Project MR2 Turbo: Upgrading the Shifter Cables for Better Shifting

Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the Toyota MR2 Turbo project car
Aug 4, 2020

One of the most universally praised traits of Japanese sports cars of the '80s and '90s was their exceptional shift action. CRXs, Miatas, MR2s and RX7s all seemed to nail the right combination of slickness and positivity to make shifting an absolute delight—which was good, because keeping their peaky motors on boil required some gear rowing.

But many of the mechanisms involved in keeping those shifts smooth are beginning to fail on these cars. Such was the case with our 1991 MR2 Turbo. Fore-and-aft shift motion was fine, but the lever wouldn’t move side to side without a big slap. (Not fun on those spirited drives.)

Our solution was a set of upgraded shift cables from MR2Heaven. These cables reproduce the action of the factory cables, cost less than factory replacements (our price with upgraded bearing ends and Priority Mail shipping from California to Florida was $191), and returned our MR2 to the shift action we originally fell in love with. 

Here’s a quick guide to installation. The process is pretty simple and painless, and most of the issues you encounter will be directly related to the age and condition of the car. Some of the plastic bits of these up-to-30-year-old cars are becoming brittle, and some of the metallic pieces might be corroded or rotted. Take your time and be gentle.

You’ll only need a few tools for this job:

  • 10mm socket or wrench
  • 12mm socket or wrench
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers to remove spring clips
  • A small hook to help remove the small clips

1. The culprit in our case was a shift cable that had corroded into its interior, creating lots of resistance to sliding. We limped along for a couple months with heavy applications of penetrating lube, but we were really just delaying the inevitable, which was to replace the cables.

2. The MR2Heaven cables are built to factory standards, and an upgrade that replaces the rubber bushings with bearings at the transmission end is available for an additional $30 over the base price. MR2Heaven makes these cables for both SW20- and AW11-chassis MR2s.

3. The shifter ends of the MR2Heaven cables feature adjustable rod ends so you can precisely position your shifter. This is a great feature for engine-swapped MR2s that ended up with the transmission in a slightly different location than stock.

4. To remove the old cables, we’ll have to take a few things out of the interior. Start with the upper storage box between the seats by removing four Phillips-head screws. There’s a bunch of other visible screws on the side and interior of the storage compartment that look like they also matter, but you only need to remove those four to take out the storage compartment.

5. Next, unscrew the shift lever and remove the shift boot. The boot is held in with two hooks on one side and two spring clips on the other side. Release the spring clip side first by pushing in slightly and lifting up. The trick is that the boot fits both ways, so the spring clips can be in front or in back. If gentle pressure doesn’t lift one end, try the other end before going full gorilla on it.

6. Next, you’ll need to lift out the bezel at the front of the center console. This one is really easy to break, and don’t be surprised if it’s already broken on your car. OEM replacements are still out there, though. Both MR2Heaven and Twos R Us lists them in their catalogs, although both outlets are periodically out of stock.

This bezel is held in by four spring clips approximately under the yellow circles. You can minimize your risk of breakage by slipping a finger to the underside, then gently pushing from the bottom while pulling from the top.

7, 8. Now you’ll need to remove four screws on the sides of the center console. These might be behind small plastic trim plugs; more likely, though, those plugs were lost years ago. Again, a Phillips screwdriver is your implement here.

9. Time to remove the two screws that hold down the front of the center console. There’s a nonzero chance that you won’t have to remove them, though; someone may have taken off this console without knowing about these two screws, instead only removing the four screws from the previous step. If that’s the case and the plastic mount that the metal bar is attached to is broken cleanly, just go about your business and don’t worry about it. The console still sits down nicely and doesn’t rattle or move around even if this piece is broken.

10. Now you have full access to both cables inside the car. Remove the clamp holding them down (taking the cable clips off the sides of the clamp makes this easier). It’s held in by a single 10mm nut.

11. A pair of 10mm nuts hold down the metal plate over the rubber grommet where the cables pass through the body. The plate and grommet are conveniently marked with arrows showing you which side is up, so reinstallation is a snap.

12. Now you can disconnect the cables from the shifter. We recommend doing one at a time so you don’t get them mixed up. The cable attached directly to the shifter is held on with a 12mm nut, while the cable to the left is held on with a washer and a spring clip. Also remove the large C-shaped spring clips that hold the cables taut to the body of the car.

13. Next you’ll need to move under the car and remove the cables from the shift mechanism on the trans. They’re held on with small spring clips, while large spring clips like the ones at the shifter hold them taut to a bracket. This can also be done from the top after some intake plumbing is removed, but we found it much easier from the bottom.

Once the cable is off the trans, you can run the new one through from the inside. An assistant under the car is handy at this step, but a little trial and error and swearing makes it a pretty easy solo job. Once the cable is routed to the shift mechanism under the car, leave it loose at the shifter end so you have some play to work with.

14. This is where the cables pass through the body of the car—as viewed from under the car, near the front engine mount. After exiting the interior, they take a pretty hard turn toward the driver’s side of the car. Once you get a feel for their route, passing them through the firewall is more intuitive.

15. Attaching the new cables to the shift mechanism is simply a matter of plopping the cable ends down on the pins,then sliding the spring clips back into place. This view is from directly below the shift mechanism, head toward the front and feet toward the back.

16. Here's another view of how the cables fit on the shift mechanism, this one from the driver’s side of the engine, almost level with the shift mechanism itself. (We stuck the camera up there as far as we could while still getting it to focus.) The uppermost cable is the new one; the old cable is still in place on the bottom.

And you’re done. Reassembly is the reverse of removal, and trim pieces are much less likely to break as you're putting them back in than when you were taking them out. If all of your trim survived removal, the scary part is over. Put everything back together and enjoy lots of fun shifting.


MR2 Heaven


Twos R Us

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View comments on the GRM forums
mr2s2000elise SuperDork
8/4/20 11:41 a.m.



I went and checked my 94 MR2, and HOLY BATMAN, your OEM knob is so much bigger than mine!!


JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
8/4/20 1:08 p.m.
mr2s2000elise said:



I went and checked my 94 MR2, and HOLY BATMAN, your OEM knob is so much bigger than mine!!


They went to a lower profile knob when the first facelift happened. 

mr2s2000elise SuperDork
8/4/20 1:09 p.m.
JG Pasterjak said:
mr2s2000elise said:



I went and checked my 94 MR2, and HOLY BATMAN, your OEM knob is so much bigger than mine!!



They went to a lower profile knob when the first facelift happened. 

Makes sense. I never liked the 91-92. My 93T Turqouise had the smaller knob. 94-95s are my favorite, thus I sold the 93.

300zxfreak Reader
8/6/20 8:40 a.m.

I don't own an MR2, but love them just the same. Well done and documented how-to, the type I'd love to see  more of in GRM..

Are you guys really discussing shift knobs ?  Really ?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
8/6/20 9:31 a.m.
300zxfreak said:

I don't own an MR2, but love them just the same. Well done and documented how-to, the type I'd love to see  more of in GRM..

Are you guys really discussing shift knobs ?  Really ?

One thing I love about MR2 people is they will absolutly go full-Trekkie over minute uear-to year changes in completely insignificant features. "Ooh how did you get that '88 ashtray to fit in an '86 console without trimming the hinges?" is an actual conversation you may hear between MR2 people. 

300zxfreak Reader
8/6/20 5:07 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak : Whilst we 300ZX people will discuss more important issues such as the color of the rivnuts found behind the inner fender liner.


BNolch New Reader
8/7/20 7:44 p.m.

Was wondering why all the shift linkage, then remembered - mid engine,  Trans not under the driver so to speak.  Do any FR cars have such linkage?

fasted58 MegaDork
8/7/20 11:31 p.m.


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