There’s a Crazy Group of Toyota MR2 Off-Roaders in the UK

Fitted with underbody protection, low-ratio gearboxes, and heavy-duty clutches, these unlikely off-roaders are surprisingly great.

byKristin V. ShawJun 3, 2022 1:24 PM
There’s a Crazy Group of Toyota MR2 Off-Roaders in the UK
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London's Motor Cycling Club hosted its first Land's End Trial in 1908. Only wartime has paused the event that attracts intrepid riders on two, three, and four wheels, with a few of the vehicles being nearly as old as the off-road challenge itself. Knobby tires hunt for traction on rocky hillsides and teeter near soaring cliffs over 24 hours as riders pick their way through the 338-mile race with tired eyes.

In the four-wheel segment, the cars aren't what many would consider off-road ready. There are some like the Fiat-built Ford Ka subcompact, supermini Peugeot 206, Volkswagen Golf, Citroen Saxo, and multiple Toyota MR2s. In fact, five MR2s of various model years were entered in this year’s Lands End Trial on Easter weekend, including the open-top, two-seat, third-generation version driven by 73-year-old Barrie Parker.

Parker has owned his MR2 for seven years in all. He sold it to a friend, bought it back, and has piloted the car in 30 contests so far.

The Land's End Trial runs various classes, and entries are determined by off-road experience and car preparation. In Class O, for example, the MCC recommends “some under-body protection, sump guard, and fuel tank guard.” Taking it up a notch to Class 1 necessitates additional spare wheels, strengthened driveshafts and differentials, and an air compressor for inflating tires. Parker said he raised his Toyota's suspension by three or four inches, fitted bigger wheels and tires, and has two spare wheels on the back with ballast in the trunk to minimize slippage.

So far, Parker's unlikely off-roader is performing admirably and forged ahead to earn a gold prize.

“I’ve had lots of tire damage but no mechanical failures whatsoever, except for one differential,” he told Toyota UK Magazine. “All I do is jet-wash it, clean it, and check it over. It’s a superb car.”

The route’s first segment entails a ride to Bridgewater, an “easy 95 miles to confirm that all competitors’ machines are in fine working order” by the light of the moon. Land's End is meant to be a challenging trial and includes rocky outcroppings and steep hills, and onlookers line the final knolls of Blue Hills. This final proving ground is on private clifftop land owned by the MCC, etched into the horizon and backed by the sea.

UK resident Kevin Sharp used to compete in a Suzuki X90 and bought an MR2 in 2018 for the equivalent of about $1,000. He said it was "slightly tatty, needed a gearbox, and quite a lot of work," but he was sold. Then he convinced his friend Roger Beaumont to buy one, and they competed together.

“They’re now fitted with low-ratio gearboxes, stronger driveshafts, and heavy-duty clutches–I annihilated mine the first time out. Today was my worst showing for a while. I failed three sections. All driver errors, rookie errors,” Beaumont said. “But it was also one of the most enjoyable runs. The weather was fantastic–we ran all night with the roof down. It was a joy.”

It's fun to imagine what this event was like 100 years ago, long before the MR2 was born. Then again, it doesn't get much better than mid-engined roadsters scurrying through the countryside.

Got a tip? Send it to kristin.shaw@thedrive.com.