Submission Thursday: Dailies

aw11 toyota mr2
[Prior Submission Thursday Submitter Andrew Simmons comes back to update us on his latest automotive escapades. He needs to remember to take more pictures for his pieces, though. – Ed.]
It was a frigid 62-degree morning in San Diego, and I found myself on the cusp of being late for a 7am meeting. Normally I’d pray before trying to turn the key, but my MR2 had been unusually well behaved lately, and I left my holy water/glycol mix upstairs. True to its newfound form, it started promptly, and was soon zipping (ok, puttering) down the road to the office, all 112 of Toyota’s finest horsepower present and correct.
The AW11 MR2 had long been a bucket list car of mine, and after returning to San Diego from a disastrous stint with a NASCAR team, I searched high and low for a suitable example. I wanted a car close to daily-driver status, but with enough foibles to be cheap and keep me busy on weekends when I wasn’t racing. It took several weeks and four or five dead ends before I found my car, a cocaine-white 1987 model with 300,000 miles, 30 degrees of free play in the steering, and a distinctive three-cylinder warble. The seller had priced it optimistically, but he consumed an entire six-pack while I was inspecting the car, so I forked over 60% of the asking price and bolted before he changed his mind and/or found his shotgun.

For the next eight months, I gave the car a gradual mechanical overhaul, even as my professional obligations grew from 40 to 50 to 60+ hours a week. I sweated, I bled, and on one notable occasion, I screamed like a little girl and fled an infestation of extremely large spiders.
Finally, all was well in the engine bay and suspension, and I turned my attention to rectifying the “character” that the bodywork had accumulated over the years. The interior was distinctive Toyota blue, so Lamborghini orange pearl seemed like a suitable choice for the exterior. Inside, the sun-bleached plastics had gradually assumed the consistency and texture of expired Gruyere, so a dozen or so swatches of Alcantara in varying shades of blue were procured and studied. Plans to resurrect the questionable tastes of the ‘80s grew more and more concrete. I was almost ready to ship the car off for paint when it all went horribly wrong.
Lunchtime, and the weather had turned from unseasonably cold to sunny perfection. I felt desperate to get out of my cubicle for half an hour or so. Back to the MR2, turn the key, and suddenly it sounded like Orville Redenbacher set up shop in the engine bay. SON OF A-
Something inside me broke, too, in that moment. I had wanted to keep this car; to love it; to slowly restore it to its quirky best. Now I had to confront the ugly truth that this car’s best might be entirely in the past; that its future held nothing but a numbing repetition of failures and fixes until the day financial sense intervened and sent it away for good.
aw11 toyota mr2
The parking lot of a heavily secured aerospace facility is not a good place to troubleshoot your ‘80s rustbucket, so I called AAA, had the MR2 dropped at my apartment, and went back to the office in my racecar, hoping fervently for an absence of CHP along the way (the racecar is red, howls stirringly (and loudly) on even part throttle, and spews a quite remarkable array of pollutants…).
A few hours of post-work diagnosis revealed a handful of blown fuses, a dead battery, and the probable culprit, an extra crispy alternator.
Not a fatal injury, certainly, but a major setback, which brought me to the uncomfortable question of when a project is too much to continue with. We all have limits, whether to our skill set, budget, or schedule, and when a project car reaches one of those limits, the choice is between stretching the other two or walking away.
I’m glad I owned my MR2, and not just because it is a deeply unique and rewarding car to drive. It was the fulfillment of a minor dream begun two decades earlier by a 1:83-scale replica. In the end, though, given the combination of my increased professional workload, the constant minor attention required by the racecar, and the fact that in eight months the little Toyota never worked correctly for more than a week, I had reached my breaking point. Rather than risking an endless cycle of pouring time and money into a car that might consume more of both than I had to give, I put it up on craigslist as-is and it sold in eighteen hours.
With what do you replace a semi-classic car, one that you’ve admired since childhood? Reliability had now moved significantly up my list of priorities, but I remain deathly allergic to practicality, and as I’m a Northeasterner living in Southern California, a convertible was a must. After much trial, tribulation, wringing of hands, and trawling of Autotrader, along with three separate Z4-shaped catastrophes-in-waiting, a 2007 Saturn Sky cropped up at a local dealer. Apparently, the answer to the prior question is “a rare, now-orphaned sporty car with minimal parts availability, which was engineered to great complexity and then nailed together by drunken, stoned pornography enthusiasts at an over-unionized plant in a state which is only sort of a tax haven”.
I may regret this. Stay tuned for future calamities.

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  1. DavidOne Avatar

    I had the same dilemma with my 94 Chevy Caprice. I owned it for 11 years and slowly watched the minor issues creep up. The tipping point was a lack of driveway space and time to devote to fixing the a/c and shady ignition system which didn’t work in the rain. I sold it for a song to a fellow enthusiast where the ignition completely died on him a week later.

  2. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    i’m facing the same dilemma right now with my SW20 MR2.
    i’m moving to texas soon, and my formerly-rusty ’91 MR2 can have a ticket to ride a trailer down after me, if i like.
    but i just don’t know if it’s worth it. it’s good good service history, and i do want a second car for when my volvo’s being fussy, but i mean….my rust repair was kinda amateurish, i don’t know how much time i’ll have to work on a car that’s notoriously hard to work on, it’s got 225k miles…i’m attached to the car, and its issues are probably sorted, but what about when something else crops up? what do i do when a quarter-century of rusty fasteners stares me in the face and my other car is up on jacks already?
    it hurts either way. i’ve got an old acquaintance who seems enthusiastic about buying it, but if she doesn’t, maybe it’s best to let it go to some jerk from craigslist. it’s best not to get too attached to things, but it’s so hard to let go of something you’ve put time and hope into.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Take the opportunity to look for a less rusty MR2 in Texas?