BETHLEHEM, NH – Car and Driver magazine named it one of the top 10 cars of 1986, stating that “any car with a dollar higher fun factor will never be approved by the IRS.” A separate review notes that the car is “perfectly balanced handling, its superb five-speed gearbox and its jewel-like two-cam, sixteen-valve, four-cylinder engine.”
Not long ago, I thought about that long-standing sports car, the 1986 Toyota MR2, which my wife Cheryl and I bought a new one. The MR2 was unusual because it was a mid-sized engine: this sturdy little four-cylinder was hidden behind two seats. Without this weight on the front wheels, the MR2 changed direction unusually quickly, which is what all sports cars are all about. Plus, its starting price was around $ 11,000 – or just over $ 27,000 today.
And this is how I became a cliché: the old idiot buying a car was thinking longingly of his youth.
After searching thoroughly, I found my new MR2. Its original owner also read this Toyota’s love letters since Back to the Future. Test drive won him over. He named it Lil Blue and vowed to keep it forever.
Thirty-five years later, my hunt for MR2 took a little more effort.
Common sense questions didn’t scare me. My checklist was ambitious. I wanted one that was not rust, well maintained and trouble free. I wanted a manual transmission. Also, I wanted the first generation to cover the 1985-1989 models. I liked the angular shape, to put it mildly origami. Others compare it to a doorstop on wheels.
The Facebook pages for MR2 owners were the most helpful in my search. I wrote that I was in the market and eventually started to hear from the owners. There was chatter between the seller and the buyer and the exchange of photos. But when it came to selling, the owners often couldn’t say goodbye.
After one promising conversation, California owner Sean Von Corcoran said he needed to leave and his girlfriend asked him to take MR2 on their date. That was it. The next day he wrote: “Last night I drove about 100 miles on MR2. The weather is wonderful. I don’t think I can sell it. “
I was not aware of any MR2 in our area in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But one afternoon Cheryl saw a red one. On a local Facebook page, I asked if anyone knew the owner. Someone did. The machine had to be worked out a lot, but the young man was ready to sell. After I searched the country, there was one in my backyard.
I then checked the vehicle’s identification number and found that the insurance company had written it off after the accident. I asked the owner if the title said “salvation”. He didn’t have a title.
I’ve always enjoyed watching Bring a Trailer auctions while quietly mocking those who buy a car unnoticed. But one afternoon I was struck by a 1985 car with 67,000 miles. It was near Seattle. Finally my $ 14,500 bought it. I was stunned. I’ve done a lot of stupid things, so it might not be the stupidest one, but maybe the top five?
My long-distance purchase was spotted by Mike Oliver, a friendly and knowledgeable MR2 enthusiast who lives near Chicago. He was considering selling his MR2, and I was thinking about buying it. But I refused not to see him – or to control him – since it was so far from New Hampshire. Mr. Oliver wrote: “You can’t drive the car any further, LOL.” I objected, “Hawaii?”
After about a week my MR2 arrived and it looked great. A thick folder was hidden in the trunk. In addition to information on items such as oil changes, he noted the brand of waxes and cleaning agents used for everything, including the shine of the chrome tailpipes. It was compiled by the original owner, William McGill of Salem, Oregon, and included his email address.
Mr. McGill, then 23, read rave reports in automotive magazines and found one in a car dealership in early 1986. “After I rode it, I was definitely hooked,” he told me. He bought it for $ 11,995, a considerable amount considering his salary is about $ 1,000 a month. The car was $ 265 a month and the rent was $ 255.
But after 26 years and 58,715 miles, Mr. McGill sold it to a friend. “It was my intention to keep the car forever,” he wrote to me by e-mail. “It’s funny how life can redirect and change those commitments. As they say, for a while we are just keepers. “
The new owner eventually sold it to the Toyota Auto Show, where it was on display for several years. The car dealership sold it to the Ethan Barry family in Pulsbo, Washington.
“I loved the turn of the car,” said 22-year-old Mr. Barry. “You can go around corners at a speed that you would not dare in conventional cars.”
But he drove it less and less and in the end came to the conclusion that “it was decent money just to sit.” He put it on “Bring The Trailer.”
And that brought him to Bethlehem. To get registered, he needed a safety check, and the mechanics were surprised at his thorough care and lack of rust. Mr. McGill said his relentless cleaning routine involved sliding underneath to clean out the undersides.
It was a huge relief to find out that this is really a lot of fun. There is an unadorned vintage touch to the driving. My rear is about 15 inches above the road, and because the hood is tilted, there is a panorama of the sidewalk beneath the car. This makes MR2 feel much faster than it actually is. In addition, literally a learning curve was required: you had to go faster and faster, turn by turn, to realize that you rarely need to brake.
It has a quirky 80s look and no frills quirkiness: it has roll-down windows, no power steering, no power door locks, no airbags, and no electronic safety systems like anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control. And he has old wheezing and noises, just like me.
One of the differences from driving the MR2 in the late 1980s is the huge increase in the number of pickups and SUVs on the road. Its height is just over 48 inches, and now we are riding among giants with the prospect of being in eternity. The MR2’s curb weight is around 2,300 pounds. The new SUV can easily weigh twice as much.
Often, those who admire comments are over 20 years old. “Is this really a Toyota?” the young woman asked at the gas station. “These are the 80s,” said the young man.
With pleasure comes anxiety. The scratches bother me and the doors don’t slam. I gently roll the windows up or down. It took new tires and about $ 1,500 for maintenance. It’s also a bit tricky to start in the morning – a problem I’m working on. But overall, it’s great. We drove it for about 1000 miles, and since I constantly and nervously check the sensors, every time I see that everything is in order, it is a small gift.
Some of the details are hard to find – the owners talk about ‘unicorns’ details – so there is a treasure hunt element that makes finding what I want oddly fun. But since most of the MR2 is based on the old Corolla, many parts are available, and there is a great “Help Me Find It” program on Facebook. However, some owners stock up on important parts in case of future shortages.
What’s the hardest thing to find? It depends on where you live. “Plastics are usually hard to find in hot countries,” said Neil Jones, who has an extensive parts and recycling business in Wales. “In humid countries, these are metal structures.”
The fun goes with the worry that one day I’ll be looking for this magical unicorn piece.
However, I recently received advice from a veteran owner. “Lay your hands on him and pray every morning,” wrote Martin Leodolter on Facebook.