By on May 18, 2011

“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.

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9 Comments on “Twin-Engined Toyota Racer Works Fine, Confounds Self-Proclaimed Experts...”

  • avatar

    Reminds me of the old (dual matching engines, both with slushboxes) C&D CRX from 1985.–twin.html

    “We’re convinced that no such (synchronization) equipment is necessary. The link between the two powerplants (other than the throttle and the shifter cables) is the road. Unless there is tire slippage, both engines run at the same rpm and both transmissions shift simultaneously all by themselves. One engine may be working slightly harder than the other at any given time, but this hasn’t yet caused any ill effect.”

    The twin CRX started with two stock CRX powertrains, and was later upgraded to two accord powertrains. In the comment of the linked-to article a poster writes about owning the CRX2.

  • avatar

    I love stories like this. I wish I had even half the ingenuity these guys do.

    (I remember reading an article about a Nova (I think it was) that was powered by two 4.3L Vortec engines mounted inline.)

  • avatar

    So cool. And in an era where everyone from Saab to Peugeot is trying the “front-drive-gas, rear-drive-electric” AWD concept, it’s surprisingly relevant to the modern industry as well. Great stuff!

  • avatar

    Next on th’ LeMons Channel: Flying Yugos and DeLorean submarines!

  • avatar

    The next logical step would be 4 Wheel Steering. The MR2’s rear knuckles can turn as they’re really Corolla front knuckles. Just replace the MR2’s rear tie rods with a Corolla rack…

    Only I don’t understand why they didn’t stay in the race with the ‘rod knocking’ engine turned off and its trans in neutral? That’s one of the advantages of two complete drivetrains, no? I mean aside from 50/50 weight distribution and V8 power.

    • 0 avatar

      The engine that had the rod knock was the one with an automatic trans. You don’t want to flat tow an automatic for a long time at high speed. Without the engine running, the pump isn’t circulating trans fluid so the trans will overheat. At least that is the case for most automatics.

      If the engine that they had to shut down had been the one with a stick, they probably would’ve been fine to keep driving. of course, they may have been able to keep the rear engine running in neutral and disconnect the throttle linkage so it just idled, with little chance of it grenading due to the rod knock.

    • 0 avatar

      “The next logical step“

      lulz You should start a LeMons team.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Über cool. Those guys rule. I was looking forward to know how it ended.

    Those things must have a design problem back there that makes them chew rod bearings every time, with whatever motor is there.

  • avatar

    The rod knock was really just the rear engine running cold due to ambient temp at night and no thermostat. Going back to the hotel for a shower and a few hours sleep fixed it.

    We were prepared and half expected to finish the race on one engine. One issue would be the shared fuel pump depends on the rear engine running, but we brought another connector ready to wire to the front engine if it were the survivor.

    Also I understand that you can’t just drag an automatic in neutral without it overheating so were were ready to cut the axles. The hubs require at least a stub to hold the bearings together.

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