Car Reviews Commentary & Observations

Lockdown-Cars We Owned – 1989 Toyota MR2

The Lockdown series continues with me and my 2 driving buddies, Alfred & David, also sharing our experiences, comments and reflections of the different cars we have owned.

David’s sixth car, the Toyota MR2 was from an era in the 1980’s that Toyota was bringing out some exciting sports models. These included the Toyota Supra and the 1986 ‘Ultimate Celica”(ST165) GT-Four, Turbo AWD becoming its flagship rally car.

The MR2 was David’s his firstmid-engine sports car. Some said at the time, a mini- Ferrari on a budget except with all the reliability. An era where the Australian motoring public were being introduced to the revving joys of a twin-cam engine and the joy it could provide an enthusiast with a manual gearbox. This one brings back great memories for all three of us realising we all experienced this classic Toyota twin-cam engine in some form or another. Get ready for a decent read.

If this reminds you of a special car you have owned please share your experience or just name it or just “like” ours.

#mynextcarbuying #melbourne #automotiveadvocate #carsweowned #toyota #toyotamr2 #twincam #rpm

1989 First generation Toyota MR2 in racey red.
88kW 135Nm 5 speed manual
0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds

The description “Go-kart for the road” gets thrown around a lot but no car deserves this title more than a first generation MR2. The figures at the top of the page do not do it justice. Let’s look at some other numbers and features. Legendary 4A-GE engine that revs to 7700rpm. Short throw, precise 5 speed gearbox with pedals perfectly positioned to heel and toe. Just over 1000kg in weight. Mid- engine. Nimble short wheel base. Suspension and handling fettled by an ex-lotus engineer. It had 4-wheel disc brakes& unassisted steering. All this plus a perfect driving position with comfortable, supportive seats; a remarkably supple ride and a lift out sunroof that stored conveniently behind the seats. There was even a boot behind the engine that could fit a golf bag!

There was nothing like the MR2. Other manufacturers have tried affordable mid-engine cars but none of them have got it this right. The Fiat X1/9 was woefully under powered and unsorted. MGFs weirdly drove like a front wheel drive hatch with prominent understeer. Even the later MR2s lost the plot.

The first generation MR2 felt every part an exotic to drive. It really felt like a mini Ferrari. You always knew the engine was behind you with the tail happy to wag at any time. The unassisted steering required a little more effort but rewarded with exquisite feel. The engine revved freely to nearly 8000rpm, the gear changes were frequent but precise and the brakes were both powerful and full of feel.

Remember these were the days before stability control or even antilock brakes. I count myself lucky I only ever spun it twice and managed not to hit anything either time. I used to work at Whittlesea a lot more and I remember the other Doctors wondering why I would never complain about having to do house calls out to Flowerdale or Kinglake. I always came back with a smile.

Another feature of this car was that despite feeling very exotic as a whole, the individual parts were quite mundane. The running gear was out of a front wheel drive Corolla and just mid mounted and turned around to drive the back wheels. The suspension was standard Corolla McPherson struts all round. As such the whole car displayed the classic Japanese bulletproof reliability.

Every drive in the MR2 felt special and if Toyota was still making this car today, I would not hesitate to buy one.

Richard (Comment):

New only one other person who had one in the late 80s and loved it for all the same reasons you stated. Many a time I saw it on the road a definitely thought mini Ferrari. Would have loved to driven one.

Did have a taste of that engine as Alfred first twin cam Corolla had that engine. It was a revelation spinning effortlessly into the high 7000s and was unbelievable and so free reviving. When it was on song it just pulled and certainly put a smile on our faces. Times were about just under 10 secs to 100kph but it felt faster than that, with all the histrionics of revving to the redline. I can imagine with only 1000kgs, the MR2 it would have felt even faster than the time indicated of 8.9secs. Especially being so low to the ground and with the sound coming out at the back of your head. You can’t help thinking what it would have been like up our Mecca road, Lake Mountain. I reckon an absolute hoot. Well written and informed. These chapters and book are pretty damn good read.

David reply:

As a classic I think you would have to look long and hard for something more practical, fun to drive and with absolutely iconic styling of the 80s era.

Alfred Comment:

Great review David. What an enlightened account of a special place in motoring history and another on trend driving ownership experience by you again. My perspective was as the HR Manager working at Toyota at Port Melbourne plant/ head office at the time. I was there between 1987-89. We always had a couple of MR2 ‘s in the fleet with the engineers at the time. The reputation was iconic in engineering circles across Toyota. They would take some test runs around corners at up to 160km/hr in the open roads. Grip and performance were quite outstanding amongst all cars and exotics at the time.

However, as with the Porsche 911, there was a point when without any hint of warning ⚠️ it would let go and you could lose the car completely. During my time we had two MR2s roll and be written off with the engineers. It developed a separate reputation internally for how much courage people could demonstrate to push this unbelievable piece of machinery to its limits, before it would snap back through its mid-engine handling and grip and take a bite of your soul or potentially your life.

I had that twin cam 4A-GE engine in my twin cam white Corolla Seca and a red Corolla Hatch which I bought as my ex- company car for my wife when I left Toyota. I really thought they were the true hot hatches for their time outside the VW Golf GTI. Still remember one Xmas we had the Corolla at the beach visiting Richard and it developed a hole in the exhaust. The amazing raw sound when we revved 2nd gear to 8,000 rpm to hit 100kph was something I have never forgotten. As I am sure Richard still remembers.

Late 80s, Toyota was at its peak together with the Celica’s with the 2-litre twin cam engine with their pop up lights. We also would have Supra’s floating around the company. Toyota took nearly another 25 years to start getting it mojo back, ala the iconic Toyota 86, which we all so love. In fact, probably the best pure sports car they have ever developed for the daily driver and for us enthusiasts. We thank that wonderful chapter of the 86 experience to you David and your visionary purchase. (The 86 review will be coming) No brand snobs amongst our ranks.

Lockdown-Cars We Owned- 1978 SAAB 99 EMS 2.0L COUPE Manual

The Lockdown series continues with me and my 2 driving buddies, Alfred & David, also sharing our experiences, comments and reflections of the different cars we have owned.

My 2nd car on reflection, was truly special for me. The Saab 99 EMS Coupe taught me really how to drive. To truly understand the way, you can feel the various elements of a car, the steering, chassis and engine coming together. To be able to extract the best out of the car. Squeezing every Kw of power available and truly get involved in the driving experience like only a manual can do. The length of my review is a testament to what I realised it meant to me.
If this reminds you of a special car you have owned please share your experience or just name it or just “like” ours.

Richard (2nd) car:

The second car I owned and a very significant one in my motoring history as it started a 30+ year unbroken journey for me of owning my brother, Alfred’s cars. A 1978 Saab EMS 2 door coupe, FWD, 4Spd manual. It had a 2.0L 8 valve 4cylinder indirect fuel injection, naturally aspirated producing a competitive 87kw @5500rpm and 167nm @3700rpm redlining at 6200rpm with 1150kg curb weight. Claimed 0-100kph in 11.6 secs, 0-400m in 17.4secs and a top speed 176kph.

To understand my car, you need to know and understand what I bought and inherited. Alfred loved the car and it was the time in 1986 when he started his climb up the corporate HR ladder and was starting to access company cars which resulted eventually in having owned about 45 cars. The Saab 900 Aero Turbo was a car all Saab enthusiasts lusted over. The signature triangular mags were something desirable. So, during Alfred ownership he replaced the standard 175/70/15 -5” rim with a unique triangular themed high polished alloy with a 205/60/15 with a 6” rim. Added spot lights, upgraded stereo and put a wide opening black canvas manual sunroof. With long two doors, window down and big roof open it was as close to a convertible feel you could get. Finally, after the car was broken into the roof and interior slashed, the insurance company completely reupholstered the interior and installed a new Sunroof and headlining. The car was reborn.

What was so special about owning a Saab 99 EMS?

It was made in Sweden, EMS stood for Electronic (fuel injection) Manual Sports, a quirky and unique car, in features and in styling. Saab was an original aircraft, jet manufacturer. The way they thought about and approach in building and engineering their car reflected this aeronautical philosophy. It was translated in its advance thinking about safety and comfort of the driver, similar to pilots on long haul flights.

It was a very cool car to own. It was different to anything else on the road, as loving, and playing tennis all my life, Bjorn Borg was my hero and he was the Saab Ambassador and drove the Saab 99 Turbo in the late 1970’& early 1980’s. On top of that Saab’s had a World Rally reputation with the famous Swedish Rally driver, Stig Blomqvist winning the International Swedish Rally in 1977 with a Saab 99EMS. That was all the credibility I needed to feel I was driving something special even if others didn’t realise it.

The seats were extremely comfortable and supportive for long distance driving. The Saab philosophy was that a warm and comfortable driver was a safe driver. The seats were designed by Recaro. So the seats were adjustable in the conventional way but could be raised or lowered at either end of the cushion and it still had the famous ‘seat warmers” which came in whenever the temperature dropped below 14 degrees Celsius. The main doors had reinforced cross beams for side impact ahead of its time. Even its renowned for its floor located ignition switch rather than the steering wheel. This was safety driven to avoid the ignition barrel impacting the driver in case of a serious accident. It further required you to select reverse gear before the ignition key could be removed.

There was the quirky rounded windscreen and washers and wipers for the headlights. The door floor sills cut into the chassis allowing the door to open without any wet snow or mud being able fall on to your clothing as you opened the door. All lateral problem-solving design. Even the window demisting system was designed for a cold climate with all the windows, even the side ones, were demisted by ducting air on the glass in the same way as most windscreens and not by conventional electrically heated wire. The rear seats squab folded down to double the already large boot so you could even fit through a bike. This was an uncommon feature for a sedan at the time a well-advanced thinking for its time especially regarding structural integrity.

What was it like to drive?

This was a driver’s car, you had to extract the best of the engine and it rewarded you greatly.  With the maximum power band coming in between 3700-5500rpn you would redline it to 6200rpm in every gear and it would sit beautifully at 4000rpm in the next gear and accelerate relentlessly. The engine was extremely smooth and ran out effortlessly to the redline. This car would cruise happily at 145kph. The 4spd gearbox had a short accurate shift. The chassis was solid and European in feel with a non-assisted direct steering and a smaller sports leather steering wheel in your hands. It felt accurate with plenty of feedback. The steering felt heavy at parking speeds but as soon as you picked up some momentum it felt perfect combined with the chassis. The faster you went the better it felt, carving up the corners on the hills, feeling like you were on rails as you spun through the gears.

What was its obvious competition at the time?

The Alfa Alfetta, another European driver’s car with a bit more performance. In comparison the Saab may have lacked the upper reach of the Alfa’s handling prowess but the Saab rewarded with a little more finesse and feeling of engineering integrity. They were fundamentally different, as the Alfa probably had more character and was considered a genuine driver’s car but the Saab had the practicality, capable of fitting 5 adults, and had the ruggedness that seemed historically missing in the Alfa. In fact, the worse the conditions the better the Saab would become.

Was it reliable?

I had the Saab 99 EMS for 11 years, longer than any car I ever owned and it was in the family for a total of 15 years. I took care of my cars and have always had a preventive mentality to my servicing. The Saab never broke down on me. Normal wear and tear meant over the period of ownership I reconditioned the gearbox, steering and replaced one engine mount.

What is its legacy?

The Saab taught me really how to drive. To truly understand the way you can feel the various elements of a car, the steering, chassis and engine coming together. To be able to extract the best out of the car. Squeezing every Kw of power available and truly get involved in the driving experience like only a manual can do.

The day I sold this Saab to a young guy was a sad day. It was in mint condition for its age. I remember how impressed and enthusiastic he was in buying it. It was important to me that the next owner appreciated it. He looked me straight in my eyes and promised me he would take care of it.

Sadly, about two years later I spoke to my old mechanic who had serviced the Saab for me for those 15 years. He told me the guy had come in to service it, it was neglected and he didn’t pay the bill, he held the car over until he finally paid it a couple months later. He never saw the guy or the Saab again.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see it again on the road. I occasionally have looked up the VicRoads site and checked for the rego, I don’t have the VIN number any more. No trace. Maybe it’s sitting in someone’s old shed or it in some wrecker’s yard.

Thanks for the memories!

#mynextcarbuying #melbourne #automotiveadvocate #lockdown #carsweowned #saab #saab99ems

Lockdown-Cars We Owned – 1966 – Datsun 1600 Sports Roadster

The Lockdown series continues with me and my 2 driving buddies, Alfred & David, also sharing our experiences, comments and reflections of the different cars we have owned.
David’s fifth car was a step back in time, his first convertible and hobby car that he honed in his mechanical skills and ability to read car manuals. Not every story of car ownership ends well.
If this reminds you of a special car you have owned please share your experience or just name it or just “like” ours.

David (5th) car:

1966 Datsun 1600 sports roadster. Red of course.
71kW 141Nm 4 speed manual
0-60mph in 13.3 seconds

A bit of a detour as this was my first (and so far) only hobby car rather than a daily driver. It was also my first convertible. When I bought this car,it would be fair to say it was a bit of a wreck. Most of it was in pieces in boxes including the engine. But with a bit of trial and error, I followed the service manual and my Father was there to give me advice. Eventually I managed to get it all back together and running well.

There is no better way to learn about how the mechanics of how a car works then to have to put one back together. In the end I never quite got it registered but on warm, balmy evenings Sue and I, would cheekily drive it around the back streets of Eltham and enjoy the wind in our hair and the raspy exhaust note in our ears. I would have loved to have taken up to the hills in Healesville. Alas it was not meant to be.

The car was just about road worthy when Sue and I got married and went overseas for 6 months. I left the Datsun 1600 Roadster with a mate who had a big storage shed on his property in St Andrews. Unfortunately, he decided he needed the room in his shed and left the car out in the elements in his paddock over the winter. When I got back the clutch was seized and the interior ruined. I didn’t have the heart to start again and ended up giving it to the teenage boys next door.

Richard comment:

Looks great and would have been very special. How do you think it would have handled Lake Mountain in steering, chassis and balance? What would it be worth now do you think? Styling wise I vote; it has stood the test of time. Its lines are true and pure with proportions just right.

David reply:

Steering was a bit vague, the live axle back end did bounce around a bit. The engine felt strong and the gearbox was good. I reckon it would have been fun in the mountains.
As for value now. As a wreck probably a few thousand. In good original condition who knows around $45000.

Alfred comment:

What a stylish and great looking convertible. Datsun sure had some pedigree in their styling department in those days. Remember Richard, how awesome our driving adventure was driving our Uncles Datsun 180B SSS coupe 4 speed manual, British racing green with the cream vinyl all the way to Mt. Hotham on our L plates.

I can still remember the sound of that engine revving so easily to the 6000rpm mark and the easy long throw of the gearbox. It really felt like a little rocket sports car even with three,6-foot adults on board. I have to give special driving homage to my uncle and what an influence he was on us and creating the driving passion we have for cars today. He had us changing his 4-speed column shift from the passenger seat of his black 1969 Mercedes 220d from the age of 12.

As I write this at this moment in time, I just realised with a lump in my throat and at the same time with a bliss of happiness and deep emotion in my heart, that he is the reason we have the love of driving so deeply in our DNA.It was one of the special gifts he gave us. To be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed in realising in the later years of my life, what an incredible influence he had to both Richard and myself. It has literally brought tears to my eyes. A deep ‘aha’ moment.

Richard reply:

Absolutely Alfred. He took us everywhere in his cars and got us involved in the driving process. Most of the things he let us do as we learned about the art of driving you couldn’t do these days. But it lit the passion in us about all thing’s cars. Though I believe the passion and interest it was always there. It just needed an avenue to escape. I do recall the now the brilliantly free revving nature of that Datsun 1600cc engine. A far cry from the chocking, retarded anti- pollution clogged engine that was in the subsequent Datsun 200B. That car was a poor shadow of itself. I realise we actually learned how to drive a manual in the180B SSS. Probably started when we were 14-15yo.

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