1986 Toyota MR2: Disposable Sports Car #6
It’s been a while since we added a new “disposable sports car” to the blog, so today we bring you an 80s-style oldie but goodie: the original Toyota MR2. It was the 80s, and every teenage boy worth his salt lusted after exotic, mid-engined supercars like the Ferrari 308GTSi and the Lamborghini Countach. These teenage boys, again if worth their salt, also influenced their family car-buying decisions. So Toyota (and separately Pontiac with their similarly-timed and themed Fiero), decided to take advantage of that supercar lust by introducing a mid-engined sports car for the masses. Enter Mister Two.
Find this clean and surprisingly rust-free example here on Craigslist in Daly City, California, for just $3,500.
Car geeks know that Toyota (nor Pontiac) pioneered the affordable mid-engined sports car genre, that honor belongs to the Fiat X1/9. What Toyota added to the mix was Japanese reliability, along with some available creature comforts like air conditioning and power windows. Not that the Fiats were unreliable per se, but they really require enthusiasts to own them as they need a little more attention than the average, well, Toyota. The MR2 on the other hand was as reliable as Toyotas come, but wrapped in a package that nobody ever expected to see from what was (and still largely is) perceived as a staid and somewhat boring carmaker.
The MR2’s wedge-shaped exterior and angular interior are a study in straight-edge design theory, but it works well in a car designed when Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker were still duking it out and the original Starship Enterprise was still flying with her original crew. Nowadays the look is retro-techno, but remains totally functional. The bolstered sport seats hold you well but don’t require you to have the physique of a gymnast to be comfortable, and once in place all of the controls, including the high-mounted and short-throw shifter fall easily to hand – Corolla style.
With just 2 small compartments for luggage and stuff – one up front and one behind the engine – this is not a car for long trips. But let’s face it: it isn’t supposed to be. This is a car for winding-up the 112hp 1.6 liter motor hand buzzing around your favorite roads. Despite the relatively low horsepower rating the MR2 was good for reasonable 0-60 times in the mid-8 second range, making the car substantially faster than both the X1/9 and the Fiero. Later a supercharged MR2 would be introduced, but today good ones command a hefty premium over the naturally aspirated models. Handling of the MR2, thanks to the mid-engine layout, is remarkably well-balanced and very forgiving.
Like most of our disposable sports car feature cars, good MR2s are increasingly hard to find because they can be had cheap, then run hard and left out to pasture. This example stands out because it appears to have led a gentler life than most. The car bra in the fron trunk area is a sign that someone was once enthusiastic about the car, and the general condition suggests the same. MR2s rusted – a lot – and being a West Coast car this one at least appears rust free. It’s worth checking underneath, but normally there a big rusty areas near the wheel wells, rear quarters, and front fenders. The sunroof looks like a good install, but I honestly don’t know if it’s factory or not. If not, hopefully it doesn’t leak like a sieve. MR2s offered T-tops as optional starting in ’87, so perhaps the sunroof was the only roof option in ’86? MR2 experts?
In all, the MR2 is a reliable entry to the world of mid-engined motoring and pack a lot of fun for the buck. Maintenance is typical Toyota – oil changes and the periodic timing belt – but if you buy a clean one be sure to rinse it down if you run it on the salty roads, otherwise you’ll be able to watch it disintegrate right before your eyes. Buy and enjoy, I say!!
My college girlfriend bought one of these out of high school. After about 9 months, she was sick of the crazy insurance rates she had to pay, so she returned it. Drove it back to the dealership, parked it, and left the keys in it.
I think her credit rating took a bit of a hit for, uh, ever. 🙂
I once spent an enjoyable couple of weeks tearing around the hilly countryside of Wales in one of these. Great fun to drive.
The mr2 started in 1984 in japan came here in 85. The 86 also had the hardtop. There harder to find than the sunroof and t tops. The t tops started in 87 and the supercharged started in the states in 88. 87 everywhere else. The jdm spec had a bit horsepower than the USDM spec. I have two a 86 hardtop and sunroof and a 88 sunroof for a parts car. They took the rear sway bar out in 87 I believe. The early models are funner to drive in my opinion (85 86). They had lighter internals than the later models they started with a 3 rib 4age and changed to a 7 rib in mid 87 the 7 rib has a stronger block and internals. But the 3 ribs rev better to me. The 3 rib is only good for up to 175 horsepower then you hafe to start reinforcing the block. It’s a really fun car to drive. Reliable if you keep from running it and it just ask you to put it too the floor and go around some curves.