1989 Toyota MR2 Turbo W20 full-TRD-2000GT kit
The beginning of the 1990s was an exciting time for sports cars: A time where the established brands were releasing affordable performance cars at a rapid rate.
The early 1990s engine Electronic Control Units (ECUs) were highly functional and combined electronic injection with electronic ignition, knock sensing and O2 control to create intelligent feedback systems. These ECUs were capable of pushing their engines power to greater limits by utilizing the electronics to optimize, monitor, and protect them.
High-output engines which were once only the domain of the exotics were being mass produced and, importantly, were highly reliable. Think double overhead cams, quad cams, five valves per cylinder and sequential turbo-charging from mainstream-vehicle Producers like Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota. At this point in time, Toyota was clearly on top of their sports-car game. Instead of just one performance-car offering in their lineup (line-up), they had four! The Toyota Celica, Toyota Supra, Toyota Soarer, and the MR2. Each were designed and marketed for slightly-different audiences: The Supra was intended as the high-power conventional-layout performance car; the Soarer combined luxury with grand touring; the Celica being the cheeky well-priced front-wheel-drive; the MR2’s design focused more on being a weekend car which you could drive to the track, you could thrash it around all day, and drive it home – and, for ten years in my twenties, I did just that! The MR2 introduced me to a life-long passion for motorsport.
CHRIS HAS LOVED THE MR2S SINCE HE WAS A CHILD. WHEN HE WAS SIX-YEARS OLD, ONE OF HIS FATHER’S COLLEAGUES HAD INVITED HIM TO SIT IN HIS BRAND-NEW MR2!
The MR2 story started in the early 1980s with Toyota’s aim to develop a car which was “enjoyable to drive”, had good performance and handling characteristics, yet still provided good fuel economy. Playing around with different engine placement, Toyota settled on a mid-transverse engine design in a prototype named SA-X, that was completed in 1981. A further two years of development saw that project develop into the SV-3 concept car displayed in October, 1983, at the Tokyo Motor Show. This concept car went into production in 1984 under the new name, “MR2”. The MR2 name means mid-engine rear-drive two-seater; and this first-series AW11 model was produced for domestic and world markets between 1984 and 1989. The first series MR2 had a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder with DOHC and four valves per cylinder. Its 120 horsepower only had to push around 2,281 pounds – so felt sprightly. In the middle of production, a super-charge version of the same engine was released adding 25 ponies and 220 pounds.
FOR 1989, THE MR2 WAS COMPLETELY UPDATED WITH A NEW SMOOTHER, STREAMLINED BODY AND LARGER CABIN: EARNING THE NICK NAME, THE “BABY FERRARI”
For 1989, the MR2 was completely updated with a new smoother, streamlined body and larger cabin: earning the nickname, the “baby Ferrari” due to its exotic look which was more akin to the Ferrari 308 and 328. Importantly, the engine from this new series MR2 was increased to two liters and now produced 163 horsepower from its naturally-aspirating engine. Also, a turbocharge and inter-cooled model was released in many world markets: pushing the engine output to the magic 200-horsepower figure. Overall, the second series MR2 was highly successful and built by Toyota for over ten years. Although a third series was developed and sold from 2000 onward, it had, at that time, become a different car. Only sold in convertible form, the series III power output and size had dropped and was attracting a less-performance-orientated audience. This has left the second generation MR2 – known as the SW20 model – like Chris’ to acquire cult-like status.
Thirty years on, the MR2 has aged like a fine wine. With dedicated clubs, computer-gaming fame, and a host of after-market parts and body kits, its status as a “classic” has gained world-wide attention. MR2 clubs are, of course, a big thing in Japan; however, clubs have popped up in heaps of countries all around the world. Their following has also been boosted by featuring in gaming culture – particularly, in the highly-popular Gran-Turismo and Forza- Motorsport series. Kids grow up with these games and, eventually, became old enough to purchase the real-life ones; therefore, creating a new demand some years down the track.
The yellow beauty which you see here is owned by Chris – a Photographer living in Hong Kong. Chris has owned three of the second generation MR2s. His first-ever car was a red naturally-aspirated model; followed by a second – also, red model – this time with the turbo engine. Last year, he came across this yellow model: A 1993 model which he was keen to modify and update to suit his taste.
Chris has loved the MR2s since he was a child. When he was six-years old, one of his father’s colleagues had invited him to sit in his brand-new MR2! He remembers it clearly: It was a white 1997 turbo model. The car made such an impression on him that he knew, even from this early age, he must buy one, one day.
In the year since purchasing this model, Chris has customized both the looks and performance of his vehicle: In particular, Chris wanted a replica of the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) 2000GT. Just as AMG is Mercedes and Motorsport’s “M” division (focused on design and performance) for BMW, TRD is a subsidiary of Toyota, that is focused on performance parts and enhancements for specific Toyota models. Each of their enhancements are purposeful; each designed to improve the performance on and off track. For the MR2 model, specifically, TRD created 35 “TRD 2000GTs”: sold in Japan only and each individually numbered. These 35 were clearly differentiated to the standard model by a fiber-glass wide-body treatment which increased the body width by four inches. All had engine enhancements; as well as, suspension and handling modifications. The entire package was influenced by the TRD 2000GT MR2 race car which was successfully running in the Japan Grand Touring Championship, at the time.
Chris’ bright-yellow MR2 Turbo has had the full-TRD-2000GT kit applied; plus, modified front and rear bumpers, side skirts, and rear spoiler. The roof scoop provides a track-like look; and forces cool air, direct from the roof down, into the mid-engine bay and directly pumped to the air intake. The combination of the full-body kit and bright-yellow paintwork makes Chris’ car stand out in a crowd.
Power has been upgraded by the addition of a boost controller which lets Chris choose how much boost the turbocharger can make from “factory” to “wild”. Power is transferred to the wider tires via the five-speed closed-ratio transaxle which combines an upgraded TRD-limited slip differential. Completing the package are upgraded Brembo six-piston calipers clamping on oversized vented discs, that complement the high-performance package and give great confidence when speeds are high or corners are near.
Chris enjoys his highly-personalized MR2 every chance he gets! Mainly on weekends, when he has the chance to take it out for a run either with friends or with the Hong Kong MR2 club of which he is a proud member. Chris’ plan for the future of his MR2 is to simply drive it and “keep it clean”. While he has no plans to change vehicles, he would love to add a Supra Mark 4 – another Toyota classic – to his garage, one day.