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Someone Actually Drives the Only 1995 Toyota MR2 GT1 Road Car Ever Built

One-off homologation race prototypes typically end up in a museum or hidden in a collection. Not this one.
1995 SARD MC8 Toyota MR2 GT1
@mc8_channel on Instagram

The rarer a car is, the more likely its owner is to think it’s too special to drive. Too many one-offs wile their lives away in museums, or worse, decay as “assets” in the vault of some Gollum. Not the SARD MC8 though; this one-of-a-kind Toyota MR2-based GT1 homologation car escaped its cage years ago, and it’s now living out its days where it should—on the road.

The SARD MC8 hails from the GT1 era of endurance racing, when manufacturers were required to produce at least one road car to enter the top GT class. This rule gave us the likes of the Nissan R390, Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion, and other racers that sometimes resembled road cars, but often had less in common with them than purpose-built prototypes. Once again, though: Not the SARD MC8.

Developed by Sigma Advanced Research Development, one of Toyota’s factory affiliate race teams, the MC8 was based on the unibody of a second-gen Toyota MR2 (or SW20). Instead of the road car’s transverse 2.0-liter turbo though, it used a 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE V8 from the Lexus LS400, strapped with twin turbos to make 590 horsepower and 506 pound-feet of torque. It was mounted longitudinally, meaning the wheelbase had to be stretched using a tubular rear subframe. Naturally, that meant its suspension was completely redesigned, and that it made heavy use of composites in its unique bodywork.

An image from the time of the SARD MC8’s creation. Toyota

While the MR2 would be successful in the Japanese Grand Touring Championship, winning both the GT300 constructors’ and drivers’ titles in 1998 and 1999, the heavily upgraded SARD MC8-R didn’t fare so well. At the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, it retired after just 14 laps. Its 1996 entry was less unsuccessful, which sounds like a double negative, but it’s hard to call its performance good. It finished with 256 laps, but it was last in its category, 97 laps behind the class-winning 911 GT1, and second-last of the finishers. SARD continued to develop the car, but the 1997 version failed to qualify, and the Toyota GT-One replaced it in 1998. (That too seemed to get a homologation car, though that one may be rotting in a junkyard.)

As fruitless as its racing campaign was though, the MC8-R still spawned a road car that’s now seen as the holy grail of MR2s—above even the factory widebody TRD-2000GT. The sole ’95-spec MC8 was sold to an unknown party, and fell off the radar for decades. Then, in early 2015, it resurfaced for sale, with its secretive owner emphasizing that they wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it.

It did: the MC8 fell into the care of Instagram user @mc8_channel, who has for years toured the one-of-one GT1 road car around Japan. While we don’t know how many miles have been put on it, it’s clearly being driven further than many more common classics. It’s being enjoyed as it was meant to, so not only is it out making people’s days brighter, it’ll last longer this way too. It’s a win-win of the kind that none of the other GT1 homologation cars can really claim.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com