Oh Snap! An MR2 Story
An 18 year old shouldn't have a mid-engined sports car - but that didn't stop this one!
When you think of a car that kid fresh out of high school would drive, you generally think something along the lines of a Civic, Corolla, something that is an appliance vehicle that can take a dent here; a ding there; something that can be damaged with little to no consequence. It might be a hand-me-down, grandma's old Taurus, your uncle's old truck.
When I graduated high school, I had an old, tired Subaru Outback that I had picked up the summer before for a measly $1,000. It got me to and from my summer job, and it got me to and from school throughout my senior year - barely. Maybe due to the fact that it had 300k on the clock, with no solid maintenance history; it was by definition a hooptie.
My Outback front and center - right after I bought it. I was proud of that car.
The summer of 2016 was remembered by many as the summer where Pokémon Go ran rampant; I remember it as the summer where I made a horrible - yet fun - financial decision.
Someone ran into my poor Outback in a parking lot, causing visibly minor damage. Of course, insurance will be happy to total any car with enough miles to reach the moon. I had a decent chunk of change sitting in my pocket, at least for an 18 year old, and I wanted a sporty car.
Facebook Marketplace was a new concept, but that didn't stop me from browsing it. I found a car I had thought of briefly in the past: a Toyota MR2. The red paint caught my eye, looking as if it was still liquid; the thought of having a sports car enticed me. The ad would have pushed away plenty of potential buyers, but I was young and dumb. I saw a pretty sports car calling me in; begging me to be the next unlucky owner.
And I bit.
The MR2, as I purchased it.
The car drew me in, I had $1,500 in hand ready to purchase. I get there, see this scarlet beauty staring back at me. The battery is dead; no big deal as I pull the family Honda CR-V up to the frunk and give it a jump. The anemic 5S-FE roars to life, screaming its song through the cut-and-welded eBay mufflers - if you could call them that. What seemed more like the shell of a muffler welded over a pipe passed through made itself apparent as I daily drove the car for two and a half years - but at 18 years old I could care less.
Crisp Benjamins handed over, title and bill of sale in hand; I was the new owner of someone's project - which was someone's project prior.
I didn't care. I had an MR2.
The large exhaust tips peak out from the rear valence - the only modification the car had besides a chin spoiler.
T-Tops off, music blasting out of the two working speakers, I was in love. The car liked to be driven, and I liked driving it. It didn't matter that it had 200,000 miles on it, or that the tops leaked at the sight of water. It was mine.
Three weeks into ownership, I was on my way home from work. Suddenly out of nowhere, a violent hit at a yield sign; someone hadn't been paying attention and rear-ended me. The last thing I wanted was two totaled cars in two months. Luckily, the MR2 wasn't totaled - it narrowly escaped the fate of a branded title. What it did land me is cash in my pocket.
Instead of being smart and saving money, I did what any dumb young car enthusiast would do. I bought wheels and coilovers. Not for the handling, though there was a perceived improvement; I wanted to lower the car. The rabbit hole of modifications had started.
By this time I had busted the larger lip into a million pieces, luckily I preferred the looks of an OEM style body.
Luckily a local importer had some staggered BBS wheels in stock, and I felt they looked great on the car. No research about offsets, width, any of that. Luckily all I needed was some spacers up front and they fit pretty well. A 135HP midship sports car definitely needed 255-width tires in the rear, or so I felt.
Time went by, I never participated in any high performance driving events of any sort in this car as I should have. I did feel it needed more power, and the rage in the world of SW20's was the Gen4 3S-GTE out of a Toyota Caldina. I had owned the car 10 months and decided to throw almost 300HP through it with the help of my friends at Nightrun Garage, an excellent source for all things Toyota.
I'm lucky I'm still here today to tell this story.
The looks didn't change much at all after I did the wheels and coilovers - the car wouldn't have hurt from a fresh coat of paint though.
The car continued to surprise me every day. For a 27-year-old car, I never had any major breakdowns post-swap; it did everything I asked it to. The factory radiator sprung a leak shortly after the swap happened, but that's minor compared to what could have happened.
The 3S-GTE made for a symphony sitting inches behind your head; from the turbo pulling in enough air to create 18 pounds of boost by 2500RPM to the flutter of that turbo when you let off the throttle to get into the next gear, it was a well tuned mechanical melody.
The engine bay didn't look all too bad for an old car.
Was it the best idea for me to have a car of this nature at 18 years old? Not really.
Was it fun? Absolutely.
This car was my introduction to the world of modification. It was there for me through plenty of changes in my life, it was motorized therapy for me for three years of my young adulthood.
As with anything, there are days I wish I hadn't sold the car. A little over a year ago I decided it was time for me to purchase something new, something with a warranty, so my GTI came along. I neglected the MR2, I felt the GTI was a better all-around vehicle. I hated to see it sit for long periods of time, so I eventually listed it on the same Facebook Marketplace that I bought it on.
It sat on there for a good few months, I'd get a hit here and there. Nothing solid. I had one potential buyer drive 9 hours to try and lowball me, other than that no real bites. Finally one person said they'd come buy it for the listed price.
It was a sad day seeing the car I had done so much to drive off. One may say it's like seeing your child move out; sending them into the unknown. At least the new owner seems to enjoy the vehicle, rightfully so.
While the car was a dumb purchase as an 18-year-old, it led me into the world of automotive modification and enjoyment I don't see myself ever leaving.