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.
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.
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.
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.