By on January 22, 2016

1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo

Based on pageviews, you guys didn’t particularly love Wednesday’s Ferrari. So, let us consider something at twenty percent of the price, but with maybe 85 percent of the performance:

Toyota MR2 Turbo: 94.5 inch wheelbase, 2,700 lbs, 200 hp
Ferrari 308 GTSi QV: 92 inch wheelbase, 2,800 lbs, 240 hp

No, I’m not kidding. I don’t have proper instrumented test data at my fingertips, but the generally-close-enough accuracy of Wikipedia for both cars tells me that the performance probably isn’t too far apart.

Problem is, most of the MR2s I’ve encountered while shopping for today’s feature look like posterchildren of a circa-2005 NOPI catalog. No, I want a stock one. Today’s 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo, with around 66,000 miles, looks perfect to me.

As much as I complain about poor photography when looking at used car advertisements, sometimes photos that are too good scare me off. These actually look like they could be stock photos from new, if one doesn’t look at the interior. There are some creases and minor cracks in the leather, but nothing that should cause concern. I’d prefer better photos of the drivetrain and undercarriage, especially considering the Chicagoland location of the car.

Between the Ferrari and Toyota, I’d have to choose the MR2. While it won’t likely appreciate like the Italian, I’d rather drive my cars than polish them — not to mention a full rebuild on the Japanese car will cost less than a belt service on the 308. That’s a compromise I can live with.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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39 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo...”


  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Fantastic little car from back when Toyota made well engineered vehicles that people actually desired. The fact that they offered the MR2 along with the Celica and Supra all at the same time tell you how different both the era and the company were then.

  • avatar
    vtnoah

    You’d be far happier with the MR2 vs the Ferarri because you’d be spending the majority of your time driving it rather than paying some overpriced Italian to fix it.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    These had a reputation for spinning and crashing. Few of them survived.
    Apparently this was fixed with a new suspension in the last US model year, much like the Fiero was fixed right before it was cancelled.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Not trying to pick a fight, but I have never heard this. I suspect of a car with this level of horsepower havng this isse. Early Dodge Vipers…yes, but never this car.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        It was very hard at the time to find a used one that was straight.

        Apparently the problem was that the back end spun around way too quickly. Even Toyota’s Le Mans drivers had problems (JJ Lehto?). We’re talking about problem with production cars, as driven in PR events, not with race cars.

        Anyway, they fixed it in the end. I’m sure the MR2 community knows how to upgrade the suspension to the latest spec.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        I remember reading an article about this problem in CAR magazine (UK). They tested an MR2 and spun it repeatedly on a track, complete with time lapse pictures. Toyota soon modified the suspensions on the MR2 to keep the tail in line.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Believing that horsepower is the cause of oversteer sounds like someone who’s never driven a performance-oriented sports car near the limit. My 140 hp Miata caught me out a few times on track before I played with the (aftermarket) sway bar settings, and even now, you’d better be giving some throttle through the apex if you want the back end to stay settled when you’re driving hard. I’ve nearly had a similar experience, at lower speeds, in an 80 hp Triumph Spitfire on a Swiss alpine pass.

        Mid- and rear-engine cars, with much of their mass near the back of the car, can be especially prone to spinning when you abruptly get off the throttle, but even a front-wheel-drive car can do it. The rear suspension geometry plays a role in this, and that’s what Toyota tweaked in the later years of the MR-2 to make the car a little more settled at the limit. Years later, Honda had the same issue, and solution, with the S2000 (minus being mid-rear engined).

      • 0 avatar
        notapreppie

        Part of the problem was the low polar moment of inertia (relatively speaking) and RWD. Being a mid-engined moves the weight towards the center of the car. This is great for handling as it makes the car more willing to change direction (Take a barbell and put the weights as close to the center and try to turn it. Now move the weights to the ends and repeat.).

        Couple that with RWD and it was much easier to get the car into situations where snap oversteer was likely.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      Yes the MK II didn’t handle as well as the MK I .

      Prone to snap over-steer, the car would spin very easily.

      Probably why Toyota pulled the plug on the MR2 in the US even though it was still available elsewhere.

      Interestingly if you google snap over-steer, MR2 comes up first.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yep, back when I was selling cars in the mid-’90s, we had one of these on the lot, and I took it out for a little joyride one slow day. I was used to my ’93 Mazda Protege, which was a pretty decent little performance car – it had the twincam engine and the upgraded suspension. I took the MR2 on a side road I used to carve up in the Protege, and was quickly introduced to the whole concept of power oversteer. Ditto for a Z28 I took out too. Thankfully I didn’t crash the MR2 – “fired after destroying company property” would not have looked all that great on a resume.

      When you’re used to a FWD compacts that understeer relentlessly, you won’t be prepared for the different handling characteristics of a powerful, RWD car. Add in the peaky, all on/all off power delivery from turbos back ten, and I suspect that explains a lot of the spins.

      Around the same time, a guy I knew knew took a Toyota Supra Turbo out for a test drive – he had no idea how to drive a car like that, and ended up totaling Supra. The guy that was with him ended up in the hospital.

      If you’re hooning around in a high performance car, you better know what you’re doing.

      But that MR2 was a fantastic little car…wish I’d had the money to buy it.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I owned a 1986 (gen I) and always loved it. Nimble and athletic, it had great ergonomcs and a fantastic gearbox. I always wanted this model and always wanted the turbo.

    This was back when Toyota actually made sports cars.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’ve owned two Mk1 MR2s (NA). Still wouldn’t mind having one in the garage just for fun. Not the fastest, but just a joy to drive. My best friend is an absolute MR2 nut, and built a Mk1.5 (turbocharged vs. supercharged) and that thing was stupid-fast. He also had a Mk2 turbo that I was sorely tempted to buy from him. While some laugh, I can see the “2/3rds Ferrari” aspect of the second gen. Heck, even a NA with T-tops would make for a fun Sunday driver.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    But MR2 vs. Fiero, which is more digestible?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Depends on what you want it for. The Fiero is a better daily commuter and road-tripper, but the MR2 is a better sports car, especially the Mk1 “flying doorstop.” But here in road-salt territory, it’s almost impossible to find a Mk1 that you can’t see through.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think the Fiero would end up having pristine body panels, but the rot would all be underneath – under the skin, that car was still made of steel.

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    That is such a good looking car, even for today. Newer MR2 with its bug eyes doesn’t look as good, but would still garner some attention. So sad that Toyota has become what it is today, compared to what it was 15 years ago, with MR2, Celica, Supra, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Agreed. Such a shame that there is nothing on the market like this anymore. T-Tops are sorely missed. About the nearest thing to a Celica is an FRS I guess.

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        Anyone who laments the absence of T-Tops lives in Arizona, as I cannot imagine anyone up north subjecting themselves to those damn leaky, rattling contraptions on purpose. The Pontiac Gran Prix had a decent set circa 1982, but even they would get a red circle from CR. My experiences with holes in the roof while working in Canada has made me a slicktop man. I’ve even paid extra on one occasion and thought it money well spent. I suppose if I came across one of these little jewels so equipped, it wouldn’t keep me from buying it, but I’d plan on a complete weatherstrip restoration.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “So, let us consider something at twenty percent of the price, but with maybe 85 percent of the performance:”

    Sure, HP may be comparable, but the Ferrari easily doubles the Toyota’s performance on the BPD (Baruth panty drop) scale.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Love this era MR2 and would take over this weeks 308 but can I have it in the italian brown, red is not a color i like to popular but this is a car that is worth owning as a weekend or summer car.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Had a 91 (NA)–my favorite (used). I looked at the time, a used Miata, an a new MX-6, and a new Mercury Capri. The Capri was terrible (we had 3 in the car and it would barely move). I liked the MX-6, but not the payments, and the Miata felt tinny compared to the MR2 (and had been wrecked). It was fun to drive, but very loud. Quality was very Toyota. I had some sort of linkage to the 5 speed break, which apparently was a problem with the 91s which was a cheap update, and had it overheat once. The guy I had change the timing belt said he would never do another one.

  • avatar
    omer333

    One of my old friends from my high school days just picked up his third one of these, for his wife. From pictures on Facebook, all three (in red, black, and white) seem to be in excellent condition.

  • avatar
    MBella

    When I was 16 I almost bought a naturally aspirated second gen like this. The owner was selling it for $3000 and I didn’t want to pay more than $2500 and we never made the deal. Probably better off because I would have probably done some really stupid things in that car. If it somehow would have survived my teenage years, I could have sold it today for more than the 3K she was asking.

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    Toyota, along with many car companies, was building cars for fun and desireability, not as appliances. Today, it’s all about SUV’s/CUV’s and appliance sedans. Sure, you can opition them up and try to love them, but in the end it just a fancy appliance. Toyota needs to stop focusing on volume and go back to fun cars people might actually be glad they own.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert MdO

      I think Toyota is doing pretty good with the four-wheeled appliances so it wouldn’t be a good business decision to stop focusing on that; on the other hand Toyota is doing good enough and is big enough that they could (and I wish they would) still set money aside to develop this kind of car.

      • 0 avatar
        kmars2009

        I know it’s all about making money. However, in their quest to be number one, they now have quality issues. They never had recalls until recent years. At the same time, becoming boring at times. Scion is supposed to be their solution for sporty, when all you really get is cheap and cheerful. The FRS might be sporty, but overall seems to be a flop.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    The 1993-95 versions with the improvements are the truly collectible ones.

  • avatar
    john66ny

    I have this car’s twin, only with 155k miles on it. Bought in in ’96 and never looked back.

    I’ve only experienced the so-called snap oversteer once, and that was on wet pavement with bad tires. It was pretty easy to control, having learned to drive on RWD vehicles. So I’d say that the hype around that is overblown, not coming into play in anything you should be doing on public roads.

    The only problem in the longer term will be keeping the OE wheels as 14″ tires are now mostly made from unobtainium.

    Interesting example at $10K, I paid about $15K for mine in ’96 which would be about $21K in today’s dollars.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I want one to swap the corporate 3.5L V6 into. Wouldn’t need a turbo version to start with. Great looking cars

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Reading these comments I’m surprised at how many commentators have forgotten the Scion FRS’s existence.

    These MR2s are kinda neat, but the MK1 always looked better to me.

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