Now that Toyota’s Gazoo Racing faucet is gradually winding open and the flow of hot halo models gathers pace, it would be easy to ignore the many cogs in the high-performance machine that lead to its present-day portfolio.
While GR takes centre stage with the Supra and Yaris, there have been a number of companies and branches that formed essential pieces of the puzzle, and will forever be an indelible part of the Toyota racing heritage with their own incredible cars.
Along with Toyota Racing Development (TRD), Tom’s Racing and Dome, Sigma Advanced Racing Development (SARD) forms an important part of the Japanese brand’s high-performance heritage.
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But one particular facet of SARD’s legacy has recently resurfaced confirming that possibly the most outlandish and potent ‘production’ MR2 ever built is still very much alive and well.
The SARD MC8-R
While Toyota was powering on with its own Le Mans 24 Hour campaign in the 1990s, SARD decided it was time for its own assault on the world’s greatest GT endurance race. But as well as developing its own interpretation of Toyota’s Supra LM, it also went an entirely different route with a second model.
With a mid-mounted engine, the SW20 MR2 made more sense than the Supra as a blank canvas in the eyes of SARD’s engineers and the company set about creating a version with a 40mm stretched chassis, 20mm widened track with fatter arches, 20mm lower ride height and aggressive aerodynamics.
But most significant was its heart transplant. In place of the standard four-cylinder MR2 engine, SARD made enough space to accommodate the 1UZ-FE 4.0-litre V8 borrowed from the Lexus LS 400 (XF10).
Had SARD left the engine in standard trim, it would have been a largely fruitless exercise with little power gain over the MR2 Turbo of the same year, which is why the race tuner bolted its own twin turbocharger system to the V8, blasting power up to 450kW.
You might think that a turbo V8-powered, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive monster would take the fight to even the heavyweights at La Sarthe, but it didn’t.
Reliability problems plagued the MC8-R, shifting classes meant it couldn’t match the newer GT1 cars, and even a serious fire prevented any meaningful results.
But there is one part of the story that has sweeter resounding memories.
For the Frankenstein MR2 to enter Le Mans, SARD had to produce a road-going version. This might have proven an unfeasibly expensive exercise, but unlike the more stringent homologation rules of today, just one example was required to comply.
It didn’t get the fire-breathing forced induction of the race car, but the ‘production’ MC8 shared virtually all other modifications, including slipperier enclosed headlights in place of the pop-ups, huge bonnet cooling channels, bigger brakes and extensive chassis modifications including pushrod suspension.
It’s still one of the most mental and ostentatious MR2s ever made.
Some original parts carried over from the standard MR2 including rear lights, doors, front indicator units and a largely unchanged interior, but almost everything else was rethought, redesigned or simply tipped into the skip.
But unlike so many almost mythical motoring legends, the MC8 did not fade from memory stuffed away in a private collection or forgotten in an unknown barn waiting to be unearthed many decades later.
This automotive one-off is still in action and has recently resurfaced after a nervous hiatus.
Hunted down and captured by shakotantoday.com, the only road-going MC8 is still on the road and, well, going. After a brief appearance in 2015 when it was thought to change hands, the mad MR2 is back out on Japanese streets being regularly driven by its new owner and it’s looking better than ever.
The non-standard white mirrors have been swapped back to black standard MR2 parts and it appears to have undergone a significant tidy up. The wheel centres are still silver and not the original black and the original grille-mounted fog lamps are still missing, but the MC8’s current owner is clearly preserving this piece of Toyota and SARD motoring heritage.
Little is known about this unique car’s early life including why it was first registered in 1994 in the UK, nor where it has been hiding in the ensuing decades, but it looks like its future is safe in the hands of a loving owner.
Follow this incredible car into its next chapter @mc8_channel