Ultra-Low-Mile 1988 Toyota MR2 Is Today's Bring a Trailer Find

1988 toyota mr2 5 speed
Ultra-Low-Mile 1988 Toyota MR2 on BaTBring a Trailer
  • Lightweight and powered by a revvy four-cylinder engine, the first-generation MR2 is like the world's most reliable Lotus.

  • This example is from the second-last model year for the breed, and has ultra-low mileage.

  • Lighter than the later supercharged versions, this naturally-aspirated one is the most faithful to the original MR2 ethos.

The Acura NSX is often held up as the moment the Japanese auto industry first flexed its full might, but half a decade before it, a little mid-engine Toyota of more humble origins proved that less could be more. Like the NSX, it offered precise handling and a revvy heart. It too was created with the fingerprints of a F1 race-winner all over it. But at the same time, it was originally built as a thrifty commuter. Still, when you offer a driving experience this good, they call you Mister.

1988 toyota mr2 5 speed side
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Specifically, that's Mister Two. This first-generation 1988 Toyota MR2 is our pick of the day at Bring A Trailer (which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos), and it's an absolute time capsule example of Toyota's fierce but frugal mid-engine coupe, with a jaw-dropping 2900 miles on the odometer.

1988 toyota mr2 5 speed rear
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This red wedge of pure 1980s delight hails from a time when the Japanese automotive industry was full of ambition, not yet at its peak. More powerful and complex machines like the R32 Skyline GT-R or Toyota Supra Twin-Turbo would come later, but in the mid-1980s, Japan was building cars like the Honda CR-X and Corolla GT-S. In terms of fun-per-gallon, things were about as good as they ever got.


The original concept of the MR2 was just that: cornering grins on the cheap. The roots of the development program stretched back into the 1970s, and as the concept revolved, the idea was to create a car that was aimed at commuters who were willing to exchange the practicality of a sedan or hatchback for something more interesting.

1988 toyota mr2 5 speed engine
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In Japan, the MR2 launched in 1984 with a 1.5-liter engine that made all of 82 horsepower. U.S. models got the 1.6-liter double-overhead cam 4AGE four-cylinder as found in the aforementioned Corolla GT-S. This made a little more power in markets with higher-octane fuel, but was good for 112 horsepower in the likes of this '88 example. Peak power arrived at 6600 rpm, with a redline of 7500 rpm.

In 1988 there was also a supercharged version of this engine, but arguably it's less desirable. Beefing up the five-speed transmission contributed to a nearly 150-pound weight gain over the naturally aspirated version, and part of the MR2's charm is its feathery curb weight.

1988 toyota mr2 5 speed interior
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For the Star Wars nerds in the audience, this little car is basically the closest thing you can get to a Rebel Alliance A-Wing. It's not much quicker than a first-generation Mazda Miata in a straight line, but it corners flat and eager, and has a cockpit like a tiny fighter plane. The five-speed gearbox provides snick-snick joys, which is excellent because you're going to want to flog every last horse out of that zippy 1.6.

Part of the goodness baked into the AW11 MR2 is that it received development input from American F1 and Le Mans ace Dan Gurney. Gurney was 6'4”, so it's slightly bonkers that he was actually able to fit into this tiny Toyota, but either way the Big Eagle taught this little sparrow to fly.

With just 2900 miles on its odometer, this 1988 model is something of a museum piece, but it doesn't have to be. Parts for the first-gen MR2 are hard to come by, especially perishables, but the car sold in sufficient numbers to have a strong fan base that does group buys and other helpful support. Get it sorted and part of properly preserving this two-seater's spirit is getting in a backroads romp every now and then.

With the average curb weight on everything apart from the MX-5 shooting up, the AW11 MR2 is the kind of car you just don't see any more. If you stumble across Aladdin's Lamp, maybe ask the genie to create a new MR2 built around the GR Corolla's three-cylinder turbo. Failing that, head over to Bring A Trailer for your chance to bid on Japan's first mass-produced mid-engined car. It's the Mister you've been looking to meet.

This no-reserve auction ends on June 11.

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