My First Car Crush: The Toyota Mr2


Getting into the automotive world always starts with that one car.

Cars have been in my life since I was a child.  When I was four, my father let me sit on his lap and turn the steering wheel, while the car was in motion.  When I was seven, and I will date myself a bit here, my parents asked me for automotive advice.  My father asked, “Do you want the Camry?  Or do you want the Cressida?”  Of course I responded with the Cressida.  “Why?” he asked.  Once I told him it had an in-line 6 cylinder and it would be the first car that we would own that had over 100 horsepower, they gasped.  Once I told them that we wanted a 2.8 liter 6 cylinder with 156 horsepower (because MOAR POWER!), they freaked.

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Then, my parents took things a bit further.  They brought me to the dealership.  They settled on the Camry LE, because the Cressida was too far out of budget.  But, when the salesperson gave them a price, they went to me advice again.  They asked, “How much should it cost?”  I replied, “It should be $15,000.”  Needless to say, the salesperson looked befuddled.  After a “prolonged conversation” with the general manager, they settled on $15,500 and came home with the Camry.

That Camry was the first time our family brought home a new car.  While I loved the fact that we had something new in our garage, there was something else that caught my attention.  Sure, I had the Ferrari and Lamborghini posters on my wall, but there was one car that was more impressive to me, the early 1990’s Toyota Mr2.

Why the Toyota Mr2?  Simple.  Toyota was at their peak of reliability.  They built a reputation on it.  But, this time, they went with a design that looked similar in shape to a Ferrari 348 or even a Ferrari 308.  They brought the mid-engine car into the United States with Japanese reliability.  They achieved good power (200 horsepower) out of a turbo-charged 4-cylinder, while still getting good gas mileage.  On top of all of that, it was economically feasible.

I thought to myself, “I am going to get one eventually.”  Honestly, I didn’t even care if it was turbo or naturally aspirated.  I wanted the looks, the handling, and the reliability.

Motorweek reviewed the car back in 1993, when the latest redesign in wheels, suspension, brakes, and subtle aero differences made the vehicle easier to drive.

Years later, I stumbled across a good deal.  As an automotive appraiser, I learned the value of cars.  I also learned, that customers are willing to pay to get exactly what they want.  Believe me, I paid for it.  With 167,000 miles on the clock, I bought my first 1993 model.  It had aftermarket wheels and tires, but a clean Carfax history and was surprisingly clean inside.  Bilsteins struts were added as replacements for the OEM struts.

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Needless to say, I loved it.

Yes, it was naturally aspirated, but I didn’t care.  I averaged 27 miles per gallon throughout my tenure with the car.  I drove it daily.  I took it on canyon runs.  I loved driving everyone in it.  I loved the fact that it was a two-seater, so I didn’t have to carry an entire family.  I loved how well the 5-speed manual shifted.  I loved the aftermarket clutch that wasn’t necessary.  I loved the removable T-Tops that made me feel like it was a convertible.  I loved that the T-Tops still made a great silhouette shape of the car in the shadows.  I loved that it had trunk space for two full duffle bags, enough for a proper weekend getaway.

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Eventually, I added TRD strut braces, wheels from a 300zx for better wheel fitment, proper Koni struts, Carbotech brake pads, and the original ’93 springs.  It handled like a dream.  It was incredibly responsive.

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I kept it for just two years, before wanting another lightweight car that was mid-engined, another Mr2.  I moved on from that car.  With age, came some troubling maintenance.  The rubber on the T-top seals began to crack.  The air conditioning system just couldn’t be fixed no matter what we tried.  The weather was unbearable that summer, and I simply wanted something more modern.

I have owned a few cars since then, but I always think back to that ’93 Mr2.  Would I get another one? Absolutely.  Are there any changes I would add?  Yes.  I would get a hard top.  I would still add the suspension bracing.  The Koni struts worked beautifully.  The ’93 springs give daily driving ride height, but great handling and forgiveness on the edge.  The 300zx wheels added the bonus of wider tire options.  Considering it’s a two-seater, I’d probably add a bolt on roll cage, enough to make the suspension actually do its job, but the chassis rigid.  I would prefer a quicker steering rack and a smaller steering wheel.  Would I get the turbo?  Oddly enough, no.  It’s the heavier model.  If I could add a steeper overdrive fifth gear or somehow fit a six-speed manual to the car, it would be the perfect sports car for me, even at just 130 horsepower.

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Even with that kind of power, it’s a challenge to drive.  Lessons are learned.  Balance becomes part of the equation with turning, and a heavy rear-biased weight distribution just adds to the experience.

In the end, it’s still a highly responsive car with a low center of gravity.  It doesn’t take a lot of power to have fun.  It still looks modern to this day.  In this day and age, it’s tough to find a manufacturer willing to make this type of risky automobile, a mid-engine sports car, and make it so reliable as well.

… and I want it all back, again.