Journal: How Would You Modify This Toyota MR2?

How Would You Modify This Toyota MR2?

By Aaron McKenzie
July 2, 2014
40 comments

Photography by Aaron McKenzie for Petrolicious

This past spring, on the hunt for a second car, I happened across this 1991 Toyota MR2 turbo. Of course I snapped it up. The car currently has around 82,000 original miles and, aside from the wheels (which, yes, need to be matched front and back) and an upgraded interior that includes leather seats, it is completely stock and in excellent condition. This is precisely the reason I bought it: clean, mechanically unmolested first and second generation MR2s are nearly impossible to find.

Not that I’m opposed to modifying this car. Since buying it, however, I’ve changed nothing about it except the oil largely because I haven’t decided on a unified direction for my modifications. Given the car’s proximity to originality (and the creeping valuations of original MR2s on today’s market), should I track down some original wheels and keep its mechanics stock? Or, do I take advantage of the fact that these 3S-GTE engines are only a few tweaks away from 300 horsepower?

And so, Petrolisti, I throw this topic open to you. Given a certain budget (take your pick of $1,000, $3,000, or $5,000), how, if at all, would you improve on this marvelous piece of Japanese engineering? For inspiration, have a look at this Petrolicious video on a beautiful group of MR2s in Houston, Texas.

Would you like suggestions on how to modify, restore, or otherwise alter your vintage car? If so, send an email to yourstory@petrolicious.com with a few photographs and a brief explanation of what you have. The Petrolicious community might just be able to help.

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Thomas
Thomas

You obviously want to make more power, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking this asking. So on your own behalf, BOOST THE HELL OUT OF IT!

Mark
Mark

100 lbs of ANFO.

Guest
Guest

Keep it stock and go buy another rougher example to mod!!!

SW20
SW20

I have a 1991 MR2 2.2L N/A with 58,XXX mi. on it and ever part on the car is stock. After 15 months of ownership and quite a bit of california canyon thrashing, the car runs as well as it did when it was rolling off the assembly line in Japan in 1990. I love my car. I found it as a one owner car, with 35k mi on it. I paid $5500. The car could easily have been sold the day I bought it for $9,000-$11,000. I’ve seen the N/A cars with less than 100k mi selling for between… Read more »

SW20
SW20

One more thing: If you’re never going to sell the car….as in ever….there is another route. The 1991 cars, both Turbo and Non, received upgrades to the brakes and suspension in 1993. If I knew I’d never sell, I’d hardcore my suspension slightly and upgrade the brakes to a “track” feel. Beyond that, I’d go no more than 16″ wheels. The Turbos came with 15’s and the N/A’s got 14’s but owners agree that 15’s and 16’s are optimal for performance, no ricey 17’s here. I love the engine note as it is on the N/A cars and for me,… Read more »

Hayden
Hayden

Tis all I need… you can keep your second gen. 😉

Mike Neisen
Mike Neisen

3rd gen MR2 wheels, BFG KDW tires, koni sport shocks, your favorite steering wheel and shift knob.

Bryant Pocock
Bryant Pocock

Cadillac Northstar V8 + Pontiac G6 manual transaxle

Mark
Mark

I would update it with late model tail lights, rear wing and 16″ OEM wheels with some upgraded suspension and an exhaust. Then just enjoy the beautiful handling characteristics these are known for.

JB21
JB21

I would detail it and sell it. And buy something a bit more tasty.

motonerd14
motonerd14

I’d track down original wheels, and maybe budget $1500 for small improvements (reflash ECU, head unit/speakers, spruce up interior with new carpets, etc) and call it a day. It’s almost impossible to find these things in good, unmolested shape on the East Coast anymore… 🙁

Stephen Licursi
Stephen Licursi

Original wheels, a good set of coilovers, and some good tires.

BJ Barker
BJ Barker

Lighter wheels, some non-intrusive suspension parts, perhaps an air intake, and maybe some bolt on cockpit mods (steering wheel, seats, to taste). Make sure you keep all your original parts though, because this thing will be worth serious money in stock configuration in a few years.

Christopher Wilmot
Christopher Wilmot

Lower it! It’s what every kid would say!

On a more serious note, when it comes to modifications I choose to improve upon the factory design.
If it were my car, I’d lower it with maybe lighter wheels, some basic bolt ons and maybe a larger turbo at some point.

Rod S
Rod S

Beautiful! Just wheels, tires and suspension. Keep it unmolested, otherwise.

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa

Paint it black.

Federico Sagol
Federico Sagol

I think a stand alone ECU (I’ve used megasquirt on mine) and rising the boost to 16/17 psi are, may be, the best bang for the buck

Joe Ellis
Joe Ellis

OEM Wheels, upgrade the breaks, V6 swap and a roll cage.

Mike
Mike

Honestly, the stock horse power from the 3S-GTE is more than enough for your average car enthusiast. If you gave yourself a relatively small budget of $3000, I’m sure you could get some stiffer suspension, better brakes, and some new meat for those wheels. Even if you decide you don’t like the rims that are on the car, you could probably get some cheap, stock wheels for it as well. Power isn’t everything, especially in the MR2. The car was so meticulously designed to be a nimble, agile car. Don’t ruin it with a 100mm turbo and 1000HP at the… Read more »

Jake Williams
Jake Williams

Swap Turbo 3S-GTE for N/A 4-AGE, bucket seats, chassis bracing, and call it a day. 😉

Fong
Fong

Goodness I hope and pray you are kidding…

Johnny
Johnny

There was a time I would have put an Aeroware body kit, one of those crazy intake snorkels, some fat wheels, serious suspension mods and tuned the 3S-GTE within an inch of it’s life! Nowadays, I’d probably just replace the CT-26 with a more modern turbo with a decent electronic boost controller and some kind of fuel cut defender to get around the factory 11 psi fuel cut, fit a decent but not too obnoxious exhaust, freshen up the suspension and add some sticky tires, possibly with some lightweight aftermarket wheels and some decent brake pads. Leave the body alone,… Read more »

Billy Ford
Billy Ford

Manual boost controller made from Home Depot parts. Super loud piston-type blow-off valve.

Okay, okay.. I’m just reminiscing about what I did with mine back in the day. Love Mk2s.

Jackson
Jackson

Don’t turbo it – the first AW20 turbos were evil handling cars.
Keep it stock and trade it in for a nice AW10 !

Joshua Epp
Joshua Epp

1. Suspension
2. Wheels
3. Brakes?
4. Cooling and turbo!

Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith

Needs to be turbocharged to overcome the fact that it is laughably underpowered.

Jim
Jim

Did you read anything he wrote? It is Turbocharged.

Andrew Nier
Andrew Nier

I’m fond of this car with subtle exterior changes. Improve the performance of the car to whatever level you want and buy wheels and tires to match. But limit the exterior changes to things that only a skilled eye will detect. For example:

http://www.modified.com/features/modp-1205-1991-toyota-mr2/viewall.html

Wheels aside, it looks pretty much like a regular MR2 unless you place it side by side with a stock one.

David
David

Replace all of the rubber bushings on all suspension components with poly-urethane or a set of new rubber bushings (such as the TRD rubber bushings) if you can find them. twosrus.com sells the poly urethane. Replace all of the struts with Koni adjustables. Optionally, replace the springs with some kind of lowering spring. $1000 to $2500 is a decent estimate depending on if you do the labor yourself and if you go with springs too. Do all of the routine maintenance for that mileage including timing belt, oil pump, water pump, valve stem seals, spark plugs, spark plug wires, coolant… Read more »

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle

With all of the over modified cars we have in this world i think it would be nice to just let this one as it is.

Gianni Burrows

I agree. It seems to have survived the bottom of the depreciation curve without being beaten to death. Give it a break and leave it stock, just replace the 23 year old consumables with OEM or NOS parts (bushings, etc.)

Michael Starling
Michael Starling

I am in the same boat. I just picked up a really nice 1987 CRX Si, that has some great mods. I say go for nice mods. Freshen up bushings, coilover suspension and performance dampeners, upgrade to SS brake lines and better fluid. As far as engine mods, only do the things that will make it more enjoyable to drive. Maybe a different exhaust (not too loud), CAI, headers even. First thing though, take it to a professional detailer and get them to go over it with a fine tooth comb (and maybe an orbital machine).

Chris

I’m all about tasteful modifications. You could add some solid performance without being ridiculous. I’d look at an exhaust modification that adds a performance and cosmetic boost, but none of the giant exhaust pipes that moders typically do with these cars or Honda Civics. Wheels and maybe some KW coils too to give it a more aggressive look too.

Jonathan
Jonathan

Regular maintenance followed by brake upgrade rotors pads lines then suspension and wheel and tire combo

Mike
Mike

I’ve owned 3 MR2s, ’91, ’93, ’01. I’d go with the OEM ’93 wheels, ’93 springs, and ’93 transmission. I’d go aftermarket with the roll-bars and a TRD or aftermarket tri-point front strut tower brace. Works wonders. If I were to care more about the aesthetics, then the ’94 wing and front lower lip with fog lights would be it. The ’93 is an amazing car and the most reliable I have ever had. With the subtle suspension modifications, it makes it a bit more easy to recover in case the rear end breaks loose. Also, the best two mods… Read more »

Yohann
Yohann

Do not modify it ! The 91s model is already perfect. You might change the color to red, but nothing else for the outside part please !

Charles
Charles

I personally bought a 88 MR2 8 months ago and have enjoyed mildly modifying the car… I use it on canyon drives every Sunday morning and track it once a month… I understand wanting to keep it original but it’s not a rare Ferrari… Although when I’m hugging tight corners on Mulholland Dr it’s just as good…. in my mind 🙂 I say you modify it to your taste…

Josh Clason
Josh Clason

I say keep it simple with a nice set of 5 spoke wheels and keep it stock.

jeremie
jeremie

Keep it simple and reversible. KW coils and some era appropriate wheels, something like super advan type 2s would be perfect. Any TRD parts would be awesome too 🙂

If you want more power there is always a 2grfe swap 🙂

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani

Wheels are a personal and subjective choice. To my eyes those wheels look OK. Are the engine tweaks mostly bolt on? That means the car can be returned to stock if need be.