, it assists in squaring off the tail as it tapers outward down towards the rear wheels. Beautiful is too strong an adjective here: robustly functional or charismatically chiselled might instead do the trick. Plain weird might sum up the Blit seen through different eyes, but I think the rakish jib lends it an overtly edgy aspect. Over-egging the pudding? Would a manufacturer be tempted to try this sort of thing today, when children ask “What’s an estate car, mummy?”
The rear end is a blend of Ford’s Mondeo Mk3 and contemporary Volvo estate, with its vertical brake lights and integral rear spoiler. Clean-cut will suffice here. Then, to the least appealing angle, the Blit’s front end. Wearing lamps that could’ve been the result of painful and inept facial surgery, one would have thought that the Blit’s unfortunate visage might have given certain Stuttgart-based designers pause for thought a few years later. Apparently not.
Should you be able to get past those (frontal, certainly) looks, you have quite the machine; rare, purposeful and possessing a startlingly silly name. While this Japanese brand of lightning probably won’t strike twice in my neighbourhood, it was enlightening to have seen it even just once. Has anyone else captured a Blit in the wild?
(1) Japanese Domestic Market (only).
(2) No, there wasn’t a Mark I Qualis either.