When I bought my 1987 Toyota MR2 NA in February 2000 (at 207,000 km), I decided when
I realized the good condition it was in that I would undertake to keep this car around
a long, long time. In Canada, a car is declared "historic" when it reaches 25. That
means in 2012 this will be a historic car, and I may be retiring along with it.
From buying it until now, in January 2011, I now have 222,000 km on the odometer
and driven about 15,000 km (9,400 miles). The car has spent a lot of time in my garage
and in the body shop. This is not negative, because I have had a lot of fun driving
I don't want to drive on weekdays or commute - too much risk for the car on major
highways with traffic jams. In addition, I have collectors insurance on the car meaning
I'm only allowed to drive it for pleasure - which it certainly is.
Follow this introduction are several sections (which is fairly long reading) that
Good Things I Found When Buying My MR2
Things I Caught During Inspection
Things That Surprised Me
Repair History (to June 2004) and noteworthy follow-up repairs (to December 2011)
My hope is that what I have learned on this restoration will help you appreciate
what it takes to bring a car back from the edge of being a beater. This is a very
good driving vehicle, with lots of power coming from its NA power plant. Truly a
joy to drive.
1. Good Things When Buying
When I got the car I had it inspected by a Toyota shop. There were a lot of good
things about the car:
Not a lot of visible rust. Mechanics noted it looked like a B.C. car from underneath
(little rust, unlike from eastern Canada)
Paint finish looks good, but it probably means the car was "detailed" before being
New muffler system
Tested on wet roads - it tracked really well
Pedal wear matched the mileage (207,000 km)
Engine tests showed near perfect matching oil pressures on all cylinders
2. Things I Caught During Inspection
Of course there were things I caught too. It was evident that the car had been in
a mix-up at sometime not too long ago.
The front trunk appeared exceptionally new and clean compared to the rear trunk
Poor/Rough finish on the front bumper cover
Poor finish on the front air dams, including some peeling and that two pieces were
Suspicious finish on left front fender (sloppy body filler finishing)
Missing tire retaining bolt (eventually found in tire tool kit - now I have three!)
Paint finish wasn't bad, but not great either. Some clear coat peeling at trim points
Interior door parts showed wear and some punctures in the upholstery
3. Things that Surprised Me
Old cars are just that - old. They can't be perfect and some things just don't show
up in trials. The biggest ones for me were:
Master Brake Cylinder Failure - simple repair
Engine Lamp at low speeds - turned out to be the O2 Sensor that controls fuel mixture.
Onboard computer pointed it out to the Toyota guys and it was just a matter of fixing
Oil Leak - okay, so it was only 1-2 drops per trip, but fixing it was a huge effort,
and very frustrating for the mechanic. This took years to resolve.
Oil Burning - at startup a puff of blue smoke with light oil consumption. Turned
out to be valve seals requiring head rebuild.
5th Gear Pop Out - this problem is well known, but the car never had the problem
(at the start). It developed. While the clues were there at the start (see below),
it led to an expensive rebuild.
Steering sloppiness - most MR2's have really tight steering, but mine has a play
of roughly 1 inch at the wheel. -It took a long time to get to the bottom of this
one, but it appears the steering column itself is the culprit with play around joints.
There are a lot of things that have to be done to bring a car back to good condition,
because there is no way it will be new again. Everything is shown from front-to-back
of the car (not chronologically). At the point of this update, the car has had it's
body fully restored (no rust) and fully painted making it in as-new condition. The
power train is solid, but the interior has modest remaining work.
Damaged Front Air Dams -replaced/repaint
Improperly finished fender cover -replaced/repainted when replacing hinge
Right front fender has small dent -repaired/repainted when replacing hinge
Improperly repaired left front fender -replaced/repainted when replacing hinge
Fading Hood -repainted
Sagging left/right door hinges -replaced
Rust under left fiberglass trim on left rear quarter panel and sill - restoration
shop reconstructed with new metal
Rust under right fiberglass trim on left rear quarter panel and sill - restoration
shop reconstructed with new metal
Right Door water/wind leaks at T-Top Seal - seal replaced, also caused by sagging
9" Rust on left rear Wheel Well edge - restoration shop reconstructed with new metal
including inner and outer panels
Windshield severely scratched by wipers -replaced
Minor rust on metal above windshield - restoration shop reconstructed when replacing
With all the body repairs, the car has been fully painted with a full set of new
Toyota pin-strips. Had to have custom ones done for side trim since the original
stripes were part of the plastic trim and this had been painted over in the past.
Perfect condition triangle rims obtained, refinished and refitted.
Peeling paint on front bumper, and abrasion on rear bumper, refinished and repainted.
Right rear Wheel Well edge - restoration shop reconstructed and repainted new metal
and custom decals, including extensive rust-proofing (March-2009)
Replaced console (near perfect condition) including Refinishing
New leather Boot on fabricated boot retainer ring
Replaced drivers and passenger seats (near perfect condition) including Re-piping
Replaced door kick-plates including screws.
Refinished and Replaced left and right door panels.
Upholstery/Mechanics/Electrical etc. (from front to back)
Wiper mechanism loose or hitting -adjusted
Windshield stone chip -repaired chip only
Worn Leather 3-point Steering Wheel -replaced with as-new wheel found in 2002 on
eBay in nearly perfect shape. As close to perfect as achievable. Had previously attempted
to repair original which was professionally dyed, but it was not possible to recover
Originally did repairs on the interior:
Shifter Boot Worn/Torn - Professional custom fabricated Boot
Worn Center Console - Professional Vinyl Refinishing but have also gotten a replacement
in superior condition awaiting install
Driver Seat Seams splitting - Professional Disassembly/Repair
But in 2004 upgraded the whole interior with
Worn Pedals -replaced
Right passenger Seat Belt retractor twist -repaired via retread/reattachment.
Cassette Storage case between seats loose -reattached
Blown speakers - the speakers above the driver/passenger ears are blown, as well
as the under seat bass - Audio specialty shop rebuilt the original speakers instead
of replacing them with new substitutes (non-OEM)
Courtesy Cabin Lamp repaired to remedy a broken connection in the fixture.
Trunk upholstery free fitting with no clips -new clips purchased and mounted
Power Antenna Inoperable including incomplete assembly -replaced
License plate bulb burned out -replaced
Remote Trunk Opener from driver seat not operational -replaced Trunk Lock/Latch
Interior Cleanup / Detailing -completed
5. Repair Plans
Change C-pillar (rear window) exterior trim seals.
Alignment and possible bearing change out as a preventative measure, and to address
As you can imagine, this is a lot of work and worth well over the original cost of
the car. BUT, most of this is completed and the car is in amazing condition. So what
have I learned?
6. Lessons Learned
Body repair is extremely expensive, but if you don't do it your car will rot off
the road and be a "parts" car.
A full and proper paint job means pulling off all the trim. This makes for a BIG
price tag. This is now all complete and I can assure you that the price of a car
with full restoration and painting compares to the cost of the original MR2.
Transmission 5th gear pop out is the bane of most MK1 drivers. The shifter would
rock back and forth (front / back) when the gas pedal would be let-off and then depressed.
It seems to depend upon how much movement and speed are involved. My greatest fear
was using cruise and have it pop out and wind the engine into the red zone. Lots
of varied opinions, but the facts are that the transmission is sick and needs to
be rebuilt. It's not bushings, bearings or any other easy solution, and a rebuild
is expensive - probably a lot more than you think (approx. $1000 USD). Learning to
check the shifter movement as a diagnosis when buying the car in the first place.
Oil leaks are as bad as the AW11 archive warn about. Tough to find and fix - meaning
costly too. The engine seemed to only leak after driving, but nothing indicated that
it leaked during operation. I've had every seal changed in the engine. My friendly
mechanic was going crazy over this one. It took a complete day just to get the timing
belt wheel off in order to change the lower seal (it had seized onto the shaft).
Of anyone, HE wanted it to stop leaking because I just keep coming back and turned
into years! It took about a year after the major remedies to be in for enough oil
leakage to identify the final culprit - the right CV boot. During the transmission
rebuilt, it was easiest to change-out the boot. Now it's a wait and see. Oh, and
for cost, how does $400 USD sound as a cumulative cost?
Burning oil is a problem with older cars. Many cars burn just a bit a startup (puff
of blue smoke) when cold, then seem fine with light oil consumption. The problem
is valve seals. Big mechanical job to fix in the area of $500 USD. The net result
if your head is good, is that the oil pressure across cylinders will be greatly improved.
In some cases the ring could be the problem, but it's more frequently to do with
the seals in the head.
Windscreens MR2's are a premium item, costing more than many other vehicles.
Accessories and upholstery are hard to get and expensive from Toyota. Some pieces
are not available any more. Most trim available is black, and it’s a major challenge
to find a good stock steering wheel.
Test driving and having a mechanic inspect the vehicle is a MUST DO. The car that
I looked at before this one looked good on the outside, but when the mechanics inspected
it, we found that underneath the finish was a dog waiting for a major engine job
and a lot of hidden rust.
Find a good mechanic who knows MR2's. My normal mechanic is quite good, but unable
to handle the more intense repairs like transmission rebuilding. Fortunately, your
local MR2 club was a good way to find a highly recommended mechanic, which turned
out to be what I did. Results? Very good.
When getting bodywork and painting done, get a written warranty. As well, ensure
it will remain valid should the shop be sold to someone else (its a common way to
bail out of warranty obligations), without which the warranty will be worthless.
From that point on its up to the professionalism and integrity of both yourself and
the shop manager to strike a workable deal.
After putting in a LOT of money, you may still find rust returning. Yes - even new
metal doesn't guarantee perfection. After about 7 years, one wheel arch started to
show rust coming through (in 2008). This had to be fully cut/replaced. The shop (which
is a good one) wouldn't guarantee the result because it wasn't possible to clean
the inside of the welds, which is where rust can start. They did their best to coat
it with rustproofing, but it still isn't a sure thing. So, be ready to do some work
more than one time.
You want to get parts? Look for them everywhere you can where used parts are advertised,
sold and auctioned. In the worst case, fine an identical parts car to keep (or drive)
as mobile parts inventory. Considering buying used parts in bulk. And, if you think
about it, one of the hardest parts to find will be decals. The sad news as that whatever
is left is held privately, and impossible to find. The obsolete part warning is real,
today -- and the only way you'll get new decals is having them custom-made.
Steering Play - originally thought to be the rack/pinion, it turned out to be a defective
steering column, which was replaced and tightened up the steering substantially.
Not easy to find - it took an experienced MR2 mechanic.
5th Gear Pop-out -rebuilt. Opinions about what causes this problem varies widely,
but the bottom line is the transmission is sick. The number of parts replaced surprised
me, but its now quite tight. Decided to rebuild while parts were still available.
Good thing, they still turned out to be hard to find.
CV Boots -replaced. The last oil leak before the rebuilt was traced down to a leaking
Clutch -replaced. Figured it was smart to change it when the transmission was already
Valve Seal Leakage -rebuilt. This is manifested by a puff of blue smoke at startup.
While not burning oil in any great amount, I decided to get it done when the engine
was out. Head was reworked. Cylinder pressures measured are reinstallation were 140/145/140/145.
Oil loss/use completely halted.
Cruise Control was inoperable - Vacuum Pump and Actuator defective -replaced pump,
actuator turned out to be ok. Parts obtained from Parts Car.
Soft Braking - Master Brake Cylinder replaced
Timing Belt -replaced, age unknown with 207,000 km
Minor oil leak - oil pressure unit replaced, oil cooler lines replaced, oil pan gasket
replaced. This was a persistent problem, but my mechanic has finally gotten to the
root of the issue. The 3 main engine seals were replaced, which sadly could have
been replaced when the timing belt was changed. Oh well...
"Engine" lamps illuminates at low speed -replaced O2 Sensor
Replace Air Filter - normal maintenance
Lube/Oil/Filter - normal maintenance
Dirty Battery terminals -replaced battery after diagnostic, at its end-of-life
Water Pump -replaced during rebuild as preventative measure.
Cracked Exhaust Manifold -replaced during the transmission rebuild with a used one.
Turns out it had a crack that wasn't leaking yet so I replaced it with a new Toyota
original exhaust manifold.
Leaking flex pipe -replaced with new Toyota original flex pipe
Engine Clean-up - overall cleanup, but also replaced the valve covers with fully
Check Valve - caused poor idling and stalling once warmed up. Just a worn out part.
Replaced with new check valve.
Speedometer Cable - after using the car for 4 years, the cable suddenly broke (at
218k km). Replaced with a new cable.
Temperature Gauge on HOT - after short driving, the temperature gauge would go to
HOT, and bounce around from 3/4 to full HOT. Replaced temperature sending unit (corroded)
Repainted front bumper, plus decals - minor paint peeling originally due to improper
Repaired/repainted rear bumper, plus decals - minor 1"x1" paint/finish scrape.
Replaced "reverse" shifter cable
Replaced and Refinished one wheel after road-force balancing indicated it was not
Replaced tires with Nokian i3's to eliminate some road vibration from the original