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Using an MR2 as a donor


New member
Hello all,

For over a decade I've played with the idea of using an MR2 as a donor for the Sterling. Having no car to work with, it's just all been hypothetical.

Obviously, the MR2 is a monocoque chassis, so when you strip off the roof, some sort of custom chassis would need to be built around what's left. Which then begs the question, why not just build a custom frame? My answer is because I feel it would be easier/safer to reinforce an existing frame which is complete with engine/trans/shifter/brakes/electrics/everything - a frame which you know already to be straight and true, rather than starting from scratch, a task which daunts me.

At one point, I thought about making wild body mods to the MR2 and cutting the roof and then grafting in the canopy roof, so what you would have would not be a Sterling, but rather a highly modified canopied MR2. This was because the front firewall and shocktowers of the MR2 would be way too high to accommodate the Sterling body. I wrote a bit about this idea 10 years ago. Please pardon the photoshopping. I was using some freebie software. MR2 conversion

But more recently, I've been thinking that the shocks could be replaced with coil-overs, and a custom shock setup could be built, and the front firewall could be modified, and the radiator sloped as well to accept the Sterling body. I think the advantages of having a modern drivetrain, modern steering, newer gauges, etc, etc would be worth the effort.

Wheelbase VW bug - 94.5
Wheelbase 2nd gen MR2 - 94.5
Wheelbase 3rd gen MR2 - 96.5

The wheelbase match would make me think 2nd gen would be the way to go. Also, they are cheaper, theres SCORES of aftermarket parts, and if they are pre-1996 that means they are not OBD2, which I always find makes cars easier to work on, and if you are going to register it as a modified MR2, you only need to conform to the rules applicable to the year of your car. For example a 3rd gen would require you to keep the airbags working.

However, the 3rd gen is a convertible, and could therefore be more suitable for chopping up. The difference in the wheelbase might be so negligible that you could get away with it, or it might be easier to stretch the body than shorten the chassis if you felt the need to do so. Besides, if you have plans to do some major body reshaping, that might be in the plans anyway.

Now, the Sterling 'tucks in' at the sides quite considerably, thus making the passenger compartment narrower than most newer cars. This is something that would need to be addressed somehow as the MR2 does not.

The track of the MR2 is obviously wider, but then again most Sterlings use spacers or different offsets to compensate for the wider body. Again, I would find this easier to address with body mods and/of wheel choices.

Any thoughts on the merits of this idea?



Honorary Admin
Since a Fiero can be stretched for a Lamborghini conversion, I can't see why a MR2 couldn't the same way. Of course, careful measurements would be in order to make sure it clears critical components (like the dash surround/reinforcement). But I'm a more 'run what you brung' kind of guy - if you don't have something to begin with, why try to force a donor into something it isn't? By the time you spend and the money out on modifying a MR2, a new tube frame could be purchased with suspension components already in place. Then you would simply be sourcing the drivetrain and having far more options open to you.

I know France is a b*tch to try registering a custom car with - a friend of mine is building a Lotus framed and powered Nova there!


New member
I guess my thought was it would be cheaper, and perhaps even a faster process?

Are there VW dimension frames for sale? Most of the ones I've seen are custom built, and the cost is usually quite high for kits being sold with them, so I'm assuming they're not cheap to make. And yes, the custom frame gives you way more options as you can choose everything. But that also means there is a lot more to do. :) By sourcing a running and driving donor, you know you're starting with most of the parts you need to finish.

In my mind, if I went this route, I'd try avoiding shortening/lengthening the donor chassis at all costs. Rather I'd try to modify the Sterling body to fit, and work in some styling mods in to the change.

Where is your friend in France? If he's near, I'd love to go talk cars. and a Lotus donor??? Now thats great.

I see you're in Downingtown. My wife and I just bought a place in Norristown last winter. It was a foreclosure. We fixed it up and rent it out now. I was in PA for 6 months just to find a property to rehab. I totally forgot that farfegnubbin was in central Pa. I think years ago I told him the next time I came back, I'd try to come see him and his cars.


Honorary Admin
:D Geez, Norristown is only about 25 minutes from me - Warren just moved a little closer to me, just northeast of Harrisburg, roughly an hour or so away.

As for the chassis, Dave at Sterling Sports Cars has developed a chassis just for these cars: Tube chassis mid-engine
and is always making improvements and options for other style kits.

As for the fellow with the Lotus build, he can be found here: Euro-Nova - View topic - Jon's Nova. It's an older thread so some of the info isn't there, but he's been posting more frequently lately. Jon's a nice guy, you could PM him off those forums (you have to sign up first) to see if he's willing to have you along to see the build. He lives in Charente-Maritime, which appears to be about 5 hours south of you!


New member
Yes, Downingtown is very close. It's a shame - I was held up by zoning issues with my rehab and spent a month twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do. I never occurred to me to see if other Sterlingites (Sterlerers?, Sterlingists?) would be interested in meeting up.

I'll have to check out that other page and see if I can PM Jon. I was just down that way a couple months ago.

As for the original topic (MR2), I've been digging around on the idea, and found this excerpt from Warren in an old post.

A few years ago there was a Sterling that showed up on Ebay that stated that it was "based on a Toyota MR2 chassis". Speaking for all Sterling enthusiasts who saw it, I can say that I think we were all very curious about this project. Man...if such a swap would work, it could change the game plan for a good many of our projects.

And in that ad, the seller seemed quite confident that "most of the hard work [was] already done" and that "the body just had to be mounted permanently to the chassis."

The problem was that there was no way on earth that the body would fit all the way down onto that chassis, even though the width and length of the chassis were virtually perfect. As such, the body only sat about 80% down onto the chassis. There was no good way to cut out any more of the chassis without rendering it structurally worthless. And there was no way to modify the body to sit lower without either cutting upwards through various areas of the body or glassing downwards to hide the fact that the body was sitting about 8 inches too high.

I wanted that swap to work. If it looked like it could have worked, I probably would've been the guy who bought the project. But it wasn't geometrically working out.

I'd love to see photos if anyone nabbed them off ebay.