Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Toyota MR2 interview with Alan

Enjoy, everyone!

1. Didn't you have an MR2 in your youth? Tell us about that one.

I had an '89 (final Mk1 year) in the early 2000's. Bought it back from the kid I sold it to in far worse condition around six years ago. It was a shadow of its former self and just bummed me out so I got rid of it shortly after. I've co-owned a supercharged '88 with my father, and drove with him around 600 miles round trip to pick up a nice low-spec '85 that I drove frequently as well.

2. What is so special about the MR2 you just bought? What's its story?

It's a rare hardtop (no sunroof, no T-tops) with A/C and manual windows locks, my ideal spec. It's a rare color as well, though currently wears a so-so respray that a good wet sanding and polish may improve drastically--I'm hoping anyway. The interior is truly immaculate and pretty much as-new except for some light wear on the shift pattern plaque which is unavoidable really. It's never been crashed or had any rust. All VIN tags in place.

It's been fitted with some Konis, squeaky poly bushings, what appear to be Tein springs, and some other things I can't talk about :)

Though slightly lower than stock, the ride remains nice and pliable like a standard car--it's like a Lotus in that it's very comfy but just as sharp, one of my favorite things about the car. I'm installing an OEM rear swaybar I have lying around so it remains neutral even when pushing hard up to the limit. These were strangely dropped from US cars '86-on despite the general view that the chassis was already as friendly and lift-off snap-oversteer resistant as an agile mid-engine car can be.

There are some other mods I can't mention, but nothing that drastically changes the character of what IMO was a near-perfect sports car to begin with. The design is all about balance (control weights, responsiveness, grip, power, everything really--you can tell it wasn't developed by a committee) and though another 50 HP and 1000 RPM can be helpful (20V Silvertop or Blacktop 4AGE's drop right in to replace of the 115 HP 16V version, bringing awesome individual throttle bodies and variable valve timing with), any more overwhelms the chassis.

3. What should car enthusiasts know about this generation MR2?

Like they were known to do back before Japan's economic bubble burst, Toyota really shot for the moon with the car, and spent hundreds of millions and close to a decade developing it. It has outstanding visibility, ergonomics, control weights, manual steering, four-wheel discs, near-perfect shift feel, a high-revving Cosworth BDA clone engine, and friendly, incredibly agile handling with a nice, comfy ride and two trunks. Styling is subjective but I also happen to think they're great to look at, with loads of techy 80's overload detailing and cute/exotic proportions. Both Dan Gurney and (less officially) Lotus were involved with dialing-in its handling. It's both viceless and bursting with personality--almost entirely unique in that way I believe.

4. Why are you so crazy about this gen MR2?

Well, in addition to the stuff above, I'm just super-nostalgic about 80's cars in general, especially Toyotas as that's what my family drove (though mostly Tercels and definitely no sports cars). It was the first display car I ever sat in as a six year-old at the Chicago Auto Show in '85, and I remember being mesmerized by them all throughout early adolescence.

5. What are your thoughts on the 2nd and 3rd generation MR2s?

I was blown away by the Mk2 when it was new, but it hasn't aged as well IMO. It's funny that the general consensus seems to be turning towards my point of view despite being 180 degrees opposite until recently. They drive very, very well, especially a good, mostly stock Turbo, but they're more isolated feeling with power steering, more sound insulation, and a generally less "fizzy" or living feel to them. They're trickier when pushing really hard too. I'd still like to own one someday. The Mk3 was a missed opportunity. They drive very similarly to a Mk1, but with a less satisfying feel to the controls and a lackluster engine. Styling is funky and kind of cool, but definitely not pretty. Very special to drive though.

6. Going back to your current car. What does it need in terms of work? What are your 
plans for it?

Mechanically it's essentially perfect, but a bad 2nd gear synchro is hard to live with in such a perfectly heel-and-toeable car with a shifter as good as any Honda's. I'm hoping some Redline gear lube will be an easy fix--usually is in these cars.

The paint issues I've already mentioned, and then there are things like peeling window trim that's been poorly repainted with gloss black spray paint--I'm going to strip it back and use the correct texture and finish for an OEM look. It's missing TOYOTA and MR2 decals on the nose and trunk, but I have reproductions on the way. Clear front indicators will be returned to amber. C-pillar trim needs to be replaced and that will be expensive but worthwhile.

Brake calipers are sprayed red but will be stripped and redone in a cadmium gold. I've been going through fluids and filters, but really it only needs cosmetic detailing. I'm going for a clean OEM look set-off with a nice pair of rare JDM aftermarket wheels when everything else is done. 

Oh yeah the exhaust is obnoxious and raspy but I'm going to go to Ed Hanson's Muffler and have them do a full stainless custom that sounds like this, but with a single OEM-look double small-diameter pipe finisher.

Plans are to get it perfect and never ever sell it. It's insured on agreed-value which I've never done and definitely provides some peace of mind.

7. How was the drive from the previous owner's home in Utah to your home in San Diego?

The drive was really nice. Lots of time to myself which is rare, and despite revving at ~5k the whole time, the car didn't miss a beat. Nice ride and visibility meant it was comfy. Beautiful scenery and nice people who drive courteously. And fast--traffic was pretty much non-existent and what few cars and trucks were on the road moved at 90 MPH plus. I hit California and all of a sudden the roads were clogged, slow, and full of aggressive, discourteous drivers.

I bought it from a well-known and hugely respected figure of the professional vintage auto fetishism game and none of the car's issues or poorly chosen finishes (red calipers?!) are his fault. He owns a good number of vehicles and is very busy and never got around to dialing it in. Fortunately that's one of my favorite things about buying a new old car, dialing it in.

8. Are you going to bring it to Radwood next year?

Yes!! See you there. And JCCS and maybe the Touge California.

9. Is my baby boy cute?

Of course, he's freakin adorable! Just wait until he starts smiling and laughing and staring in your eyes, it will kill you but nothing feels better. I'm so happy for you and your wife. Happy Father's Day BTW.

10. Any other news to share with respect to the other cars in your household, i.e. the Subaru wagon and Nissan mini truck?

Subaru may need a new turbo or valve guides, it lets out a little puff of white smoke on cold start from time to time. It hasn't been washed in months and has toddler snack crumbs stuffed into every nook and cranny but that's the norm. It's still fast and comfortable and terrible to drive below 20 MPH and still getting ~14 MPG everywhere. Nothing touches it for utility or rarity when it comes to safe, modern and fun family cars though. Might need a new clutch soon as well.

Truck is ugly and beaten but always happy to be driven and worked hard. A beater pick-up is an indispensible tool for any homeowner/car enthusiast. I have a lot of affection for it.

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