A nostalgic quest to buy a 1986 Toyota MR2

BETHLEHEM, NH – Car and Driver magazine declared it to be one of the 10 best cars of 1986, gushing that “any car with a higher pleasure-...


BETHLEHEM, NH – Car and Driver magazine declared it to be one of the 10 best cars of 1986, gushing that “any car with a higher pleasure-per-dollar quotient would never be allowed by the IRS “. the car’s “finely balanced handling, superb five-speed gearbox and gem-like four-cylinder twin-cam, sixteen-valve engine.”

It wasn’t that long ago that I lazily remembered that old-time sports car, the 1986 Toyota MR2, that my wife Cheryl and I bought new. The MR2 was unusual because it was a mid-engine: this sturdy little four-cylinder was hidden behind the two seats. Without this weight on the front wheels, the MR2 was extremely quick to change direction, which is a hallmark of sports cars. In addition, its starting price was around $ 11,000, which is just over $ 27,000 today.

And that’s how I became a cliché: the old fellow who buys a car with nostalgia recalled from his youth.

After an exhaustive search, I found my new MR2. Its original owner had also read love letters to this Toyota since the days of “Back to the Future”. A test drive won him over. He named him Lil Blue and vowed to keep him forever.

Thirty-five years later, my MR2 hunt took a little more effort.

I was not discouraged by common sense issues. My checklist was ambitious. I wanted one that was rust free, well maintained and accident free. I wanted a manual transmission. Plus, I wanted the first generation, which covered the 1985 thru 1989 model years. I liked the angular styling, described most charitably as origami. Others compare it to a door stop on wheels.

The Facebook pages for MR2 owners have been very helpful in my quest. I wrote that I was in the market and finally started hearing from owners. There were discussions between buyers and sellers and sharing of photos. But when it came to selling, owners often couldn’t say goodbye.

After a promising conversation, California owner Shaun VonCorcoran said he had to go, and his girlfriend asked him to take the MR2 to their date. That was it. The next day he wrote: “I did about 100 miles on the MR2 last night. Perfect weather. I don’t think I can sell it.

I was not aware of any MR2s in our area of ​​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 car needed a lot of work, but the young man was ready to sell it. After my research of the country, here is one in my garden.

Then I checked the vehicle identification number and found that an insurance company had written it off after an accident. I asked the owner if the title was marked “salvage”. He didn’t have a title.

I have always loved watching auctions on the Bring a trailer website, while quietly mocking those who would buy a vehicle without seeing them. But one afternoon there I was hit by a 1985 with 67,000 miles. It was near Seattle. ultimately my $ 14,500 bought it. I was stunned. I did a lot of stupid things so it couldn’t be the dumbest but maybe the top five?

My remote purchase was noted by Mike Oliver, a gracious and knowledgeable MR2 enthusiast who lives near Chicago. He was considering selling his MR2, and I had been considering buying it. But I was hesitant that I couldn’t see it – or drive it – because it was so far from New Hampshire. Mr Oliver wrote: “You couldn’t pull a car further away, LOL.” I replied, “Hawaii? “

About a week later my MR2 arrived and looked great. A thick filing cabinet was hidden in the trunk. In addition to information on things like oil changes, he noted the brand of waxes and cleaners used for everything, including making the chrome exhaust tips shine. It was compiled by the first owner, William McGill of Salem, Oregon, and it included his email address.

Mr. McGill, then 23, had read the enthusiastic articles in automotive magazines and, in early 1986, had found one at a dealership. “After driving it, I was definitely hooked,” he told me. He bought it for $ 11,995, which is no small amount considering his salary of around $ 1,000 per month. His car payment was $ 265 per month and the rent was $ 255.

But after 26 years and 58,715 miles, Mr. McGill sold it to a friend. “I intended to keep the vehicle forever,” he wrote to me in an email. “It’s funny how life can redirect and change those commitments. As they say, we are just keepers for a while. “

Eventually the new owner sold it to a Toyota dealer, where it was exhibited for several years. The dealer sold it to Ethan Barry’s family in Poulsbo, Wash.

“I really liked the cornering aspect of the car,” said Barry, 22. “You could take corners at speeds that you wouldn’t dare to in normal cars. “

But he drove it less and less and finally concluded that “it was a decent amount of money just sitting down.” He put it on Bring a Trailer.

And that brought him to Bethlehem. To be registered, it required a safety inspection, and the mechanics marveled at its meticulous care and lack of rust. Mr McGill said his relentless cleaning routine involved sliding underneath to scrub his underparts.

It was a huge relief to find out that it is, indeed, a lot of fun. There is a unvarnished and vintage connection to the pipe. My behind is about 15 inches above the road, and because the hood is tilted down, there is a panorama of the pavement flashing under the car. This gives the impression that the MR2 is going much faster than it is. There was also literally a learning curve: it took lap after lap, going faster and faster, to realize that it is seldom necessary to brake.

It has an original ’80s look and unadorned originality: it has folding windows, and there is no power steering, no power door locks, no airbags and no electronic safety nets. such as anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control. And he has rattles and old age noises, just like me.

A change from driving an MR2 in the late 1980s is the huge increase in the number of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles on the road. He’s just over 48 inches tall, and now we’re rolling among giants, with the prospect of being propelled into eternity. The MR2 has a curb weight of approximately 2,300 pounds. A new SUV can easily double that.

Often those who make admiring comments are in their twenties. “Is it really a Toyota? Asked a young woman at a gas station. “It’s so 80’s,” said one young man.

With the delicacies come the worries. I’m worried about scratches and there are no slamming doors. I gently roll the windows up or down. He needed new tires and about $ 1,500 in maintenance. It’s also a bit difficult to start early in the morning – a problem that I am addressing. But overall it’s great. We’ve done it about 1,000 miles, and as I constantly and nervously check the gauges, every time I see it’s okay, it’s a little gift.

Some coins are hard to find – the owners refer to them as ‘unicorn’ coins – so there is an element of a scavenger hunt that makes finding something I need oddly exciting. But because much of the MR2 is based on the older Corolla, there are plenty of parts available, encouraged by a remarkable survivor comradeship on Facebook pages. Still, some owners are stocking crucial parts against a future shortage.

What is the hardest to find? It depends on where you live. “In hot countries it’s usually plastics that are hard to find,” said Neil Jones, who owns a large parts and salvage business in Wales. “In humid countries, it’s ironwork.

With pleasure comes the worry that one day I will seek out that magical part of the unicorn.

However, I recently received advice from a seasoned owner. “Every morning lay your hands on him and pray,” Martin Leodolter wrote on Facebook.

Amen.

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