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1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

Supercharged V-6 MR2 Paints a Picture of What Might Have Been for Toyota

Benjamin Hunting
Oct 29, 2019
Photographer: Daniel Piker

"What might have been" is a fun fantasy familiar to almost any automotive enthusiast imagining the potential of a player that was retired from the scene well before its time. For some, however, it becomes less of an idle mind game and more of a challenge—a call to right the wrongs, or, at the very least explore the paths not taken for a particular automobile.

1994 Toyota MR2 98 MR2 Rear Wing 02 Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

For Russell Turnbull, when it came time to pick up a project car, there was no doubt which vehicle he'd be targeting and what direction he'd be pushing the platform. Up to that point, he was a multiple first-gen MR2 owner, and this was his first second-generation example of Toyota's mid-engine sports car. It's one of the few out there to feature a 3.5L V-6 in place of the standard four-cylinder.

"It's a relatively simple swap," Russell explains. "People always worry about space, but there's really so much more room with the V-6 versus the turbo motor once you subtract all the brackets, piping, and vacuum stuff needed for the dated technology. There's only one motor mount you need to swap—the other three are on the transmission—and if you can turn a wrench, there's really not much more to it than that. The biggest hurdle is wiring, but there are companies out there that will splice the harness together for you."

1994 Toyota MR2 S3 Lotus Exige Supercharger Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

We think Russell is being a little too modest in describing the build process for his '96 MR2, especially considering it's not just making use of a six-cylinder motor swapped out of a RAV4 SUV but it also features an ultra-rare, Lotus-sourced supercharger.

"I had always planned on the V-6 swap, but the supercharger came later by fortunate coincidence. It was originally offered on the TRD version of the Toyota Aurion, which is the Australian-market Camry, in a super-limited edition," he says. "Eventually, Lotus started adding the supercharger to the Evora, and then the S3 Exige. It was one of those parts I was always casually searching for, but since there were only a couple hundred ever produced, I never seriously expected to find one."

1994 Toyota MR2 Toyota Celica Steering Wheel Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

It was a late-night forum surfing session that yielded unexpected fruit: a Dutch S3 Exige owner selling his factory SC due to an upgrade. Russell pounced on it immediately. "It was just dumb luck," he says.

As might be expected, adding a blower to the MR2's V-6 was a formula for respectable power. The Toyota now puts out 328 horses and 270 lb-ft (a far cry from the naturally aspirated four-cylinder it originally came with from the factory), thanks in no small part to Gouky headers, a TCS Motorsports 3-inch exhaust, and a Link G4+ Fury standalone ECU.

1994 Toyota MR2 Shine Auto Spec G Side Skirt Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

"The wiring for the standalone was a bit of an adventure," Russell admits. "It was the most time-consuming aspect of the entire project for me. The only parts I farmed out were the exhaust—as I'm not a welder—and the dyno tuning for the engine."

A Quaife limited-slip differential and Chico Race Works axles handle the MR2's upgraded torque, which is sent to the rear wheels via a Fidanza lightweight flywheel and Southbend Stage 2 clutch. Keeping the car locked to the tarmac are a set of TRD springs, Koni shocks, a TRD front sway bar, and a factory power steering conversion. Wilwood calipers and pads and a Wilhelm Raceworks lightweight big brake kit help to haul down the Toyota, with staggered Nexen N'Fera rubber sealing the deal with the pavement.

1994 Toyota MR2 2GR FE Swap Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

Despite the brazen power boost, Russell's MR2 features a fairly modest exterior appearance, wearing a Shine Auto front lip and side skirts, a '98-spec rear wing, and a low-rise headlight kit. Russell says that before the stripes were added, most people would just walk right on by the car at shows. "Unless I had the hood popped," he says with a laugh. "Then there'd be double and triple takes—especially once they saw the 'Lotus' badge on the engine."

Russell loves the instant-on torque offered by the big-displacement engine, especially as compared to the old-tech turbo originally offered in the MR2.

1994 Toyota MR2 JDM Clear Signal Lenses Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel

"Theoretically, it's 100 pounds lighter, but the handling of the car hasn't really changed," he says. "From an acceleration standpoint, however, it's night and day. This is a car that gets driven, too. I take it to the track, I take it to autocross, and I've even driven it all the way down the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego for the Toyotafest show almost every year I've owned it. It's just a great all-around performer. There's no question in my mind this is the car Toyota should have built when it redesigned the MR2 at the end of the '90s."

1994 Toyota MR2 Shine Auto Spec G Side Skirts 01 Photo 41/41   |   1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel
By Benjamin Hunting
32 Articles
1994 Toyota MR2 - Mid-Engine Marvel
Tuning Menu
Owner: Russell Turnbull
Hometown: Vancouver, BC
Occupation: Mechanical Technologist
Instagram: @cdnmr2v6
Power: 328 hp; 270 lb-ft
Engine: RAV4 3.5L 2GR-FE V-6 engine swap; S3 Lotus Exige V-6 TVS-1320 supercharger; Gouky 2GR engine mount kit, headers; MR220v harness rewired and tucked; OEM Supra Turbo fuel pump; Aeromotive adjustable fuel pressure regulator; TCS Motorsports 3-inch exhaust; custom Y-pipe; PWR radiator; Summit Racing coolant overflow tank
Drivetrain: '96 JDM Toyota MR2 E153 transmission; Quaife limited-slip differential; Fidanza lightweight flywheel; Southbend Stage 2 Endurance clutch kit; machined clutch clevis; Cam's Auto shifter base bushings; CRW spherical bearing shift cable bushings; Speed Source polyurethane engine mount inserts; Chico Race Works Stage 2 HD axle kit; Stage 8 locking fasteners
Engine Management: Link G4+ Fury standalone ECU; custom engine harness
Footwork & Chassis: Koni Yellow adjustable shocks; TRD springs, front sway bar; Wilhelm Raceworks suspension geometry correction kit; 18mm rear sway bar; Prothane bushings; power steering conversion; VMAX quick ratio steering pinion/span>
Braking: '93 MR2 Turbo master cylinder, brake booster; Wilhelm Raceworks big brake kit; Wilwood forged Superlite calipers, 311mm rotors on custom hats, BP-10 pads; Technafit stainless steel lines
Wheels & Tires: 17x8 front, 17x9 rear Work Meister S1 wheels; 215/45R17 front, 245/40R17 rear Nexen N'Fera Sur4g tires
Exterior: Revision6 quad low-rise headlight kit; JDM clear signal lenses; Wolfie308 clear Toblerone side markers; Shine Auto Spec-A front lip, Spec-G side skirts; Bomex rear add-ons; '98 MR2 rear wing; Hux Racing tucked engine lid support, trunk support
Interior: SuperKlasse weighted '98 shift knob; MR2Heaven halo shift surround; replica TRD short shifter lever; RSE drop plate; Twos R Us floor mats; Autovation pedal covers; '05 Celica steering wheel; Redline Accessories steering wheel wrap, shift boot, parking brake boot; JDM aluminum side sills; Recaro SRD bucket seats; Bride Super Low seat rails; Safety Restore colored seatbelts; DEI 535t window module; Alpine ILX-W650 receiver; JL Audio TR650-CSi components; Alpine components; Focal 27v1 subwoofer; MTX Thunder TA 251D amplifier
Thanks: My wife, Sonja, for her patience and encouragement; the rest of my family; and the members of BCMR2 for helping to create a group with such great camaraderie!



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