The Birth of Brilliance

The project started in 1976 and had many hold-ups to contend with, not the least of which was the fuel crisis (a lot of folk will be too young to remember that one).  By 1979 things were on the go with three main stages of design: research, development, and production considerations. Along the way it changed to a front- engined, front-wheel-drive car, but that thankfully was dumped. One challenge was to produce a sporty machine that would appeal to a wide range of people, and yet be reasonably priced. It also had to be a practical car, with a big enough boot and easy entry and exit from the cabin.

The market was ripe for affordable mid-engined sports cars, with Fiat's X1/9 leading the charge, and it was heard through the grapevine about the forthcoming Pontiac Fiero to be built in America. Toyota knew they were on the right track.

The original mid-engined prototype was developed into the SA-X. Drivetrains and other parts where sourced mostly from Toyota's parts bins and saved on long and expensive development costs.  It's amazing how ingenious the Toyota engineers were actually. Take an existing front wheel drive-train, move it to the back of the car and brace the steering so it becomes independent rear suspension instead.  Throw in a whole pile of other parts you'd normally find on a Corolla and presto - Japan's first ever mid-engined sports car!  Simply brilliant.


The Prototypes

There were numerous prototypes produced. The photo to the left is the SV-3 as it appeared at the 1983 Tokyo Motor Show where it made quite a stir.  It's remarkably close in appearance to the original Mk I (pre face-lift) MR2, right down to the unusual three-spoke mag wheels.  In fact only the rear wing seems to be much different...



The next two photos show a prototype with very sharp lines around the roof and pillars.  Note the tail lights and the very flat small spoiler over the rear window.


Below we see a prototype with the tail lights of the final design. It also shows the spoiler over the rear window which as found on the higher-spec production models.


These last two photos show a prototype with no spoiler over the rear window and tail lights which were not used on the final production model, but it does have the narrow rubber safety strip on the leading edge of the pop-up headlights (put there to stop children getting their fingers trapped). 



Mk1 MR2 - AW10, AW11 1984 - 1989 

Slight changes to the car were made and in May 1984 the first MR2 rolled off the production line. Rumoured to be the MX100, an abandoned Lotus project, the unique little car immediately impressed the motoring critics of the day.  (In fact it's believed a Lotus engineer helped Toyota with the suspension and handling, while Toyota assisted Lotus with achieving consistent quality on the production line).  Toyota's mid-engined affordable sports car was only seriously rivalled by the X1/9, though Japanese reliability was surely an advantage.

The mid-engined rear wheel drive configuration is relatively rare in road cars. The configuration appears in exotic (and expen$ive) sportscars like Ferrari and Lambourghini. From an engineering point of view the mid-engine layout makes sense and helps to produce a car that handles brilliantly. The cost of this layout is felt in terms of lack of luggage space or rear seats, but as long as you pack in soft bags and don't take the kitchen sink, the MR2 has plenty of room.  (webmaster's note: I once transported 97 bricks in my AW11 using only the front and rear boots).

Very few of the cars were manufactured with the original powerplant, a single carbeurettor 1500cc engine (that MR2 is known as an AW10), before the fuel injected 1600cc twin cam 4AGE engine became standard (that MR2 is known as the AW11). The MR2 earned a lot of praise but the most common complaint was a lack of power. In order to resolve this problem, Toyota chose to force-feed their reliable and proven 1600 in 1986. The 4AGE engine was fitted with a roots-type supercharger which upped the power from 112hp to 145hp and was called the 4AGZE. Along with the engine upgrades came some rear suspension changes, and bigger brakes all around. Targa tops became optional and popular, although there are a few removable sunroof models around too (mostly NZ new).

Summary (of Japanese models only)

MR2 Released.
Commonly referred to as the pre-facelift model.
Usually had black bumpers, spoiler and wing mirrors.
AW11 and AW10 models produced.
Release in New Zealand with slightly different rear tail lights and most had sunroofs.
Reported first year of the supercharged model - but this is not confirmed.
Reported first year of the targa top model - but this is not confirmed
Supercharged model definately arrived by now.
Targa top option definately available.
Rear suspension, brakes, rear lights, front bumper and chin, and interior revised.


Rear spoiler has LED high stop light.
Revised wing mirrors.

The New Zealand new models all seemed to have the same specifications. Sunroof, manual windows, no air conditioning, and a different panel between the rear tail lights. They also all had 240 kph speedos and no annoying 'ding ding' when you reach 105ish kph! (the Japanese models have this as part of the regulations in Japan).