Not Sold Here: 1990 Toyota Sera with Super Live Sound System (SLSS)

Welcome to Not Sold Here, the series where we look at interesting cars which were never sold in the United States market, but have made their way to American soil. Today’s feature car is a 1990 Toyota Sera, a sporty, compact car from Japan. About 15,941 vehicles were produced during the five year production run from 1990 through 1995. All models were equipped with a 1.5L engine producing 110 horsepower and 98 ft-lbs of torque, with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual available. The Sera is noted for its numerous unusual features and options.

The most prominent feature of the Sera is its butterfly hinge doors, which open outward and upward instead of in the conventional fashion. Gordon Murray, designer of the legendary McLaren F1, credited the Sera as his inspiration for the F1’s similar styled butterfly doors. The three-door hatchback has seating for four, though the backseat is quite small.

Another unusual feature of this particular Sera is its paint color. The car was offered in 11 different colors. There were of course standard colors such as black, gray, red, and blue, but there were also less traditional colors like turquoise blue, burnt orange, and greenish yellow, which is what this car has. I really couldn’t imagine a color like this selling well in the U.S. market.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Sera is its optional sound system, which this car has. Toyota’s “Super Live Sound System” replaced the standard stereo with a 10-speaker system connected to a Digital Sound Processor (DSP). The complete system features 3 in-dash tweeters, 2 door speakers, 2 more tweeters and 2 cone speakers mounted in the rear deck, and a 70cm (4.7″) subwoofer in the trunk. A series of power amplifiers delivered 30 watts to each channel, with 36 watts to the subwoofer. A single DIN stereo incorporated an AM/FM tuner with CD player. While these metrics seem tame by today’s standards, they would have been impressive in 1990.

The system has two modes, “Casual” and “Funky” which alters the sound profile. The angle of the rear speakers is actually changed via a small motor, which causes the sound to project into the car or bounce off the rear window glass. They rotate inside the plastic housing, in just 2 seconds. The housing was designed to withstand the vibration and temperature changes associated with being on the road.

Toyota engineers developed the system to create “presence” and “depth” that could not be obtained with conventional car audio equipment. It simulates the feeling of being at a live concert, which Toyota hoped would make the car more appealing to young people.

According to Wikipedia, a functioning SLSS audio system is one of the most desirable of the Sera’s many options. This car sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale 2019 auction for $14,300 US (including buyer’s premium).

While it may not look as flashy as a Corvette or many of the other cars sold at the auction, the Sera is an automotive curiosity with some very unique options that I think makes it quite interesting.