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NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 12:53 p.m.

So, as some of you know, for the past 8 years, I've been autocrossing a 1990 Miata. But, like an idiot, I modified it before I started autocrossing or really knew the SCCA rulebook. So the car started out in C/Street Prepared, where it was really, really uncompetitive. For starters, I was still running the stock 1.6L and 205/50R15 200TW tires. After a couple of disappointing years of that, I talked about getting rid of the car, but then you fine folks talked me into doing a 1.8L swap and installing a Track Dog Racing supercharger and going to SSM with a 250whp Miata that basically had an STS suspension setup and 200TW tires. I beat my head against the wall there for a couple years, it was fast and scared people but it wasn't terribly competitive and it was a handful to drive. Along came Xtreme Street, plus 245/40R15 tires and Xida coilovers, and the car got much faster and easier to drive, but that's still a rough PAX. I think the time I got FTD, I needed to go something like 2.5 seconds even faster to take Top PAX.

So in the past few years, I've gotten kind of tired of finishing 4th or so on Raw time, and then ending up 15th or so on PAX. Also, with 800lb/in front spring and 500lb/in rear springs, and a shockingly loud exhaust despite a fairly mild exhaust setup, it beats the living daylights out of me on those hour drives to and from our autocross venue. 

Recon1342
Recon1342 SuperDork
8/28/23 1:50 p.m.

So, what's the plan?

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 3:00 p.m.

So, where does an MR2 Spyder come into the picture?

Well, for starters, I never really paid much attention to the third-gen MR2, but on the very first year I had the blown 1.8L in my Miata (this would be 2018), I loaned it out to a Youtube channel for testing. While there, I met GRMer sesto elemento/Carbon (haven't seen him around here lately) and he took me for a rip around the Lime Rock Park autocross pad in his slightly gutted, turbo 1ZZ MR2 Spyder, literally drifting the entire course with it. Rad. This is the car.

 

Jump forward a year, and I'm again at Lime Rock Park for this event with my Miata and it shreds the blower/power steering belt. And I had an autocross the next day at Pineview Run Auto & Country Club and no spare belt. So I call up my very good racing friend Mark, who had retired his B/Street Z3 M Roadster (with the S54!) for an E/Street MR2 Spyder, and ask for a co-drive. It still had the stock struts and some heavy Sparcos with BFG Rivals. I proceed to clobber him at that event by over a second and a half in his own cars, having never driven a mid-engine car. Love at first drive. I remember being ecstatic about my finish, which was 16th overall, because it was one of the best I'd had. Ironically, not even that good, but the Spyder wasn't really set up at that point and that venue, which had a lot of elevation change, was not a good E/Street venue.

Jump forward to 2020, and my Miata ended up yanking the charge cable out of the crimp on the ring terminal while driving home from a weekly evening time attack cup at Pineview Run Auto & Country Club, leaving me stranded along the side of the road at 9pm. I again call up my friend Mark, he trailers me home, and then I crimp an new end on the charge cable, only to discover that my alternator was also dead, and no one could get one to me before an autocross that weekend. (For the record, my Miata will do about 10 laps of Pineview and drive about 15 miles with no charging system before it starts doing weird stuff and eventually stalls in the middle of Cicero Swamp, aka Rattlesnake Gulch). Call up Mark again, and ask to bum a codrive in his MR2 out to an event. By this point he was getting a little more serious and had two sets of wheels and tires (the NB1 hollow spoke/Konig Helium combo with RE71Rs in the morning, the Sparcos with Rivals in the afternoon) and had a big Paul Brown front sway bar on it. I don't remember how I finished, and it was a Finger Lakes Region event (they're a little more serious business than CNY) so it probably wasn't great, but it sure was fun.

I didn't have any seat time in a Spyder in 2021, but someone who will be important in this story entered the picture that year. We, CNY SCCA, held an event up to Lowville/New Bremen, NY at Adirondack International Speedway and a gentleman by the name of Lawrence, along with his son Owen, came to that event. Lawrence was driving a Fiat 124 Abarth, while his son was there as a spectator. Well, Owen really liked Miatas and asked if I'd take him for a ride on a couple runs, and if there's one thing I enjoy, it's terrorizing passengers in that car. After leaving that event, he apparently spent all winter telling Lawrence that they had to do that next year. Lawrence then saw a post that I'd made on here extolling the virtues of the MR2 Spyder and went out and bought one that he'd previously owned and showed up with that for Owen and him to co-drive during the 2022 season.

In 2022, we were having an out-of-region event down in Horseheads, NY at Arnot Mall, hosted by the Watkins Glen region, and I didn't feel like driving my Miata down that far, and I know they tend to build pretty small courses, so I asked Mark if I could co-drive his car at that event. By this point he had it all dialed-in, with the lightest easily-available wheel setup, big Paul Brown sway bar, and Koni inserts, plus Rival S 1.5s. He enjoys having co-drivers, loves the competition, and said sure. Mark and I ended up finishing first and second overall, separated by just 0.030 seconds, which was my best-ever finish. Around this time, I really started going "I gotta get one of these."

Then this year, we were again doing an OOR event with Watkins Glen Region, this time at Corning Community College. Again, almost a three hour drive and I really didn't feel like driving my Miata that far, nor did I really trust it to go that far, race all day and not break. Call up Mark again, again he welcomed me as a co-driver, this time running on RE71RSs. This time, I was first overall by the end of the morning session, with Mark behind me. There was a slight course change during lunch break and conditions warmed up, and Mark, and another CNY E/Street competitor named Mark in an NB1, got ahead of me (we were in opposite run groups, the two Marks in Run Group 1, myself in Run Group 2). I get in the car, and at one point was in second by 0.001 seconds, only to then hoof it on my second-to-last run and end up PAX #1. First overall win. Mark, the MR2 Mark, ended up second.

 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 3:16 p.m.

So, Lawrence, whom I mentioned in the last post, was co-driving his MR2 with his son, but said that the two-driver deal was hard on them and tires, and his son really wanted his own car anyways. And thanks to me, his son really wanted a Miata. So, I was perusing Marketplace, sending Lawrence ads for Miatas, or he was sending them to me to look at and provide advice. So he ends up going to look at a cosmetically-scruffy, but fairly mechanically-sound Miata, which had the vanity plate of ISLNDGRL, and calls me and I talk him through what to look at and he ends up buying it for Owen.

Well then I'd had an event or two where I wasn't in a great mood and was grousing about how I kept getting my ass kicked physically by my car, and theoretically by PAX. And so he starts sending me ads for RX-8s, which I'd mentioned liking, and MR2 Spyders, which he knew I liked. Problem is, those are both cars that are typically for sale needing engines. There was a few false starts, like a really nice RX-8 that sold out from under me while I was talking to the seller, a wrecked but fixable MR2 Spyder that popped up while I was out of town traveling and sold before I got back in town, and another Spyder that needed an engine but was cheap enough to consider, but then also sold before I could go look at it.

Then he calls me and says that on his way to work, he passes by a used classic/sports car dealer that he's done business with. And when he passed by that morning there was an MR2 Spyder on the lot. He says it's an '02 with 98k miles, the body is dent- and rust-free, the top is patched but doesn't leak, and it badly needs tires. He stopped and talked to the guy, and he says he wanted $8k but he's not ready to sell it because it needs tires, but Lawrence mentions that I'm interested, and that being an autocrosser, I'd prefer to buy my own tires instead. The dealer then says that he'll let it go for $7500 as it sat.

So, that Saturday, I drive up and look it over and take it for a test drive. The top doesn't leak, but it definitely will need replacing. The tires are definitely frightening. But everything else is pretty nice on it. I talk to the guy and he says that the car has had two owners, and one of them barely counts. He'd been up in Governeur purchasing some other cars, and a neighbor, the original owner, came over and asked if he'd be interested in purchasing their Spyder. They'd garage-kept it all it's life and it'd never seen a NY winter. He bought it too, put it up for sale and sold it to an elderly gentleman for $10,250. That guy had owned it six months, barely drove it, developed an issue with his knee and couldn't drive it anymore. He wanted to sell it back to the lot, Northern Auto Sales, and the guy said he typically doesn't buy back cars, but he understood the circumstances and said he had another car he was interested in that cost $7500 and he just needed $7500 for it. So, having made money on it once, and not really planning to have it on the lot, he let it go to me for $7500.

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
8/28/23 3:39 p.m.

They are indeed very potent autox machines.  Yours looks great!  I'm in to follow the progression.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
8/28/23 3:50 p.m.

Welcome to E Street! It's a fun group here in central Florida.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 4:41 p.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

Welcome to E Street! It's a fun group here in central Florida.

I've always enjoyed the competition in E/S as well, whenever I've driven in it. The two Marks and I usually have an all-out dogfight in E/Street and end up like three-tenths off of each other. When I run XSB, I usually clobber any XS cars that run in my class, because my car has a lot of years of prep and most XS cars tend to be some guy that shows up with an engine-swapped Honda who has never autocrossed. Or I get lumped in with the Street Touring guys and I smash them by like 3 seconds on raw time and then end up losing to them on Pax and would need some unreal raw time to win.

I always joke that the E in E/Street stands for Economical, because even with the rise in prices of Miata and Spyders over the past few years, it's still a pretty cheap class to go racing in. Go grab a $5000-7000 Miata or MR2, throw some good tires on them and you're in the mix. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 4:45 p.m.

So, the next weekend, I had my father drive me up to Watertown to pick up my MR2. I decided to take back roads and keep the speeds down because the front tires in particular were really frightening, with age-cracking all the way around. But otherwise, it was a pretty pleasant drive home. Here it is parked alongside the XSB Miata. I jokingly dubbed this photo "Why, yes, I don't have a family, how can you tell?" There is a 2010 Toyota Yaris hiding off picture, which is my DD and winter rat.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/28/23 4:48 p.m.

The car was literally in the driveway for less than 15 minutes and I had to go grab a bottle of headlight polish and some microfiber rags and give them a little love. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 10:36 a.m.

So, a quick walkaround the car.

Absolutely no rust, the pinch welds are completely unmolested, no dents or dings. Some paint scratches, but if it was a museum piece then I'd feel bad about racing it.

Amazingly, that top does not leak (Believe me, it's been tested, we've had a lot of rain up here in CNY) but it's pretty much junk. Of course, it's 21 year old fabric, and I seem to recall that the pre-facelift (2002 and earlier) Spyder top design was fundamentally flawed. All the replacement tops use the post-facelift design, which is supposed to be much improved. For right now, I'm leaving the top up. I'll be having it replaced in the spring of next year. Still not sure if I'll do it myself or pay someone. Lawrence told me he did his own, and it came out good, but that it was a deeply unpleasant job.

Look, it came with a checkered flag sticker. It's mean to be a racecar! I did look up Highway Legends, which smacks of those old '90s Japanese street racing gangs to me, but it appears to just be a boomer car club that goes to parades and shows. Lame. Still a cool sticker though.

The interior is all original, down to the shift knob, floor mats, and even the radio. Thank god there was no aftermarket radio or alarm system or remote start. There's a small tear in the weird webbing over the seat, and the center console has a crack over the e-brake handle but that's it. Interesting little detail is that the MR2 Spyder has the tachometer in the big center pod of the gauge cluster, while the speedometer is tucked over to the left in the smaller pod. I joke that Toyota was much more focused on the "Sports" part of "Sportscar" than the "car" part. Terrific driving cars, but not really a practical machine.

And the rear engine bay, where the little 140hp 1ZZ-FE hums along. Again, all-original, and completely stock. Some people kind of malign this engine, but I think it's got enough power and it's pretty smooth. Yes, they could have put the 2ZZ in from the factory but I've heard conflicting stories on why that didn't happen

Recon1342
Recon1342 SuperDork
8/29/23 10:49 a.m.

In reply to NickD :

RE: Gauges-  If I had to pick between tach and speedometer, I'd pick the tach.   

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 11:00 a.m.

In reply to Recon1342 :

It's just funny, because both my Yaris and my Miata put the speedometer front and center and the tach off to the side (well, actually, the Yaris puts the whole gauge cluster in the center of the dash), so the MR2 in the little driving I've done with it has taken some getting used to. Between the speedometer's location and the stock, quiet exhaust, I have found myself speeding several times. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 11:24 a.m.

I mentioned how those tires were frightening, well, here's a photo. The tires were mounted with the full DOT code on the inside, so I couldn't see the dates on the inside, but they were still enough to make me park it until I got fresh tires. The front had two 205/50R15 Hercules all-seasons, that once I got them off, I discovered they were from 2005! The rear tires were some Falken all-seasons that were slightly newer, only thirteen years old, but pretty bald. Coincidentally, the Island Girl Miata that I helped my friend Lawrence buy a couple weeks beforehand also had tires old enough to vote on it. Watch out, these people are on the road with you.

I was deadset on parking the car after I got it home until I could get fresh tires on it and "inspect" the pre-cats. I also stocked up on a bunch of other maintenance bits, like a fresh serpentine belt, spark plugs, transmission fluid, engine oil and filter, and all the exhaust gaskets I would need to do the precats.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 11:49 a.m.

I ordered up a fresh set of Continental ExtremeContactSport 02s in 205/50R15 to put on the factory wheels. The plan is to have these as a street wheel and tire setup, for just driving around or for if there's an autocross where there is rain or conditions where Super 200TWs aren't going to be happy. I've autocrossed my Yaris in the rain on the original Conti ECSs and it performed amazingly wheel, and that's not even a good autocross car. Then I'll get a set of more optimized wheels (likely NB1 fronts and Konig Helium rears, or maybe 949Racing Cotos, since they're hinting at a 15x6 run) and put RE71RSs on those for racing.

I planned to work on the precats at work on a Saturday (service is closed, but sales is open, so service employees can come use the shop), and so in advance of that, I ordered the Contis from Tire Rack on a Monday and had them shipped to my work. I also jacked the car up, partially to take a look in at the suspension, and also to bolt on the winter steelies and snow tires so that I could take the Spyder wheels down and mount and balance the tires on my lunch break. That's the nice thing about owning 3 cars that all use the same bolt pattern, you can just mix and match wheels around.

Rust-free and clean and original, plus fairly new rotors and pads, but, man, those struts and dust boots and bumpstops have seen better days. Obviously, Koni inserts are the answer here, but having to put a new top on it and another unexpected expense with this car (more on that later) next spring, means I'll probably hold off on them. I might instead put fresh KYB struts on, because they're a third of the price, and then keep the stock struts to cut up for the Koni inserts.

More of the same on the other front corner.

The rear struts at least look much better.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 11:50 a.m.

What I dubbed "Poverty Spec", with the crusty 15" steelies and snow tires off of my Yaris.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 12:12 p.m.

I also changed the accessory belt while I was there. You don't have to have it on a lift or jack it up and take off a wheel, or anything like that to do this. I didn't get a photo, but there's an 18mm hex on the tensioner arm, you put a short 1/2"-drive socket on it with a big swivel-headed breaker bar on it, and back it off. The spring is definitely pretty beefy, so leverage is your advantage. There are a lot of pulleys to thread it around though.

I'm going to go out on a limb, albeit a very thick sturdy limb, and say that this is the original belt. I couldn't get a side-on photo of it, but it was cracked almost all the way through. If I'd driven this more, it would really be a race to see which failed first: the tires or the belt.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 12:42 p.m.

Mmmm, fresh tires. These are 205/50R15 Continental ExtremContactSport 02s. For those not familiar with the Spyder, these actually used a staggered wheel and tire setup from the factory. The pre-facelift cars had 15x6 wheels and 185/55R15 tires on the front and 15x6.5 wheels and 205/50R15 tires on the rear, while the post facelift cars still had the 15x6 wheels and 185/55R15 tires on the front, but moved to a 15x7 and a 215/45R15 tire on the rear. Since 185/55R15s and 215/45R15s are both no longer a terribly common size, especially in performance tires, it's pretty common to just square them up with 205/50R15s all the way around.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 12:46 p.m.

How do you keep track of which wheels are which if there's only a 1/2" difference in width and you have the same size tire on them? You ask. Good question. The rear wheels have a long dowel that sticks out of the back, and if you look at the photos a couple posts back, the rear rotors have a holes through the rotor and hub that the dowel goes through. The front wheels lack that dowel, and the front rotors and hubs lack those holes, so a rear wheel will not physically bolt to the front of the car.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 3:50 p.m.

So, what's the deal with these precats I keep talking about? Well, the MR2 Spyder has two mini catalytic converters built into the exhaust manifold, with cylinders 1 and 4 feeding one, and cylinders 2 and 3 feeding the other. Then you have the main converter bolted to the end of the exhaust manifold. The precatalysts were notorious for breaking up, and then the engine aspirates them on the scavenge stroke and scours the cylinder walls and they burn oil like crazy. So when you look at MR2 Spyders, a lot of the ads list "Burns oil, needs engine". I believe Nissan QR25DEs were notorious for this as well. Supposedly Toyota corrected the design of the precats when they did the '03 facelift to alleviate the issue, but there's still reports of it happening on the later cars. 

The most common thing on the MR2 Spyder is to pull the exhaust manifold and knock out the precats preemptively, or install an aftermarket header. It won't throw a Check Engine Light, it won't be any noticeably louder, and knocking them out has zero effect on performance. Is it legal for SCCA E/Street? Well, technically no, but as my friend Lawrence put it "The first rule about E/Street is don't talk about precats." Apparently, a lot of the E/Street MR2 Spyder guys have them deleted but just don't mention it, because otherwise you're running around with your car ready to self-destruct it's engine. He openly admits that his has the precats gutted, and he said he's tried getting it out of Mark whether his MR2 still has the precats, but he just dances around the question.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 3:52 p.m.

So, this is the process for "inspecting" your precats.

One, remove this heat shield. It has four bolts with 12mm heads; these two on the top and two farther down facing towards the rear of the car. You also have to remove the two O2 sensors, which take a 22mm or 7/8" O2 sensor socket.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 3:55 p.m.

Now that you have the heat shield off, you can see the construction of the manifold. If you're looking at buying one of these cars, and the seller is cool with it, you can pop the two O2 sensors out and peer down in the holes and check the precats. If both are still there, your engine is likely healthy, but you may want to remove them. If both catalyst beds are gone, someone may have been in there before you. If one is missing or severely degraded, well, you might want to start shopping for an engine. Both mine were still present and in good shape, so I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Now, if you want to go further with your "inspection" process, there are five 12mm-headed nuts that hold the manifold to the cylinder head. In my case, every one of them came off with hand tools and didn't damage the studs or the nuts. 

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 4:00 p.m.

I'm doing this on a lift, which makes it much easier. There are two belly pans held one with a E36 M3load of 10mm bolts and screws. The screws hold the rearmost pan to the bumper, the bolts go everywhere else. There are then three 14mm nuts holding the manifold to the converter. These were some sort of locknut and they came off mean. Like, I needed my big 1/2" breaker bar to crack (and that is the word, they made a loud crack when they finally loosened) them loose and then they came off by hand. There are also two L-shaped brackets from the manifold to the block, one has two 12mm bolts, one has two 14mm bolts. I removed the brackets from both the block and the manifold to make things easier.

TurnerX19
TurnerX19 UberDork
8/29/23 4:02 p.m.

If these MR2s had even 1/2 my X1/9's luggage capacity I'd jump ship. I read you transaxle noise post too. I really like the price on that rebuild.

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 4:24 p.m.

Then you pull the manifold rearward off the head studs, and then up and out through the back. It comes right out, even with the X-brace in place. You can see the two big canisters that are the precats.

This shows the layout of the studs where it bolts to the main converter. There are two little graphite donut gaskets that snap into those receiver grooves (Fel-Pro PN 23591)

NickD
NickD MegaDork
8/29/23 4:27 p.m.
TurnerX19 said:

If these MR2s had even 1/2 my X1/9's luggage capacity I'd jump ship. I read you transaxle noise post too. I really like the price on that rebuild.

Yeah. The luggage space is pretty laughable. There's a slot in the front, where the spare tire goes, and then there's two lockers behind the front seats, and that's it. Like I said "more sports than car." But, oh, what a honey of a car to drive. As a Miata owner, I think that stock for stock, when being used for their intended purpose, the MR2 Spyder is the better car.

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