When people talk about the Toyota MR2, more often than not they’re talking about the second generation SW20 model. Considered by many to be a Ferrari killer for a fraction of the price, the SW20's reputation precedes it. That’s not so much the case for the slower and smaller third-generation MR2, the W30. Still, like my colleague David, I’ve always found the W30 to be a charming car — a Boxster hit with a cute ray, that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
But not every W30 was cute. About 200 of them ditched that unforgettable, wide-eyed, beaming grin for an insect’s gaze, with headlight pods reminiscent of an early Alfa 4C. These examples were designed by venerated Milan coachbuilder Zagato, and built by Toyota’s Modellista division that makes cosmetic upgrades for vehicles across the automaker’s range — even the new Land Cruiser.
This weird experiment was dubbed the VM180 Zagato, and one just popped up on online auction, via Bingo and Yahoo Japan.
The VM180 is a strange car. It launched at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show — a fantastic year for that expo, I’d be remiss to not mention — and was sold only in Japan through Vista, one of Toyota’s many dealer networks. Most of the changes were cosmetic as you’d imagine, though the MR2 Spyder’s 138 horsepower 1.8-liter inline four was tuned a bit to make 155 HP.
Of Italy’s big four design houses — Pininfarina, Italdesign, Bertone and Zagato — it was Zagato that always had the most obvious flair for the dramatic. And that’s once again evident studying the VM180 from front to back.
We’ve covered the headlights, but the rear is where things get especially weird. The taillights are unconventional to say the least — seven-sided enclosures with three discrete circular lamps each, and all this negative space chiseled between them. There’s one long, wide vent at the top of the decklid and a trio more below, all shaped incongruously. Nothing quite makes sense, but the result falls right on that delicate line between busy and stylish, much like the Autech Zagato Stelvio AZ1.
Changes to the interior were decidedly less profound. But the particular VM180 that was up for sale has black-and-red leather seats, which adds a bit of pop to things.
This VM180 has about 40,000 kilometers logged, or just under 25,000 miles. Only 100 were made according to Bingo, though that appears to contradict reports elsewhere: Car and Driver cited 150 having been produced midway through 2001, while Zagato-cars.com says “reportedly about 200 [W30s] were converted.”
The auction that included this VM180 ended on September 5. Judging from the Yahoo Auctions listing page, it seemingly received no bids and didn’t sell. The starting price — 2,840,910 yen — translates to roughly $25,600, which seems like a steal for a limited-run oddity like this. I bet it’d get dumb money on Bring A Trailer.