Hip to be square: The Toyota AW11 MR2

The year is 1976, France and Britain begin the first regularly scheduled commercial supersonic flights, Viking I lands on Mars and Love will keep us together wins record of the year. Elsewhere, across the pond in Showa era Japan, an idea for something equally as important was hatched in the office of Toyota automobiles.

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A design project with the goal of producing a car which would be both enjoyable to drive, yet still be frugal was given fruition. This project though did not yet call for a sports car and it was only years later (due to the oil crisis) that Akio Yoshida from Toyota’s testing department started to evaluate different alternatives for engine placement and drive methods.

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The final decision was made to go with a midship transverse engine placement with power transmitted to the rear wheels. From its base design, the car began evolving into an actual sports car, and further prototypes were tested intensely both in Japan and in California.

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A significant amount of testing was performed on actual race circuits such as Willow Springs, where former Formula One driver Dan Gurney tested the car.

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While recognizable even from the first sketch, the car was to go through many changes until the first actual prototype in 1981, the SA-X.

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Toyota unveiled its final concept, the SV-3, in the 1983 Toyota Auto Show and gathered a huge amount of publicity from both the press and audience. A year later, the Toyota MR2 was launched and became the first mass-produced mid-engined sports car from a Japanese manufacturer.

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The car you see here is most likely Singapore’s best example of Toyota’s significant little Midship 2-seater sports car and was kindly provided to us for this short feature by Nostalgic Garage.

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With its distinctive sharp wedge design, this AW11 MR2 has undergone a full restoration with plenty of parts procured straight from the land of the rising sun, the end effect is a fantastic and lovely example of a previously overlooked Japanese classic.

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Inside, the same attention to detail can be seen and it sure does not look its age.

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We were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go behind the wheel of this MR2 and while our drive was very very short, it was also very very memorable. Few cars have made me grin and laugh as much as this little red number. Emotions ranged from excitement to fright. The often used saying “they sure don’t make em like they used to” is pretty much spot on when describing how i feel about this car.

Of course some additional fettling with the internals wouldn’t hurt and on this AW11, its powerplant has been treated to quad-throttle bodies, upping its engine response and delivering a lovely induction note at the same time.

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If a comparison has to be made with a more modern car, it will have to be the very first generation Lotus Elise, both these cars feel light, nimble and give you a ton of fun without smashing speed regulations. (They both also lack any power assist whatsoever, nor ABS)

Speaking of which, guess which other car manufacturer had a hand in the development of the MR2’s handling and chassis capabilities? That’s right, those same chaps from Hethel.

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For those interested, this sweet little MR2 is on sale, so do give Nostalgic Garage a call if you fancy yourself revisiting your Hachimaru hero days once again.

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