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Burger With the Lot

The old-school Toyota Soarer with absolutely everything that opens and shuts - the 3.0-litre turbo MZ21.

By Michael Knowling

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Air suspension, a remote television, touch-screen climate control, auto-retracting steering column, digital dash, Technics sound system, IRS, ABS controlled four wheel discs and a DOHC, 24-valve intercooled turbo six-cylinder engine. It's not hard to imagine how the top-of-the-line Toyota Soarer 3.0GT Limited AS must have been an absolute automotive tour-de-force back in 1987; all this at a time when the top-end locally manufactured cars had only just embraced electronic fuel injection...

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The top-of-the-range Japanese-market Soarer 3.0GT Limited AS (chassis coded as the MZ21) was manufactured in an interesting phase of automotive technology and styling. Electronic gadgets were becoming increasingly important from a marketing point of view and, at the same time, there were some dramatic changes in styling trends. The horribly ornate finishings that had afflicted everything from Corollas to Crowns through the '70s and much of the '80s were, at last, foregone. The Z20-series Soarer was at the cutting-edge of these developments and proved a considerable sales success. More basic versions - such as the 2.0-litre twin-turbo GT-TT, which we've recently tested - sold in numbers not usually associated with a high-end 2-door coupe. The top-of-the-range 3.0GT Limited AS (MZ21) was sold in very small numbers, however, due to the huge price tag demanded by its out-of-this-world equipment level.

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The most dazzling aspect of the MZ21 Soarer must be its interior. With wall-to-wall suede and soft leather, "Soarer" was surely a swear word in cow paddocks around the world. But there was much more to this car than quality coverings; we're talking gadgets galore here...

First and foremost is the colour television screen mounted in the base of the centre console. Don't get too excited, though, because local television signals aren't within the range of a Japanese TV tuner. Without fitting a local tuner, the only thing you can pick up is static...

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The sound system - made by Technics - comprises an AM/FM/cassette player controlled by both a console touch screen and steering wheel controls. Unfortunately, we were unable to properly sample its sound quality because - again - the tuner is suited to Japanese frequencies and can only pick up, er, non-mainstream local stations.

The centre touch screen and steering wheel switches are also used to adjust the climate control system.

Like lesser-model Soarers, the MZ21 is equipped with a 3D digital dash that shows numerical road speed and graphs for rpm, fuel level and coolant temperature. There's also a boost light and a TEMS (Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension) display in the main cluster.

Other less interesting features include power windows and (retractable) mirrors, a remote boot and fuel door release, cruise control, auto retracting steering column and soft-touch stalk controls.

The biggest hurdle is familiarising yourself with the Limited's array of buttons - unfortunately, nearly every control is marked in Japanese characters... It's easy to find yourself raising the suspension, altering the climate control and switching on the television when all you're searching for is the radio volume!

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The ride of the MZ21 is very intriguing. With airbag independent suspension replacing conventional springs and dampers there is no sensation of a large unsprung mass bouncing around beneath the floor; the airbag system responds instantly to road irregularities and gives absolutely no 'aftershocks'. There are three different suspension settings that can be selected - Normal, Sport and High. Sport is slightly firmer than the Normal setting, while High slowly raises the ride height in order to clear steep driveways and other obstacles.

Steering is by way of a power assisted rack and pinion set-up, which we found a little indirect at the straight-ahead position. Once steering angle is applied, however, the precision and weight was to our liking.

ABS came as standard fitment on the top-line MZ21, with good retardation provided by four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated at the front, to the best of our knowledge).

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Despite all of its features conspiring to create a 1530kg kerb weight - which is actually not that much compared to many of today's cars - the MZ21 is no slowpoke. With a 7M-GTE under the bonnet (as used in locally delivered Supra Turbos) the Soarer has decent bottom-end response plus a silky and swift top-end. The official specs on the Soarer's 7M-GTE are as follows; 3.0-litre straight six, 8.4:1 static compression, DOHC, 24-valve head, multipoint fuel injection and an air-to-air intercooled single turbo. For models built before 1988, power and torque is quoted at 172kW (at 5600 rpm) and 324Nm (at 4000 rpm) while, after 1988, the ante was upped to 179kW and 343Nm at just 3200 rpm. Certainly, our less potent '87 model is quite strong off boost and - depending on the gear selected - boost pressure comes on from below 2000 rpm. V8 lovers will not find anything wrong with this turbocar's all-round grunt, that's for sure!

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The vast majority of Soarers are equipped with an automatic transmission, but our test car was one of the rare beasts fitted with a 5-speed manual. This really maximises the performance of the car, but the 'box is rather heavy to shift. From the rear of the transmission, torque is channelled through a LSD rear that does its job exceptionally well. Even on wet, greasy surfaces it takes deliberate provocation to get the back-end to misbehave.

In terms of straight-line acceleration, the 3.0-litre 5-speed MZ21 is pretty well line-ball with a locally-delivered Supra Turbo from the same era; in other words, 0 - 100 km/h in around low/mid 7s and the quarter mile in low 15s. Nothing to sneeze at.

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Despite now being 15 years old, the Soarer can mingle with traffic without looking like a clapped out, well, 15 year old car. Sure, it's styling is dated (its notchback shape and relatively small 215/60 15 tyres are all-telling) but it's build quality is nothing short of brilliant - our test car had absolutely no rust, good paint and everything was in working order.

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While only the wealthiest Japanese buyers could afford a 3.0GT Limited AS back in '87, they're now something of a 'disposable' fun machine. This particular '87 model - with a mild 144,000 kilometres on the clock and in excellent condition - was being sold by Adelaide Jap Imports for just $10,950. Ask yourself, what other car gives as much performance and luxury for the money?

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As we said in our test of the 2.0-litre twin-turbo GZ20 GT-TT Soarer, "From a parts perspective, body panels are difficult to source (especially with pre-1990 Soarers rapidly drying up in Japan), but many mechanical components can be sourced locally. We're told much of the steering and brakes are shared with the contemporary Supra. Various other parts are also compatible with the Cressida saloon."

Unlike the 1G-engine'd GT-TT, however, engine parts should not be hassle for 7M-engine's 3.0GT Limited since the same driveline was used in the local Supra Turbo. Knowing there's a fair degree of mechanical parts back up makes this performance plush-mobile a very attractive proposition for just over 10k!

Toyota Soarer MZ21 3.0GT Limited AS Fast Facts...
  • Blatantly '80s styling
  • Extraordinarily well appointed - everything that opens and shuts
  • Shame the sound system and television don't match local frequencies
  • 7M-GTE is grunty off boost and quick through the top-end
  • Cushion-like ride from airbag suspension
  • Body parts difficult to source, but many driveline parts shared with local Supra/Cressida models
  • Without question, the most opulent vehicle you can buy for a shade over 10 grand!


Adelaide Japanese Imports
+61 8 8369 1156

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