Return on Investment: 1988 Toyota MR2

By Jeff Bennett

In the eighties and nineties, affordable sports cars were being produced by most manufacturers.  Cars such as the Scirocco, Fiero, Capri convertible, EXP, MR2, CRX, and the Miata were all products of this time period.  While many of them were marketed as sporty economy cars, all of them were considered sports cars by the media and potential customers.  Of the cars listed above, only the Miata remains in the marketplace.  While the Miata was and is a fine sports car, the Toyota Mr2 was a very strong challenger to the throne if we were going to decide the best of this pack.  Finding a sports car from this era is rare, and finding one in great condition is almost impossible.  Fortunately, this 1988 Toyota MR2, found on Craigslist in Trussville, Alabama for $4800, is a well kept example of the first generation of these mid engine marvels.

Of the pack of sports cars listed above, the configurations used by the designers were very diverse.  The EXP, Scirocco, and the Capri convertible were front engine cars with front wheel drive.  The Miata was a traditional front engine automobile with rear wheel drive, and both the Fiero and MR2 were mid engine with rear wheel drive.  Of these three configurations, mid engine cars with rear wheel drive are the undisputed champions of handling.  The downside is a phenomenon called snap oversteer.  When a conventional car is pushed to its limits, handling is fairly predictable.  On a mid engine car, a loss of traction in a corner (especially under power) can cause a very rapid and violent spin.  While professional drivers prefer a mid engine car due to good weight distribution, an average driver can find himself in over his head very quickly.  Add to that the usual mid engine complaints of a warm and cramped cockpit, limited cargo room, and very limited engine access, and you can see that it is risky for a manufacturer to provide customers with a mid engine choice.  This risk is compounded when you consider that mid engine cars often share little in the way of common chassis and parts with other cars in the line up, and the market for such cars is always limited.

From the perspective of hindsight, Mazda obviously made the best choice by offering customers an updated MGB/Lotus Elan that didn’t leak oil and wouldn’t break on a weekly basis.  Customers flocked to these simple convertibles, and that success eventually drove all the other competitors out of the marketplace.  That is too bad for the rest of us, as there are many reasons why the Fiero and the MR2 should have been continued.  For the Fiero, GM had finally worked the bugs out of the car, and they had a number of engines on the shelf that would have made the car a performance legend.  For the MR2, Toyota’s legendary reliability combined with their relentless determination in regards to development would have probably given us a very refined sports car.  Undoubtedly, the MR2 would have eaten up a lot of the Miata’s market share by now.  Sadly, it was not meant to be.

Toyota did try for a long time.  In the end, we were blessed with three different generations of MR2s, with the second generation receiving the most praise.  The third generation looked like an anime character’s ride, and wasn’t well respected by enthusiasts.  The first generation, however, had a lot going for it.  The development on this version was very thorough, with Toyota going so far as having a Lotus engineer help in designing the suspension.  They also hired Dan Gurney to assist in testing and improving the car’s performance on the race track.  The other thing the car had going for it was a very low weight.  The first models weighed a little more than 2,200 pounds, and the later supercharged models still carried less than 2,500 pounds of body weight.

Luckily, the car for sale in the ad is one a 1988 model, and it comes with the supercharged engine.  While a normal MR2 put out around 112 horsepower, the supercharged variant put out 145 horsepower, and had more low end torque.  When you consider the car’s low weight, ample horsepower, and incredible handling, this makes for a rather desirable sports car.  To add to that, the car has traveled just 67,000 miles, and it appears to have spent most of its life in a garage.  The owner claims that it runs and drives strong, although the dust and condition of the storage area makes me wonder how often it escapes the confines of the garage.

As you can see from the pictures above, the car looks almost showroom new.  The paint appears to be in great shape, the interior is immaculate, and even the seat bolsters are undamaged.  The car was equipped from the factory with air conditioning, T-tops, and even a switch on the dash to allow the driver to use lower grade unleaded gasoline instead of the car’s preferred high octane diet.

Overall, this is a great car for someone who wants to enjoy mid engine handling at a low price.  MR2s have kind of disappeared from the roads, with first generation cars being the ones least seen.  Add to that the rarity of the supercharged models, and you will likely see a return on your investment if you keep this car for a while.  Japanese sports cars are one of the hottest segments of the collector car market.  While the most desired cars of this trend are currently the Datsun 240-Nissan 280 Zs, eighties cars are starting to appreciate.  We all wish we would have bought a rare muscle car when they were just used cars.  This is kind of a modern version of the same deal, because these cars were very desirable during their heyday.   Factor in that there are a low number of survivors in excellent condition, and you can see why this car would be a good addition to your garage.

You could almost tell your significant other that it was a long term investment.  Let me know if you get away with that line at your house.

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Comments

  1. John T

    GONE ALREADY!
    Message on Craigslist: “This posting has been deleted by its author.”
    That went fast!

    4+
  2. Gary Cook

    Looking for information regarding the repair/replacement of a Granduar convertible roof for my 1980 Toyota Celica St.

    0
  3. Dolphin Dolphin Staff

    I have driven only one of these–a used one–so my impressions are limited, but here goes anyway….

    – A small car with a very short wheelbase. Nimble, but I would rather have a longer wheelbase for stability on highways.

    – In the 1980s Japan was still selling mostly small cars that were really more suited to Japan than to interstates in No America, so Mister Two was in keeping with their approach to car design. Compare this car to a big Lexus today: you can’t.

    – Speaking of Interstates, the little engine is a terrific revver but probably not what you would want for a drive across the country at 7000 RPMs all day long.

    – Despite that, you had the feeling the little engine was bulletproof. I think it probably could do 7000 RPMs all day long.

    – The car I drove needed new shocks, or at least I hope so, because it pitched a lot on bumpy roads and even when getting on and off the throttle. Stiffer shocks and lowering it a couple of inches would have made it a great handler.

    – Good ones are scarce. Not surprised it’s already sold.

    2+
  4. tasker

    family member still has the ’87 model she bought new and has been garage kept ever since….think it has under 60k on it. Don’t think it is supercharged but still looks like new. Used to race against it once in a while screwing around with my wife’s 91 Geo Storm Gsi….could never beat me…..boy, have horsepower wars changed!

    1+
  5. 68 custom

    a steal at 4800, too bad it is gone…

    1+
  6. Pa Tina

    Why was it called a “Mister 2” ?

    0
    • jackthemailman

      MR2 = MR. 2. I expect if it were named SR2 by Toyota we would call it Senor 2.

      1+
  7. BMW4RunninTundra Member

    Man, oh man!!!! I try to stay a few days behind in my “reading” on BF. I hate to get caught up and not have more reading to do!!! (sounds like an addicted person, eh) That practice, while having probably kept me out of Divorce Court, has caused me to miss out on a deal or two, I most assuredly would have jumped on!!!! I’m still kicking myself on Jesse’s Corolla GTS!!!! These Mr. 2’s were almost indestructible!!! (same as the GTS) They loved being revved and revved and revved!!!! Plus this one had the T Tops!!! Structurally was “tied” well to accommodate. The only minus on this one, from what I can see/read, based on the mileage, is it is timing belt time!!! IF that had already been done, at that price, then that was even more of a screaming deal!!
    Oh well, live another day without worry of being “served”!!!!!!

    1+
  8. John

    If these little cars had prancing horses on their hoods, Porsche would have had a tummy ache. These were very good little cars, and fun. It’s sad that the Toyota couldn’t justify its continued evolution. The only negative is that the noses had a tendency to accumulate salt covered slush. Way too many owners failed to simply keep them clean, and the tin worm took over. Whoever bought this car will have WAY more than $4800 worth of fun. Just keep its nose clean.

    0
  9. Danno

    Had an ’86. Street legal go-kart, sooooo much fun to drive, around the city. The little 1.6l engine didn’t give you much off the line, but it revved happily, so it *sounded* like you were going crazy fast. Everyone should own one, for at least one summer.

    0
  10. Chuck F 55chevy

    I just bought a 2000 MR2 Spyder that I had sold after replacing the engine 6 years ago, it was too small for my wife, but I liked it, I’ll be commuting about 2 hours per day. It’s a fun little convertible with air, they seem to be holding at $5,000 or more, so $3,000 seemed pretty good. MR comes from Midship Runabout, it’s on the trunk compartment in this one, not sure about the 2, two passenger? There are several forums for all generations if you’re looking to buy one.

    1+
  11. sparkster

    I bought a 1988 Supercharged red MR2 for $1500 at a auction about 18 yrs ago. To this day I wish I had kept it longer than two weeks. What a blast to drive. The supercharger gave it a lot of torque so there wasn’t a lot of down shifting. To this day I’m still looking for another. This was screaming deal. Damn it.

    1+

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