Ben's Japanese MR2 Turbo
Well it all began with a base model 1991 120bhp UK Coupe with a 3S-FE engine which I bought in December 1996, with 72,000 miles on the clock. This was the car that really got me hooked on MR2's - the 120hp engine wasn't very powerful, but the handling always brought a smile to my face.
After 18 excellent months driving it (and feeding it 10W40 engine oil) I started looking for a replacement MR2 - initially it was going to be a UK spec MR2 GT with 158hp, but when I test drove a 1992 Japanese MR2 Turbo out of curiosity I knew that this was the only way to go - 220 bhp with an unforgettable combination of low end torque and top end power all thanks to the Turbo. Even with the added hassles of getting parts and insurance for a car that was never sold in the UK, I decided it was still well worth it.
I then spent 4 months looking for a non modified MR2 Turbo, in good condition with service history. Having seen 6 or more Turbos, I found very few that were both unmodified and in good mechanical condition - many arrive in the UK direct from Japanese auctions, and so their quality is very variable. The car I bought was the only one that was in good original mechanical condition, with a low mileage, and even a service history - something very rare for an import.
Driving the MR2 Turbo
The MR2's Mid-engined Rear wheel drive layout gives it true sportscar balance and handling, thanks to an evenly balanced chassis. This makes the MR2 a really rewarding drive, with opportunity for 2nd gear grin-inducing oversteer on demand. Car Magazine in the UK did a tongue in cheek review of a Modified MR2 turbo - and they obviously had fun getting it sideways, but an unmodified car would be much harder to get out of shape.
OK - The MR2 looks great, has a bomb-proof engine and does the 0-60 sprint far faster than all 'shopping trolley' hot hatches. If this is all the MR2 means to you... I'm sorry but you're missing the point.
A car like the MR2 really rewards when being driven.
Over the last few years I've wanted to learn how the car handles on the limit, and what the limit 'feels' like. I've done a number of Skidpan courses at the Suffolk Police HQ (driver training notes available here) at first to understand the basics of understeer and oversteer, followed by more advanced wet handling course run by Driving Techniques at MIRA, and more recently having fun putting it all into practice at a number of Airfield trackdays run by Bookatrack.
Airfield trackdays are ideal for finding and pushing the limits - the MR2 is a surprisingly track-able car, providing you prepare the car well before and maintain it afterwards - the main consumables are Petrol (one tank at least, 5mpg!) tyres, and to a much lesser extent brake pads and engine oil. Each time I've come back from any of these events, I've been amazed at how much more capable the MR2 is than I thought.
If you're planning on doing a few trackdays, its useful to have a separate set of 'trackday' rims and tyres, so you can use one set on track and then drive home on a legal set of tyres. The Bridgestone S-02 tyres shown on the right had 2mm of tread on them at the start of the trackday, but the front tyre had worn down to the canvas by late morning and the rear was completely smooth by the end of the day, with a little canvas showing.
Some Books I'd recommend:
If you want to learn more about car handling and driving techniques, these three provide an excellent background.
The work I have done recently on the car has been with the aim of allowing the car to be enjoyable on the road as well as at Airfield Trackdays. Suspension and braking components have been replaced or upgraded, and work on the engine has been with the aim of improving throttle response and removing lag, with resulting power increases being a bonus.
Upgrades to January 2002
In the 3 year's I've had my Turbo, I've been slowly tracking down and sorting a few things out to ensure the car is 100% - there are lots of little modifications I've made to my MR2, but off the top of my head I've currently got:
Hayward and Scott Exhaust - November 2001
I was looking for a replacement for the standard Toyota system to help reduce the turbo lag. The way forwards here was to fit a cat replacement pipe and free flowing exhaust.
Hayward and Scott are well known for their full stainless hand made systems, produced for Ralliart, Scoobysport, Porsches, and many Japanese imports. Because of this, and their experience with Celica GT-4s John Luck and myself met up with them to discuss what they could do for a MR2 Turbo.
We agreed they would produce a classic Y design system for our MR2's that wouldn't be louder than 98dB to meet trackday noise limits, with silencers in each branch of the Y shape and dual 3.5" tips rolled in. I was also going to get a cat replacement pipe, as a loophole in MOT tests allows imports with no direct UK equivalent (upto July '95) to have a non-cat test.
Rolling Road - 1999
With a car this capable, there's no point skimping on tyres for an MR2 - you need some which will provide grip to handle the car's ability to accelerate, brake and corner.
In my view its worth paying slightly more for a better set of tyres - this small extra cost being much less than the excess on an insurance claim! High performance tyres needn't cost the earth either - Bridgestone S-03 are better performers than most Pirelli and Michelin tyres, and are cheaper too. Shop around - you shouldn't be paying more than £100 for a rear 225/50R15 tyre.
Currently I'm using Bridgestone S-03 tyres, (205/50R15's on the front, 225/50R15on the rear) and I have found that a slightly wider tyre on the front makes the car's handling very neutral and rewarding. For Airfield trackdays I've got a separate set of 16" rims, on which I have used Falken FK451's, Bridgestone S-02's, Yokohama A539s and Goodyear F1s.
I had previously run A520's on the front of the car, and S-02's on the rear which gave me a little understeer on wet roundabouts. Both the below tyres have long since been worn smooth and are used as expensive boat stands - the rears lasted 12.5k miles, and the fronts 19k miles.
OK, so what's under the bonnet then ?
Well, the short answer is a heck of a lot - the engine which powers the MR2 turbo is the same engine (3S-GTE) as is in the Celica GT4 turbo, delivering around 220bhp in the 1993 model year. They're as tough as old boots, as you'd expect of any Toyota - from the US MR2 mailing list, there are cars that have done over 230,000 km. There are a number of UK Spec Mk2's I have driven, one with 156,000miles, and the other with 130,000 miles, both of which were still running strong, so there is plenty of life in the engine!
The turbo itself is reliable, but you need to bear in mind that after a hard drive the turbo ideally needs a cool-off idle period. If the engine is shut down with the turbo too hot, it is possible that the heat could cause non-synthetic oils to break down, and it is possible that the oil lines going to the turbo over time become constricted by oil which is baked to the walls of the feed pipes. This can then lead to lack of lubrication and eventual turbo failure through oil starvation. I generally ensure I drive the car gently on the last few minutes of any journey allowing it to cool off - and then let it idle for a while once parked whilst I sort myself out.
The basic engine layout from back left to right is airbox with Air Flow Meter (AFM), turbo (under the crossed braces) air to air intercooler (RHS) and throttle body bottom middle. The timing belt is crammed against the RHS rear turret, so changing the timing belt is usually an engine out job, purely due to lack of space, and risk of damage to the Intercooler. The diagnostics connector and boost pressure sensor is just to the right of the red 'twin entry turbo' plate - the black box is the boost pressure gauge, and the open grey box is the diagnostics connector.
In terms of performance, a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds or there abouts is possible with a standard engine - all the turbo's torque and power allow it to comfortably beat the standard UK MR2 to 60mph by over two seconds. But this is all in a straight line - the MR2 is most fun in the twisties ...
I'm not at the cutting edge of In Car Entertainment, but I do want my MR2 to sound good for those unforgettable sunny days driving along country lanes with the T-Tops out... Currently I've got a Kenwood 8080R CD-RDS head installed (bought on line via Edworthys), and it sounds great. I've also swapped the in-door speakers and tweeters for a set of JBL GT 6.0c separates which have improved the detail and stereo focus, but lack a little low end punch - however this is filled in well by the factory subwoofers behind the driver and passenger.
These Japanese stickers were on my car when I bought it, and as I can't read Japanese characters, I was interested to find out more about what they mean, and asked anyone who knew what they were to drop me a line.
Tony McDaid was kind enough to do exactly this when he read this page - Here's his explanation of what the two stickers above mean:
David Heard also read this page and saw the stickers, and provided some interesting additional information, including a link to the town where the parking permit is from - looking at the web page, it looks quite mountainous and possibly fun to drive - a good place to own a MR2!
Thanks should also go to Chris Eastman and Mika for providing another take on the stickers :
And last but not least, Kuroyuki
who took the trouble to e-mail me in English even though it isn't his
first Language. With his help, we have worked out that the car was
previously owned by Japan Energy, and probably only had one owner from