Ricky Vang has ridden that revolving project roller coaster more times than he would care to remember. As the chain clanks on the way up, it's all anticipation--a new car, new challenge, endless possibilities, and all you can see in front of you is the sky. Soon reality sets in and the coaster lurches into a downward position and plummets with no time, no parts, and no money propelling you toward abandonment and a fast sale.
Vang's past glories include a '74 Toyota Celica, '71 Toyota Corolla TE-21, '86 Toyota Corolla GT-S, '86 Toyota MR2, '85 Toyota Supra, '85 Toyota Celica GT-S convertible, and '01 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner. Yep, it's safe to say that Vang cherishes the Toyota marque. Most of Vang's rides were built quickly before fading from favor and finding themselves with a "For Sale" sign on the dash. With family obligations mounting, he knew this was his last big shot. He knew this time he was playing for keeps.
Vang, who hails from San Diego, decided on a Corolla model that he had not owned before, a Mango. The `73 was purchased from a local guy via the Internet for $3,800. Vang says the `Rolla seemed pricey, but you pay for what you want. The car came with the stock 1.6L 2T-C with dual carbs but in a matter of weeks he had hatched a plan: Mango on the cheap and on the boost.
Vang must've overdosed on Legos as a kid because his engine is pieced together with singular creativity. "A friend of mine, Ryan Carwin, hooked me up with a used motor for $600. It was originally for another project, but I sold that car, so it is now the new powerplant for the Mango. This motor was a `pusher' motor for my friend's race car. It was a 3T-GTE, but really just a mutt motor. It had a 2T-GE block, 3T-GTE internals with '82 Corolla 3T-C pistons from the junkyard, but it was turbo. So without tearing it apart, I just put it in the Corolla, got a used turbo for $300, a standalone ECU for $300, and fabricated my own pipes and exhaust," Vang says.
"After Ryan tuned the ECU, he mutt ran perfect-boosting 15 psi. This was my daily driver at the time and I drove her about 70 miles a day to and from work. While I was driving and having fun, I was also breaking things. First the clutch went out, then the tranny, and then the differential. After replacing the parts and getting the car up I decided that I needed to start getting her revamped. At this point I had owned the car for a year and a half," Vang says.
Phase two commenced, consisting of gathering parts and working on the car. It lasted two years. The engine was pulled and the Toyota was stripped down. A set of replica SR5 flares ($185) were ordered and placed on the body, the rear was axle swapped out for a stouter SR5 unit, and an SR5 gauge cluster and front sway bar were also added. Vang did most of the bodywork and modifications himself and had another friend, Bao Le, help him with the paint--a $750 homey hookup.
While the Mango was getting painted, Vang decided to tear the motor apart. He elected to keep the motor as stock as possible just because of parts accessibility, plus he was broke. It was slated to be a quick-and-easy freshening with new main bearings, rod bearings, and gasket kits for the block and the head, which had just received cleaning and mild port matching.
Although, things are rarely quick and easy. "As I tore the mutt apart," Vang says, "I noticed that the new rings would not fit the pistons because the grooves were too tight. I thought I ordered the wrong size but then I noticed that the pistons were all crushed from the pressure of boosting. After pricing out pistons and machine work, it was obviously well out of my budget. I was tapped out. So I made a junkyard run up to central California, raided some wrecking yards, tore apart a '82 Corolla, and took the pistons." He paid a whole $22.95 for a set of pistons with unknown miles and then came back home and put the new rings on the old pistons, honed the block, put in the new bearings, and secured the head.
With long-block complete, Ryan was let loose. Like the Tasmanian Devil, he fabbed up a new turbo manifold, a downpipe, intercooler pipes, and a new stainless steel log-plenum intake. He had even gone as far as getting Vang's valve cover and the turbo compressor housing polished too, all this again with the homey hookup pricing. This was followed up by the electrical system, ignition wires, trigger setup, coil mounts, installation of a Haltech E6X, also hooked up by Ryan ($600). Ryan made the harness and tuned the unit. Vang reports all the fabbing, wiring, and tuning were done in a single day!
Vang puts the Haltech E6X among his favorite mods. "I love this unit," he says enthusiastically. "It's so easy to use, very useful in tuning, and in my opinion one of the best boxes for the money. I use it to adjust my car all the time. Even when the car runs great, I can lean it out a bit if I go on a long trip, make it a bit richer if I want to turn up the boost, or just want to look cool and bring up the data gauge screen when I'm cruising and have people trip out about an old car that is high tech and tuned by a laptop."
"I love driving the car," Vang says. "Everywhere I go, I get compliments. People are always looking at the car either trying to figure what kind of car it is or trying to take pictures. I used to get other cars trying to race me on the streets before my car was finished. Cars would roll up and rev, do burnouts next to me, or just take off real fast to see if I'd race them. Now, people pull up and they just stare, talk, and point. I really don't race my car; I use it as a daily driver, just with a little boost when I want it. Yes, I'm not going to lie, I have done some light-to-light action, but it's not worth it. I like the stares and the `wow' looks better than a quick launch and looking in the mirror for flashing lights. Besides, it uses premium and it's getting expensive."
Vang credits his wife, Stacey, for keeping the Snow White old schooler in his garage despite the downhill spirals during the four-year roller coaster buildup. "There were many times that I had put the car up for sale because I lost hope when I couldn't find a part, something went wrong, financial crisis, or even just starting to lose interest because it was taking too long. She made me keep this car." As for the "on the cheap" part, Vang figures he has about $8,500 into the build. Yep, it's good to have homies.
Looking into the crystal ball it is clear that Vang is a bit conflicted when it comes to his `Rolla. "As the car sits, she is pretty much complete but there is always room for upgrade," says Vang in a pure flip flop. "I'm thinking of going rack-and-pinion someday for better response on the steering side, so that will be in the parts search. Next would probably be bigger front brakes, rear disc brakes, rear sway bar, and bigger rear differential and axles to handle the power. I already blew out three differentials and two sets of axles, so a bigger one would be beneficial. Also, a ball-bearing turbo and maybe someday a fully built motor, maybe. Other than that, she is pretty much where I would like her to be."
Yeah, right his "pretty much complete" sounds like phase three to us.
SpecsEngineMutt block and head'82 Corolla pistons 10:1Cometic head gasketTurbonetics E-57 T4/T4 turboTiAL Sports 38mm wastegateHKS blow-off valveCustom Ryan Carwin FMICRyan Carwin downpipePython Injection fuel pumpRX-7 550cc injectorsRyan Carwin plenum intake manifoldBMW 3-inch throttle bodyRyan Carwin exhaust systemMagnaFlow mufflerCorvette LS1 individual coilsMoTeC 60-2 trigger wheelHaltech E6X engine management
DrivetrainToyota AE86 T-50 transmissionACT Extreme four-puck un-sprung clutchACT pressure plate
SuspensionGround Control coilover kitKYB strutsSR5 -inch antiroll bar
Brakes'86 Corolla GT-S brakes
InteriorMazda 323 turbo seatsCustom door panels'74 SR5 Corolla clusterAuto Meter gaugesStewart Warner gaugesGReddy turbo timerNRG quick release steering wheelAutopower rollbar
ExteriorSR5 fender flaresUnknown rear spoilerUnknown front lip spoiler
Wheels & TiresKonig Rewind 15x7Toyo 195/50-15