By on June 12, 2017

1986 Toyota MR2 in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The Toyota MR2 has always been a somewhat rare Junkyard Find, partly because not many were sold in the first place, and partly because the surviving examples tend to be cherished by MR2 enthusiasts. Here’s a solid ’86 that showed up in a Denver self-service wrecking yard a couple of weeks back.

Judging from the line of silt visible at about driver waist level, this car spent some time partially submerged. The most likely culprit is the flooding along Colorado’s Front Range in September, 2013. During the first couple of years after the 2013 floods, Denver-area wrecking yards were well stocked with flood victims, including some real heartbreakers.

1986 Toyota MR2 in Colorado wrecking yard, odometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Before the deluge, this car traveled well over 200,000 miles. MR2s are surprisingly sensible commuter cars.

1986 Toyota MR2 in Colorado wrecking yard, HVAC controls - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This one even has the optional air conditioning, a must for those hot Denver summers in a tiny car.

1986 Toyota MR2 in Colorado wrecking yard, hood emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
I have seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of first-generation MR2s racing in the 24 Hours of Lemons during my decade with the series, and I have learned that this car is not so great at low-budget endurance racing.

Like most Toyotas in the Lemons series, the MR2 suffers from severe reliability problems, and most 4AGE-powered ones are no quicker around a road course than their 1980s Ford Escort GT, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf competitors (having been an MR2 admirer since these cars were new, this knowledge disappoints me). With a Camry V6 swap, though, an MR2 can turn some decent lap times.

1986 Toyota MR2 in Colorado wrecking yard, decklid emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The flood damage is more obvious in person than it is in photographs, so nobody is likely to buy it and fix all the water-damaged electrical stuff. I saw it a couple of days ago, and few parts had been pulled. Is it possible every Colorado MR2 collector already has all the parts they need?

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Watch out for the pop bumpers while driving your MR2.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Toyota MR2...”

  • avatar

    Toured the US twice in one:. 2 people, full camping gear, had picked it up for $1400 on ebay. The most wonderful car I ever owned. My GF who doesn’t even drive, always smiled when she saw it, and we always loved driving in it. Comfy because it is wide, surprisingly able to carry stuff (2 trunks, and room behind the seats, and the yamaha engine – while not a powerhouse – revved freely to 7k rpm. You always felt fast even when being passed by a minivan with 3 children watching TV. I had found happiness – they were still searching. A wonderful car.

    • 0 avatar

      Perfect poetry to anyone who’s found the joy of slow, involving cars. Owners of vintage British sports cars, Minis, and Miatas everywhere are silently nodding in agreement with you.

  • avatar

    Having owned two of the Mk1 MR2s (granted, I never endurance raced either one), reliability was never an issue with either one. Now, my best friend’s converted Mk1.5? Completely different animal behind the wheel. That thing was stupid-fast. And still reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s one remarkable thing 24 Hours Of LeMons has proven.
      A Honda or Toyota that will live 200-300,000 miles on the street will last (maybe) 30 or 40 laps in a LeMons race.

  • avatar

    I know very little about the MR2s, but there are/were several in my neighborhood, and a former co-worker drove one until she bought a RAV-4, which was better for her long commute, just like my commute used to be.

    I don’t know if I actually like them, or just kind of admire them for no particular reason, other than that Toyota used to have sporty cars once upon a time.

    • 0 avatar

      You really have to drive one to “know”. I thought they were really cute “girly cars” until I drove one on a lark and immediately had to own one. The 1st friend I let drive it bought one too.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a 1986 in red. I too fell in love with it once I drove it. They were fun and just had a good feel to them.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Holy cow, did the MR2 really have that badge? Can’t say that was a very wise choice…good thing it wasn’t a German car.

  • avatar

    I’d love be to see a frontal off set crash test of this car. Steering wheel would probably be touching the engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Most cars back then did not fair well in offset collisions, let alone regular accidents. Though a few did have really good bumpers.

    • 0 avatar

      Killjoy, what if you die from splitting your head on a banana peel walking to your no-fun vault of a car? Geez we drove a million+ miles (just in one summer!) in ours/friends/anybody’s Carmen Ghias, Bugs, Type IIs, Dune Buggies, scooters, beds of sky-lifted pickups, you name it (what seatbelts??) and did everything we shouldn’t!

      One of the funnest cars of the day, and cheap to buy (used). I still recommend it.

      • 0 avatar

        And llife expectancy has risen in the United States to around 80 years of age from 62 years of age in 1940 for a reason. Death rates per 100 million miles traveled in 1921 was 25 and in 2014 it was 2.
        Sometimes it’s not the brightest idea to buy an older vehicle just to a save a few bucks. As for seat belts. Guess not wearing one is all part of natural selection.

    • 0 avatar

      Crash-test results should not be considered when looking at sports cars.

  • avatar

    Roadrunner Auto Sales on Route 66 in Gallup had a convertible MR2 sitting out front for quite some time. I haven’t checked lately to see if its there.

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen it running around Gallup with a teenager behind the wheel and a fart can on it.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1986 MR2 years ago. Loved it, but never saw any reliability issues. It was flawless in the time I owned it. It was quick in its day, but I remember how awesome the shifter was, the redline, and especially the ergonomics. It just fit well for that time, and better than anything I had owned before. And I’m 6’3″.

    I remember you could remove the sunroof and snap it into the front trunk. That was a fun car.

  • avatar

    Why is it that MR2s struggle in LeMons, yet a Corolla Fx16 with the same engine doesn’t?

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    It’s a bit sad, but then 209k is a good service given. The old square MR2 is so old that Initial D 3rd Stage features the new oblong MR2, and that was a decade ago.

  • avatar

    The Creta Kano mobile. Such a cool car, I wish I had more respect for these when they were newer. Part of growing up in the Midwest is not seeing the value in tiny import cars. Silly me, I thought the Fiero was cooler. Now I’m on my second Miata.

  • avatar

    “…partly because not many were sold in the first place…”

    Rough estimates are that Toyota sold 92,000 or so AW11 (Mk 1) MR2s in the USA. And the Mk1 outsold the next two versions by a healthy margin. Sure, not Camry numbers, but not exactly chump change, either. The supercharged variant (first arrived 1988) was quite the little canyon carver with all of 145 HP and 140 lb.ft of torque (not super-high numbers, but remember the Mister Two only weighed somewhere between 2400-2600 lbs).

  • avatar

    The alloy wheels look pretty sharp. Judging by the center cap in the front trunk, they’re made by O.Z. Racing.

  • avatar

    I consider my first car — an 86 NA — my first true automotive love. It came to me with 98k on it and left me with 262k and was pretty trouble-free in between. It was a lot of fun for a castaway that a couple of old parents were trying to sell for their son, who’d taken a job overseas. They didn’t want the old bondo’d thing in their yard anymore.

    The worst issue I remember it having was it began popping out of fifth gear. I actually drove it from Alabama to California and back by way of Canada, holding it in fifth with my right arm the entire way (keeping in fourth would have been noisy madness.) It sounds crazy but actually wasn’t that uncomfortable. I’ve never had a car that more perfectly matched car to human in the interface, everything just fell right into place.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine bought a red one new in 1986 and drove it until he passed away in 2012. When he could no longer ride his motorcycle due to health problems in 2009, he had it buffed and detailed, rebuilt the front end, put sticky tires on it and took it for a fast outing at least once a week. We made some great memories on rural Texas roads. When he passed away his wife gave it to his brother (also a car guy), and it’s still going at over 600k.
    Really awesome car.

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