Here's a Tiny Terror: a First-Gen Toyota RAV4 with a Turbo Swap

It’s only a specific group of nerds that will quickly read a collection of letters and numbers and instantly understand what it means: 3S-GTE RAV4.

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The Toyota 3S-GTE is maybe not a deified engine in the world of four-cylinders, but it’s close. It’s what powered Toyota’s WRC cars in the 1990s, the ones with maybe the most impressive cheat in rallying—if not racing—history.

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It is closely related to the engine that blew apart records at Pikes Peak and conquered IMSA, the most powerful four-cylinder that Toyota has ever made.

And it’s again quite close to the engine that Toyota stuck in the Mark 4 Supra when it went into the Japanese Grand Touring Championship. If a company rips out a 2JZ and swaps something in its place, you know you’re looking at something special.

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On the road, this engine went into MR-2 Turbos and Celica GT-Fours (and the oddball Caldina GT-Four). Where it did not go was the first-generation Toyota RAV4.

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The early RAV4s get cooler and cooler with each passing day, as ever-larger crossovers make them seem smaller, nimbler, and cuter by contrast.

Fun as they have become, powerful is nothing they’ve been associated with. That is why I appreciate this particular swap that Michael Banovsky pointed out on Twitter today.

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The car is a European build, put together for hillclimb, rally, and autocross style events by Loránd Ludescher from Hungary, raced in this video by Ádám Ludescher:

That Hillclimb Monsters video seems to rip some footage from a couple different YouTube accounts so here is one of the originals:

And here’s an onboard from the Luderscher’s own channel:

Also, yes there’s a motorcycle-swapped Trabant on there. Good shit.

I did a quick google of the guy and turned up this introduction he sent when entering the RAV4World forums:

Some info:
The engine is a 3sgte from MR-2 2. gen. turbo.
The gearbox is factory rav4, it 100% comptible with 3sgte.
This is a ‘96 RAV4 3 doors.
We made bilstein suspension and changed some parts.
The car is lowered more than 15 cm.
Brakes now are factory rav4

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Ah, so it’s not just a powerful swap, but an easier one than I expected. I figured getting the engine to fit the drivetrain would be a completely custom job, but maybe not. Remind me not to buy a RAV4.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

fred-rav4ever
Fred-Rav4Ever

Since 2005 I own RAV4 which for sure was one of the first with 3SGTE engine swap.

It was made in 1997 by German rally raid team Geco Raid (now they are X-Raid Team with the same boss Sven Quandt - yes, Quandt from BMW family).

I guess my blue 5-door RAV4 with front Recaro seats (and some interior parts in grey alcantara) is exactly the car from German SportAuto magazine test from 1997. It did 0-100 kmh in 6.7 sec which was pretty impressive for SUV in 1997.

The gearbox is also from Celica ST205 and they also installed rear disc brakes from MR2 (in place of original drum brakes on RAV4). And it had also shorter suspension springs (ca minus 30 mm).

I can proudly say that in years 2005-2010 I surprised a lot of BMWs in the spontaneous traffic light races. The car has absolutely stock styling (except small Geco Raid and RAV4 TURBO Stickers) is a real wolf in a sheeps clothing!

From what I heard, Geco Raid produced about 10 RAV4s in 3- and 5-door versions with 3SGTE. The price for the complete car was nearly double price of the stock RAV4 in Germany.