Updated: Sep 2, 2019
We are quickly getting away from the connection between a driver and the road. The intricate and delicate conversation between a vehicle and it's driver seems to be as detached as a text message left unread. Their is a movement within the car community that holds on to the ethos of being connected with the machines we drive, hence we seek out some of the greatest hits of yesteryear to retain that spirit.
Matt Bartolomeo has a story that is common to most but potentially not shared enough, a young father forced to give up on material objects to help provide for his family; only to come full circle and acquire what he always wanted...an SW20 MR2. The spark for a rear engine, two seat sports car was inspired by his son's affinity for everything #JDM while growing up as a teenager. The Initial D videos, imported magazines, Instagram pages full of cool cars from the other side of the world all rekindled what was a desire to purchase a car that was always in the back of Matt's mind. Having tasted some sportiness in the form of a BMW sedan just years ago, it came to a point in his life that Matt could justify owning the #Toyota MR2 that was on the cover of Road and Track 28 years ago.
Most builds are seen as starting with a clean slate and then creating one's own masterpiece, others are what could be considered a rescue mission. A black 1992 Toyota MR2 equipped with a stock 5S engine popped up for sale, the perfect base for what Matt had envisioned...short of some modifications that would have to be undone before he could enjoy it. The car was in good shape but had some of the late 90's/early 2000's modifications we all have come to find a bit tasteless, 19 inch rims, clear lenses, Autozone sourced steering wheel, a Crown Royal shift boot, and some badly adjusted coilovers. While many wouldn't see this as a good starting point, a plan set to return this ride to it's past glory.
The first year of ownership consisted of bringing the MR2 to OEM configuration, replacing the wheels, realigning the front end and painting the hood, changing the steering wheel, and generally getting the car roadworthy. The 5S powerplant has always been known to be durable but even after installing bolt on parts like an exhaust and intake, Matt sought more...he wanted MR2 turbo power in the form of the 3SGTE; until he discovered the #Beams 3SGE.
High revving and modern for it's time, the dual VVT-i equipped Beams #3SGE is good for about 190-210 naturally aspirated horsepower depending on the application, exactly what this car needed. So with the help of some friends Matt picked up a Beams swap and dropped it in the rear of his beloved car, it changed the dynamics and it's potential for speed. This engine was a bit more special as it actually came out of one of the limited number of 1998 SW20's originally equipped with a Red-top Beams from Japan, this included the S54 LSD transmission, subframe, axles, shifter cables and even brake calipers. While under the knife, the car had an Exedy clutch and #Fujitsubo Legalis R exhaust attached to it along with a #Magnaflow Cat to add character but not attract too much unwanted attention. On the intake side a custom setup was made which included tubing and a larger throttle body from a GS300, this coincided with a few other modifications that needed to be done to fit an early SW20 with an OBD-2 specific engine, a custom wiring harness by WireGap.
As a weekend car and part-time autocross competitor, this MR2 also benefits from #Tein Street Basis coil-overs with a 4kg front spring rate and a 7kg rear spring rate. Maintaing the balance between street and cone attacking are a set of Stop-Tech drilled and slotted with rotors along with ceramic brake pads. Stability is handled by #Cusco in the form of Type-OS front and rear strut bars that keep each corner communicating with each other as the Tein Camber plates angle the wheels to where they get the best usable contact.
Styling on a car can make or break a build, the MR2 is such a sleek design that it looks modern even by today's standards, so keeping it period correct is the usually the best option. Lowered but not slammed, this midship-runabout sits on SSR Longchamps XR-4S Type C 15" 7.5JJ +25 up front and SSR MK-1 Type C 15" 8.0JJ +12 out back with 5mm and 20mm spacers respectively; wrapped with stretched Toyo Proxes T1R 185/55R15 for the perfect fit. On the front end a set of JDM OEM SW20 turn signal lenses replace the clear set from the previous owner, and a Japanese 5-letter vanity plate in reference to Initial D is held up by a ZZW front plate bracket. Aside from an imported Techno Pro Spirits windshield banner, the car retains it's natural silhouette with a form fitting OEM wing that grows from the rear haunches of the car.
Inside where most drivers spend their time, Matt has installed not only an OEM MR2 steering wheel, but a pair of Recaro SR3 seats with a very 90's Rainbow/Crayola pattern. Being fairly tall, Matt also modified some Wedge Engineering seat brackets with Recaro sliders so he can fit inside with a helmet on; while Targa's are a great novelty they can take away an inch or two of usable head clearance. A modified tachometer with state of the art electrical tape moving the red-line to where it is on the Beams engine takes care of the 90's spec driver's aides and a Kenwood head unit takes care of the tunes...both old and new.
Overall the #MR2 is a classic car that provides an exotic car experience, this comes from a time where Toyota built cars that rivaled the in-car experience only seen from luxury marques. Keeping the spirit of a car when building it can be troublesome, a chassis along with the engine that powers it gives a vehicle it's identity. What Matt has done here is make a childhood dream come true by purchasing his MR2 but by building it to complement the Beams 3SGE, he has brought out the true spirit of the chassis making it a high-revving back-roads attack specialist. The joy of driving is doing just that, taking four wheels and putting them to the road and learning about yourself and the car you drive, that's the spirit!