“How will you sync the engines?” whined the naysayers when they heard about the plan to weld an ’89 Corolla front half to an ’87 MR2 rear half. “How will you cool it? The handling will be terrible! It’ll never work!” If there’s one thing that 24 Hours of LeMons racing has taught the automotive world, it’s that the experts’ preconceptions can be thrown right out the window when it comes time to drop a cheap race car into the crucible of an all-weekend-long road race. For example, who would have imagined that Chevy small-block and Honda B engines would turn out to be among the most fragile in the crapcan endurance racing world? And who would have imagined that the DoubleSuck MR2olla would do so well at the notoriously car-killing Reno-Fernley Raceway?
To avoid the nightmare of trying to get a single shifter and clutch pedal to control two drivetrains, the DoubleSuck team decided to use an automatic transmission on the rear 4AGE and a manual transmission on the front 4AGE. When driving, the rear tranny goes into Drive and the driver shifts the front transmission normally.
Rather than trying to merge two electrical systems, the DoubleSuck designers opted to keep the front and rear systems separate. Two alternators, two batteries, two kill switches.
The cockpit features two shifters and two instrument clusters. To get the complete build story from the geniuses responsible for this innovative racin’ machine, check out the Verbose Beater website.
So we’ve got two 112-horsepower engines, one transmission shifting for itself and the other controlled by the driver, and weight distribution unlike anything Toyota ever considered building. How does it drive? We conned LeMons Supreme Court Circuit Judge and Index of Effluency-winning Renault 4CV racer Rich into putting on his gear and strapping himself into the MR2olla for a few test laps on Saturday; here are his impressions:
I was prepared for the worst, strange torsional stiffness, pirate-ship-under-stress creaking, disturbing bump steer, maybe a car that pulls viciously and doglegs down the road or the worst, has transition from predictable traction to some kind of wall seeking mission abort mode. Maybe it would behave like an AWD car where the center differential had just gone schizophrenic. I had no idea.
Looking at the dash was both amusing and intimidating. One set of 3 pedals, check. Two gauge clusters… mmmm ok. Two ignition switches, ha ha, and wait… what’s this? Ah, two shift levers. One has a 5 speed pattern on top, and the other has a button on the side. Oh this should be entertaining.
I was given proper flight instruction by a very generous, but slightly nervous team captain. He didn’t know what kind of yahoo was getting into the car that he had no doubt spent many sleep deprived nights putting together. “The rear engine is the loud one, we just improvised a cherry bomb exhaust. The front engine (with manual trans) is quiet, so you really have to watch the tach.” Ok, I think I’ll try to err on the side of much too high of a gear. You can usually lug a motor without hurting it.
Oh boy, the last thing I want to do is blow up these dude’s car.
So I was off.
I had the advantage at least of knowing the track, having raced there 2 years before. As I accelerated to merge with traffic I made my first mistake. I was thinking about the MR2 I had years ago and expected similar acceleration. This was wrong and I very rapidly ran out of first gear. Ok, lets go straight to 3rd.
For the first few laps I ambled around the track, generally staying to the outside and allowing the chuckleheads I had been punishing moments before to blow on by in their rat race. My comfort level with the car quickly improved and I actually started to push it a bit.
Remember 1993? Remember being broke, and having an 80’s hatch that you could only afford a couple improvements on? Remember having that hatch packed full of your friends and taking off for some party and deciding to impress them on that twisty on-ramp? Maybe you don’t, but a Corolla with an engine in the back or a Mr. 2 with an engine in the front would kinda handle like that with one notable exception. If you’re paying attention to the tach (remember that?) and you’ve been putting the quiet engine in the powerband, this baby would pull.
This car was as predictable as your beloved old hatch full of your moron friends, but it had a 3.2 liter 8 cylinder motor made into a dipole. The scary creaky machine I feared turned out to be a predictable little car that could really pull up the hill and exit corners with some gusto.
After about 5 or 8 laps I started getting a bit more brave with it and I had to remind myself: “wait, this isn’t my car, these aren’t my tires, and I’ll never hear the end of it if the guest judge gets a black flag for 2 wheels off, it’s time to come in”
With some debugging and a little more shade-tree engineering, this amazing little machine will be quite a contender. I look forward to the day when LeMons is all cars that exhibit creativity like this. Tip your hats to Volatile RAM Racing!
The MR2olla’s best lap time of 2:47 wasn’t exactly scorching (the quickest lap of the race was a 2:30), but the car is going to get considerably quicker once refinements inspired by a weekend of real racing get incorporated into the design. The MR2olla developed a rod knock in the rear engine late Saturday night, and so the team opted to avoid a track oil-down and parked it until a few laps before the checkered flag. 56th place out of 72, but all signs point to a strong performance at the next West Coast LeMons race.