A testament to his efforts is the fact that the super red 1986 MR2 on these pages is the champ in its local autocross class. Its owner is high-school science and math teacher Richard Lee. The MR2's front trunk, or "frunk," as Lee calls it, houses a spare tire and enough room for an overnight bag and the removable glass roof panel (T-tops became available in 1987). The rear trunk, which he appropriately calls "the trunk," is spacious enough for a couple duffel bags. But it's the middle trunk (which we'll call "the engine compartment") where the magic is.
There lies a transversely mounted, twin-cam, sixteen-valve four-cylinder with a 7500-rpm redline. Large valves help high-rpm breathing, but in the days before variable valve timing was the norm, that benefit came at the expense of low- and midrange torque. To combat that problem, Toyota installed a flap that closed off half of the intake runners at engine speeds below 4350 rpm, boosting the intake-charge velocity and, therefore, torque. Sadly, the Nippondenso-badged derivative of Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, which uses a flapper-type airflow meter, muffled what should have been a recipe for glorious intake noise. Still, the 4A-GE engine is smooth, happy, and torquey from idle to redline, making the MR2 a sensible everyday driver.
Speed demons needed to wait a few years for more power. A supercharger showed up as an option on the 1988 MR2, the first U.S.-market production car to wear such a device in more than two decades. The Roots-type blower bumped horsepower to 145 and knocked almost two seconds off the normally aspirated MR2's mid-eight-second dash to 60 mph. Even cooler, the supercharger was coupled by an electromagnetic clutch so that it could be disabled when not needed-and when it was in use, a green LED illuminated on the dash.
Not so cool, however, was a host of suspension revisions that dumbed down the MR2's handling and softened an already comfortable ride. It seemed that in the 1980s, like today, Toyota couldn't resist tinkering with something that wasn't broken. But if one thing has changed big time in the last twenty-five years, it's the disappearance of the reasonably priced, two-seat sport coupe. When it was new, the MR2 played the part of the serious sports car among Pontiac Fieros and Honda CRXs in a class of cars that no longer exists.