How to turn an MR2 into a Ferrari Dino (sort of) | Project Toyota MR2 Turbo

Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the Toyota MR2 Turbo project car
Sep 16, 2022 | Toyota, MR2, Wilhelm Raceworks, TCS Motorsports, Toyota MR2 Turbo, 2GR-FE, Frankenstein Motorworks, V6 Swap

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So, we have this Toyota MR2 Turbo with a now-crispy engine, and we have the insurance company on the other line. The engine looks salvageable, but if it has to come out for the clean-up, do we just put it back in or do we look for something better?

Let’s be honest, you’re for hot, nasty, badass speed, and we aim to deliver courtesy of … a Camry. 

While you normally wouldn’t peg the Camry at the universal donor for a high-performance V6, check out the specs on the 2GR-FE that was available in the 2006-’17 Camry as well as numerous other Toyota and Lexus models like the Sienna, Venza, Rav4, Lexus ES 35, and a JDM midsize called the Toyota Blade Master which is a pretty metal name for a crossover.

The 2GR was also used in the Lotus Evora, giving it a solid pedigree as the motivator for a mid-engine sportster. Anyway, those specs: forged connecting rods and crankshaft, roller rockers, variable valve timing on intake and exhaust, and 270 factory rated horsepower on 87 octane fuel. 

Yes, let’s do it.

In MR2 swap trim, we’ll be using intake and exhaust pieces from Frankenstein Motorworks as well as a tuned ECU that raises the redline to 7200 rpm and optimizes for premium fuel. Most 2GR MR2 owners report 290 to 300 horsepower to the wheels with this configuration.

That’s 70-plus horsepower more than we were producing when we were hitting 145 at Daytona. Yikes. 

And, if you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been a GRM subscriber long enough to remember when you blew up a whole bunch of V6s back when you did a Camry project,” well, we did.

But those were earlier 1MZ V6s, which had some real issues with oil starvation. Out of the box, the 2GR is a far more durable and modern engine, while aftermarket wizards like Alex Wilhelm at Wilhelm Raceworks have put even more brainpower into increasing reliability.

Wilhelm put together a research project on oiling issues during cornering. The oiling solution: a custom baffle as well as a little extra oil in the sump.  

We’ll take advantage of that groundwork.

The 2GR also has the advantage of being available with a factory oil cooler that came in Siennas equipped with the towing package. In the factory setup, this oil cooler features a water-cooled heat exchanger, but it doesn’t fit with the headers required for the MR2 swap. So, the fix: Those ports can be rerouted to a conventional oil cooler with an adapter from–no surprise here–Wilhelm Raceworks. We’ve already tracked down the requisite upper oil pan with the ports for the oil cooler. 

Our 2GR came courtesy of a wrecking yard via eBay for $1450. That price included shipping.

Our engine arrived on a pallet from Indiana sporting a bit of oxidation on the aluminum block and heads, but overall looking good, and even sporting the preferred intake manifold. We wrestled it into an upright position, then hoisted it onto the engine stand using a couple hooks fashioned from gate hinges. 

A quick search of the VIN showed that it was from a 2015 Camry with 85,000 miles that had been totaled in a rear-end collision. The car was purchased at auction in May of 2022.

We liked the low mileage, we liked the fact that the car had been hit in the rear, not the front, and we liked the fact that the engine hadn’t sat for too long as this can lead to corrosion on the cylinder walls if valves are left open of if spark plugs are removed. And we also liked the price. 

Our engine also featured the intake manifold widely regarded as the best of the three available for this engine.

This manifold is easily identifiable by the crease between the intake neck and the main plenum, and Wilhelm’s dyno testing has shown that it’s worth nearly 5 peak horsepower over the second-best intake and nearly 8 horsepower over the third-place contender, all with far more advantageous power curves. Check out the curves here.

The green line is the dyno test performed with an intake manifold similar to ours. It provides substantially more power and torque, and a better overall curve, than the other two options. 

When shopping 2GR engines, look for an updated oil line for the VVTi actuator. If the line running to the cam phasers is metal, it’s been updated, meaning it’s either a later engine or the rubber line was replaced through a recall. If the engine still has the older-style, rubber line, the updated piece is available via the Toyota parts counter.

Word on the street says that the 2GR is robust and trouble-free. “I’ve thrown 180,000-mile motors into Lemons cars and just run them and they held up fine,“ says Marc Labranche at Frankenstein Motorworks. “Get the motor, spin the water pump and if it makes noise, replace it. If not, bolt it up and send it.”

That’s a strong recommendation. 

We did take a peek inside out 2GR with our newest favorite toy, a sub-$40 wireless endoscope that connects via W-iFi to a handheld tablet or phone.

Our bargain endoscope made it easy to inspect the engine’s insides. 

We saw typical gentle-use stuff: A little carbon buildup in the center of the pistons and a little gunk around the exhaust valves–clearly Grandma or Grandpa never really felt the need to merge with much aggression. But it’s nothing that a little Seafoam and a good Italian tune-up can’t cure, right?

Inside our new V6 engine, things looked pretty good. If anything, it looked like it had almost been used too gently as there’s a bit of carbon on the piston tops and gunk around the exhaust port. We’ll burn that off quickly, though.  

Now to collect the rest of the parts needed for this swap from Frankenstein Motorworks (although, according to their logo, technically it should be Frankenstein’s Monster’s Motorworks),Wilhelm, and TCS Motorsports. TCS makes a bespoke exhaust Y-pipe designed specifically for this swap.

The best-tested intake manifold for the 2GR-FE is easily identifiable by this crease between the neck and the main plenum.  

Our oil pan came equipped with a bypass for the oil cooler–it’s located bypass located behind those handwritten numbers. We’ll replace it with a pan from a Sienna equipped with a tow package.

We’ll update you on the swap as it progresses but, for now, we have a lot of cleaning, scrubbing and painting to do in the engine bay. 

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BA5 GRM+ Memberand Reader
9/15/22 9:46 a.m.

And, if you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been a GRM subscriber long enough to remember when you blew up a whole bunch of V6s back when you did a Camry project,” well, we did.

I remember that article.  Good times!

Modern japanese V6's seem pretty top notch for mid-engine swaps (and swaps in general!).  I'm a fan of the Honda J series, but the Toyota engines are cool too.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/15/22 10:30 a.m.

When you see the two engines sitting there IRL, then it all makes a lot of sense. 

oldeskewltoy UberDork
9/15/22 10:47 a.m.

How about 440hp from a 2GR..........


Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/15/22 10:47 a.m.

Good title, I came in expecting something like this.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/15/22 10:48 a.m.

In reply to Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) :

That but in red. And with JG driving. 

CrustyRedXpress GRM+ Memberand Dork
9/15/22 1:36 p.m.

And, if you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been a GRM subscriber long enough to remember when you blew up a whole bunch of V6s back when you did a Camry project,” well, we did.

Pepperidge farm remembers. 

Hard not to love the door-hinge-to-carabiner setup!

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
9/15/22 1:45 p.m.
CrustyRedXpress said:

Hard not to love the door-hinge-to-carabiner setup!

One of the best truly clever and useful things I've ever gotten off of YouTube.

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
9/15/22 2:19 p.m.

Yeah I remember the Camry debacle. I was rooting for it because any Camry with an Accusump oil accumulator is serious business. Hopefully this one lives a long healthy life. 

Parker with too many Projects
Parker with too many Projects Dork
9/15/22 3:46 p.m.

With the RPM and torque the Lotus has these pumping out, I've often wondered how it would sound at 8000+ in an S2000...  They're supposedly 20lbs lighter than a K24.

Noddaz GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
9/15/22 8:50 p.m.

I hope this is not the same type of engine that was in the ill-fated Camry project.  Hoping for the best!

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