Chapter Three: The 1997 Toyota MR2 GT T-Bar

(Approximate Years: Owned 2002-2005, my age 25-28)

Looking back to my late teens and early twenties, and my idea of a perfect material life was to have a semi-detached house in an upmarket village, a few miles from where I lived, with a single garage and a long driveway. In this utopia, the garage would house an Escort Cosworth for weekends, and on the driveway was a Toyota MR2 T-Bar. One red, one blue, but the colour order didn’t matter. This was my idea of the perfect driveway line up for 20-something me.

Whilst insurance costs, the lack of a garage and stiff residuals kept the Cosworth out of reach, the MR2 was within range by my mid-20’s, coming in at around £8k for a really nice example. Owing to the move closer to work which put more money in my pocket, plus driving less miles made me look seriously at the MR2. It was time to move away from the boy-racer image of the Escort and buy something a bit more ‘grown up’.

To my eye, the MR2 was like a baby Ferrari. Back in the 90s and early 2000’s, you had to be really rich to run something like a Ferrari F355 and this wasn’t even a consideration. But the MR2, that was the next best thing for me. It looked just as sporty, it was affordable and would be far more reliable being a Toyota. I’d loved these cars forever and the Revision 4 version came with clear indicators, and a revised rear end with a curvy spoiler, rounded tail lights and a coloured centre bar between them. It was the absolute perfect shape of what I considered the perfect every-day sports car.

They had been on the ‘one day’ list for years and now it was time to go shopping. I found two on the Auto Trader which fitted my requirements; a Blue Rev4 coupe and a red Rev4 coupe. This was before the days of the internet and the printed pictures looked nice, the classified adverts read well and a chat with the owners gave me a good feeling about these. The first car was over Bolton way and the second was somewhere near the south of Manchester. My Dad and I went off on a day trip to look at both, starting with a couple of hours drive over to Bolton to see the blue one. It looked nice, but the paintwork wasn’t in great shape. With the advent of detailers today this wouldn’t have been an issue in the modern world, but back then it was a reason to be put off by a car. But otherwise, it was nice, it drove well and had the cloth interior as standard. We thanked the seller for his time, informed that we had another to look at, and if that wasn’t up to scratch, we’d be offering on the blue one.

One the way down I got a call on my mobile phone from the second seller, which my Dad answered. He was checking that we were still coming over and my Dad said we were a bit longer than expected in Bolton but were on our way. He ended the call with a laugh and told the seller we’d see him later. I asked what the seller had said and my Dad replied “When I said we’d looked at another, he just said ‘You’ll like mine better’”.

And he wasn’t wrong. We pulled up at his house, and there it was – gleaming red in the sunlight. It was a couple of years newer than the blue one so came with the diamond cut alloys. And… to my surprise and absolute delight, the car had a T-Bar!! I’m sure that wasn’t mentioned in the listing! This also meant it came with leather interior as well, and this particular model had the double deck stereo, both tape and CD! This was my absolute perfect spec and I couldn’t believe it! I was sold before I even got out of the car.

A short drive later, I put an offer in and secured the car for £7,700, subject to an AA inspection. I was really excited to get this car, it felt like a big step up from the Escort. The cabin was a lovely place to be. The swooping lines of the dashboard, the high centre console and the low seats made it feel really sporty. All of the buttons were in fingertip reach and the little gearstick felt great. And… Pop up headlights!! Who doesn’t like those? They often made people smile if you flashed to let them out as they appear from the bonnet, give a flash and then drop back down again. A real sports car!

The first picture I took of my car!

Back then, I’d categorise performance (measured in 0-60 times) into sections, those being; cars above 10 seconds were ‘normal’ cars, 8-10 seconds were hot-hatch, less than 8 seconds would be a sports car and less than 6 seconds we’re into supercar territory. The MR2 got to 60 from a standing start in around 7.7 seconds, which put it into a sports car category for the 90’s. It drove great and I loved taking this car on the back roads home to my parent’s house on a weekend. I’d read that they can break traction quite suddenly, but I’ve never really driven any of my cars to that extreme and have always been respectful of their abilities in the wet, so never felt nervous about this. That said, the MR2s twitchiness was improved through the years and this was probably one of the better ones being a ’97 model. On a sunny day, with the T-roof stowed away behind the seats, driving along those country roads, I loved it and felt like a million dollars. It was such a great, fun – and reliable -driving experience!

My favourite photo of the MR2

The T-Bar roof was a brilliant addition and I don’t understand why more cars don’t have them now. It allowed you to have the visual of a coupe, but with the option of a convertible car – albeit less ‘look at me’. Being an IT nerd with a face for radio, but also liking the idea of a convertible, the T-Bar idea made a lot of sense to me. The roof also had internal linings for the glass sections, which made it appear all fabric on the inside, and therefore more pleasant. Or you could take them off and store them behind the seats and have a panoramic sunroof instead. Great stuff!

I liked the shape of the rear as much as the front – a great car design

I don’t recall there being too much that went wrong with this car. I had the radiator replaced if memory serves correctly, which was done at a Toyota main dealer – my Dad got to drive the car on my behalf and he quite enjoyed it. It came with Toyota’s double tape and a CD sections, but the CD wouldn’t read many disks. This was an expensive fix, so didn’t bother. I took it out and wired up my Kenwood system instead, but I still kept the original and put it back in the car when I sold it to retain that OEM appearance.

The interior had a great sporty feel to it, which felt special to me.
The glovebox was a bit flaky for some reason. Also in the picture it looks like I was in the middle of replacing the stereo with my Kenwood CD player, which would sit above the existing tape deck.

And in an almost unbelievable co-incidence, I saw this car again just a couple of years ago at the in-law’s house! The guy who I sold it to sold it to the current owner, who happened to have his bike serviced by my father-in-law! I did a double take when we pulled up for a visit and it was sat there on the street! I had a good chat with him, and the CD player was still in there and I think he’d had it fixed as he said it was working fine. The clear indicators had gone, replaced with the older amber lights and the diamond alloys had been refurbished in powder coat. The owner asked if I’d be interested in buying it back and offered it for a good price, but when I sat back in it, I didn’t get the excitement that I had when I first owned it. This could have been partially because, although it was in decent condition, it was not as minty-mint as it was when I owned it. But I also believe the vibe wasn’t there because I’d moved on to other things and, as much as I have great memories of this car, they were of their time and I didn’t want them spoiled in finding it not quite as fun as a modern experience as they were in our youth. It also made me realise that, even though I’ve really enjoyed almost all of my cars, there isn’t one specifically that I’d buy back again, I’d prefer to keep all of these particular memories as my ownership experience story (aside from perhaps buying another Ford Escort – but even then, it wouldn’t be the identical model, I’d go for something different).

A couple of other memories spring to mind for the MR2, the first being that it had an American Airlines sticker in the back window, something that I’d completely forgotten about until I looked back at the photos for this chapter! The guy I bought it from was a pilot and I always thought it was cool to have an airline sticker in a car. Perhaps a bit like those audio brand stickers from the Escort chapter, but a bit more grown up. Plus, in my head it added a bit of pizazz to the car, that a pilot used to own it. Silly I know, but I liked it.

I really liked the American Airlines sticker in the back window
Who remembers tax disc holders?!

The other overriding memory of this car is one of comedy. My friend Mitch and I were on our way back from a car show and being a nice day, I’d elected to remove the T-roof so we could enjoy that semi-convertibleness. But as we continued up the motorway, the clouds appeared and they got darker and darker until it started to rain. We both felt like a set of clowns, two big blokes in my little sports car with the roof off in the rain. As the heavens opened and the rain started pouring down, Mitch said “At least we are moving so not feeling it as much! It’s a good job we aren’t stuck in traffic!” And right at that moment, all the brake lights came on and we hit a roadblock on the motorway. It was absolutely bouncing it down. Mitch then confidently said “Wait… wait, I’ve got an idea!” He rummaged in his bag and found his baseball cap. Putting it on he smiled and said “There, I’m alright now!” Seeing a bridge up ahead with did a naughty and zipped onto the hard shoulder and stopped under the bridge, next to a couple of bikers who were also shielding from the rain. We performed the fastest Targa-Back-On manoeuvre that you’d would ever see, and then back onto the motorway again before we got into trouble. We were absolutely soaked through, but it was funny!

The MR2 was owned for three years and it was a fun ownership experience which started me off in sports cars for the next decade or so.

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