1986 Toyota MR2
1986 Toyota MR2. Click image to enlarge

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By Jeff Burry; photos courtesy Toyota Canada

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Toyota MR2, 1984-1995

During the past few weeks, the media has been focusing considerable attention on the woes of Toyota Motor Corporation. Not surprisingly, like a flock of ravenous vultures circling a carcass, news outlets have been pummelling this “gentle giant” of the automotive industry.

With all the negative publicity surrounding Toyota these days, one can easily be distracted from some of its finer moments. One such finer moment occurred approximately 26 years ago with the launch of its MR2 model. This two-seater, mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car was sold in Canada from 1984 to 1995, through two generations. A third generation, dubbed the Toyota MR2 Spyder, arrived in 2000 for our friends south of the border but unfortunately was never available for sale in Canada.

1988 Toyota MR2
1988 Toyota MR2. Click image to enlarge

The first generation of the MR2 was produced between 1984 and 1989 with nearly 25,000 units being sold annually in North America. Approximately 10 per cent of those made their way into Canadian dealerships, making it relatively rare.

With more of the focus on family and practical sedans, no one expected the folks at Toyota to bring to market such a radical two-seat, mid-engined sports car.

The first generation MR2 is small by all standards, weighing in at only 1,066 kg (2,350 lbs) with a length of only 3,950 mm (155.5 inches). Powering the MR2 was a 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder engine. The DOHC (double overhead camshafts) combined with an electronic multi-point fuel injection system enabled the engine to produce a respectable 128 horsepower.

In 1986, consumers had the option of choosing the MR2 with a supercharger, providing the car with some extra “get up and go.” The supercharged model was available through to 1989 with stock horsepower ratings pegged at 145. The supercharged version of the MR2 was available in both U.S. and Canadian markets.

1987 Toyota MR2
1987 Toyota MR2. Click image to enlarge

While by today’s standards the horsepower ratings were low, its handling and responsiveness was enough at the time to impress automotive journalists worldwide. Engineers placed extra attention on the MR2’s suspension components which were designed in collaboration with Lotus engineer, Roger Becker.

During the first generation’s production life there were a few subtle and not-so subtle changes made to the MR2. In 1986, consumers had the option of ordering a four-speed automatic transmission as well as a leather interior, and in 1987 one could even opt for a removable T-top. By 1988, designers were already laying the blueprints for the next generation MR2 which would later be affectionately referred to as the “baby Ferrari.”

However, the first generation model was not to “go out” with a whimper, as Toyota launched a “Super Edition” model (available only in Japan) that came standard with a Momo steering wheel and shifter knob, Recaro seats with matching door panels, and a special midnight blue paint. Production of this extremely rare model ceased in December 1989 after only 270 models rolled off the assembly line in Sagamihara, Japan.

No MR2s were imported into North America for the 1990 model year, but Canadians would not have to wait too long as the 1991 models were released midway through 1990 – and the wait was worth every minute!

1987 Toyota MR2
1987 Toyota MR2. Click image to enlarge

The second generation MR2 went through a complete redesign. Gone were the sharp and purposeful lines of the first generation model. The looks of this new model were much more rounded and streamlined from front to rear. The vehicle grew by 240 mm (9.3 inches) with the wheelbase being stretched by 81 mm (3.2 inches). The car also gained close to 180 kg (400 lbs).

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