When I was in the Air Force and living in Florida, I owned a 1968 Fiat 850 Spider roadster, a reclamation project that was pretty rusty when I bought it and had it painted. I rammed up and down the Space Coast in it, and even drove alone to New England with the car in the fall of 1970 for some military schooling. In New Hampshire, I drove it to the top of Mt. Washington (White Mountains) on a cold, blustery day on my way to Montreal. The little Fiat had a 49 horsepower engine, seating for two, and a reputation for unreliability. My friends called it the “peanut”.
I mention my old car because after that trip I went looking for something nicer and fell in love with a new Datsun 240Z. It represented an affordable sports car (around $3,000) that featured four-wheel independent suspension – and it sparked an explosion of inexpensive enthusiast sports cars. Datsun sold 150,000 of these automobiles in the next four years.
I never did purchase a 240Z; I got a sedan after discharge and marriage in 1971. And over the years Japanese manufacturers gradually got away from making cars like the Datsun 240Z. The offerings became more exotic and expensive, all the way up to today’s $375,000 Lexus LFA. Until now.
Subaru and Toyota embarked on a joint effort to build another basic little sports car, and they are available now – Subaru’s BRZ and Toyota’s Scion FR-S. Last week the Toyota people brought me a Firestorm Red Scion FR-S to test. It was a 2013 model that listed for $24,200; with wheel locks and freight the total came to $24,997. That price is actually not that much more than the 240Z, when you take into account inflation, and when you consider that the old Datsun had no air conditioning, power steering, or fuel injection.
The FR-S is a rear-wheel drive, front engine, four passenger sports car that weighs 2,758 lbs., is 166.7” long, and has a wheelbase of 101.2”. The power is supplied by a “boxer” 4-cylinder engine with 2 liters and 200 horsepower. Torque is 151 lb. ft., and fuel economy is rated at 22/city and 30/highway. I observed 30 mpg for the week that I tooled around in the FR-S. The boxer engine has horizontally opposed pistons and a low center of gravity to enhance FR-S handling. And handle it does; plus it goes zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds. The six speed manual has a short throw, and the smoothness of the engine actually is superior at high rpm.
As I mentioned, the FR-S seats four, with a folding back seat for two small people. Putting their feet on the floor requires that front occupants move the seats forward. The driver compartment is somewhat Spartan – no steering wheel controls or LCD screen on the dash, but power window and locks, plus nice aluminum pedals and a carbon-fiber-like dash trim.
Outside, the styling is terrific from all angles, and the car sits on 17” two-tone alloys and 215/45R17 summer Michelins. Little dual exhausts peek out from under the rear fascia and put out a pretty acceptable note. I attracted more attention with this car than I anticipated, so want to cast a vote in favor of such a vehicle. I just wish it was a roadster, like my old ’68 “peanut.”