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TUNED TOYOTA MR2: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

TUNED TOYOTA MR2: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Posted by Matt Bell on 11th September 2020

Simon Clarke’s tuned Toyota MR2 is a machine of pure function and purpose: a V6-swapped widebody track monster with an obsessive approach to functionality. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have a sense of theatre…

286hp-per-tonne. This is a significant number, as there are a few cars that boast precisely this figure: the Ferrari 360 Modena, Aston Martin DB9 GT, Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG, Audi R8 V10 – it’s a scintillating group, and scything through them like some malevolent Japanese assassin is a widebody tuned Toyota MR2, upsetting every conceivable applecart and generally making a nuisance of itself. Anyone who doubts the potential of the Mk3 Mister-Two needs to apply some hot sauce to their bitter words and prepare to gobble them up whole… because what’s just rumbled into our midst is something very serious.

Tuned Toyota MR2

Simon Clarke is the herald of mayhem here, and his startling Toyota represents the logical conclusion of a number of years of high-octane monkeyshines: “I first got into modifying cars after university, buying a banged-up Gen-7 Celica GT and spending four years going wild on its appearance, and Rotrex supercharging it to 330hp,” he recalls. “This car absolutely paved the way for better things, as I had engine catastrophes and it was such high maintenance that I ended up having to learn how to disassemble and reassemble the engine – and the entire car, really. I later had a 2ZZ-swapped MR2 Roadster, and I sold both of those cars to buy an Evo 9… which spun a bearing after two weeks, forcing me to rebuild the engine to 456hp! I then bought this V6 tuned Toyota MR2 Roadster after test-driving it a year beforehand – a little gem sitting on Rogue Motorsport’s lot.”

Tuned Toyota MR2

All of this stemmed from a conversation with Rogue about the possibility of supercharging or turbocharging a 2ZZ-swapped MR2, at which point they suggested that rather than delving into the astronomical cost of such a thing along with its knock-on implications for transmission, widened track and necessarily wider bodywork and so on, he might consider the race-built Roadster they already had on the premises, which was sitting about unused and in search of a new curator. All of the track-focused safety features were already in situ, along with the invincible V6 engine and the famously unburstable MR2 Turbo gearbox. “Rogue founder Patrick Mortell offered me a test drive, and I came back shaking from it,” Simon remembers with a grin. “It took me a year to realise this was where I wanted to be, but I was stoked to finally take it home. It needed some help, it had moss in the crevices and the paintwork was worn, the plywood front splitter was damaged, but besides cosmetics the car was ready to go straight out to a circuit and get hammered relentlessly – it could take it and not even break a sweat.”

Rogue Motorsport actually built this car as one of a pair – stock-body Roadsters that found themselves colossally beefed up with Veilside Fortune 1 widebody kits and full-race specs. The sister car was built for the Britcar 24-hour race and was used in promotion for the Forza 4 videogame, although that one no longer exists, leaving the car you see before you as the only one of its kind. Its 2GR-FE engine has great pedigree, a 3.5-litre V6 also found in the Lotus Evora and the Bolwell Nagari (one for the fans of obscure Australian sports cars there), and Rogue adapted it to its new home by augmenting it with a custom side-mount oil cooler and front-mount radiator setup; the E153 MR2 Turbo gearbox is the bulletproof tool for cog-swapping duties.

So if the car was ready to rock, it was all sunshine and plain sailing from then on, right? Er, no, not quite…

Tuned Toyota MR2

“Shortly after buying the car, I had an accident at Castle Combe where the rear driver-side wheel sheared clean off of the hub exiting the Bobbies chicane at serious speed,” says Simon. “It became apparent later that the wheels in use at the time had suffered an impact in the past, resulting in stress cracks behind four of the five spokes – I had no idea! As a result of the cornering forces, the cracks opened and all of the spokes took a clean break from the hub, sending me into a 360° spin. The car landed on that rear corner, devastating the diffuser and tearing the quarter panel open.  Fortunately I was able to limp home on an enormous 20-inch space-saver…”

A pair of strong, pressure-cast Enkei RPF1s were acquired for the rear, and since Simon had to remove the rear panels from the car to repair the damage, he decided to completely disassemble the body and go to town cleaning it, getting rid of the years of muck and wear-and-tear. “The car didn’t really feel like my own either, and I cannot leave any car untouched,” he reasons. “I have to leave my mark on them, so naturally I decided it needed a full makeover! My good friend Dan Smith at Wizard Wrapz UK sorted me a 3M Satin Dark Grey full body wrap, which we carried out at home in the garage with a little teamwork. It’s not perfect, but this car is a tool, it’s not for show – it’s here to perform.”

Tuned Toyota MR2

With the aero destroyed, Simon was keen to make some improvements, so he set about replicating the junked rear diffuser in stronger aircraft-grade aluminium, then developing some much more aggressive front aero with the help of his father. A wider, deeper front splitter made from 3mm aluminium makes for a larger pressure area at the front, and there’s also four 2mm canards and large 3mm end plates. Really angries up the nose, doesn’t it?

Every element of the car is considered, and hardcore, and Simon’s relentlessly pushing its limits on track – but it’s truly gratifying to note that it also wears a pair of number plates. “There’s something hilariously entertaining about driving a racing car on the public highway,” he smirks. “Ironically this isn’t a street car turned racing car, it’s the other way around. I have two cars, but without a trailer I can haul the MR2 from circuit to circuit; it’s completely MOT legal, and even still has a catalytic converter… this car is aimed primarily at track days and summer events, along with things like Prescott Hillclimb and potentially an entry in the Toyota Sprint Series, but I do drive it from event to event on the road, and I even commute to work in it.”

Tuned Toyota MR2

In terms of development, Simon remains pragmatic: the ultimate goal is to supercharge the engine, to take it from 276 to around 400hp at the wheels (which would only require 6-8lb of boost, nothing at all for a Rotrex C38), but he’s refreshingly honest in the reality of himself being the limiting factor: “It’s so incredibly planted and capable, yet it’s mind-bending in the corners and intimidating to push,” he says. “450hp at the flywheel at 1,050kg weight would put me at 428hp-per-tonne, just 4hp over the power-to-weight ratio of the Ferrari F50… and only 93hp behind the Bugatti Veyron. I don’t have a death wish, but the extra acceleration on the straights would definitely be worth the risk!”

Tuned Toyota MR2

Sounds like he’s already talked himself into it, doesn’t it? But the logical approach pays dividends, this is a man who’s keen to take his own development step by step, build the car properly, using all the right bits, to ensure a purity of purpose and function. That’s not to say this is a Terminator-like pursuit of numbers above all else, however; Simon has a very keen sense of the passion that crazy cars like this can inspire. “Because the MR2 Roadster isn’t exactly the most beautiful car to look at, you do get some varied reactions,” he explains. “Its road presence is enormous and it brings out the smiles in kids and adults alike, which is what it’s all about really – I know I used to grin ear-to-ear at modified cars when I was younger, and if it makes one person’s day to see it rumbling down a high street on the way to work, it’s all been worth it.” This car, then, is far more than just a track toy. It’s a story of personal development, of enrichment through engineering goals and results, blossoming skillsets, and also a gift to the wider world. And, of course, it’s an absolute animal. Anyone who ever doubted the third-generation MR2’s abilities may consider their perspective comprehensively reframed.

Tech Spec: Tuned Toyota MR2

Engine:

2GR-FE 3.5-litre V6, Link G4 Xtreme ECU, custom exhaust manifolds and 2.5-inch bore exhaust system, Walbro 255lph fuel pump, large Accusump system under ECU control, custom slanted radiator (front-mount) with aluminium air scoop slotting to open-mouth bumper – with 2x Spal extraction fans and twin moulded ventilation exits in bonnet, custom oil cooler with air channels behind driver door and extraction fan at rear, E153 gearbox (from SW20 MR2 Turbo), 1MZ-FE flywheel 276rwhp (approx. 300hp at fly), 288lb.ft, 7,500rpm limit

Chassis:

8×16-inch Rota Grid 4×100 (front), 9.5×17-inch Enkei RPF1 5×114.3 (rear), 215/55 (f) and 245/40 (r) Toyo Proxes R888R, BC Racing RM Series inverted monotube coilovers, Whiteline adjustable anti-roll bars front and rear, polyurethane bushings throughout engine and chassis, AP Racing 5000+ 4-pot front brake calipers and discs with Carbotech XP12 pads, stock rear calipers with MTEC discs and Carbotech XP12 pads, braided lines throughout

Interior:

Fully stripped, Recaro static driver seat with Schroth 6-point harness, facelift MR2 passenger seat with 4-point harness, Lifeline fire extinguisher system plumbed into cabin, battery and engine bay (with driver side and exterior pull cords), internal and external killswitches, 6-point Protection & Performance rollcage, aluminium doorcards, Race Technology DASH2, DL1 data-logging unit wired to DASH2 – mounted behind seats along with sealed race battery and Link ECU, custom access panel in rear with piano-hinged doorway (to allow access to bank 2 of engine and check oil), Momo 330mm steering wheel

Exterior:

Full cut-for-use Veilside Fortune 1 widebody kit (minus upper door additions), Perspex rear and side windows, aircraft-grade aluminium front splitter, 4x canards and custom end plates, aircraft-grade aluminium rear diffuser, full aluminium flat underbody, front air ducting through bumper to brakes, 1700mm dry carbon rear wing with gurney flap, wrapped in 3M Satin Dark Grey with Solar Flash Yellow brandings, all-in weight 1,050kg

Feature taken from Banzai magazine. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Davy Lewis