When Toyota released its second generation MR2 in 1990, the car was widely criticized for its sphincter-puckering handling characteristic. Some of the world motoring press called it "snap-oversteer", and it happened if you came into a corner too hot and lifted off the gas at precisely the wrong time. Others left their foot up in it, picked off another gear and called it fun.
Whether it was an engineering flaw or simply a trait of the mid-ship design, Toyota dealt with the issue in the MR2's '93 face-lift. It altered the suspension geometry with longer toe links in the rear and specifying the car with fatter back feet. The modification went a long way in dulling its nervous twitch, but not at the expense of the driving pleasure ingrained in the MR2's DNA.
Having already cut his teeth in a couple of earlier model AW11 MR2s, New Zealand engineer, Scott Finn always knew he would find his way back into Toyota's Midship Recreational 2-seater. "I wanted an SW20, but didn't want an earlier generation one," says Scott. "When I saw this '94 GT-S, I immediately sold my Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV - it was exactly what I wanted." Well, maybe not "exactly".
Scott purchased the car as a stock JDM import. It was meant to stay that way too, but having extensively modifying his last two cars, it was never going to happen. "At first I was just going to upgrade the turbo, but the TD-06 I got my hands on turned out to be a bit of a lemon and didn't last too long. So I parked the car for a couple of months and had the turbo rebuilt. That was when I met Jono Climo from Performance Metalworks."
If you're a compulsive modifier, making friends with one of your country's most respected performance fabricators is probably not going to help you break the habit. As expected, things quickly got out of hand. "Jono had started building a twin-charged 3S-GTE engine for an old school Corolla," says Scott. "It was going to be a pretty serious package but he had never got around to finishing it. When he offered it to me I snapped it up!" What Scott got was a knife-edged crank, Eagle H-beam rods, forged JE pistons, and pair of Kiwi-engineered Kelford 280-degrees/10.5mm-lift camshafts. In other words, the perfect starting point for a high horsepower build.
Now that might sound like a recipe for disaster, but according to its creator, it couldn't be further from the truth. "There are lots of little modifications made in every area," says Scott. "And even though it has a lot of power, it's very easy to drive."
That engine build was entrusted to Speedtech Motorsport - one of New Zealand's top import tuners - and the collective brains behind some of the world's quickest Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions. STM resin-filled and o-ringed the MR2's block and bolted in the heavy-duty bottom end gear. Up above the cylinder head got the full treatment: race porting; HKS valve springs; JUN titanium retainers and Venom adjustable cam gears. ARP 11mm head studs and an HKS metal head gasket sealed the deal.
Although the TD-06 had been rebuilt, it never found its way back on to the 3S-GTE. In an effort to reduce engine bay temperatures - an SW20 vice - a bigger Garrett GT35/40 got the green light. Scott worked on the notion that the larger turbo wouldn't have to work as hard as the smaller one in order to achieve the same power output goals. To further that cause, Jono took on the task of fitting a huge air-to-air intercooler with twin 10-inch thermo fans in the Toyota's rear trunk, and custom fabricating aluminum pipe work to suit. The tubular exhaust manifold, exhaust system and bespoke plenum chamber are all his handywork, too.
Fueling the fire is an extensive fuel system that runs an Aeromotive A1000 external fuel pump; Bosch in-tank lift pump and a 3L fuel swirl pot. There's also an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, HKS adjustable fuel rail, and a quartet of RC Engineering 1000cc top-feed injectors. Like any bona fide street build, BOOSTN runs on pump.
After completing the build STM's head honcho, Andre Simon hit the dyno. Running A'PEXi Power FC engine management, a solid 495hp at the rear wheels was realized, with peak power rearing its angry head at 7800rpm. Sounds dangerous.
To at least attempt to get all that power to the ground the Toyota uses 255-deep rubber on the rear-end with Kei Office adjustable coil-over dampers on all four corners and a full course of Prothane bushings to tighten the footwork up. Does it work? Not really. No.
In its full street trim the MR2 has run as quick as 11.80 at 122mph on the 1320, but according to Scott, that particular pass - like every other one the car has made - was more wheel spin that traction. Although given his willingness to skin treads in the name of science I'm not sure he really minds. Seeing how much fun he had doing it, I don't think I'd really mind either. That said though, a C16-tune and sticky rear slicks may very well be the next upgrade on the list. Tens would surely follow.
It took two and-a-half years to complete and guzzled more than $35,000 along the way, but Scott doesn't have many regrets. "If I had the chance to do it over I would probably put a rollcage in from the start and start from a bare metal shell - but that's all," he says. "Everything works so well together - it's the perfect street car." Who can argue with that?
1994 Toyota MR2 GT-S
Owner Scott Finn
Hometown Auckland, New Zealand
Engine Toyota 3S-GTE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve inline-4; resin-filled & o-ringed block; knife-edged crankshaft; Eagle forged H-beam rods; ARP 11mm head studs, rod bolts and bearing bolts; STM-spec forged JE pistons; HKS metal head gasket, adjustable fuel rail, valve springs and Super Power Flow air filter; modified cylinder head; Kelford 280-degree/10.5mm lift camshafts; Venom adjustable cam pullies; JUN titanium retainers; Power Enterprises timing belt; custom intake plenum chamber; custom front pipe; custom exhaust manifold; Garrett GT35/40R turbocharger; 60mm external wastegate; custom trunk-mounted intercooler; custom aluminum piping; GReddy Type R blow-off valve; Aeromotive A1000 external fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator; Bosch in-tank lift pump; 4x RC Engineering 1000cc top-feed injectors; 3L fuel swirl pot; TRD ignition leads; thermostat; stainless braided fuel lines; oil catch can; custom alloy cam cover; custom alloy engine bay cover; 2x 10-inch thermo fans, custom alloy coolant expansion tank; 3-inch mandrel-bent stainless steel exhaust system; 2x 2.5-inch stainless steel rear exhaust pipes; Garage SPL Departure twin stainless steel mufflers
Drivetrain Rebuilt OE 5-speed gearbox; Quarter Master clutch; custom chromoly flywheel; TRD 2-way limited-slip differential; ATS Racing CV joints
Engine Management A'PEXi Power FC Commander; HKS EVC IV electronic boost controller; FC Datalogit
Footwork & Chassis Kei Office adjustable coil-over dampers; TRD engine mounts; Prothane bushes; adjustable link arms
Brakes Brembo 4-pot front calipers; 330mm 2-piece front rotors; OE rear calipers & rotors, Endless pads, braided stainless steel lines
Wheels & Tires 18x8''/18x9'' RAYS Engineering Payton Place GT-C wheels; 215/35R18 front; 255/35R18 rear tires
Exterior OE Gen 3 body kit, lipped fenders; OE Super Red II re-spray
Interior MOMO Race steering wheel; Bride Zeta bucket seats and low-mount seat brackets; custom carbon-fiber dash panel; GReddy water temp, oil temp, oil pressure, boost pressure, exhaust temp and air/fuel meters; Pivot adjustable shift light
Thanks You Andre Simon at Speedtech Motorsport, Jono Climo, Tim Metcalf, Stew Powdrell, Wayne Nicol at Airport Collision Specialists, Ray Oates and everyone else that helped along the way