What Happens to Roll Centers When You Lower a Toyota MR2 Turbo | Project Toyota MR2

Shoutout to the SCCA for adding a major national-level Solo event at our official test track, the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park in Keystone Heights, Florida. Wait, what? It’s in three weeks? Man the wrenches!

Our original plan was to install and sort a new suspension in our 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo before the mid-March event that usually kicks off the national Solo season, the annual Tire Rack Dixie Tour at South Georgia Motorsports Park. But just last week, the SCCA announced that Pro Solo 1 event—which brings the drag-race starts of Pro Solo to a single-course autocross format—at the FIRM for February 12-13. So our build schedule got compressed a bit. Hopefully we can have a somewhat sorted ride ready for XS-A competition in just a few weeks.

Any suspension upgrade should start with a basic look at what you're trying to accomplish and what problems you're trying to solve. With an SW20-chassis Toyota MR2, those problems are manifold, and the path to fixing them can be a little more complicated than just applying traditional methods.

We know we want to increase spring rate, adjust corner weights and control body motion. So a set of coil-over shocks is the easy solution there, right? Well, yes, but it’s only part of the equation.

For coil-overs, we chose the Variant 3 kit from KW Suspension. All V3 shocks are hand-built at the KW factory in Germany and are independently adjustable for both rebound and compression. The threaded shock bodies on the kit, which retails for $2289, also provide easy adjustment of ride heights for proper corner balance.

The KW V3 kit for the MR2 is designed to work with the OEM upper mounts as well, meaning you have fewer potential points of rattling and clunking than with some coil-overs. We’ll be using a bit more aggressive upper mounting solution for our application, and we’ll get into the details of that in future updates.

Once the KWs are in place, we’ll have better control over body roll due to the increased spring rates (good), better control of those springs through superior damping technology (good), independent adjustment of that damping for specific balance fine-tuning (good), and reduced ride height to lower the center of mass of the car (not necessarily good). Wait, what? Lowering is bad? Do explain, Mr. Car Magazine Smart Guy.

Actually, we’ll defer to an MR2 suspension expert, Alex Wilhelm of Wilhelm Raceworks, to explain the finer aspects of the SW20’s fairly sketchy suspension dynamics.

Let’s look at a few charts that Alex has produced through physical and virtual modeling of the MR2’s suspension.

Chart 1 shows the toe change in the rear of our MR2 when the suspension extends or compresses. With 2 inches of motion, the inside-rear wheel has toed out—turned into the corner—almost 0.2 inch. Meanwhile, the outside compressed wheel has toed in—also pointing toward the corner—a similar amount.

This toe change can produce a “roll understeer” effect where the rear tries too hard to follow the front—right up to the point where all the tires are overwhelmed, physics takes over, and the rear breaks loose unexpectedly.

Toyota addressed this weirdness in the 1993-and-up MR2s, as we can see in Chart 2. Dynamic toe change is still present in compression, but the extension toe change has been mitigated somewhat. Still, it’s not great.

Now let’s look at the front. In Chart 3, we can see that the front also suffers from some dynamic toe changes, with the inside wheel going to toe-in and the outside wheel going to toe-out during cornering. With just 2 inches of compression, total toe-out increases by nearly a quarter of an inch.

Next, let's take a look at what happens to these dynamic tendencies when the car is lowered 1.5 inches, which is the minimum amount that the KW kit affects the car. In Chart 4, that the toe-in tendency in the rear under compression has been mitigated by the slight lowering, but the toe-out under droop is almost unchanged.

Chart 5 shows similar tendencies. Dynamic toe change under compression has been slightly mitigated, while droop response is largely the same.

Can we conclude that lowering the car has little—or maybe a slightly positive—effect on dynamic toe? Well, not so fast, because there’s another secondary effect that changes everything.

In stock form, the roll centers of both suspensions—the points in space that the suspension allows the car to rotate around—sit a few inches above ground and a few inches below the center of mass for the front and rear ends.

When the car is lowered just 1.5 inches, the front roll center dives fully below ground, while the rear one moves down to just above ground level. This greatly increases the distance between the roll centers and the centers of mass. The additional distance creates more leverage, which greatly increases body roll. As a result, any minor gains in dynamic toe change made through lowering alone are instantly erased by increased body roll that aggravates the same dynamic toe situation.

Bottom line: We’re making a big improvement in potential by upgrading to a quality set of double-adjustable KW Variant 3 coil-overs, but to fully realize that upgrade, we’ll need to make some other changes to mitigate the negative second-order effects of lowering.

But that’s a discussion for the next update.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
1/13/21 11:33 a.m.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that a following installment will involve the Wilhelm geometry kit.  It looks pretty nice. I wish someone made something as comprehensive for the Mk1, but all I can find are the T3 RCAs.

z31maniac MegaDork
1/13/21 11:46 a.m.

So part of the reason for the increased rates is to offset the increased leverage for the roll center change?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
1/13/21 1:08 p.m.
Matt B (fs) said:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that a following installment will involve the Wilhelm geometry kit.  It looks pretty nice. I wish someone made something as comprehensive for the Mk1, but all I can find are the T3 RCAs.

Yeah, did we foreshadow that well enough?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
1/13/21 1:29 p.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

Yeah, if you;re just building a fun street car, you can get awa with lowering and just bumping spring rates a bit to compensate. For something you want to be able to properly tune, though, correcting the roll centers will be necessary. UPS guy is on the way with those solutions :)

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
1/13/21 1:47 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

As soon as I saw their name it was clear. smiley

I wasn't aware of that they did that level of modeling though. Cool stuff.  Looking forward to seeing the same graphs with their kit installed.

This kind of thing makes me think if I were a smarter man I'd switch to a Mk2, but I just can't seem to quit my doorstop.

SkinnyG (Forum Supporter)
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) UberDork
1/13/21 7:58 p.m.

That looks a lot like SusProg3D!

Vajingo Reader
1/13/21 10:51 p.m.

Subbed. Keenly interested. 

Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/14/21 9:22 a.m.

These charts make me happy. I've been meaning to 'manually cycle' the rear suspension on one of my cars on the alignment rack to try and diagnose some weirdness. 

It's pretty funny that the net effect of the front and rear toe changes is the car doesn't want to go where you point it. How wonderful lol.

Typ85 Reader
1/14/21 5:47 p.m.

Audi and VW's have the same issue with their strut suspension, the cure is installing "ball joint extenders" 

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
1/15/21 9:31 p.m.
Typ85 said:

Audi and VW's have the same issue with their strut suspension, the cure is installing "ball joint extenders" 

Yep. We have a similar solution on teh way from Wilhelm. Hopefully his powder coater gets around to them soon so he can get them to us in time for the Pro Solo.


Alex_W New Reader
1/18/21 7:59 a.m.

In reply to Matt B (fs) :

At the risk of stealing some of the thunder from one of JG's future articles, the rest of my analysis is on my website: https://wilhelmraceworks.com/suspension-analysis

I can't comment on the toe curves without modeling it, but the camber curves are likely very similar on the MKI, and all of the same improvements will apply.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
1/18/21 12:51 p.m.

In reply to Alex_W :

At least go ahead and make the link work :)


But, yeah, we'll be leveraging a lot of the hard work Alex has already put in during our build and sharing a lot of his findings. I'm really excited to drive on the stuff soon. I'm hoping to get at least a quick test day in before the Pro Solo, but more likely than that I'll be experiencing everything for the first time at the February Pro. Which, honestly, is fine. I'm obviously really familiar with the FIRM and how the surface behaves, and every autocross there is basically a variation of the same theme, so of all the places to sample a new car that's probably the least risky for me. 

Ugh, now I have to go finish installing that rear swaybar, because I just realized like five minutes ago that the entire rear subframe has to come down a bit to get it in place. Y TOYOTA?!?!

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