At the height of Japan’s automotive boom in the late 1980s, Toyota saw the future of commuting in style. Kei cars of the era were popular, but their oddball shapes seemed a bit conservative, as were their small 660-cc engines. To improve its small, quirky, fuel-efficient offerings, Toyota took its butterfly door-built AXV-II prototype into production and made the best.
What did the Toyota Sera design?
Using parts from Toyota’s Paseo, Tercel, and Starlet—a car the U.S. market had never seen—the Serra was born in 1990. The ultra-sleek, unibody, glass-canopied, twin-cam, two-door model was branded not as a sports car but as a lifestyle car—a quirky futuristic commuter. Toyota said in a press release that Sera is the future tense of the French word “etre” (to be). The company explained that it’s “a dream car to signal the future that leads us.” Still, there was more to Serra than hyperbole.
Toyota UK magazine explained that Serra’s 10-speaker Super Live sound system was “one of the most radical audio systems Toyota has ever produced.” Rumor has it that a neighbor of Gordon Murray had one, which inspired the dihedral door geometry of the McLaren F1. Given its unique looks, panoramic-view cockpit, fantastic fuel economy, and $11,000 – about $24,000 in 2022 – price tag, the website Classic asks, why hasn’t everyone bought one?
Unfortunately, it was not sold in North America. Although a 25-year importation law means some are roaming the States these days, you’ll likely never see one in person. It had all the features to become extremely popular, but was best a low volume car.
What is Toyota’s best rarity?
Between 1990 and 1996, only 16,000 of the Serra’s three models or “phases” were built. Roughly 75% of the best were first steps, HotCars says. Aesthetically-tweaked Phase II and III modernized the Sera in the mid-’90s, including door side-impact beams on the Sera Phase III. While any best is rare, some are even more unusual. Depending on the drivetrain, finding one can be like finding a haystack in a needle stack.
According to Regular Car Review, 93% had the A242 four-speed automatic transmission. Designed as a hyper-miler, the gearbox will grab top gear as quickly as possible for the best fuel economy. The Toyota Tercel is a 16-valve 1.5-liter 5E-FE four-cylinder that revs to 6,400 rpm. That means 108 hp and 97-lb-ft of torque, which is excellent in a car that weighs less than a ton.
However, roughly 1,000 Ceras C155s rolled off the production line at Sagamihara with the five-speed manual transmission. Bolted to the gearbox was a 93-octane 5E-FHE four-cylinder, a spicy version of the same 1.5-liter. The higher compression variant means 15 more hp, a 7,900 rpm redline and a flatter, broader torque curve.
Are the best fast?
The sensibly sporty Toyota Sera is faster as an anxious rabbit, than a chasing hawk. Considering its small size, you’ll probably feel like you’re going faster than you are when piloting one. With around 110 hp per tonne and even weight distribution, the Ceras is light and compact enough to feel GP and responsive. Power-assisted rack and pinion steering was standard on all models, so backroad barnstorming was a breeze.
Information and statistics about Serra’s acceleration are few and far between. In a straight line, the best can hit 121 mph. Even so, the time it takes to hit 60 mph remains a mystery, fueled by its obscure lore.
Why didn’t the best Toyota come to the United States?
In 1990, Car and Driver published an open letter to Robert McCurry, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, USA that stated the following:
“We took the liberty, Mr. McCurry, of calling your product-planning department, and we spoke with a colleague there who we know is intelligent and professional. He patiently explained that bringing the best to the US was no longer an option, as it was built without regard to our government’s crash standards, and doing the structural engineering now required would be tantamount to starting over.”
The Car and Driver folks concluded that they were “just not convinced” with the feedback. To Toyota’s dismay, T-top Camaros were popular at the time, with similar architecture. The American-market Corolla will make the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine more mainstream. Finally, there are gullwing/butterfly-door cars in the past.
Toyota Cera will fit into today’s culture without missing a beat. Sadly, there isn’t enough left to advertise its fun, but could enthusiasts return for the eco-friendly sporty coupe?