The Toyota Harrier Zagato Existed

I’ll be upfront about this: the only reason you’re reading these words is because I had to make a business case for why I overpaid for this item. 

Two summers ago, my friend Chris and I started a podcast called New For 96!. We both have design backgrounds, so early on, we analyzed old car brochures — critiquing the typography and layout for a 1997 Saab 900 brochure, or a 1990 BMW accessories catalog. Naturally, this made for spellbinding audio content. 

We changed the format a bit as time went on, but for a while it was a fun excuse to plunder eBay for old car brochures to share with each other, and with our listener(s?). We tried to outdo each other with the most outlandish finds. They’re generally cheap, and don’t take up much space.

I fell down the rabbit-hole of hunting for brochures for the most obscure cars, and my favorite niche was, and still is, weird variants of normal cars. Stuff like the Volvo 262C, built by Bertone. Remember the Lexus HS250h (the hybrid so nice they named it ‘Hybrid’ twice)? It was discontinued in the US in 2012, but in Japan it lived long enough to get the Lexus corporate ‘Spindle Grill’ treatment. I have it on my shelf, immortalized in a glorious 9x14-inch catalog.

With this in mind, the logical endpoint is a paper record of the Toyota Harrier Zagato, one of the oddest offerings from a major car manufacturer.

In 2006, Toyota teamed up with the famed Italian styling house to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Toyopet line of dealerships. Zagato created a wild cosmetic makeover of the Toyota Harrier, known over here as the Lexus RX330. Limited to 250 units, it’s an impossibly exclusive edition of Lexus’ most mainstream car. 

An eBay search for “Toyota Harrier Zagato” resulted in no hits. I simplified: “Harrier Zagato” — nothing came up. I saved the search, and moved on. 

For two years, nothing came up.

And then last month, there it was, in an email delivered at 6:17 AM:

 

Rarity Toyota Harrier Zagato 250 Special Edition Cars Catalog

 

I’m fluent in eBay subject line speak, so I instantly knew it was what I had been waiting for. But the Buy it Now price was steep. I paused.

That morning, I shared it with a few auto journalist friends — I was ecstatic that this even existed. When a colleague said he would write a news item about the eBay listing, I realized my waiting game was about to be undone: someone was sure to snipe it. My arm was twisted — I had to Buy it. Now

Did I subconsciously set in motion a chain of events that would force me to give in and justify the purchase? Almost certainly. But I had been waiting for two years, and nothing had ever come from this saved search. How long would it be before another one comes up? What’s that worth? I bought it, and didn't even mind the four-week shipping time. I knew that eventually, it was on its way to me, and no one else.

So here it is. The brochure is the size of an LP, and comes with a matching sleeve. The Harrier Zagato looks so much more shocking on a two-foot wide spread than it does in low-res photos from the internet of 2006. It also probably looks cooler now than it did back then, because we’ve collectively developed a taste for aftermarket widebody versions of normal cars, and the red-and-gold combination looks stylish still.

The Toyota Harrier Zagato came and went 14 years ago, and I feel that something like this just wouldn’t happen these days. It has no added functionality, and probably didn’t make any money. A boutique version of an utterly mainstream car, made weird for the sake of weird, to be a piece of art. The auto industry of 2020 doesn't have a lot of room for art. The cars that claim to be have seven-figure MSRPs.

I’ll probably never see a Toyota Harrier Zagato in person (unless Myron Vernis buys one). But it’s nice to own something that proves that, once, this car existed. 

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