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1987 NH AW11 Restoration + Modifications

1719 Views 31 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  init6
Single Thread to document restoring the 1987 MR2 I picked up.

Solid roof, NA, Automatic, 180k miles

Purchased: June 25th, 2022
Original Color: White
Original Dealership: Rochester, NH
First owner had the car registered up until 2008 and sold it to a gentleman in Maine in May 2022 as a package deal with an equally old Tacoma
Second owner fixed up the fuel pump, cleaned up the brakes and spark plugs

For all intents and purposes he only had it a month so I'm claiming this is a two owner car now.

Initially known fixes needed - rust on the rear left quarter panel (wheel well and behind the mud flap
Leaking radiator
Rust spots on body
Broken antenna
Broken light switch knob
Aftermarket fog light removal (wires just chilling loose in the frunk)
Re-wire aftermaket stereo speakers behind door cards instead of in front....
New headunit with Android Auto

ECU swap
Individual Throttle Body/Velocity Stacks
Coil on Plug
Widebody fender flares (woodsport)
Swap to a candy apple red color
Wider Wheel/Tire package
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Restoration Day 1 - Radiator pulled, only one bolt head broke off, pictures of the underbody. Looks like the underbody is in real good shape, most of the rust underneath is surface rust on the oil pan and transmission
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Nice! Another MKI Restoration project! Oof that rust... but honestly expected worse if it was a predominantly NH car!! I wish you luck on the effort!! Will follow and see what you run into as well!
Week 1 update:
Radiator has been replaced with an aluminum ebay special from China, lighter but not 100% the same fit and missing the bleeder nozzle used when refilling the coolant.
Eliminating the coolant leak means the idle no longer pulses with overheating

New-found treasures:
Cracked Trim:
  • Both C-Pillars
  • multiple dash cracks
  • stereo/HVAC trim panel is cracked in multiple places including the top screw hole anchors
  • dome light cover disintegrated when I just touched it
  • revealing a lack of a dome light bulb
  • Roof antenna is snapped at the roof and dangling
  • Rear trunk release in the cabin doesn't do anything and now the key won't turn
  • Aftermarket Stereo doesn't work after pulling aftermarket fog light wiring...coincidence?
  • One of the heavy rust pictures above is the rear motor mount
  • handbrake doesn't ratchet...previous owner hooning mod....or brake cables bad....let's hope its the first one
  • passenger front parking lamp/turn signal needs to be replaced (NBD)
  • Coolant overflow tank cap has a broken nozzle

Actual welcome surprises
  • Spare wiper and headlamp knobs were in the ashtray (win since the original headlight knob was broken
  • Misread the odometer from a picture taken from an angle as's actually 80k!!!!!
  • two aftermarket amps, subs, midrange speakers and tweeters are installed (but janky)

Sooo in otherwords, the engine turns over and sounds great...but I have a lot of little "amenities" to address that will involve removing a lot of work on an aging interior. I shudder at how many more cracked plastic items will come out of this, both already cracked and just ready to go if I look at it wrong.

Good news...I should have a 3d Printer come the fall...hopefully most of the broken pieces can be replaced with a "new" print.
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If you have a lock that will not operate with the key, first try squirting some WD-40 into the lock, and then work the key in and out a few times to see if you can free up the tumblers.
If you have a lock that will not operate with the key, first try squirting some WD-40 into the lock, and then work the key in and out a few times to see if you can free up the tumblers.
First thing I tried :p I only had one of the keys, going to try the other one when I bring the car home this weekend now that the radiator is addressed (bought it near my hometown when visiting family and didn't want to hit the highway without coolant)
Week 2:
Radio magically started working again - will need to check all the wiring in the future
First test drive after replacing the radiator - no leaks and fan still working, but the serpentine drive belt shredded itself, no surprise there given how long it sat. Will be replacing it prior to the drive back to NH where I can give the car more thorough TLC.
First attempt at repainting the wiper arms was rushed and will need to be redone.

Immediate Next Steps:
  • Replace serpentine belt
  • Oil Change
  • Replace Transmission fluid
  • Replace Brake Fluid
  • Tackle the Emergency Brakes not working (hoping its just detached cables)
  • Auto Body shop estimate for addressing body rust (and quote a full repaint)

Trunk still not operating after another dose of WD-40, hoping to be able to find the pull cable under the driver's seat which doesn't appear to be attached just to swap out the air filter and replace the nonworking right rear indicator light.
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Looking at the 1988 manual, is removing the water pump pulley the best way to swap out the drive belt or is there another easier method/trick? Don't have A/C so its just the belt around the crank, water pump, and alternator.
The alternator is the tensioner. Loosen the bolts, and it pivots in.
Awesome thanks, now I just need to figure out how to shrink and double joint my arms to work in the engine bay :)
yeah, think this needed to be replaced, one rear indicator light and she'll be ready to come home finally
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Sadly the trunk had for rust spots under the weather stripping that meant rain water had just been draining right into it. Just tossed all of the soggy moldy carpet lining, hopefully that was also where the ants were nesting... Glad to have gotten to it before it affected the wiring harness (I hope).
For the keys, Pull the pass door lock and a smith can get the numbers from that to make a new key with the proper pin heights. Typical problem with old keys, being a softer metal than the tumbler pins, they wear out.

Aftermarket ECU? For a stock engine?
ITBs on a stock engine?
Take my word for it, not worth the extra time and money. Build the engine for it so you don't get disappointed. A good match for a 2 is a 7AGE build. You can get enough from a decent 7A build to mke you forget about ITBs and an aftermarket ECU on a stock engine.

Gotta pardon me on the whole 7AGE thing, it's a good alternative to a 4AGE and it doesn't take much more than building a 4AGE. Some say it's a waste of time, but the torque gains are well worth it,
The trunk is operating again, I think the cable pull had the latch release gummed up rather than a tumbler/key issue, I went after the disconnected cable under the driver's seat and it must have loosened up whatever was stuck when I tried reconnecting it to the lever.

I'm an IT guy and no mechanic, so this car is really for me to dip my toes in and learn some new skills, hence the wants list above being mostly add-ons/swaps of things with the engine in the car with space to grow. But once I get more comfortable who knows? Just saw the g16e AE86 swap on Youtube, maybe the 7AGE will be a stepping stone to even more ;)

Overall very happy to have a "simpler" machine to start on, no power steering, it's not supercharged, no A/C to contend with, don't have to learn all the computer stuff right off the bat, etc. In any case, mods are less about squeezing torque and power, but just building my own skills while watching too many Rob Dahm Computer guy turned wrench head videos. That and better gas mileage than my 2013 Frontier.

Definitely appreciate the ideas though, keep them coming!
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I always recommend to new 2 owners, learn to drive the little beast before you do any mods. Freshen the suspension and get the engine running right and learn the ins and outs of the car's personality. The MR2 is like a befriended feral cat, it can turn on you in less than a heartbeat. As the song goes, "You can't hurry love".
Developpe a good relationship before you get her a diamond.
Very much appreciated and yes, first up is just getting it healthy so I can see what the blank slate is and get used to it and really figure out what I want to modify from there.

I'm expecting it to be wildly different from the FF 3000GTs I grew up with, much lighter and simpler, and amazingly not as cramped in the engine bay. But a complete 180 weight and power distribution wise.

Also not in a rush to have the power on tap that landed me with a suspended license and $500 speeding fine that I had in my 20s.

Overall goal: learn to wrench + fun

Priority 1: fun in the Twisties - suspension and learning the handling

Priority 2: Sounds and conveniences - intake/exhaust, eye candy, and interior amenities

Priority 3: Modifications
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Yeah IMHO the MKI MR2 is akin to a nimble go-kart in comparison to the 3000GT! That's why I've tried to have both a MKI and MKII as well. The MKIs are SO much FUN! Some go out and start all the suspension and big tires, but I've found it kind of ruins it for me. It's a good platform to learn mid-engine on!
Going from a 3000gt to an AW11? A good transition would be to get a Toyota mini truck first. Go from a lead brick to a brick to an MR2.

Our, USDM, MR2s only have 112-115hp and that is enough to get you into big trouble. Doesn't help with it being a sporty little tuner car. Getting an MR2 is like painting a target on your back. These days cops can't tell them apart from Ferrarris or Lamborghinis. I get followed all the damn time.

At least in my TE31 Corolla they leave me alone.
Lol the 3000GTs were my parents cars which I got to drive before I moved out in my 20s...mix of Subarus, Suzukis, amongst others since then. My daily is a frontier and I just resuscitated their last 3000gt last year which sat unused for 10 years. Happened across this one on the side of the road and got the itch to own my own classic Japanese sports car and something simpler to work on.

But yes, this is a huge departure from the boat anchors and AWD so no rush to drive this thing too fast. No stranger to police attention after the bright red 3000gt in my high school years. Funny enough I got pulled over in the MR2 already today because he couldn't read my paper plates while I wait for the real ones to be sent to me.
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