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Baby McLaren: 1990 Toyota Sera

1990 Toyota Sera

“What the heck is that thing?” was my first response when I spotted this little Toyota here on eBay. We wouldn’t normally feature a 90’s Toyota, especially one with a tiny 1.5 liter engine, but those crazy butterfly doors make it worth a look. Very few affordable cars ever came from the factory with this style of door and that’s probably the main the reason people have started importing these from Japan. This one has some “custom” touches and probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I bet few of you have ever seen a car like it before!

Butterfly Doors

That a look at all that wrap around glass! With a low curb weight and short wheelbase, I bet these little cars are actually a blast to drive around in. It may already be bid above what I would be willing to pay for something like this, but I bet the next owner will be happy knowing that there’s a good chance they will never see another one coming down the road.


  1. Avatar photo RayT

    Reminds me a little of the “Autozam” (Mazda JDM car) AZ-1 I drove many years ago crossed with a Matra Murena. This one has a larger engine, of course (the ‘Zam was a 660cc), and I suspect it might be a speedy little toy.

    Not being an expert on importation, I would be concerned about trivia like emissions and safety laws, even though it’s (just) past the 25-year point. Would a DMV computer go crazy when the VIN is fed in?

    Considering that it would likely be most suitable for “display only” (where would you get replacement parts? Probably not from Toyota) it’s probably going to go to someone whose fanatical about Japanese cars.

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  2. Avatar photo Scotty G

    This one is a super, super rare 5-speed, most of them are automatics. This is a 100% legal car for US roads now; no worries about emissions, crash safety, or anything. 1990 is the magic number. Some folks (like me) like these odd vehicles and aren’t just looking for something that goes fast in a straight line. If the auction ends now it’ll be priced perfectly (around $7,000).

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    • Avatar photo brakeservo

      While it’s “100% legal” as far as the Feds are concerned for importation, you will find it IMPOSSIBLE to title and register in all of California and many of the larger metropolitan areas in Oregon and probably other states with air pollution inspections mandated. This has been the bane of so many people who imported “cute little Citroen 2CVs and Austin Minis” and then found they couldn’t register them. Because I live in an area where it’s no problem – Boracho Springs, New Mexico, I like to buy them at bargain prices when the owners are faced with the impossibility of registering them where they live.

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      • Avatar photo Scotty G

        That’s a good point, sir! I didn’t take that into consideration, I stand corrected. But, I love your idea of buying them on the cheap when folks find out that they may have trouble registering them in a particular state.

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  3. Avatar photo Jeff V.

    Kinda looks like a early baby Porsche 928!

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    • Avatar photo William H

      That was my first thought when I glanced at it. After I started reading I went back a looked at it again and noticed my first glance was way off. Looks like a neat little car, certainly a unique one.

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    • Avatar photo Jason

      Not to me!

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  4. Avatar photo MacVaugh

    Wiki says:

    Mechanically the car is related to both the Paseo and the Starlet, sharing similar floorpans, suspension, steering and brakes amongst other items. As such, many consumable parts such as brakepads and springs are interchangeable and still readily available from parts suppliers.

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    • Avatar photo emmyJ

      Of course, that also puts a dent in the “fun to drive” theory. ;)

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  5. Avatar photo Leo

    What kills it right of the bat for me is the right hand drive. I know it’s not hard to get used to but it kills resale value as well (at least here in the USA)

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  6. Avatar photo randy

    A rural route carrier would love one of these. (USPS)

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  7. Avatar photo Mark E

    I’ve had my eye on these since they’ve come out. Unfortunately the current surge in popularity with Japanese cars has pushed the prices of these way out of whack. I mean, really, what is it? Think Corolla with a glass roof and funky doors. I think a fair price would be in the $2500-5000 range but the market says $7500-10000… >_<

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    • Avatar photo randy

      Not being snarky, but you could try to import one yourself, it might put it in your price range. Myself, I could not do a right hand drive.

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    • Avatar photo Mark E

      Whoops, looked at the auction. Modified with ripped upholstery? $2500 MAX. Add import fees and that would put it around $5k. Unfortunately prices in Japan have responded to the American market and one in fair to poor condition over there is around $4-6k.

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  8. Avatar photo Mark S

    Double over head cam, four valves per cylinder, hemi head design. I’ll bet this little car is quite a rocket ship with great cornering abilities. I’m not a fan of right hand drive either but there are lots of young guys that like these.

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    • Avatar photo brakeservo

      It’s not just ‘young guys’ that like RHD. I’m in my 60’s and PREFER RHD and have friends in their 70’s and 80’s that do too! So if your 80 year old grandfather can drive a manual transmission RHD car, you can too!

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  9. Avatar photo Dolphin Member

    There are sites on the internet that offer JDM cars to No Americans or will even take an order for a make/model/year of JDM car. I have never used one but with all the people immigrating from Asia to the West Coast I guess they have seen a market for that. And with the strict laws in Japan about car age and mileage it has probably opened up an export market for their older cars.

    The side windows on this car remind me of the older Subaru supecar with the flat 6 (WRX?) that had partial lowering side windows because of the curved glass on the upper part of the side window.

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  10. Avatar photo MGRacer

    I tried to get in one in Japan several years ago. If you are over 5’6″ it’s a real bear to get into. At 6’3″ I couldn’t fold enough. My son at 6’0″ had the same problem. The car belong to one of the guys in my son’s unit. Neat looking in person, but tiny.

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  11. Avatar photo Mark-A

    To me it definitely seems to be an Ex-Boy Racers car, alarm bells blasting about (amongst others), Mismatched Interior (Front Seats look a lot like Mitsubishi Evo spec), Strut Brace (really?? Still I suppose you’d have to have a sense of humour driving this & trying to improve the Handling, Momo Steering wheel is a quality part but not really suited to this, the biggest Flag as to being a Wannabe Boy-Racers car is the Black Bonnet (Hood), either was damaged & owner was too cheap to match the paint or and I concede to NOT being an Expert maybe they all came with that type of paint job. As they say there’s always an A$$ for every seat & also please remember that this is only my opinion & opinions are like Bellybuttons everyone has one (decided NOT to use A$$ twice but oh dear I have!!) One thing that is a definite is as long as it’s serviced it’ll probably run forever & a day with the Toyota reliability! If you could get it cheap enough just run it until the wheels fall off!

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  12. Avatar photo Mark E

    Sold for $7300.

    Wait…$7300?!?? Methinks someone got carried away with the bidding. Look at the beautiful refurbished example you can (still) get for $7995…


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