By on September 21, 2015

Toyota MR2

Salt is a killer. Any time I travel south, I’m amazed when I see pristine, 30-year-old cars being used as daily transportation. Up here in the Great White North [Don’t you live in Ohio? —Mark], most everything built prior to Y2K has been perforated horrendously.

Considering this, I laugh anytime a distant friend asks me to check out a local car. Invariably, the car in question is more air than metal, and what remains is held loosely together by the sheer adhesion of the paint, duct tape, chewing gum and dreams.

I checked one such MR2 near my house a couple weeks ago. The Craigslist photos showed a pretty clean car, with nice, lightweight alloys for a rather low price. What I saw when I arrived, however, was horrifying. After I left, the seller texted me links to online supply houses that offered cheap patch panels, which was both reassuring and depressing.

I’d never driven a MR2 before, let alone any mid-engined car. This lightweight runabout was unbelievably fun to drive, even considering the overwhelmingly loud exhaust (rusted, natch) a few inches from my ears. Unboosted power steering, responsive throttle, and instant turn-in made my brief drive memorable. It also allowed me, for a fleeting instant, to consider this heap for myself.

This Texas car looks to have no such worries. Pristine red paint and the all-too-rare supercharged option make it nearly irresistible. I’d want to replace the driver’s seat upholstery, since there’s no other reason to put a $20 seat cover on an otherwise $10,500 car, and I’m guessing the steering wheel vinyl has rotted beneath the leather wrap, but this is a perfect time capsule.

I’m sure clean early MR2s will be a target for collectors at some point soon. It’s a far cry from the new Alfa 4C, but the Toyota looks to be a great alternative for enthusiasts on a budget.

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41 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1988 Toyota MR2 Supercharged...”


  • avatar

    Looks like an Autobot.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Nice .

    Damien had a NA first gen. MR2 and raced it hard , I used to have some fun videos of him tearing up Desert tracks .

    Then he went and launched his new yellow MR2 off Mt. Emma Road , backwards at well over 100 MPH and this one time , he wasn’t wearing his safety belt (I never saw him without one) , was ejected and died on the spot .

    R.I.P. Damien , those cars were fun and fast .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Yep, it’s a time capsule…to when Toyota made interesting cars.

    I had a major thing for the FX-16 at the time. Always looking for a Q-ship.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    So cool! Salt and rust, just a few of the many reasons I left NE Ohio. Arizona is home now, and my cars couldn’t be happier. I dumped my last Ohio vehicle, a Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited…it had cancer(rust) so bad I just couldn’t stand it, and it was only 10 when I sold it.
    There are many older cars in the Phoenix area. It surprises me whenever I see a clean daily driver. In Ohio, they would have died from cancer long ago.
    This MR2 is a true survivor…and cool to boot!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It’s a CP at this price. Shave off $2,500-3,000 and then it’s a good deal. For $10,000 you shouldn’t have to do anything to it.

    If the seat and steering wheel have been replaced, and come along with the car in case you want to use the originals – that would be a $10k item.

  • avatar
    statikboy

    “Unboosted power steering”? How does that work?

  • avatar

    I never drove a MR2, but I had an acquaintance who had one, and riding in that car it felt like it would have been REALLY fun to drive.

    It IS possible to prevent that rust from taking hold in the land of snow and salt, but it takes work

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/the-man-for-whom-they-made-the-three-million-mile-badge/

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    A few years ago I had a remarkably similar experience looking at one of these, in Upstate NY (you can predict what happens next). I tried to ignore the rust factor telling myself it was just a cheap beater and it didn’t matter, but on these little guys rust issues quickly become structural and not simply cosmetic. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly raw, fun, car for under $2000. if I still lived in a place with twisty roads and not the depressing flatlands, I’d consider scooping one of these up. Either that or a 80s Prelude or Civic Si.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Hey, Indiana has a beautiful and varied geographic nature of zero elevation and either green or brown grass, and trees that are green or brown.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I actually just drove through the southern part of the state near Louisville, on my way down to Gatlinburg for the weekend, and thought the rolling hills were beautiful. Likewise near Bloomington in Brown Country, RT-135 is my favorite place to test my mettle on my Suzuki Bandit 1200. It’s moreso Indy and up that is featureless and pancake flat. Those damn glaciers.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Yep, on 69 past Indy it just looks so boring and corn-fieldy.

          I’m always amazed how hilly it gets when I’m going to Louisville or Lexington. Hilly and green! Makes the cruise control work hard.

          (Lol Brown Country typo is appropriate.)

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            A Freudian slip if ever there was one! We really like it down there, but the “Kountry Kitsch” factor of a bunch of Paula Deen look-alike women and their mothers browsing stores full of cookie-scented candles and made in china faux-antiques gets to be a bit much. That’s when we hop in the 4Runner and blast off down a forest road to a primitive campsite.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Mine was a holy blast. Just do it. It was an ’85 base MR2. I’d take turns at 90 mph, where my Mustang GT maxed out at 60 (marked 30 mph). Both bone stock. What a kick!

  • avatar
    jmo

    Supercharged? Is this the same engine as the Previa SC?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I meant to ask this! I bet it is, given they’re both mid-engine.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        No not at all, this was a 4AGZE, the supercharged version of the 1.6L 4AGE found in the naturally aspirated MR2 (and Corolla GT-S and FX-16). Previa used a 2.4L “TZ” series engine, with and without superchargers.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Would you like to share with us about the Previa SC AWD system?

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Only what I can google in 5 seconds :) Seems that the transfer case is based around a viscous coupling, so it’s a full-time system with driveshafts going to the front and rear axles, that send power to the front/rear all the time. No low range, and I haven’t heard any mention of a ‘lock’ feature on the coupling for a hard split in hairier offroad situations. I’d love to get my hands on a final year All-trac S/C in a forest green and bronze tinted glass, to match my ’96 4Runner! That 4Runner just performed pretty admirably on my weekend trip, hauling 3 people and 2 bikes on a hitch rack, and a trunk full of stuff up into the Smokies, all while consistently returning 20 mpg on the dot (confirmed by hand and scangauge). I just have to nail down a slight high speed driveshaft vibration that I’m continuing to fight ever since I bought the truck a few years ago. I was sad that the roads up to our cabin were impeccably paved, and I didn’t really have time to just go explore for some jeep trails.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Haha, now you’ll be in a good mood all day from your learning! That green with bronzed glass would look nice. Then, you can get a green and peanut butter Camry Wagon to match. But man finding that Previa (or really any Previa SC, much less AWD) would be so difficult.

            It’s sad you get better MPG in that than I do with my sedan.

            LOL, on Ebay, “Items related to Toyota Previa” is a Ford Flex.

            Hey this one on Ebay had the dual sunroof! That’s rare. I have never been able to determine if there was an even higher-spec sunroof option for the US – I think other countries got a Flex-like 4 or 5 panel arrangement.

            http://www.ebay.com/itm/Toyota-Previa-LE-/201375745429?forcerrptr=true&hash=item2ee2ee0595&item=201375745429

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I always had a soft spot for the Previa – my ex-in laws had one and I loved the spaceship styling (it’s the Trekkie in me).

            But, Lord was that thing slow!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            My aunt had one, which was I think a low-equipped LE. It was grey monotone, and had light grey tweedy cloth (so durable) and the rear air thing in the roof. I remember it always smelled nice in there, and the front doors made a solid and nice sound when you closed them. It felt plenty zippy to me when I got to drive it.

            There was so much space in there too! Like three feet at the front with that curvy dash. She had hers until 240,000 something miles before it got slightly crashed and junked.

            And she replaced it with a Sienna gen 1, which she drove to 225,000 then junked it to Goodwill.

            And replaced that with a Sienna XLE AWD (2010 I think) which she’s still got.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I bet your aunt had the boosed version, Corey – the naturally aspirated one was DEADLY slow.

            But not slow enough that I couldn’t scare the crap out of my ex’s entire family on a trip from Milwaukee to Chicago for a funeral. I figure it was their fault for letting their new son in law Stroker Ace drive. Let’s just say we got there on time.

            For YEARS they gave me crap about it.

            They always were ballbusters.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Found some good pics here, of an S/C.

            http://gtcarlot.com/colors/car/76804331-12.html

            I think hers was a regular (definitely did not have an SC badge, I’d remember that) due to the low-spec trim, and the fact that she bought used and doesn’t seem like someone who’d spring for anything turbo or SC!

            Also, I was about 16 at the time, so me saying it was zippy would be against my frame of reference as a 94 Plymouth Grand Voyager or an 86 Fifth Avenue.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    There’s a guy near me who always seems to have at least one MR2 parked outside his shop.

    MKI MR2 is my favorite Japanese car, if and when I sell my current classic that one is on my bucket list.

    Shame that the stock MKII sucked and the MKIII has a maybe undeserved reputation as a girlie car

    This one is nice, yellow looks good on an MR2 and makes it more visible on the road.

    https://seattle.craigslist.org/tac/cto/5219248493.html

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I remember them as being exceptionally popular with single women, but I never drove one so I don’t know whether or not the chick car image was deserved. I do remember that the mid-engine cars like the MR2 and Fiero had a propensity for engine fires, usually due to poor maintenance of oil level.

      • 0 avatar
        energetik9

        Are you sure about that? Never heard about any engine fires on the MR2, only the Fiero.

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          Mostly anecdotes, including the MR2 owned by my wife’s boss. Oil handles a significant part of engine cooling, and this becomes even more important in mid-engine designs that have less natural airflow around the engine. Take some build-up of oil residues in the engine compartment, let the oil level go low and then get the engine good and hot and you’ve got a recipe for a fire. I always suspected that checking the oil in a mid-engine design was more of a effort that front engine designs, leading to less than required checks of the dipstick. How was it in the MR2?

          • 0 avatar
            energetik9

            I don’t honestly know about the issue, but understand what you’re saying. I just never really heard that on the MR2.

            On the MR2 is was very easy. Forward of the rear trunk, the engine cover hinged forward and it was fairly easy to access the engine and the dipstick from there. The opening was very resonable from what I remember. I only owned the car a few years and never did any significant maintenance on it and never needed to. College just got in the way and I had to reduce expenses :)

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I owned a 1986 version of this car (non-supercharged). The supercharged version was a 6.0 car from what I remember, and that was pretty impressive in the mid-80’s.

    What I always remembers was how maneuverable it was, the great manual shifter, and the great ergonomics. It was also the only car I ever owned that had pop up headlights.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    MR2 = Mid engine, rear wheel drive, 2 seater. Oh, Japanese creativity :)

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I love lots of 80s and 90s cars. I think living in the salt belt would depress the hell out of me.

    My 20 year old Taurus has a tiny spec of rust in the trunk (behind the tail lamp), its about the size of the nail on my pinky finger, and that is all. I couldnt handle it if it were rusted beyond reasonable repair.

    Even without rust, you dont see cars as old as mine very often down here. Doesnt matter the make or model, anything 15-20 years old is virtually gone by now. The problem is scrap metal pays pretty decent, so when your Accord with 220k on it blows a head gasket, you scrap it. Dont worry, an old Accord would be in pretty rough shape otherwise with a sun baked interior/exterior. God help it if it were a dark color and/or with leather interior.

    You can go up near Seattle and find all the 20+ year old Accords and Tauruses you want, a majority of them still look as good today as they did when Slick Willy was in office.

  • avatar
    pbr

    Got a few laps of the Rockingham (NC) road course in a “Super 2” BITD. Wild. Throttle and steering wheel worked together like peas and carrots. None of my ratty old junque ever went around The Fish-hook like that thing. And good thing the owner was occupied elsewhere and couldn’t see me coming out of the infield onto the oval dead sideways every lap, nose pointed at pre-SAFER Barrier concrete retaining wall. Shoulda bought it. Easily in my Top 5 funnest cars, no question.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’ve owned two Mk1 NA MR2s. About the most fun you can have with those kinds of power levels. My best buddy is a Mk1 nut, having owned more than I care to add up, culminating in his Mk1.5 (go look it up). Wicked-fast. These cars were reliable and fun. Both of mine had the removable glass sunroof, and I always wish they had been the t-top variants. Even in NA form, these were a hoot to drive. Sure, any number of plebian commuter cars can now (easily) show the old Mk1 their taillights from a red light, but the connection to the car and road in these little wedges is surreal. That little shifter is addictive and I simply smiled every time I drove mine. I’d not mind a clean Mark 1 (only in manual trans, please), even NA, as a fun weekend play car.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I live in the salt belt, the only depressing thing about used car shopping is all the trash everyone leaves behind, and the “fibbers” that will lie to your face about a trashed exhaust. Rust isnt that bad if you shop the right cars.

    Perhaps the most “fun” seller I e-mailed with was a guy selling a Volvo 240GL, when I mentioned a quite prominent rust hole he went mute, deleted the picture of the rust from his ad, and jacked the price up.

    Over the last few weeks a $1200 went to $2000, and the rust was never fixed.

    Imo someone really needs to invent a road salt that doesnt stick to your car

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    My ’86 died at 471K miles, overheating, eventually traced to (1) half-dead coolant cap which would expel on overpressure but never suck back, (2) radiator fan motors which were slower on full speed than the replacements on half speed, (3) engine bay fan which was on its last legs, and (d) engine bay temp sensor, which failed by gradually raising the temp at which it told the fan to start spinning.

    Got all that fixed on a parts car engine, but it died from crankshaft bearing failure at 533K miles.

    Strangely enough, Toyota would not cover the first engine, even though it did not make it to 500K miles.

    Gave it to the mechanic who worked on it so much, and he’s going to see about repairing it for his son’s first car. I hate to thinking of it going to the crusher some day. Shifting in 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) just before the 7500 rpm redline was always a hoot.

  • avatar
    Trichobezoar

    These were my first childhood crush cars, after seeing a chan caricature of one in the Dragonball Vol. 1 manga.

    Since they’re so light, they seem to have made a good platform for DiY electric conversions. Should be even better now that Li-ion battery and brushless motor tech has improved so far. Hope to pick up one of these or maybe an early Miata and apply an electric kit to it someday when there’s more room in the garage…

  • avatar
    probert

    Having owned an NA version for 2 years – and driven it camping with the GF twice around america – let me say that this car is the most fun you can have with your pants on. The yamaha engine is quick revving and responsive, it’s wide and comfortable, with 2 trunks it’s surprisingly useable, disc brakes and FI make it viable in the modern world. The suspension is Lotus style – stiff chassis, compliant damping – just awesome. My GF had a huge smile every time she got into this marvelous absurdity. Me too; it’s that kind of car.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    Fun fun car, but watch out for alternator bearing failure and heavy oil consumption. Mine was a NA version – had it for 8 years.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    I’ve always liked these ever since their intro. They were an admitted updating of the Fiat X1/9… with more power and Toyota’s rep for quality. I know a handful of guys who have owned both and they do say the MR2s have their positive attributes (e.g., reliable, quality of materials), but to a man they prefer driving the Xs.

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