By on September 23, 2019

The mid-engine MR2 started out strong in the Eighties, but ended its life in the new century with a quiet, blob-shaped whimper. Today we take a look at the best of type — it’s a first generation supercharged model, in Ticket Me Red.

Toyota’s new coupe was designed from the outset with sporty handling and a lightweight body in mind. The company turned to a Lotus engineer by the name of Roger Becker during the development phase for assistance with suspension and handling. When it was ready for production, the MR2 maintained its initial goal of sporty handling, but picked up a few additional pounds for the sake of structural rigidity and power equipment. Depending on the version, the 155-inch MR2 weighed between 2,200 and 2,493 pounds.

Toyota introduced its new MR2 in 1984 as an ’85 model and immediately picked up a COTY award in Japan. Two engines were available from the onset, a 1.5-liter inline-four (AW10) which was not offered in North America, and a mid-market 1.6-liter. Said mill made 112 horsepower and found a home in the majority of MR2 examples. For model year ’86, a supercharged version of the 1.6-liter engine was made available in Japan; it found its way to North America in 1988. Equipped with a Roots supercharger and intercooler, 145 horsepower were accompanied by 137 torques. The supercharger made for brisk acceleration times to 60: 6.5 seconds with the manual transmission, or 7 seconds with an automatic.

Supercharged versions suffered from additional weight via the revised engine and new, heftier transmission. It meant stiffer springs were required to maintain handling prowess. Visual cues exclusive to supercharged models were cut-out alloys, dual vents on the hood, and stickers labeled “SUPERCHARGED” in various locations.

Visual changes for 1989 marked the first generation’s final year of production. Door handles and mirrors were always color-keyed, and the CHMSL was replaced with a more modern LED strip integrated into the rear spoiler. Supercharged versions also received an anti-roll bar for the rear suspension. The critically-acclaimed MR2 gave way to a larger and more aerodynamic version for 1990 that was heavier and more expensive, but also more powerful.

Today’s well-preserved Rare Ride is an excellent example of the type, though the ’89 version might be the most desirable. With 142,000 miles, it asks $11,900 presently — a reduction from its previous ask of $12,450.

[Images: seller, Toyota]

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26 Comments on “Rare Rides: An Original 1988 Toyota MR2 – the Supercharged One...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    One of my personal favorites. Good thing I’m broke.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    I always wanted one of these so badly, starting 30 years ago. Now all the examples that turn up are so worn out from being thrashed.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    A friend in college’s little brother had one exactly like that in 1989. My friend’s first car had been a 300ZX turbo, which he wrecked. Then he had a BMW, which he wrecked. Then he had a Blazer, which he wrecked. Then he had a Prelude, which he wrecked. Then he had a Fox. My opinion at the time was that his little brother got short-changed because of his track record.

    Their parents were divorced, and their father was the car guy who had a kitchen wall covered in photos of his various Corvettes followed by his various 911s. When the little brother was caught buying crack, the father took away the supercharged MR2. That’s when the mother, who was head of the state chapter of MADD, stepped in and gave him a BMW 528e to drive in order to score points against the father. I never saw the MR2 again.

    • 0 avatar

      What a lovely family.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Have you ever had friends who moved on from weed to cocaine? The first few times they did it, they offered to share just like with the weed that I turned down every day for years. After a couple of weeks, they start acting like you don’t know what they’re doing. Suddenly they just go to the bathroom in mixed groups and their eyes dart around a lot. They become ever more paranoid, like you’re going to hoover up all their blow despite the fact that you’ve never accepted it when offered. We grew apart.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t have any friends who are into drugs. But that’s a very sad thing to watch people spiral into the depths of addiction.

          • 0 avatar
            dividebytube

            I had a friend in HS – I’m still friends with him – who got accepted to an expensive, upscale university. Two years later he drops out, addicted to heroin. Over a decade of heroin, he switched over to crack. And then pills. And then alcohol.

            Amazingly – he’s still alive and kicking – and clean now. He is unemployed and takes care of his elderly parents. He’s on disability; spending most of his days listening to music, watching TV, etc.

            Personally I would go nuts in a situation like that. It’s like a cozy prison.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            A quick facebook snoop reveals that he graduated from the University of Wyoming, has been married since 2001, and still has all the trappings of the 1%. Hell, I’d reach out but it looks like he’s in financial services.

          • 0 avatar

            And here we have examples of the two major end results of addiction: The ones who luck out of it and recover, and the ones never do. The third result is when they’re dead.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      Kid in HS had a really nice 1970-ish 442 that he managed to flip, destroying the car.

      A couple of weeks later he’s running a big block Buick Skylark with spray.

      My kid would have been banned from driving for a few years before I helped him ever gain.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    Nice shape for 142K miles but I wouldn’t give you $12K US for it. I’m thinking if you threw it in an auction it would fetch between 8 and $10K.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I wish that there was a current production mid engined coupe that wasn’t $70,000.

    • 0 avatar
      heliotropic

      How about $60K?

      https://www.chevrolet.com/upcoming-vehicles/2020-corvette

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      By the time you get the Cayman at a reasonable level of trim, you’re close to $70,000. The C8 Corvette may be a little less dear, but it’s also a much bigger, heavier, and more powerful car. I was thinking more along the lines of a mid engined BRZ/86.

      I’ll probably wind up with a BRZ.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Apologies, but two of my biggest pet peeves in these threads are the unsubstantiated claims of “AWD and FWD get the same mileage” and “once you add reasonable options, car X costs this much.” Five minutes on, respectively, fueleconomy.gov or a manufacturer’s website usually indicates otherwise.

        I just did an extravagant-by-my-standards/reasonable-by-other-people’s-standards Cayman build on the Porsche configuration and ended up at $63K and change.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Looking up dealer inventory in my home state of Georgia, there are a total of seven Caymans in stock within 150 miles. Two of them are in the $68,000 range, the remaining four non-S models are in the mid $70’s, and the sole Cayman S is in the $80s.

          I don’t doubt you can spec out a Cayman in the low $60s, but that’s still too much for me. Whatever I get is going to see track duty and I can’t risk that expensive of a car on the track. Not that I intend to crash it, but a missed shift could lunch the engine, and the repair bill would approach the purchase price of a base BRZ.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            “I don’t doubt you can spec out a Cayman in the low $60s, but that’s still too much for me.”

            Again, not flaming, but don’t cite a $70,000 figure then.

            But I’m nitpicking. I totally agree with your overall point that there’s not an attainably priced mid-engine car. That $63K and change figure I cited happens to match median household income in the US, which means it’s really expensive in my book.

            The reason we don’t see cars like the Fiero, MR2, and X1/9 anymore is explained in the Ate Up With Motor article on the Fiero:

            “Pontiac’s pessimism about the sports car market in the nineties turned out to be well-founded. A recession early in the decade, combined with higher prices and rising insurance premiums, caused sales of most two-seat sports cars to drop precipitously. By the late nineties, the Honda CRX, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, and Nissan 300ZX were all dead or gone from the U.S. market. Toyota’s sleeker, faster second-generation MR2, launched in 1991, sold only 21,580 units in the States in five model years and was dropped from the U.S. lineup after 1995. In that climate, it seems unlikely that even a vastly improved second-generation Fiero would have fared much better.

            “There was one exception to that gloomy picture: A year after the Fiero’s demise, Mazda unveiled its new MX-5 Miata roadster, which proved to be a great success and remains one of the world’s best-selling two-seaters. Some Pontiac executives lamented the loss of the mooted Fiero convertible, realizing that they could have had some of the Miata’s business.”

            Between limited demand and the availability of the Miata, the pony cars, and the hot hatches/sport compacts on the market, there’s probably not much profit to be made in mid-engine cars unless they’re relatively expensive.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Owned two NA Mk1, miss them both. Great cars that were very enjoyable given the relative limits of them. Best friend has owned more MR2 than I care to count, including a SC and a purpose-built “1Mk 1.5” that was a true beast.

    I’m not sure we’ll ever see the likes of such fun, tossable little cars again as the wave of SUV/CUV mania continues. Sure, maybe a niche one here or there…and that’s all the sadder.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A friend who was a committed 2nd generation GM only driver, leased a non-supercharged MR2. Liked it so much that since then, he switched his loyalty to Honda and Toyota.

    As for the downward descent from weed to crack/heroin, etc. That is one reason why I support legalized cannabis. If you are purchasing your cannabis from dealers and therefore entrapped in the criminal/underground society it is much easier to slide into worse drugs. If you are purchasing cannabis from a state sanctioned store, the temptation to move on to something more hardcore is somewhat limited.

    The introduction of crack had a particularly nasty impact on society. In the 1970’s and 1980’s I worked in an industry that employed many ‘down and outers’ or those on the limits. Most could work at least periodically gainfully for a full day. However once ‘crack’ took hold, they were largely unable to function at all. It is/was truly destructive.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This was a part of Toyota’s late-80s flirtation with superchargers. The MR2 was the only example to make it to North America, but the homeland also got supercharged Corolla/Sprinter coupes (same 4A-GZE as the MR2), and supercharged 2-liter I6s in the Mark II/Chaser/Cresta and Crown.

    https://www.tradecarview.com/used_car/toyota/corolla+levin/24544036/?isNew=1

    https://www.duncanimports.com/used/Toyota/1988-Toyota-Mark+II-81bb397f0a0e08be0166360fa72f1d54.htm

    https://www.duncanimports.com/used/Toyota/1989-Toyota-Crown-144076740a0e08ba1fcafc80412aa1b1.htm

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Toyota sold an other supercharged vehicle in North America and it was mid-engine too. Hint: It has a roof rack.

      The first gen MR2 is basically a go kart with a licence plate. If you’ve never driven one (or similar), be prepared to have your mind blown. In the era, I figured them to be just another cute car for chicks.

      I drove one on a lark (in ’88) and immediately began my search to find a nice used 1st gen MR2. When I got one, of the four friends I let take it for a “drive” (without me in the car), two of them bought one themselves. One of them bought two MR2s, 1st gen.

  • avatar
    6250Claimer

    I had a roommate in the late ’80s who had one, and it was stolen twice. Knew someone else who had one stolen also. This was in SoCal. Apparently thieves really liked these things, and/or they were exceptionally easy to steal.

    The CHMSL has now been with us for 33 years. Damn I’m getting old.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Mine was stolen twice. I bought it as a “stolen recovery” at auction, then it was stolen and from a friend I loaned it to. The seats were exceptional and usually ended up in custom mini trucks and or show trucks. Mine still hasn’t been recovered, 30 years gone, and still really missed. I want one bad and now may be the time.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Kinda high miles for 11,9. I feel like 7-8.

  • avatar
    GPcruiser

    Had a 86 NA from Senior year to age 21. I still have vivid dreams about driving that car. What a blast.


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