(first posted 2/27/2013) We recently discussed the Fiat X1/9 as both a CCOTY nomination, and in Sean Cornelis’ amazing test drive of a Bertone-badged variant one snowy Christmas Eve. The X1/9 was a lovely little go-kart, but with its rust-prone steel and thin-on-the-ground Fiat dealer network (at least in the U.S.) it slowly faded from the scene. Like so many other types of vehicles, Toyota took the Fiat’s general hard points and then produced a sporty two-seater of their own: the MR2, or “Mister Two,” as it was affectionately dubbed by many of its fans.
The MR2 was the result of a mid-’70s Toyota project to develop a fun, sporty car that would also give good fuel economy: the best of both worlds. It was not originally intended as a rip-rorting speed machine or “real” sports car, but as time passed, the MR2 turned into just that soon after its 1984 debut. It must have looked a bit jarring in the showroom sitting amongst the Corollas, Coronas and Cressidas.
The MR2 wore its intentions on its sleeve, so to speak, as “MR2” stood for “mid-engine, rear-wheel drive and two-passenger.” It utilized MacPherson struts at both front and rear, unitized construction, and was initially powered by the 4A-GE 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder with DENSO fuel injection. This tiny but sturdy mill produced 112 horsepower in U.S.-bound cars.
That might not sound like much, but keep in mind that the MR2 had a mere 2,350-lb. of curb weight, was only 155.5″ long, and had a 91.3-inch wheelbase. Even with the sub-2.0 engine, zero-to-sixty came in a bit under nine seconds–very good for a mid-’80s sports car saddled with tons of emissions spaghetti under the hood. North American sales were quite good, totaling 37,674 in 1985 (its first full year on the market), and 31,352 in 1986.
There was even a supercharged version available starting in 1988. These special Mister Twos got an 4A-GZE engine with a Roots supercharger, good for 145 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. Zero-to-100 km/h (0-62 mph) knocked about a second off the normally-aspirated 1.6-liter’s time. Supercharged MR2s also got a fortified transmission, stiffer springs, special alloy wheels and several “Supercharged” logos throughout the vehicle.
Both standard and supercharged MR2s came with a five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic was optional. Minor changes were the general rule during the first-gen’s run. A leather interior became available in 1986, and a T-top roof became an optional extra for 1987.
My only experience with one of these was in 1995, when my parents moved us all into a new house. Shortly after we got settled, someone abandoned one of these on the street, just beyond our patio. I was kind of taken with the black-and-silver car, although it had clearly seen better days. Before it finally got hauled away, I must have walked around that car and peeked into its sporty interior a dozen times. Well, I was only a year or two away from getting my driver’s license…
The aforementioned supercharged model came out in ’88, and the swan-song ’89 saw the CHMSL moved from the rear window to the trunk spoiler. By the late ’80s, the first-gen’s folded, origami styling was getting a bit stale. “Organic” styling was the new trend, and an all-new ’90 Mister Two (CC here) would take over. But never again would the Two be as successful in the U.S. as was its original iteration–only 93 were sold in the U.S. and Canada in 1995! Full production records of the non-Spyder MR2s can be found here.
One by one, Toyota’s cool cars–Celica, MR2, Supra–disappeared from the lineup. While Toyota’s current lineup is composed of perfectly nice family cars, I am hoping that the new Scion FR-S will mark the beginning of some more fun cars from Toyota.