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irish44j UberDork
8/22/13 9:29 p.m.

Friend of mine is car-shopping for something cheap and fun. Budget is ~$3k. For the most part he is looking Miata, e30, AW12 MR2 and has checked out many locally but will see more this weekend and plans to buy one.

I've imparted with him my considerably e30 knowledge, and he's gotten Miata information as well. My MR2 knowledge is relatively thin. He's going to join here but figured I'd just post up for him since he's got a short time frame to "learn" the MR2.

So, learn him - particularly the bad, and the Turbo vs. NA buying guide...


Sal_the_man New Reader
8/22/13 9:54 p.m.

Thank you irish!

Yes, so I am in the market for either of these three cars.

These are the cars in question for this weekend

  • 1) Saw today MR2: http://harrisburg.craigslist.org/cto/3985401629.html

  • 2) Tomorrow MR2: http://york.craigslist.org/cto/3933789038.html

  • 3) Saturday E30: http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/cto/3924664329.html

Let's talk about the MR2 from #1. After I test drove it, I realized I like the MR2 a lot! But here are some points I noted from the test drive and the meeting:

Cons - car:

  • 1) Either the accessory or timing belt is cracked, whichever is on the outside, and it will need to be replaced

  • 2) Some engine gasket leaks

  • 3) Brake rotors are warped, they will need to be either resurfaced or replaced

  • 4) There isn't even a spare tire...

  • 5) He doesn't know when the car's belts, clutch were replaced. Apparently it was done at 100Kish, it has 170K miles...

Cons - seller:

  • 1) He bought the car 3 months ago in April, is selling it now in August...immediate red flag

  • 2) He just graduated high school and is leaving for college in NYC this sunday. Does not want to pay insurance for a car sitting at home

  • 3) He bought it for 3000, wants to sell it for 4000 - wth.

  • 4) Knows nothing about cars really.

Pros - car:

  • 1) Ran real strong, shifts are nice and firm

  • 2) Engine sounds awesome. HUGE PLUS

  • 3) No PS, but driving experience put a huge smile on my face

  • 4) Clutch seems worn in well, no slippage. Grabs good

  • 5) Definitely get looks from other people.


  • 7) Body is HELLA clean

I offered 2500. He then said the last guy offered 2900, so I agreed on 2900. However, if I like the Turbo MR2 and/or the E30 then I will go with those. If I want to stick with this MR2, then I will grill him hard on all the flaws and tell him how much money and time will go into the work that has to be done and proceed to drop it lower - he really wants the car gone sunday at the latest. I can buy it Saturday

Oh, and I showed him the cash - all 2900 - so he knows I'm serious :)

carbon New Reader
8/22/13 10:06 p.m.

For me to rant about how awesome mr2s are would be redundant, so I wont, unless I just did.

irish44j UberDork
8/22/13 10:09 p.m.
carbon wrote: For me to rant about how awesome mr2s are would be redundant, so I wont, unless I just did.

just tell him what he needs to look for, lol. We all love the way MR2s drive, I think :)

carbon New Reader
8/23/13 12:11 a.m.

Basically, I'd just look for the standard "is it a well maintained car" kind of stuff, look it over thoroughly. If you can, find one that hasn't seen salt. These cars can attract bad owners, and cobbled cars can bring similar money to good ones. Get a late turbo if you can (93-94 I think get revised suspension and some updates, someone can correct me if I'm wrong about the years/specifics), get an early turbo if you cant, if you cant get a turbo, get a v6 (well done) swapped car. It's always cheaper to buy the car you want, than to try and build it. (same with supras, wrxs, everything that there's a factory cool version to buy)

Sal_the_man New Reader
8/23/13 12:18 a.m.

In reply to carbon:

Thanks for the advice. Yeah I was bought over by the N/A, but I kept telling myself that if I get it I will regret not buying a Turbo MR2. My friend regrets not waiting for a 944 Turbo, since he's sitting with an N/A 944 currently.

Difficult to find a decent Turbo with my price range :/ or even one in my price range for that matter

Swank Force One
Swank Force One MegaDork
8/23/13 12:36 a.m.

You won't get a decent turbo in your price range, and you might be the first person to ever talk about how awesome a 5sfe sounds.

Just get an n/a and swap it down the road if you get the turbo. Easy swap.

Watch for rust and water leaks. Theyll leak oil. Not a huge deal and they're easier to work on than the internet would have you believe.

Sal_the_man New Reader
8/23/13 1:00 a.m.

In reply to Swank Force One:

Lol @ "easy swap" I have to pick up my game then!

Well speaking of a turbo in that range...I'm going to see this one tomorrow:


No such existing 6 speed MR2 to my knowledge. Must be rare

jere HalfDork
8/23/13 1:15 a.m.

Maybe they are counting reverse?

How about the T tops, any leak issues with those?

kanaric Reader
8/23/13 1:54 a.m.

If you are going to buy a NA MK2 (is the NA still a SW20?) you are better off finding a AW11, the car would be better in every conceivable way. The NA engine in the MK2 is a dog.

No such existing 6 speed MR2 to my knowledge. Must be rare

I usually see 6 speeds in swaps in either of the first two MR2s.

In the AW11 I know alot of their FWD transaxles swap over, don't know about how it is with the SW20.

JohnRW1621 PowerDork
8/23/13 3:29 a.m.

The epicenter of all things MR2 is The MR2 Owners Club www.mr2oc.com
It does require you to register to view but registration is safe, easy and well worth it. There is a classified section for both cars and parts.

Klayfish SuperDork
8/23/13 6:57 a.m.

Yes, check out mr2oc.com. Lots of kid noise on there, but also lots of good info when you week through it.

I agree you're not going to get a nice turbo for that price range. Well kept and sorted turbos go for almost twice that price. Plus they have more issues. Go with the N/A. They're close to bulletproof. They'll burn some oil, but not a big deal. The cons you mentioned don't seem like major issues, so I'd probably go for that one. I loved my '91, it was a great cruiser.

Will Dork
8/23/13 7:07 a.m.

2 winters ago I bought a 91 NA MR2 with about 150k miles on it. Since then, the only necessary maintenance has been brakes, plugs, wires, a coil, and oil. It does burn oil, but from what I hear, all high-mileage 5SFEs do. I've got 175k miles on it now, and it's still running great.

I'd advise you to check the condition of the A/C system, since the pre-94 cars will use Freon, and that makes servicing more difficult. There's also the "hose from hell." Ask any seller whether that's been replaced in recent memory. Drain whatever lube is in the gearbox and replace it with Redline MT90.

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
8/23/13 8:07 a.m.
kanaric wrote: If you are going to buy a NA MK2 (is the NA still a SW20?) you are better off finding a AW11, the car would be better in every conceivable way. The NA engine in the MK2 is a dog.

I agree that the 4A is a better sporting engine, and I love Mk1s. But...the Mk2 MR2 is from a period in Toyota's history where they were all about building a brand image based on quality. It is a ridiculously over-built car, and is a much more substantial platform than the Mk1. They're almost impervious to rust, too.

Mk1 gives a much more raw and vintage-y driving experience, and its really hard to find a good one. The Mk2 is a lot more car for the money.

The 5sfe Camry engine runs out of steam at 4800 rpm, and has no upgrade potential, but it is torquey and as reliable as gravity.

The Turbo cars can be fast, but there is a lot more 'stuff' going on back there to break. You pay a price premium, and finding a stock one is difficult. Stock examples aren't all that fast by modern standards.

I'm on my 14th MR2 and finally hit the best formula IMHO -- buy a broken MR2 and put a V6 in it. Lots of torque with a simple, understressed engine. Plus it sounds great with the Turbo's stock exhaust can.

The front strut mounts and all of the balljoints take a beating. These should be replaced first thing. These cars are very sensitive to alignment, balance and functional suspension components. You'll feel everything on the road.

I've bought several very nice broken MR2s for under a grand.

Matt B
Matt B SuperDork
8/23/13 8:35 a.m.

I'm an AW11 owner and all around fanboi and I think you should stick to the NA SW20. Right now, they're the best bang for the buck MR2 available with the least amount of potential headaches. Like Tyler said, AW11s are getting hard to find in decent condition and their build quality is rather primitive compared the second gen. They do feel more engaging to drive and I personally find the styling (especially the interior) far more memorable than the SW20. A lot of people claim they're faster than an NA second gen, but I think they just feel that way. E stock has proved that the SW20 is actually superior, at least unmodified.

As far as cheap turbos go, if you're not already knee-deep in modifying cars they can break you and your bank account. I've seen quite a few kids on MR2oc.com get in over their heads with a sketchy turbo car only to give up a year or two later.

As far as buying tips, look for rust underneath the frunk and trunk carpets as it can hide there on AW11s. I'd assume it can also be an issue with the second gen. I believe mr2oc.com has a buying guide somewhere for more info. I'd check into that.

JohnRW1621 PowerDork
8/23/13 8:56 a.m.

Listed in the Open Classified section is this AW11 with an asking price of $2750. It is a hardtop car too which is desirable.

Swank Force One
Swank Force One MegaDork
8/23/13 9:03 a.m.

I disagree that the 5sfe has no upgrade potential, it just doesn't make a ton of sense in these cars when a 3sgte swap takes a weekend.

Klayfish SuperDork
8/23/13 9:10 a.m.
Tyler H wrote: Mk1 gives a much more raw and vintage-y driving experience, and its really hard to find a good one. The Mk2 is a lot more car for the money. The 5sfe Camry engine runs out of steam at 4800 rpm, and has no upgrade potential, but it is torquey and as reliable as gravity.

This. I've only had 5 MR2s, and it's been 6 or 7 years since I had my last one, so I'm not to Tylers' level. Nonetheless I'm a fanboi myself. MK1 much more go-kart esque. It's driving fun in a raw form. The MK2 is a much better overall car. Not unlike the comparisons drawn between old and new Miata. The Camry motor isn't a high rev unit, but has plenty of power for street use and is tough as nails.

And I hate all of you...each and every one of you....Now I'm reminiscing about all my MR2s, and I don't have any cash nor room in my driveway... bastards.

Sal_the_man New Reader
8/23/13 9:45 a.m.

Wow guys, thank you for all your responses! I'm sure the first generation offers more performance over the second generation, however I'm really drawn towards the SW20

The only thing I am concerned about is jobs for which I will have to drop the engine. I'm mechanically inclined to do all the work, as I do on my I30, but taking out an engine is a task I have never done. That's why I'm concerned about the belts, if the accessory belt is bad I'm sure the timing belt is too. Then I have to do time the motor (which I dont know how), eater pump, etc.

The N/A power wasn't too bad, enough to have fun. I drove a 2009 4-cylinder corolla and god that was mind-numbingly slow, and I expected the N/A MR2 to have the same power. Nope, so I could fair with it. Today I'm going to test drive a turbo though :)

I'll hit up that website right now then

Jerry HalfDork
8/23/13 9:46 a.m.

Geez I'm still on #1 MR2 & totally in love with it. Although I have no experience w/ an MK2, I'm an old man and love the 80's-tastic straight lines of the MK1.

"something cheap and fun" - sounds like my MR2.

Swank Force One
Swank Force One MegaDork
8/23/13 9:47 a.m.

Dropping the motor is a 3-4 hour long job, figure 6-8 hours for your first time. It's really not bad.

Just get one, you'll be fine.

Sal_the_man New Reader
8/23/13 9:54 a.m.

In reply to Swank Force One:

Seems to be a decent amount of time, but ok I'll take your word for it.

Yeah, I'm feeling to get one. Just want to see the 2 Turbo MR2s today and the E30 tomorrow, but I definitely see myself owning MR2 #1 in the second post of this thread

intrepid New Reader
8/23/13 1:28 p.m.

Can someone provide a bit more info on how to drop the engine in a second gen turbo car in 4-6 hours? It's been a few years since I really looked into it but, as I recall the job is a bit of a bear. I seem to remember lots of discussion about whether it was easier to pull the engine from the top or bottom, but neither seemed particularly easy...

If someone has come up with a better method in the last couple of years, I would really like to know, because I think I am going to need to pull the motor on my car soon.

Thanks, -chris r.

Swank Force One
Swank Force One MegaDork
8/23/13 1:38 p.m.

Sorry, i was referring to non-turbo, though my buddy and i can usually get his turbo motor out in about 5-6 hours. Mostly due to practice. We drop it out of the bottom.

If it's your first time, just go slow. There's nothing HARD about it, it's just lots of things. Label everything.

Time doesn't mean anything, it's not a race or a competition. The more you do it, the faster you get. Hope you don't have to do it enough to get fast.

Nathan JansenvanDoorn
Nathan JansenvanDoorn Dork
8/23/13 1:52 p.m.

I've pulled the motor on a non-turbo in an afternoon with a friend (who had zero experience). It was the first time dropping an engine from the bottom, but it was definitely easier. Basically, unbolt calipers, muffler, strutmounts, coolant hoses, starter wires etc. Then unbolt subframe (while it's supported!!), and lower.

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