Modifying An MR2 The Malaysian Way
Stepping Out From The Shadows

Even though I live in Japan, the motherland of so many great tuning platforms, spotting a first or second generation Toyota MR2 is an extremely rare occurrence. And when I do see one it’s likely to be completely stock (not a bad thing, but hardly feature-worthy), or in a sorry state, like the abandoned AW11 that Dino came across last year.

Despite the original model and subsequent follow-up in the SW20 having proper performance credentials in their top-spec versions, the mid-engined, rear-wheel drive sports cars always lived in the shadows of Toyota’s other performance models of their era, including the AE86 and Supra. But today, those that own them know exactly how special they are.


On my recent trip to Malaysia, I had the opportunity to meet one such owner, John Toh.

When John was looking for a car to buy and over time modify, the SW20 was right at the top of his list. Some of the best Japanese automotive styling came out of the ’80s and ’90s, and the second-gen MR2 is no exception.


I mean, who doesn’t like pop-up headlights and a targa top?

It’s All in the Nostalgic Details

Since we are on the subject of styling, it only seems appropriate to take a look at the more obvious changes that John has made to his MR2 first. So let’s start with the bodywork.


The body kit was built by his friends over at Al Motorsports, and combines aspects of both the TRD 2000GT kit and Rocket Bunny aero.

The thought of marrying up the square TRD kit with rounded over-fenders doesn’t sound like it would make much sense, but I think the look that’s been created is pretty cool. Through it all John wanted a real race look for the car, and with accents in the form of a front splitter, canards, side skirt extensions and a rear diffuser, the inspiration is obvious. Taking things one step further is a livery borrowed from the Marlboro-sponsored 1996 McLaren F1 GTR that dominated the BPR GT series.


The massive GT wing, which bolts to the MR2’s frame through custom mounts only reinforces the theme.


The MR2 is lowered on coilovers, with 18-inch Work Meisters finishing things off nicely.


Race car interiors are often spartan, but John’s is pretty much the opposite of that. Features include an Illest x Bride Low Max bucket seat, Momo steering wheel, and more auxilary gauges than I’ve ever seen.

Gauge overload is something I actually saw a lot of in Malaysia and Thailand too. It’s a great throwback to JDM tuning in the ’90s when you could never have too many gauges atop your dash or in your glovebox.

The Hunt For Power

The SW20’s styling potential wasn’t the only thing that ticked the box for John – it had the performance potential too. The factory-fitted 3S-GTE wasn’t in great shape when he picked up the car, but during John’s ownership it’s been given a whole new lease on life.


Remove the custom rear cover and it’s easy to see that the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is now far from stock.


Well, it was 2.0-liter previously, but thanks to an HKS stroker kit (that’s pistons, rods and crank), it’s now stretched to 2.2-liters. There’s also Toda cams, a GReddy T518Z turbocharger on a custom long-branch manifold running an external wastegate, and Sard 540cc injectors. Tuned through a Link Atom G4 engine management system and with 1.3bar (19psi) of boost dialed up, John says the setup is making 320whp, which is more than enough to keep things interesting.


Five years of work have gone into this MR2 so far, but I doubt John will ever truly be finished. We all know how that story goes, right?


But when he’s not modifying or driving the MR2, John has another toy to play with. And he had his daily/drift car (two words I usually wouldn’t associate together) on hand for me to take a look at too. Stay tuned for a feature on that build in the near future.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography

Special thanks to Aylezo for opening their doors for us to shoot on a busy weekday.

More stories from Malaysia on Speedhunters



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I don't get the livery, but each to their own.
What I really like is how those front fenders integrate the canards so well, matching the angles perfectly. It's that attention to detail that sets the build apart.


This is wild and I absolutely love it.


Kinda busy with all the bells and whistles. Then again, that is something personal.
The the car really being driven hard, consider it has all the hp and wings?


Love this build to death but how do you see out of the windshield? Hahaha


The Malay way to modify a car: loud obnoxious body work, throw a ton of money on aerodynamic pieces that don't function "because race cars" and then throw the cheapest tires you can possibly afford which are the only thing that actually separate all those "modifications" to the ground?

I'll pass on this and rocket bunny and air ride and any other crap we try to disguise with a cool name to sell the kids some stickers. There's a name for this: rice. Call it what it is.


why there is always your negative comment available in most of the posts here? sure you may dislike the cars but to comment negatively in almost every post, is that your life?

do you enjoy living like that? always being negative?


The amount of estrogen floating around internet comment sections is on a rise this morning, according to new data obtained by the BBC in which scientists studied peoples reactions to a man named John B on #speedhunters.

Full report tonight *pop corn* *eurobeat intensifies*

Martín Brandán

Racist AND misogynist. God you're such a loser. The car is clearly loved dearly by its owner, and is impressive to behold. Don't be lame.


and to complete the circle, your initial comment for the car have racist/derogatory undertone whether you realized it or not.


Send a lawyer. This all sounds terribly serious.


nah, no need to spend such resource to a cranky old man that have nothing and hide his crankiness under a layer of sarcasm.


Hahaha fucking square. Piss off.


Michelin cheapest tire ? We don't live in the same planet


they are continental's with stickers


Respraying tires is a mod now. You just have to laugh sometimes guys.


Not a huge MR2 guy but damn that is a nice build! Also, cant wait for his daily/drift car.


Call me a pedantic but the word Malaysian might be a better word for the title as the owner of this car seems to be a Malaysian Chinese instead of a Malaysian Malay.

I could be wrong though.


Yeah... not to be too pedantic but Malay is an ethnicity and Malaysian is a nationality


That's a very valid point that I didn't think about. Definitely won't make that mistake again ^^

Joakim Karlsson

Really like this wild build!


Loving the A31, more on this please.


Maybe a little less would be so much more. Less stuff not less wild

Eddie Kizenberger Jr.

Yeah, i'll have to pass on this one. Looks like a pep boys special


Haters gon Hate... Nice car John, can't wait for your next feature!


Looks like a moving Asian grocery shop with overdose of components and fake parts... most obvious would be that work meister wheels are replicas from China maybe...


"Maybe?" If you don't know for sure whether they're fake, why call him out on it? Also, there are certain countries in that area where parts like that suffer insane taxes that kill the value in obtaining them.


They are fake obviously, I am saying it may be made of China. If you can't even distinguish a real work meister vs a fake meister, you are just a novice


Made of China? How do you make a wheel out of a country? My mind is so blown right now.


Put China on to the machine and just run it, simple.


Great article as always Ron! However, the title should be 'The Malaysian way' as opposed to the Malay way. Malaysian citizens are called Malaysians and Malay is one of the three biggest races in Malaysia.


Thank you and yes I noticed that it should have been the Malaysia way vs Malay. Didn't take the cultural aspect into mind which was my bad


stop! collaborate and listen. RICE is back with a brand new invention


Body work looks really well done. I'd love to see it without the livery and all the stickers.


Annnndddd minus the overloaded gauge annnddddd relocated the fire extinguisher pleaseeeee... Andddd.... Let other guy below continue...


"Body work"


There's obviously a lot of attention to detail in the bodywork, but then there's this-- a flare that is a total mess, with the ragged edges just hanging there. I know, sometimes accidents happen and we don't have time to fix them before photoshoots. But that seems like a stretch in this case. It could at least have been cut cleanly at the spot where it was broken, using any number of hand tools.

Did anyone ask the owner if he can actually see out his cluttered windshield? I'm guessing there are both too many gauges AND too many stickers. Each to his own, when it comes to modding a car that is built to be driven...unless one's taste makes it completely unsafe to drive.


dont dig it. this will shame a jeepney in Manila.


You are aware that those "Works" are fake right?


Damn You're right


RICER alert

Dieter Verscheure

think you need to learn what Ricer means. before you troll someone.


Im not a Ricer expert, maybe you can teach me more about that shifu.


All it needs is spinners


Stock 3SGTE gen 3: 260hp
3SGTE + HKS 2.2l + T518Z + Toda cams + 540cc injector + Link G4 ecu + Apexi safc (redundant, but whatever) = 320hp?


You forgot to add the total number of decals.. This car prolly make 500hp or more.


This joke is so tired and stepped on. If you're going to try to troll the owner of this vehicle, at least try to be somewhat creative.


So Close........Needs a little dose of "less is more"

Also where is the rest of the power? Stroker, T51Z, Link G4 and cams, should be close to double what it is........


Why put a Mclaren Honda livery on a Toyota???


McLaren BMW if anything. It’s the GT series car whose livery is used, rather than the F1 car of the late 80s:


I'm all about respecting builds of all styles and walks of life, and this guy has without a doubt a lot of time and effort to do up his MR2 the way he envisioned. But what what does it say of speedhunters if cars sporting cheap knock-off wheels getting features up here? I've always dreamt of having my build gracing the pages of this amazing page someday, putting together what I thought would be speedhunters-worthy to the global eye, but now I'm not sure if I even want to anymore...


A31 cefiro with a face swap? Neat

Dieter Verscheure

Love it, but seriously, does he have enough gauges? lol


Wild! haha Those gauges and front windshield stickers! What!


no mention on the hood/snorkel air intake?? :( that stands out on an mr2.


The frunk “front trunk” is something I want to do. It routes the air that goes through the radiator up instead of below the car. The “snorkel” on the rear deck lid is obviously for the trunk mounted intercooler. You didn’t see the IC piping go into the trunk on the engine pictures?


I think he meant what brand.


Does anyone know where that hood vent in the front came from? I am almost sure that this part was not made for the MR2. I like it.


looks like made for Lotus Exige or Elise...


So...Michelin, Bridgestone or Continental? All brand are on the car...he is using Continentals with Michelin tire He is running a V-AFC and a AFC controller...for his 'V-Tec'??? Wtf? Also what kind of fluids is this guy using? I see maybe Mobil 1 and Castrol? Also, fake Work wheels, not surprised by that given everything else shown here....Literally slapped together...


So... a ricer?




The post title is such a degrading accuse to the car enthusiasts in Malaysia... not every Malaysian will mod their car in such way... there are really tastefully modded ride in Malaysia.


nice ride


Would love to see the car without stickers and just one color paint, that would look cool. Nice build on a not so commonly used platform.


Guys, where is article about cefiro? I tried to find some info, but find only some photos.