Tired of driving around in the same, boring cars as everyone else, Thailand-based Karn Mathanung turned back the clock to create this bonkers tribute to his favourite era of tuning: the wonderfully eclectic 1990s…
Call us old fuddy-duddys if you must, but you’ll hear the phrase ‘They don’t make cars like they used to’ bandied about at least a few times a day here in FC towers. After all, it’s a widely regarded notion that the majority of our tastes, interests and beliefs usually stem from a close connection spawned in our early years – setting the scene for nostalgic memories you look back on in an increasingly rose-tinted manner the older you get. It’s exactly this reason which explains why you’ll find a lot of us spending our weekends avoiding dreaded tip runs and instead lying under rusty old bangers we’re so passionate about getting back on the road one day. And you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way…
Bangkok-based Karn knows the score. His tale begins a few years back as this young estate agent was once performing his dreary commute home in the same euro-box hatchback it felt like everyone around him was also driving. As a die-hard car nut, he reckoned he deserved far better. It was this moment when rough plans were put into place to add a little excitement back into his motoring career. Growing up to the artificial neon backdrop of the 1990s, this self-confessed Japanese car aficionado was spoilt for choice when it came to searching for a JDM motor from that golden era to act as a base car for this exciting project.
“A friend pointed me in the direction of a recently imported Toyota MR2, and seeing as this model was already high up my shortlist, I just had to go and check it out!” The dark grey, GT-S-spec’d coupé not only turned out to be a bit of a minter, but also boasted the all-important boosted 3S-GTE powerplant under that mid-mounted engine hatch. And better still, it was connected to a good ol’ fashioned manual gearbox to boot. Snapping up this stunning, second-gen two-seater – which developed the nickname of ‘baby Ferrari’ at the time of its launch – Karn knew he now had a seriously effective base car on his hands to carry out his childhood tuning dreams to. And he wasn’t holding back. “Right from the start, I knew this would be a serious build. I had some big ideas and was determined to carry them out!”
The first port of call was a place many Japanese car enthusiasts from around the Bangkok area have been known to magnetise towards when it comes to serious upgrade work: Bang Khen-based Garage Unique, one of the country’s finest tuners known for its array of bespoke, JDM-inspired wide-arch conversions that have gone on to shake the world.
Chewing the fat with the talented team at this clinically modern outfit, blueprints were soon set in place for. Yep, you’ve guessed it, an aggressive, wide aero package to be put together for the MR2. With Karn’s ideas noted, a heavily skirted and subtly-widened concoction of fibreglass and carbon fibre was soon skilfully added to the car’s standard curves, with vents and scoops aplenty for good measure. Bringing the Toyota bang-up-to-date in one fell swoop, it was topped off with a huge carbon fibre spoiler out back to balance things out nicely.
But Karn wasn’t done there. To signify the work, his next port of call was vinyl wrap guru, Take a Wrap. With his favourite era of the ’90s still firmly on his mind, he approached the firm with the idea of adding a retro race livery to the new, rippling curves. He’d done his research and settled on a rare design found on a handful of Japanese IMSA racers out in the States that would allow him to retain that dark grey base colour and add retro gold and red lines to set things off. And we think you’ll agree, the results really do speak for themselves!
The comprehensive exterior tweaks are topped off with some of Rotiform’s recent wheel offerings – a suitably retro set of four-spoked RBQ split-rims – finished up in a seriously wide 9.5in and 10.5in front-and-rear respectively and anodised in red to match the foil-effect wrap work. Shod in some chunky semi-slick rubber and with the body itself dropped low on TEIN coilovers, it’s safe to say Karn’s car was soon rocking a similar stance to the race cars it had been inspired by.
Equal levels of savagery have been applied to the confined cockpit, too, which has had its innards removed behind the two Recaro bucket seats and been treated to a comprehensive roll cage.
From here forwards, however, swathes of re-trimmed Alcantara provide both driver and passenger with a surprisingly pleasant and comfortable place to spend time, especially when topped off with touches like that rare Vertex X Meanstreets steering wheel. By this stage, Karn thought he was finally ready to sensibly add some extra oomph to that tuneable engine, which saw him rolling over to acclaimed tuner R Spec 2 Garage to see what it could do for him.
Already boasting 240bhp from the box, the extra work comprised of breathing upgrades in the form of a HKS air filter, custom exhaust system and Turbotech boost pipes that soon saw a healthy 300bhp being produced through the car’s APEXi ECU module. Not too shabby when you consider this is a machine that weighs about the same as bag of Skittles. The final piece of this wonderful puzzle is some frankly enormous MovIT stoppers, which barely fit under those bright wheels.
As you can probably imagine, the difference in terms of excitement levels when it comes to Karn piloting his newly-crafted road-rocket and his old run-around really are night and day. And all it took was for him to tap into what it is he really craved in life to make it happen. Because, after all, life needn’t be boring…
TECH SPEC TOYOTA MR2
Full Garage Unique ‘GU Kits’ wide-arch body kit (comprising wide arches, carbon fibre rear diffuser, side skirts and carbon fibre rear wing); snorkel-style roof air scoop; Take a Wrap custom IMSA-inspired vinyl livery wrap.
2.0-litre 3S-GTE turbocharged four-cylinder engine; HKS blow-off valve; HKS Super Power Flow air filter; Turbotech boost pipes APEXi Power FC ECU; custom twin-exit exhaust system; five-speed manual gearbox.
9.5x18in (front) and 10.5x18in (rear) Rotiform RBQ forged
three-piece alloy wheels with fully anodized red finished; RAYS lug nuts; Yokohama Advan Neova A050 semi-slick tyres; TEIN Flex Z coilovers; Garage Unique carbon fibre rear strut brace; 6-pot (front) and 4-pot (rear) MovIT brake callipers with 345mm discs (all-round).
Re-trimmed cabin with Alcantara and red stitching; full bolt-in roll cage; stripped from front seats back; Recaro SPG fixed-back bucket seats with Sabelt harnesses; Vertex X Meanstreets limited-edition leather steering wheel; cage-mounted Defi rev counter gauge; GReddy Profec B Spec II boost controller; Kenwood doubleDIN headunit.
Garage Unique; R Spec 2 Garage Thailand; SerialOne Photographer; Take a Wrap.
Words Sam Preston Photography SerialOne