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by Jay Traugott
At the time of the MR2's launch back in 1984, no one expected Toyota would be able to build a true lightweight sports car.
With the release of the Toyota GT-86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, we thought it would be interesting to look back at another highly regarded Japanese sports car. No, we're not referring to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but rather the Toyota MR2. As part of a Toyota tradition of small, lightweight, and affordable sports coupes beginning with the AE 86 in 1983, the idea for the MR2 was first conceived in 1976. Toyota was interested in building a car that would be fun to drive and have good fuel economy.
However, their original idea was not to build a sports car, but designers still looked for engine placement and drive method alternatives. When the first prototype was ready in 1981, Toyota opted to go with a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. A fair amount of testing was done prior to introduction, such as spending time on race circuits like Willow Springs. When the production version debuted in 1984, it raised many eyebrows simply because it was a major departure from what Toyota had become known for: practical and economic family cars.
The MR2, on the other hand, was a two-seater with a lightweight body and solid handling. Power came from a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter straight-four engine with 112hp mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed slushbox. Its suspension was designed by Toyota engineers; however they had some help from Roger Becker, a Lotus engineer. In 1987, Toyota offered a supercharged version, called the GZE. It produced 145hp, but the MR2's curb weight increased to 2,494 lbs., compared to the base car's 2,350 lbs. The completely redesigned second generation MR2 premiered in 1989, but it was larger and heavier than the outgoing model.
Power came from a 2.2-liter straight-four with 130hp again mated to the same transmission options. The MR2 Turbo came with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four with a total of 200hp and was mated only to the five-speed. To separate it a bit from the base MR2, Toyota added a fiberglass engine lid, fog lights, 'turbo' emblems, and even a storage compartment in between the two seats. Some mechanical changes included a stronger and heavier gearbox, and a larger fuel pump and radiator. All told, it could go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. Production ceased in 1999 just as the MR2 Spyder was launched.
Unlike the previous MR2s, the Spyder, by its name was an open-top roadster powered by a 1.8-liter straight-four with 138hp. One of the ways it was unique from its MX-5 and Honda S2000 competitors was the fact that it had a heated glass rear window, as opposed to a plastic window. The first generation Porsche Boxster didn't even have this option at first. The owner of this 1992 MR2 Turbo, affectionately called the "Blue Beast," claims that it has literally changed the way he feels when going from one place to another. He says that it's a thrill to drive and sees a lot of potential for even more aftermarket mods.
Some of the upgrades he's done so far include new wheels and tires, an added ATS Racing Garret kit, a side mount intercooler, race bearings, a multi layered steel head gasket, and various other performance improvements. His efforts have paid off as he's managed to run the quarter mile in 12.25 seconds at 120 mph. Photos courtesy of FST-MR2