Nicky Grist has co-driven in over 130 WRC races, won 21 of them, and even racked up a season championship. He’s navigated for legends like Colin McRae, Juha Kankkunen, and Armin Schwarz. He’s shouted instructions for legendary teams like Ford, Toyota, Subaru, and Mitsubishi. However, when it came time to buy his dream car of his own, he chose an ST185 Celica GT-Four.
Long before WRC, Grist’s connection to Toyota rally cars was established early on with a Group A Corolla AE86 at the British Open Championship. While they were what Grist called a “clubman effort against a factory team,” he told Toyota UK that it “was a great car, rear-wheel drive, spectacular sideways, and we had two great seasons in it.”
Fast forward to the 1992 season, when Grist was hired by Toyota Team Europe, his first stint with a major factory outfit. The mission: to spend four months in the Kenyan desert preparing the ST185 Celica GT-Four for and driving in the Safari Rally, one of the world’s toughest. Grist and driver Mikael Ericsson would go on to finish a commendable fourth overall, and it was during this time that Grist fell in love with the Celica. He recently described his experience to Toyota UK thusly:
I hadn’t competed outside of Europe at that point and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The terrain, the conditions, the wildlife… it was all completely alien to me. I was there for four months before competing on the event itself. In that entire time the Celica never missed a beat, which gave me so much confidence in its strength and durability.
Grist started the following year with Mitsubishi Ralliart. But, when Toyota driver and then three-time WRC world champion Juha Kankkunen’s navigator suffered a brain hemorrhage, Grist immediately accepted the offer to get back in the co-driver’s seat of a Celica GT-Four at the 1993 Rally Argentina. Not only did they win the event, the duo went on to take the top podium spot at Rally Australia and the season closer RAC Rally on Grist’s home turf. When the points were tallied, Kankkunen had won his fourth WRC championship and Grist his first and only.
“Winning the Network Q RAC Rally in treacherous conditions sealed it for me. The Celica became my favorite car and I knew I had to have one some day,” Grist explained.
Grist wasn’t able to buy one of the cars he co-drove, but that doesn’t make his acquisition any less meaningful. The Group A ST185 he now owns was driven by none other than Carlos Sainz, and piloted by the two-time WRC champ to a podium finish in 1992’s Rally Australia. Two other champions, Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen himself have also driven the car in competition.
After it was retired, it was brought to Ireland and converted to right-hand-drive as it exchanged hands among several amateur drivers. Grist acquired the car about two years ago and admitted to Toyota UK that “a lot of the important details were lost.” However, he spent a year and a half restoring the car, bringing it back to its original state, left-hand-drive configuration and all.
It’s heartwarming that Grist was able to reconnect with his beloved GT-Four, even if it took nearly 30 years from the time he fell in love. And he’s not the only star driver to acquire his dream Toyota in recent years. In 2018, three-time JGTC champ Juichi Wakisaka acquired a bone-stock JZA80 Supra after a long and arduous search. It’s hard to think of better owners for these cars than Grist and Wakisaka. After all, they’re the very men who helped create the motorsports legacies of these cars to begin with.
Images: Toyota UK