SOTW: Toyota MR2

TV, radio, internet, jungle drums... there are so many ways to catch up on the news these days. For more historical content, there's the library, or as a left-field alternative the underside of Scrof's MR2 where, rammed in just below the surface of the paint, you will find a motley selection of late-20th century tabloids. Every sill tells a story.

All killer, no filler... unlike some other MR2s...
All killer, no filler... unlike some other MR2s...
This week's Shed is also an MR2, but a second-gen SW20 rather than a crumbly old AW11 like Scrof's. Better yet, it comes with the right sort of history, the sort that bolsters a car's value rather than its undercarriage.

The MR2 is one of those cars that makes you wonder why so many other Japanese cars of the time were so turgid. When you bear in mind the MR2's classic design - mid engine, good power, sweet styling, not too much weight - it does seem that these elegant little Toyotas are poorly served by history.

Things are improving with the passage of time, with all three MR2 iterations now bathing in a growing corona of praise from happy owners. Looking objectively at that recipe, you can see why. It all makes perfect sense. If such a vehicle came forth from Japan now, we'd be crawling all over it. As it is, we must get our 'poor man's Ferrari' kicks from the PH Classifieds.

Wheels a bit naff, but easy to change
Wheels a bit naff, but easy to change
As Scrof will sobbingly admit, solid examples of the first AW11 (1984-89) are not as easy to find as appearances might lead you to believe. The third model, the W30 (1999-2007) was a neat retake on the original car's slabbier look, and it was a full convertible too, but Toyota's refusal to compromise on the stripped purity of the MR2 concept went a bit too far in that no luggage space was provided. This reduced its appeal to a small niche market of minimalists, orthodox Buddhists, and believers in the imminent apocalypse, not many of whom were given to wandering into Toyota dealerships.

The in-between SW20 model (1989-99) that you see here was arguably the most successfully styled of the three. There was a price to pay for that swoopy look: this was the heaviest MR2, at well over 1,200kg, but taking the glass half full approach you could argue that that's more a reflection of the pleasing lightness of the earlier and later models. That 154hp 2.0-litre twin-cam motor endowed the SW20 with very acceptable (and reliable) performance, the seats are brilliantly comfortable, and the T-bar roof is a very nice feature. Plus you get what is surely the world's tallest centre console.

You even get pop-up headlights. Exciting.
You even get pop-up headlights. Exciting.
MR2 folk favour the cosmetically and performance-ly enhanced Rev 3 and later versions over this Rev 1 specimen, but this one is at least a UK-supplied car, rather than a grey import. Sticklers for originality needn't be put off by the aftermarket wheels; they're easy to change and originals shouldn't be too tricky to come by.

The list of potential MR2 problems is short, and mainly age-related rather than endemic. Rust, obviously (sorry Scrof): undertrays and wheel liners do retain road gunge, so make sure to thoroughly check the rear sections of the sills, where slight bubbling on the outside can mean tea-dunked digestive biscuits on the inside. Try to pull the last two drain plugs out and insert your screwdriver. If you can't feel anything, step away smartly. This one also has some frilliness around the rear arches, but as long as that's just superficial, it shouldn't be too costly to repair, should you deign to.

Other stuff? Rad and cooling components generally, especially any pipes that are bolted to the body of the car and that will crack over time. Corroded brake lines, freezing handbrake cables and seizing calipers. Water-damaged alternators. Naturally perished rubber seals on the T-Tops, and inefficient windscreen wiper function - DIY solutions abound for both.

The best-proportioned of the three MR2s?
The best-proportioned of the three MR2s?
Look behind the front slam panel and rear bumper for damage, but other than that it's a case of drive and enjoy. Just watch out for the snap oversteer. Buy decent rubber and maybe a geometry sharpen-up with some of the money you'll be saving on classic car insurance and petrol (consumption in the late 30s or even early 40s).

This car is in Buckinghamshire, which is handily close for Londonites, and reasonably accessible from much of the rest of the country. And what's more, you can look forward to going through an impressive sheaf of paperwork once you get there - one that's kept in a folder rather than pasted to a structural member.

Here's the ad:

1991 / J Reg, ***UK SUPPLIED***, Black, 5 Speed Manual, 1 PREVIOUS OWNER FROM NEW, 2.0 GTi Twincam Engine, 16 Service Stamps, Black Leather Interior, 15" Wolfrace Alloys, Full Toolkit, 157k Motorway Miles, Carefully Maintained and Always Serviced On Time, Mainly Serviceb by Toyota Main Dealer Only, All Usual Toyota Refinements

157k Miles - Full Service History
Tax 31-April-2013
MOT 28-July - 2013
HPI Clear Report

Price £795 - PX to Clear - Excellent Engine and Gearbox

Usual Rust on Arches But Excellent Runner

Vehicle Location - Buckinghamshire / HP13 5AE

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (174) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Dr Imran T 15 Feb 2013

    Not bad, I used to have a turbo and it was rapid smile

    I should also add that they look quite smart and look like they cost a lot more.

    Edited by Dr Imran T on Friday 15th February 09:45

  • Lee540 15 Feb 2013

    Thought this would be an old thread.. bought one of these for shed money back in 2005..

    Was a great car.. except wasn't very watertight!!

  • Martin 480 Turbo 15 Feb 2013

    Are you guys blind or still wearing your shades from last summer? Those sills
    look no better for missing some Sun pages from them.


  • Andy75 15 Feb 2013

    argh - going through my car history with these posts! I had a UK NA, and then a rev 1 T-bar turbo import about 12 years ago - not quite the tail happy machine everyone seems to make out? Still wish I had the later revision at the time though for that bit more power and chassis tweaks. Would still have another for track use or even daily snotter.

    So cruel about the sill comments though! laugh

  • Shifty Bloke 15 Feb 2013

    Would definitely change the wheels. But its still looking good today, certainly better than the newest redface

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