The Toyota Sera - Quirky Little Thing
It had even inspired the design of the McLaren F1!
Try to imagine a small, little futuristic Japanese runabout hatchback with insane looking doors. The Toyota Sera was a sporty coupe powered by an inline-four cylinder engine and front wheel drive. Its sister car, the Toyota Paseo, looked like an unassuming, round jellybean. It looked rather mundane, so as a result it didn't really sell that well. However, Toyota decided that the car needed a bit of pizzazz, so they decided to give it a bubble roof, a rounder design and slap a pair of butterfly doors onto it.
The car looked so unrecognizable next to a Paseo and was a far cry from its original design approach, so they decided that it would be an entirely new car, called the Sera. The name Sera came from the French word Sera, meaning "will be" or "being", indicating its overall futuristic and quirky design along with its butterfly doors that stood out from the competition. Its doors were so unique, it even inspired Gordon Murray, the lead designer of the McLaren F1, to implement a similar door design into his greatest creation.
Toyota AXV-II Concept
The Toyota AXV-II Concept. (Source: Autostyling.ru)
A few years before the release of the Sera, Toyota had unveiled a concept car in the 1987 Tokyo Motor Show, called the Toyota XV-II Concept. What made it stand out from any other concept car Toyota had done was its unique looking butterfly doors. Now it may look like its just placed there for aesthetic purposes, but it had a bit of usefulness. The doors allow passengers to exit the car in places where conventional doors could not handle, as they move in an upwards direction rather than sideways.
The car also featured a bubble-roof design with thin pillars and a canopy mostly made out of glass, allowing maximum visibility for the driver. The car also had a rear hatchback made entirely out of glass, similar to a Mazda RX-7. The car shared many components with the Toyota Starlet, such as its inline-four cylinder engine, gearbox and suspension. .
The Toyota Sera
The Toyota Sera. (Source: Flickr, IamRender.)
Three years later in the year 1990, Toyota had decided to green-light production of the concept, under the Sera badge. The car looked identical to its concept, maintaining its bubble roof design, glass canopy, slightly thicker structural pillars to comply with Japanese road regulations, a slightly altered front fascia, and its unique butterfly doors. Its design definitely stood out from the competition, and caused quite a stir in the Japanese automotive industry.
The Toyota Sera was offered in Toyopet dealerships across Japan as an alternative to the sportier but more regular looking Toyota MR2. Some optional configurations offered alongside the Sera were for its transmission, brakes, air conditioning and sound system. Three trims were offered to customers, marketed as Phases. Most of the car's parts came from the Toyota Starlet and the Toyota Paseo, its sister car.
Design and Specifications
The Toyota Sera with one of its iconic doors open. (Source: Flickr, Steve Glover.)
The Toyota Sera shares the same 1.5-liter inline-four 5E-FHE unleaded petrol engine with the Toyota Paseo and the Toyota Starlet, the engine with the largest displacement in Toyota's E family of engines. The engine was mounted transversely in the front of the car, paired with a front wheel drive powertrain and electronic fuel injection. All Toyota Seras came with power assisted rack and pinion steering, and were offered with either the Toyota A242L 4-speed automatic transmission or the Toyota C155 5-Speed Manual transmission for thrill-seeking customers.
Its body stood out from anything else that was on sale, being a three door hatchback with butterfly doors. Made using a monocoque steel construction technique, its iconic butterfly doors were hinged on top of the A-Pillar and open in a forward and upward manner. Some other applications of this door system could be seen in the iconic McLaren F1, the Saleen S7, and the newer McLaren 720S. Gordon Murray, chief designer of the McLaren F1, commented that the Sera's iconic door system served as an inspiration for the F1's door design.
To help the door go back to its closed position easily, Toyota installed thick gas struts and counterbalanced the door with a smaller secondary strut inside. Unlike traditional car doors, the Sera's iconic butterfly doors could be opened in confined spaces, requiring only 17 centimeters of clearance, making it very useful in the bustling and congested parking spaces of Japan's major cities.
Its rear hatch is constructed out of a single piece of glass without any steel pillars. Complimenting its steeply sloping front windscreen and glass upper door and roof panels, it completes the Sera's distinct glass bubble canopy. However, its thick B-pillar gave drivers a massive blind spot. Because the car was mainly made out of glass, temperatures would rise very easily as the greenhouse effect states that heat gets trapped inside reflective structures easily. To counteract this problem, Toyota installed an advanced air-conditioning system and twin removable roof panels as standard.
The Toyota Sera was also one of the first production cars on the road to feature projector headlights.
The Toyota Sera's interior. (Source: AZ JDM Imports.)
Following its futuristic and round design philosophy, most of the Sera's interior panels are rounded. Two front bucket seats with three-point seat belts accommodate the driver and one additional passenger. Both seats can slide forward to give access to the rear bench seat, which has a fixed central arm rest and three-point seat belts.
However, thanks to its 2+2 interior configuration, the rear cargo area has a smaller opening compared to other cars in its class with an elevated lip further obstructing the trunk. Sera owners would have to lift their luggage higher in order to place their belongings inside the car. Despite that issue, its boot was quite deep and spacious, with a parcel shelf and a removable rear divider panel built in. If removed, the Toyota Sera has a large amount of available storage space for its size. The car also comes with a spare space-saving tire and a changing kit located in a small compartment under the boot floor.
An ad for the limited edition Toyota Sera Amlux. (Source: Toyota Sera Owners Club UK.)
The Sera was marketed in three different trims or "phases". Phase I was sold from March 1990-May 1991 and sold a total of 12,000 units, making up the majority of all Toyota Seras sold. It featured a beige or tan interior with an optional greyish-blue option depending on exterior color, a bayonet-style fuel filler cap, and a hand-wearing ribbed and woven seat material.
The Phase II Toyota Sera was sold from May 1991 to June 1992. Some notable differences were the new pastel pattern in the main sections of the seats with tan or greyish bolsters depending on interior color. A screw-type filler cap and a wider variety of seat materials was also offered. Toyota sold 2,300 Seras in its Phase II variant.
The Phase III Toyota Sera is the rarest of all the Toyota Sera variants, selling only 1,550 units in total. They feature a grey interior with seat fabrics that have a second color to compliment its exterior, new engine component revisions, side impact beams on the doors, optional airbags and ABS, three-point rear seat belts, stronger door struts to compensate for the side impact beams, and a solid plastic spoiler with a LED brake light installed.
There was also a limited edition variant of the Toyota Sera Phase III, called the Sera Amlux, named after Toyota's flagship building located in Tokyo, housing Toyota's largest showroom. The Amlux edition Toyota Seras came with an automatic transmission and SLSS as standard, featuring a two-tone green paint finish, special colored hubcaps, blue tinted glass, a choice of six exclusive seat material designs, a rear seat cover, a personalized name plate, seat cushion and scarf, and AMLUX logos on the car's doors and mats.
The rear 3/4 view of the Toyota Sera. (Source: Toyota Sera Owners Club UK)
All Toyota Seras came with a range of factory optional extras. They included, but were not limited to: a variety of logo and stripe stickers, body kits , a car-phone and/or car-fax , multiple parking assistance sensors , patterned window-tinting , a roof cover , ski-racks attached to the doors), a smoked perspex upper spoiler , a striking patterned seat & floormat materials , and various stereo Head Units. (I have no idea how to add bullet points on DriveTribe.)
The Sera also came with an optional surround-sound system, called the Super Live Surround Sound, or in short, SLSS. Consisting of ten speakers, two 30 square centimeter tweeters in the left, right and center of the front console, 20 square centimeter mounted cones inside the doors, two tweeters and cones contained in a single, tube shaped unit mounted on the rear parcel shelf, and a boot fitted with an "Acoustic Resonance Woofer", many buyers of the Sera bought the car with the additional surround sound system. Three sound modes were offered, off, casual and funky. Each mode has different sound quality through treble and bass settings.
The Sera also came with an air filtration and even an air fragrance system as optional called CleanAce. It sucks in air through a standalone roof filter and is blown at the passenger through the vent located beneath the audio head unit in the center console using Toyota's advanced Air Fantasy filtration system. The system would also pump in small bursts of scented air. Fragrances offered included Deodorizer, Morning Green, Peppermint, White Herb and Sazan Floral. The entire air filtration and fragrance system was aimed at smokers who wanted to buy a Sera.
A JDM Toyota Sera with the Quest Power Type-A bodykit installed. (Source: Toyota Sera Owners Club UK)
The Toyota Sera was a huge hit with the tuning community in Japan. Some tuners optimized the car's 5E-FHE inline-four cylinder engine to make more power, but most people swap out its engine for the more powerful Toyota Starlet Turbo's 4E-FTE engine making 133 horsepower. Some would also go as far as to swap and further tune the Starlet Turbo's engine, with some cars making up to 200 horsepower. In order to compensate for the increased power, most people fitted it with a larger intercooler, a revised exhaust system and induction kit, and a number of electronic engine management devices. Some tuners decide to go ballistic with its engine, with two Toyota Seras in Japan claimed to have been tuned all the way to 300 horsepower, another one in Australia being tuned to 290 horsepower, and one in Sri Lanka tuned to 270 horsepower.
The Toyota Sera wasn't that good at handling in its stock form thanks to its softer springs than expected. To compensate, an aftermarket handling package developed and offered by Leda Suspension was offered. The car's ride becomes noticeably firmer and sporty after the package has been installed. The car is also slightly lower compared to its stock form. The kit contains a pair of front and rear dampers and a pair of front and rear progressive rate springs. Because of the Sera's similarities with the Paseo and Starlet GT, other parts such as swaybars, strut bars, other braces and brakes can be retrofitted.
Some aftermarket bodykits were also offered. The most popular ones were the G5 Speed Garage kit and the Quest Power Type A kit in Japan. The Cia style kit was popular in the UK, and the X-Racing kit was popular in Australia. An aftermarket rear bumper by Andros was also popular in the tiny island nation of Cyprus. Sera bodykits mainly include redesigned and grounded front bumpers, front splitters, carbon-fibre bonnets, wheelarch trims, wide arch kits, front bumper extensions, side skirts, rear spoilers, headlamp eyelids and body mounted rear wings.
A UK-Spec Toyota Sera. (Source: Toyota Sera Owners Club UK, sera_walker1.)
All cars were right-hand drive as standard, as the car was built specifically for the Japanese market. Its speedometer and odometer units were displayed in metric, making the car easily importable to other countries without much alteration. The UK-spec Sera is sold as a right-hand drive car just like the JDM Sera, only its speedometer is displayed in imperial units. However, in some markets, major alterations to the Sera had to be done. In Australia, the Sera had to be installed with side impact beams.
The Sera is compliant with the United States' 25-year import Rule, as the car is over 25 years of age. However, only Seras sold in the first four years of production could be imported there. All Toyota Seras could be imported into Canada though, as it has more relaxed 15-year import rule.
The Toyota Sera. (Source: rightdrive.ca)
In conclusion, the Toyota Sera was a really unique and quirky car. With its round and futuristic design, bubble top glass canopy, its unique butterfly doors that inspired the door design of the McLaren F1, it was a truly unique car, and one that truly stood out from the competition. It was a hit with the tuning community, with engine swaps, suspension kits and bodykits developed for the car, and it was even offered with a air fragrance system, which was a niche in that section of the auto industry!
It looks like no sports car could be as unique, quirky and interesting as the Toyota Sera, even till today.