1991 Toyota MR2 SW20 Turbo

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1991 Toyota MR2 SW20 Turbo
RCR Toyota MR2 SW20 Thumb.jpg
Car Details
Make Toyota
Model MR2 SW20 Turbo
Year 1991
Owner Bike Murgrunder
Episode Details
Episode Link Watch
Season The Boulder Roadtrip
Air Date November 10, 2014
Credits James Gilboy

This is the most dangerous car ever made and it is also a perfect expression of The Human Condition. We want to know where "The Limit" lies and damn self-preservation. This is the most dangerous car, because it is cheap, accessible, and exists in great numbers. This is opposed to a Porsche 911SC which is more dangerous in a mechanical sense but is not as accessible as the MR2


"Oh yeah. 1991 Toyota MR2 SW20 Turbo.

The second generation MR2 is proof that love exists, and it wants to be found.
This Toyota,
Drive it,
Hear it,
Say I know you want me,
Take this car and go,
On those Allegheny roads,
In this turbo car from 1991.
I will always be a fan of the first generation MR2. The AW11, for me, is the best car ever made, but I can't ignore the second one. Understand that this is a dangerous car— the MR2 SW20 is THE most dangerous vehicle ever built, and it is one of the purest expressions of the human condition our species has ever created. It is. This is the most dangerous car you can buy. Forget steam cars, and everything from the turn of the century. Cars that exist out there on craigslist right now, the car that is most accessible to the most amount of people, and poses the greatest risk of danger, is the SW20. So, how can I properly explain this? Okay.

Those of you who know the SW20 know the story, everybody else needs a little classroom lesson: snap oversteer. What is snap oversteer? That's when weight transfer goes from— neright. Some people don't know about weight transfer, and that's okay too. Ahem. Here, I'm going to explain it to you with some visual aids. I need to make some coffee. I'm going to make some coffee and pour a little bit into this rinsed-out olive jar. I'm gonna hold these two pieces of wood up here to represent tires. The coffee represents the weight of the car. Now, of course your car isn't filled up with a lot of liquid, gasoline and oil notwithstanding, but forces within this body of mass move. Not physically, but there's energy here. I'm an English major, not a physics major. In fact, I need a physics major to explain the equations that are going on here. But for the sake of a video, this is what's going on inside your car.

Okay, this end here, where the cap is, that is the front of your car, this back end is the back of your car. When I accelerate this car jar— oh, see! The weight moves to the rear! I'll do it again, watch. Same thing happens with your car. Now, with a front wheel drive car, even though there's a big engine on top of the front wheels. when you accelerate, the weight moves to the rear wheels, and there's nothing driving those wheels. That's why if you have a manual transmission, front engine, front wheel drive car, the wheels are gonna go ZATATATATATATATA, and usually you have an open diff, so one wheel is spinning, and the other one is doing My Cousin Vinny— that's because there's no more weight, no more force over your front wheels. It all moved to the back, the front end of your car got light. 

Now with a front engine, REAR wheel drive car, again, all the weight moves to the rear, you have energy now pushing down on the drive wheels, pressing them in. And with a mid, or rear engine drive car (I know it's a little bit different between mid and rear), we do it again, now you have the weight of the engine AND the force of acceleration, all pushing down on the rear of the car, and that feels great in an SW20. When you punch it in a second gen MR2, all that rear end just digs in. Oh, if you can, buy or drive one of these things. Even at moderate speeds, it's UHHHH YEAH.

But, when you brake— oh, I'm braking! All the weight moves to the front of the car. Even though you have that engine giving a lot of weight on that rear wheel, can't outweigh the forces of physics. Imagine you're coming to a turn. Imagine you're going into a turn too fast. Every single one of us wants to brake, wants to slow down. You can't do that in an MR2. If you slow down, when you're going in too hot, the weight shifts to the front of the car, and the rear end gets light. And now there's less weight pushing down on the rear wheels, and your rear end, with that engine, suddenly wants to lead. That's the lift-off oversteer. The snap oversteer happens when you overcorrect, or the weight moves again, now the rear end of the car slides back the other way. It's like a tank slapper. And that leads into the second point of why the SW20 is so dangerous: it's cheap.

Good ones are not as cheap as Miatas, but they're still pretty affordable. Six to eight thousand dollars gets you a solid SW20, although you're probably gonna get the NA, the naturally aspirated one. Turbos? Finding a good Turbo? Now that's tough. One that hasn't been messed with, and this one hasn't been messed with, but more on that later. Because the SW20 is so cheap, it's affordable to the under-twenty crowd. That's an age when you have something to prove and REVENGE FANTASIES. See, at twenty, you're supposed to be in a controlled, slow understeer into the open arms of your university's peer mediation group, but the SW20 offers no quarters... or warnings. It lets nothing, and everything, slide. This is the same Darwinism as fast motorcycles. You are free to ride them, and you are free to drive this, but your fate is up to your own hands, and asking someone who is under twenty, and full of emotion, to be able to handle lift off oversteer, well, that's a tall order. A lot of SW20s get wrecked.

But they're fixable. This isn't some specialized prototype of low production, like a Mazda Cosmo, or a mishmash of manufacturers like a DeLorean. No, this is standard OEM Toyota parts like any other Toyota. It's the Taco Bell approach. I know it's bad for me, oh, I know, I know Taco Bell is bad, but MY CUM IS DRYING INSIDE MY SLEEPING BAG AND I'M AGGRESSIVELY HUNGRY NOW. But you are free to make your own choices, and that is the way automotive offerings SHOULD BE. Here, I present to you all the vehicles. Choose one that fits your personality. Choose your path, and your conveyance. Some people will take a Tercel, and drive it with contentment, for mile after mile. 

But others, like us, are complicated. We need a vehicle that matches our own mental state. All of the hopes and daydreams and aggravations of youth are massaged into the second generation MR2's exterior. Even sparkling Troy Lissien self-destructive adolescent beauty is alive in this SW20 turbo. No other manufacturer has conceived a more effective and accessible representation of the human condition. Through the SW20, we may see the limit, wherever it chooses to hide. Maybe the limit is on a rainy interstate offramp, maybe the limit hides in a cross breeze, while that center mounted boost cause rises like your mood. 

Imagine if Toyota, or anybody else, tried to mass-produce a small, mid-engine, turbocharged car with no traction control, brake vectoring, thin doors, pop-up headlights (OH YEAH)... No! No, this car would be illegal! There'd be no way you could build one of these things today. But here it is, grandfathered in with all the modern sports cars, and this SW20... yeah, it's ready to just lay waste to all the Allegheny back mountain roads. And look at it... it's perfect.

The story of how this owner found such a beautiful, untouched SW20 turbo is hope for all of us: he had courage. He had courage to ring a doorbell, that's really the end of the story. Nah, he was just driving along, back and forth, in the Pittsburgh area, and he began to see this second gen MR2 in someone's front yard. And then he drove by the house, back and forth to work more time. A month had gone by, this MR2 was in the same spot, doesn't look like it had been moved. And one day, he just goes up to the house, and he rings the doorbell, and he says, "Pardon me, sir, I know this is a weird question, but by chance, would be willing to sell that little sports car you have up there, I'm very interested, it's very beautiful, I just though I'd ask." And the owner said, "You know what? I moved it out there a little bit, while ago, I was... thinking I'd sell it, some other things happened... would you like to buy it today?" And they agreed on the price, and here it is. 

See these little dots, these little lights right here on the dash? That's one thing that isn't stock, it was a period-correct radar detector from 1991. Odd choice of colors, a white exterior and a blue interior, but again, that's the 90s! That's how things were! We didn't figure out how to make small airbags back then, so you have this BIG airbag, right in the middle of the steering wheel. But it's correct, and that's how it should be. No replacing that wheel with one of the small modern units, no, keep it exactly how it is.

Just like a first generation MR2, you have to drive the second gen as well. See how they improved it. Some call this the Poor Man's Ferrari, and I really won't fight that charge. The second gen MR has 2.0 liter engine that makes between 220 and 240 horsepower, depending on tune. It has a 5 speed manual, and a larger E153 gearbox. Its engine uses a timing BELT instead of a chain, and these things DO tend to leak oil everywhere, and it's one wrong turn away from being the tanker that exploded at the end of the first Terminator. 

But for all the talk of this being the 'Poor Man's Ferrari', the MR2 Turbo has such a confident sense of self that it passes for a modern car. The turbo is a self-assured car, whether you use it as a daily or you bring it out for car shows and weirdos like us. The MR2 is interesting because it skipped the awkward, pizza-faced teen years and jumped straight to the cocksure self awareness. It's James Dean of cars (either one of them). This is from the era where it was just accepted that some cars simply wouldn't be safe. It wasn't up to manufacturers to make cars safe to accommodate your lousy driving habits in the 90s. It was up to you to be a more vigilant, responsible driver. I admit, I reacted to this car the same way a dog reacts to seeing another dog. Ooh, ooh, this is the car of my people! Hey, one of us, one of us, ONE OF US. Oh yeah, I get form zero to sixty in six seconds, and zero to spooging in five. I can feel this rumbling between my thighs, I can feel the heat from the transmission. Oh yeah, you're so D.

That said, it's still very stuck in the 1990s sense of styling, which is as other people said, "melted bar of soap." But it has its place. 90s swooping styling and 14-4 modems go together like Hold On and It Must Be Love in a Tipper Gore mixtape. This is a car with echoes of earlier designs, and it's approach that lines up with the overall sentiment behind the car. The SW20 is a car for the guy who's trying to recapture his 90s youth. The man for whom memory is a pastime. But even in 2014, the Toyota MR2 SW20 Turbo is a car that bursting at the seams with character, with personality, with HOPE, with LOVE, with reachable ambition, with happiness, and joy. I would this car's friend, and I would do the work to keep that friendship alive.

*headlights go up*
Yeah...Man that is so cool. MEERP! Back down! Eheuhehueuhehue. Back up again! Ehhheeeee. And back down again! And there's fog lights on this car! So you go up, and then, fog lights! And then we're making no boost. Oh, you hear that QUISSSSSSSSS? I love that sound! Oh, ohhh, the MR2 is just -ohhhhhhhhhh. This is so 90s.
OUTRO SONG by THE ROMAN, to the tune of 'Champagne Supernova', Oasis
Check out this Toyota, dangerous and franchised,
It's an SW20, and it's mine.

Well, technically it isn't, But we still reviewed it,
It's an SW20, it lets everything and nothing slide.
Like a Snapple, there is energy here,
Physics majors comment here, This Toyota MR2.
[Lots of Spanish, please transcript]
Toyota MR2 SW20 is our next car,
Toyota MR2 second gen from 1991 car review...