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
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

100 lbs of ANFO.

Guest
Guest
7 years ago

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

SW20
SW20
7 years ago

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 $4,800 and $8,000 depending on condition.
Addressing the original post, I would keep the car completely stock. These cars in particular are going up in value at a considerable rate RIGHT NOW. I’ve done the research and they’re becoming collectible new classics. The N/A 2.2’s, like mine, get 32 mpg on the highway and 28 in town, and are faster point to point over a canyon B-road than much more expensive front engine ‘exotics’, and people are beginning to understand that. If you want to drive it like you stole it, you can, and it will still be going nowhere but up in value. IF, and only IF I were to ever change any of the stock car, i.e. devalue the car, I would put on tasteful components that ONLY enhance the cars overall performance and I would keep all of the original parts, that I can put back on in the event of ever wanting to sell in the future.
With these cars, the value is in their “stockness”. Keep it stock and enjoy it as often and as long as you can.

SW20
SW20
7 years ago
Reply to  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, the exhaust is nice and ‘honest’ sounding. If you like the throttle response of a N/A car, (I know yours is turbo), but want the thrill of nudge in the back power, you could consider slapping a V6 in it. Many have done it, many have loved it. Either the 2GR from the Supra fits in it, the 1MZ or the 5VZ will work. Interestingly, the N/A four banger is faster around a slalom course than the V6 and the turbo, due to its nimble character and lightness.
Spec’ing out an MR2 does require a unified direction, i.e. V6 power and torque, bigger turbo and brakes/susp., or simply a tasty set of wheels. I wish you luck and enjoy!

Hayden
Hayden
7 years ago

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

Mike Neisen
Mike Neisen
7 years ago

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

Bryant Pocock
Bryant Pocock
7 years ago

Cadillac Northstar V8 + Pontiac G6 manual transaxle

Mark
Mark
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

Chris Franceschini
Chris Franceschini
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

BJ Barker
BJ Barker
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa
7 years ago

Paint it black.

Federico Sagol
Federico Sagol
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

Mike
Mike
7 years ago

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 rear wheels that’ll have you spinning tires in 4th gear at 160km/hr. (I’m from Canada, eh, we use km/hr)

Enjoy the midship, my friend. You won’t regret your purchase.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams
7 years ago

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

Fong
Fong
7 years ago
Reply to  Jake Williams

Goodness I hope and pray you are kidding…

Johnny
Johnny
7 years ago

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, SW20’s look great the way they are!

Billy Ford
Billy Ford
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

Josh
Josh
7 years ago

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

Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith
7 years ago

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

Jim
Jim
7 years ago
Reply to  Peter J Smith

Did you read anything he wrote? It is Turbocharged.

Andrew Nier
Andrew Nier
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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 flush, clutch fluid flush, etc. Get a turbo rebuild. Optionally, get an upgraded turbo comparable to the CT27 sold by ATS. I would personally recommend going with a different outfit (maybe Garage CRW or have a local turbo shop duplicate the upgrades). Depending on how much of this you do yourself and if you go with the turbo upgrade, this might be something like $1500 to $3000. It’ll improve the handling and reliability significantly. A turbo upgrade will net about 20 whp or so.

For upgrades, install a manual boost controller such as the $50 one from twosrus.com and pump up the boost. It doesn’t make sense to go past about 17 psi with the stock turbo, even upgraded. Get a replacement intake, exhaust, and intercooler. About $700 for a decent exhaust (such as Berk Technology’s or KO Racing’s), about $150 to $200 for a decent intake (I recommend KO Racing), and about $600 for a decent intercooler kit (again, KO Racing). The intake and exhaust are necessary to allow the engine to flow enough to make the increased boost worth it and the intercooler is necessary to keep the intake charge cool enough to do more than one or two full-throttle runs without heat soaking. That’ll get you another 20 to 30 whp or so. It’s a good idea to vent the BPV to the intake. An oil catch can is a good idea too. Lastly, the Garage CRW clutch clevis, So you are looking at about another $1500 in parts … maybe about $2000 or so after labor.

At this point your car will be faster in a straight line (+ ~50 whp), will be OEM fresh, and will handle well. The last thing to tackle would be brakes. Upgrade to a set of 1993+ brake calipers and rotors (larger diameter and thicker rotors). Maybe go with the 1993+ master cylinder too (bigger bore). You can buy everything rebuilt from an outfit like rockauto.com. Make sure you buy a decent brand. I have heard that Centric is pretty good. Get some steel braided brake lines while you’re at it (KO Racing and twosrus.com both sell them I think) and do a full brake fluid flush. This’ll probably be around $1000 in parts … maybe about $2000 after labor.

Lastly, there are some little parts that improve the overall experience of driving the car that aren’t too expensive. Brass shifter bushings or the roller bearings that Garage CRW makes are a good idea. The roller bearing kit that Garage CRW makes to replace the little square brass busing on the shifter assembly on the trans is nice too. They also make a replacement clevis kit for the clutch pedal to beef it up and eliminate clutch pedal squeak.

Anyways, that’s all I can think of right now. All numbers are sourced from past experience and my ass. You’re talking about $9500 in parts and labor for all this. Maybe about half that if you do it all yourself (highly recommended … except for maybe the brake work). You’d have a pretty sweet little deuce if you do all that. I’d say it’d be in the top 10\% of MR2s on the road.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle
7 years ago

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.

GianniB
7 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Rittle

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
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

Mike
Mike
7 years ago

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 I’ve tried out: Quick ratio pinion for the power steering unit found on Mr2oc.com. See if that’s still available. That, with the 3-spoke Toyota steering wheel from the Spyder or Celica, and I’d leave the rest of it alone.

Yohann
Yohann
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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

jeremie
jeremie
7 years ago

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
7 years ago

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.