May 26, 2020

The 1986-1987 Toyota MR2 convertible

An email to me from Bob Freitas, aka SpyderBob. cir 2002 or 2003ish.

To bypass the pre-history leading up to my interest in Toyotas MR2 I’ll start with a small ad I saw in the automotive section of the L.A. Times in late 1986. The ad simply stated if anyone was interested in Toyota MR2 convertibles please contact Modern Motors in Torrance, California. Having a love of convertibles and the love of affordable mid-engined cars (2 enjoyable Fiat X-1/9s and 1 god awful Fiero) I contacted them. After a brief conversation, I was told that they were building convertible MR2s for Toyota as a market test and the cars would only be built as ordered, you ordered them through any Toyota dealer or in my case through my Auto broker Pacific Auto Sales in Upland California. I asked if it was possible to see how the cars were converted before I made my final decision and they were more then happy to have me come down to Torrance to see the work.

The morning I arrived at their shop they had 6 MR2s under construction (approximately a total 15 were built, all early 87s and 3 86 pre-prototype models). Once the car is ordered with whatever option was available for MR2s at the time ( with the exception of no sunroof and no t-top) they’re sent directly to Modern Motors for the conversion before being delivered to the customer.

The conversion consisted of completely stripping the interior and removing both front fenders. The next step was to cut openings toward the rear of the front wheel wells at the base of the windshield posts, a cross brace was welded to the posts to strengthen then and then square channeling was run thru the door sills, all openings were sealed and finished to factory specs before the top was cut. Once the top frame, hardware, and material was installed it was just a matter of installing the interior then delivering the finished car to the customer through whatever dealer they ordered from.

I had my broker upgrade the tires and rims to 15” Enki black centered wire mags (later upgraded to 16” Rotas) with BF Goodrich T/A before I took possession. The night I took delivery of the car (a story in itself) you couldn’t slap the smile off my face. Unfortunately the next morning I woke up with Strep throat and was out of commission for 2 weeks (thought I was going to die before I could enjoy my new car).

For the next couple of years I received forms from Toyota regarding different aspects of the car (what the public thought, how was the dealer handling it etc.) usually a check accompanied these forms to compensate me for my inconvenience.

Less then a year later I had the Pacesetter exhaust added (free because they didn’t have any exhaust systems for the MR2 and borrowed mine to hand-make one to make the buck for the originals, which are still available). After 140,000 miles the car is still pretty solid with very little body flex. I still get pulled over and asked questions about the car which to this day still brings a smile to my face.

Bob Freitas
[spyderbob@hotmail.com]

additional info from Bob in 2004
Written by SPYDERBOB2

OK, guys…how to make a long story short.
Oct 1986 small ad in the LA Times if anyone is interested in new 1987 MR2 convertibles to contact Modern Motors. At that time I owned a 79 Fiat X-1/9 custom convertible. I contacted Modern Motors and they invited me down to explain what Toyota was doing and I could see first hand how they were built. Toyota was testing the market as far as to demand and what the customer was willing to pay. I was told I could order any combination of options I wanted except no sunroof and no t-top and I could order from any dealer I wanted ( I went thru my broker Pacific Auto Sales in Upland ) How the cars were built was quite interesting, they were working on 6 with 2 waiting to start. Before any cutting or bracing was added they completely strip the interior, remove the front fenders and take off the tires and rims. The next step is bracing. channel bracing was run through each door sill from the back of the front wheel well to the front of the back wheel well, next a cross brace is added to the bottom of the windshield posts through the front wheel wells. once this step was done the entire insides of the wheel wells are factory finished. Next is the big step, cutting the top. The front of the top is cut in a curve to match the windshield curve then the C pillars are cut at their bases. Brackets are added to mount the top framework to, once this is completed the interior is put back in the car tested and then delivered to the dealer for the customer. There were only 2 drawbacks to the overall design, the 1st being you couldn’t open the engine hatch without putting the top up and the 2nd was the latches for the top. Toyota and Modern Motors couldn’t get the latches for the Celica convertibles to work properly without costly modifications either to the latch or the windshield header ( they ended up using household window latches, they worked but I didn’t feel they were up to the quality of the rest of the work) It took 3 weeks for the work to be done ( an eternity for me ) and the cost was $5000.00 over the price of the car. Part of the deal with Toyota was that for a couple of years they would send me periodic surveys along with a small check (usually about $25.00) asking what I thought about the car what the dealer though, people on the street, how was service, etc. To this day the body is still stiff and I still get offers to buy the car. Well, guys..that’s the short version.

The business does still exist but under a different name and most of the management at least as of 5 years ago still work there..but…..I believe there was some sort of falling out between Toyota and Modern Motors to the point that they will say the MR2s were built there but offer no assistance with info. I know because I was trying to compile a list of owners and Toyota referred me to Modern Motors ( Toyota at that time was apparently unaware of the name change ) who in turn indicated the files on the cars no longer existed and were not interested in me talking to any employees who worked on the cars. At that point I was more interested in what had happened between the companies then the list of owners. Unfortunately to this day I still have no idea what happened.

I called the old # I had for Modern Motors/Classic Coach and it has been disconnected ( generally a business # is kept out of service for the life of the current directory or longer depending on the situation) I tried 411 under the name Modern Motors and the newer name Classic Coach and there is no listing. I contacted Toyota Headquarters in Torrance and spoke with a guy in customer relations, he said he’d only been there a couple of years but thought he heard the convertibles mentioned by someone at the office, he said he will call me back if he finds out anything.

Bill Strong

Just a guy that's obsessed with cars and auto racing. So much so that I work & play in the auto racing industry.

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