QotW: Take the JNC Challenge, Part 07

Congrats goes out to Ant and Jayrdee for helping us make a purchase! We are the proud owner of a 1986 (Kouki)MR2 (AW11) after nabbing it from a police auction. I guess we felt we wanted to go in an even more sportier direction than the Shuttle 😉  This “Mr. 2” is not the cleanest, nor the prettiest like the brochure pic above, but is in the US-only metallic blue (we have a thing for blue…); It is a heck of a looker (when wet and hiding all the faults). The fenders have some dents, a little rust near the fuel door but it has the “redtop” 4AGE which coming out of the factory topped out at 115 hp. Not much was done to it other than some seat covers and APC glow kit in purple under the glovebox.

We blew $2300 (a steal!) on this little 2-seater after taxes and titling. We have $1500. Now, the easy question is, what do we do with it? Take it to get detailed, maintenance? some high octane boost to shake down the engine that reads 166,000 miles?

What do we do to our MR2 with $1500 to spend?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What JNC memory do you have with your Dad?

Last week was another example of why the JNC community is so awesome. Time and time again, we get to experience your stories and feel like the community is truly a family. It was extremely hard to pick a “winner” for last week since I feel each and every one of you have won in the form of an experience, a story, a memory.

That said, I channeled my father who just celebrated retirement this month who wants nothing more than a new (old) vehicle to mess with. He’s leaning towards and FJ Cruiser. Not exactly a JNC, but close enough. (Just gotta teach him to use backup cameras so he doesn’t clobber my JNC parked on the side…)

So, in thinking of what story he would enjoy the most, I chose Scotty G for his great story of bonding (and bonding metal!) over a then “newly” rusted 71 Corolla wagon; further proving Minnesota hates pristine metal. It is sad to hear he is no longer with us, but the memories and stories will forever be with you and your family. Plus, you can pass along the education you have cherished. Thanks for sharing Scotty G.

I had the first Japanese car ever in our family – my first car, a 1971 Toyota Corolla 2-door wagon with a 4-speed. I bought it for $400 in 1981 after high school and even though it was starting to get rusty after a decade of Minnesota salty roads/winters, it was a great car. That is until I started heading odd noises in the engine. This was the 1.2L, unfortunately, not the 1.6, but it was still a fun car to drive. I eventually sold it for $750 and I’ve been looking for another one for years. I may as well be searching for Sasquatch, they’re nonexistent.

We rebuilt the engine in our little one-car garage and I learned so much from him during that whole process. Also, things like cutting out rust and making new, custom-fit metal patches and welding them in, and doing all sorts of car-related things. Unfortunately, he died in a canoeing accident (yep, the canoe tipped over, in a remote lake by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in far northern Minnesota) in 1985 and even after 32 years we still miss him terribly.

Omedetou! Your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop.

JNC Decal smash

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17 Responses to QotW: Take the JNC Challenge, Part 07

  1. Randy says:

    Congrats to your dad for escaping the rat race!

    Now, he can get up early (or stay up ridiculously late!), grab his coffee, watch the traffic reports, and laugh at those poor schmucks out there, just sitting, and sitting, and sitting, hoping to get to work before the boss does!

    He can go out and play with the FJ at midnight if he wants to! Have his retired friends come over for a 2am barbecue! “Oooh – Hendrix! Crank it up!”

    Life can be WONDERFUL when you can totally dump schedules, and just don’t have to give a damn!

    Congrats again!

    • Brandon Kelley says:

      Thanks Randy! He used to work for a county as a residential inspector. I’m sure he will smile every time he drives by an inspection site just knowing he doesn’t have to stress over the blocks of housing developments…and the sometimes questionable builders 😉

  2. Jaceracer says:

    After looking for a Toyota project sports car for months I stumbled on a 1989 MR2 for $900 in San Francisco from a tow company. The car was abandoned by the original owner and so the car was transferred to the tow company for sale. I knew this was a special deal so I purchased the car with cash the same day the posting was listed on Craigslist.

    After some basic maintenance at 170K miles I joined my friend in his AE86 for monthly autocross events. The car did very well and I began to compete with the top drivers in my class. My friend and I decided to try a track day so we went to the world famous Laguna Seca raceway. After numerous successful laps passing multiple cars the MR2 spun a rod bearing. The car was towed home where I pulled the oil pan and assessed the damage.

    Next we planed to move to Arizona to purchase a new home. At the frustration of my wife I refused to let my MR2 go to a scrap yard. I towed the MR2 with a blown engine across 3 states to our new home using my trusty Tacoma. After arriving I got the funds together to complete my first engine swap by myself (4AGE 20V Blacktop) and reused the original transmission. With good tires the car will now keep up with many sports cars like turbo Civics, Porches, and Corvettes on the tighter race tracks.

    If I could see you and the car in person I could tell you exactly where I think the money should go but that’s not the case so here is a guide:

    * $1000 used 4AGE Silvertop/Blacktop swap or engine rebuild
    OR if the engine is fine $500-1000 on body work and paint and/or wheels/tires.
    * $350 new 86-89 MR2 performance clutch and lightweight flywheel, ARP flywheel bolts.
    * $100-500 misc. maintenance plugs, pads, hoses, belts, fluids, filters, seals, wires etc.

    *Check the engine over thoroughly for signs of a leaking head gasket, or blown oil seals. Depending on the health of the engine most of the $1500 could be used here. If you do decide to swap the sound of the Blacktop is amazing and you really feel alive when you rev in the red to 8000RPM! The 3SGTE swap is nearly out of reach for $1500.

    * The clutch disk probably needs replaced if it hasn’t been done by 166K. Be sure you have the larger 212mm clutch disk. The 85 and some 86 MR2’s had a 200mm clutch disk and flywheel. The larger lightweight flywheel coupled with a performance Stage 1 clutch will provide a much needed performance increase without having to stress the engine much further.

    * The 88-89 MR2 had larger brake rotors so keep that in mind for a future upgrade.

    • Randy says:

      Re: Scrapping your MR2:

      Don’t you just love how everybody tells you want you need/want? Family/friends/etc.; everybody else knows what you want or need… Maybe you should spend your free time and disposable income drinking and chasing other women?

      “You don’t neeeeed [insert subject here]…” “Why don’t you get rid of…?” “You’re not seriously keeping that…”

      Hey – you could have a kid, with whom you’d spend the time together working on it, like the “Memories With Dad” post, and make THOSE memories with him/her, and that could lead the kid to becoming an engineer!

      As far as I’m concerned, park the thing in your yard! It ain’t botherin’ me none! Maybe just throw a cover over it to keep “them” quiet.

  3. Nathan says:

    This is an ’80s Toyota, so we need to get that rust contained. However, that may not be within budget just yet, so the immediate needs must be addressed first.

    How is anything rubber or otherwise age-impacted looking, from O-rings to valve seals, the distributor to rubber lines? A tuneup is probably needed as well, so spark plugs will be needed. Now is also a good time to check wheel bearings and the like. If the suspension and/or bushings need replacing, that may have to go on the “to do” list. If the clutch is original, it’s probably time to do that and replace the synchros in the gearbox while it’s open.

    Also, how are the most important components of performance, the tires, holding up? If their old, sun-rotted, or bald, those have to be replaced first thing.

  4. Randy says:

    Well, of COURSE maintenance first! Same as the Shuttle; check brakes and lines; plugs, wires, TIMING BELT(!); maybe water pump… Bushings all okay? Let’s make sure it’s safe and reliable FIRST, THEN we play.

    How’s the tires? Based on the Regular Car Reviews’ review of HIS recently-acquired MR2, if you’re comfortable with spending the money right now, those Enkei 92s (15″), with wider, lower-profile rubber might be in order (185/60-14 -> 195/50-15)… If the interior is also blue, then the gold ones, and some fine-line gold pinstripe? If the interior is grey, then the silver & silver; if black, then the black wheels and silver pinstripe? Sit and look at the car for a while. Let the CAR tell YOU.

    Pix would certainly help.

    Here’s what *I’d* do – purely opinion –

    Conversion headlights, with some GOOD bulbs. Not the “blue” ones; they glare… Here’s the article that got me to never go blue:
    (Some GREAT reading there!)

    I haven’t read exactly “glowing” reviews of the LED headlight “bulbs.” They seem to have issues with overheating and failing early…

    LEDs for at least the tail/brake lights:
    I *THINK* it’s Putco brand they have at West Coast Cougars – “Plasma LEDs.” Obviously, the ones they have are the push/twist style, but I’m trying to compare the LED portion for output. Don’t want a repeat of the Shuttle’s fate. Don’t forget the “Cyclops Light!”

    Fog lights. ALWAYS fog lights. (Yellow lenses and bulbs.)

    (After the usual dawn wash and claying)

    Okay, so some rust at the fuel filler… I’ll assume it’s not THROUGH the metal. That’s a different world of repair, that I’d say pay someone else to do…

    I’ve read REALLY good things about CarPro’s “Iron X.” It’s a chemical rust/metallic deposits remover. Supposedly also great for removing the brake dust from wheels. It WILL attack cast iron brake calipers, so caution there. It actually attacks ferrous metals, so “they” say spray it on the paint, wipe it around, let it sit for about 5 minutes, then rinse it off. One of the reviews showed it took rust off a chipped-up spot on the car. Do it outside; “smells like death.”

    I’m thinking use it specifically on the rust to get rid of it, then epoxy primer on the area. You could, if CAREFUL, even do the spot with a small brush… You’re probably going to want to sand the area a bit anyway. Careful touchup with paint.

    Since you said it looks good “when wet and hiding all the faults,” that’s a GREAT thing.

    (This has become my latest area of interest, so yeah, I get jazzed about “the shine.”)

    I don’t believe in “All-In-One” stuff – except for Klasse’s All-In-One (“AIO;” will get to that below), so I’ll say polish it up, then get to the sealing.

    I recently bought “The Klasse Twins.” Used it on someone’s light-ish blue Yaris about 2 weeks ago. It’s been driven some, and been rained on quite a bit, and I haven’t noticed spots on it yet.

    The AIO is a deep cleaner that they claim leaves some slight acrylic protection; the High Gloss Sealant Glaze (“HGSG,” or just “SG”) is just sealant. Since the SG seems to be layerable, I’m using it mostly to try to imitate the clear coat that used to be on the roof… (Six-or-seven coats on the roof so far, and it’s developing a sheen…)

    I like the look, but you COULD forego it for other sealants/waxes. One of my faves is Finish Kare’s 1000P. Looks like the car was dipped in glass. The claim is that it ALSO is layerable. I think it could be applied over the SG, or just over the AIO, if you’re so inclined, or without the AIO base/HGSG… Collinite’s 845 “Insulator Wax” (liquid) is stupid-easy to use and also looks fab! Dunno if it’s really layerable; some say “Yes;” some say “No.” (Yes, Meguiar’s and Mother’s look great, and are generally easy to use, but I’ve NEVER had them last…)

    So pix are coming…..???


  5. Mike says:

    The MR-2 is a great pickup. Glad you found one with the “big” motor rather than that puny little 3A 1.5L. My son had one a few (many) years ago and that 4AGE and that thing loved to rev and was a ball to drive, as was the entire car. The shifter may have been the best I have ever had the pleasure of rowing, and that includes several Accords, an S2000, and an NSX. I suggest you get some PDR on the dents, have the undercarriage and engine bay steam cleaned and the engine dressed, have the rims refinished if needed, get a good paint correction and interior detail done, and call it a day. If you get all that done right you will probably have burned through most of your reserve but you will get looks and nice comments wherever you take her. Unless you just want to drive it like a maniac at every opportunity in which case spend the money on some carefully chosen shocks and tires, and save the rest for maintenance.

    Somewhere in there I would want some good condition used oem seats, which are fantastic…assuming the seat covers are hiding some ugly seats. Also maybe a nice new or little used steering wheel. You plant your butt and grab the wheel every time you drive so seats and steering wheel are vital to driving pleasure.

    That blacktop would be a riot with 160 HP but you can do that down the road if you ever get bored with the red top.

  6. Brandon Kelley says:

    For those curious, this played a supporting role in inspiring this JNC Challenge chapter:


  7. Stuart Kayrooz says:

    Sounds like a beast, I look forward to seeing how this evolves!

    The easy route to spend $1500 on an Adub would be a full set of eyebrow trim, C pillar trim and new sunvisor across the roof – take those, leave them on a dusty shelf for a few years, and you’ll be able to use them to buy another Adub with change to spare…

    But I’d go with some period accessories while they’re still at least partially visible on auction sites before they get snapped up – some nice second hand 14″ Watanabes, painted black or silver, maybe some power-folding foglights to complement – nothing too crazy; I’d keep the commonly modified bits as they were when they left the factory – the Supercharged engine cover looks nice but requires modifying either the cover or the lock mechanism placement since the bolt on the lid won’t line up with the non-supercharged models, the JDM rear light conversion requires the JDM lock barrel (and a re-key to the rest of the car) to get it flush (and everyone’s done it now), and as tempting as a 20v 4AGE is, there’s something very 80’s about that red writing on the valve covers…

    And then I’d go with a few bits on the inside – a JonO short shift kit, along with brass shifter linkages to firm up the gear change, a period correct Tom’s or TRD steering wheel and a nice pioneer stereo (with a cassette deck, of course) – with a physical EQ occupying the second DIN slot, and featuring enough 80’s green LED buttons to bathe the velour at night…

    Might even have enough change left over for a few JNC stickers…

  8. Ant says:

    Oh, neat – first JNC QotW win. I’ll brush over that I was more seriously considering a Honda Prelude… Congrats too to Jayrdee! How does one claim one’s prize?

    The boring but realistic thing to do with the remaining $1500 is new tyres, an alignment and a good fluids and belts service. The rust can wait – it’s not going to get too much worse in the middle of summer – but the tyres, fluids and belts will keep it running soundly until we can afford to patch the holes.

    • Randy says:

      “. . . [T]o patch the holes.”

      Pix would be hugely helpful…

      My advice on the Iron X to chemically remove the rust still holds, but how bad are “the holes?”

      Are you someplace where things don’t rust quickly?

      • Ant says:

        I’m just assuming there are holes. Almost all MR2s develop holes where bodywork used to be.

        To your last question… no. I’m in the UK, which is problematic for rust. But with our hypothetical car we can surely afford to wait at least a few more months before the weather deteriorates and rust becomes more of an issue than general maintenance.

        • Randy says:

          Ahhh – I thought Australia/New Zealand, since the car isn’t rusted away…

          I’m in the NE quadrant of the U.S. – SW Pennsylvania – “the steel buckle of the rust belt,” as a local radio guy used to say. We use LOTS of salt in the winter, so significant rust on a 30-ish year-old vehicle is pretty much the norm. Can’t say I’ve seen ANY MR2s in several years. Of course, the target market pretty much beat the hell out of them, I’m sure.

          If I’m not mistaken, your winters are more damp/wet, but warm enough to not get your white in the form of salt…

          After the mechanical stuff is all checked over, I’d still do the chemical rust removal and epoxy primer at minimum, to stop the decay. Should’t take more than a day, including drying time. All that polishing, etc., can hold, of course.

          Just thought of: Get the manuals! Here’s the link to the Haynes ones:


          I won’t say they’re the be-all/end-all of service manuals, but they’ve been super useful for me for NUMEROUS cars over the years. Of course, they DON’T make them for my Scion (Toyota) xA… It shares a LOT with the Echo, but hot damn, they don’t make THAT manual, either! Torques specs are very important to me…

          • Randy says:

            I just noticed – they don’t them for the 2nd or 3rd generation MR2s, either… Hmmmmm…

          • Ant says:

            Sadly roads are regularly salted here over the winter. Largely out of paranoia I suspect, but it makes owning a steel-bodied old car fairly difficult, if not quite to the same extent as in Pennsylvania.

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