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1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

A '74 Corolla Body With the Moves of an AE86 and the Heart of a Five-Valve JDM Lion

BK Nakadashi
Jan 3, 2014
Photographer: Nate Hassler

We love new technology because it's able to squeeze out every last horsepower or fraction of a G in a way that old steel just wasn't built to do. Yet we love old J-tin, in part because its style has a certain charm, but also because it's so damned light—you really have to be trying hard to find a pre-1975 Japanese car sold in America that weighs more than a ton. And mostly we love melding the two together seamlessly; old-school metal hiding a variety of freaky late-model performance pieces that operate and feel like it's all one piece, rather than a variety of components doing a dance with each other. Shock of shocks, we love Ver Jumamoy's '74 Toyota KE20 Corolla.

It would oversimplify things dramatically to surmise that the Fairfield, California-based ER nurse has taken the guts of a Hachi-Roku and grafted them into the shell of a KE20 Sprinter—not least of which because that engine is so much more than any factory-built AE86 ever got. But there's an awful lot of Hachi under there. Dare we call this one a shichi-shi (74)? Monkets (20)? For now, we settled on Frankensprinter—because the engine under that hood is a monster.

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 TRD duckbill lip air dam 02 Photo 2/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

Oh, it's a 4A-GE, all right, but it's such a different animal than what arrived on American shores in the mid-'80s in Toyota's MR2 and Corolla GT-S so you'd hardly recognize it. The second-generation five-valver, known as the "black-top" for its black cam covers, is the ultimate naturally-aspirated iteration of Toyota's iron-block, aluminum-headed A-series engine, which dates back to the late 1970s. By 1983, the 4A-GE had replaced the long-lived 2-TG as Toyota's volume-production twin-cam engine. Yamaha, who had done cylinder head work for Toyota clear back to the twin-cam 2000GT of 1967, designed the aluminum five-valve (three intake, two exhaust) head following their Formula One efforts in the late '80s. The five-valve 4A-GE can be neatly split into early (silver-top, starting 1991) and later (black-top, starting 1995) generations; what you see here is the hairier black-top piece.

What makes it so? For the black-top version, the reciprocating assembly was put on a diet, weighing less and spinning more freely than earlier four-valve (and even silver-top five-valve) components could. Aiding in the black-top's effort were four individual 45mm throttle bodies, a MAP sensor, velocity stacks and a whopping 11:1 compression. Mix in variable timing on the 8.2mm-lift intake camshaft, a tubular exhaust header and the black-top beats both torque and horsepower figures from previous four-valve 4A-GEs, plus it can sustain revs longer as well. The result? Nearly 165hp at 7800rpm, according to Toyota, roughly double what the hottest 1974 Corolla SR5 would have had beneath its hood Stateside. Plus, let's be honest: because the five-valve 4A-GE never made it out of Japan, it's a dead sexy piece of kit.

But then we get into the reinforcements, which are all of the bits necessary to bolster that power doubling. It's fair to say that the stock K50 five-speed stick could easily have been outmatched—cue sounds of grinding (or worse, stripped) gears. In its place goes the AE86's standard-issue cog-swapper, Toyota's T50 five-speed, which offers identical gear ratios. It also has a wide variety of suitability upgrades, like TRD shifters and aftermarket clutches and six-pound flywheels. That power then has to get out to the rear tires, and that spindly little axle under a stock '74 Corolla won't take the pressure; far easier to just drop an entire AE86 axle onto the re-arched rear leafs, to incorporate a limited-slip, beefier axles, and of course the rear disc brakes that were part and parcel of the GT-S back in the day. Granted, they were barely nine inches in diameter, and front discs take more of the abuse when you step on that middle pedal, but it's still a significant upgrade.

And with the rear disc brakes coming along for the ride on the ends of the axle housing, it would be silly not to upgrade the fronts as well; hello Hachi! May as well throw in the master cylinder and power brake booster from an AE86 too, while we're at the yard stripping out parts. Wheels and tires are sized up significantly from stock—195/50-15 rubber compared to a stock AE86's 185/60R14 and a 175/70-13 tire that was the biggest you could find on a '74 Corolla—but the 15s do manage to fill out the KE20's significantly smaller wheel openings quite nicely without looking too big. As a bonus, the four-point cage stiffens the unit-body structure significantly; it adds a few pounds, granted, but it's a small price to pay for feeling that chassis stay flat during aggressive cornering.

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 TOMs steering wheel 05 Photo 6/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

The body has largely been left alone: some mild flares for the oversized rolling stock, a chin spoiler, a trunk lip, a fresh coat of bright red paint, exchanging the massive 1974 federally-mandated 5mph crash bumpers for something a little older (smaller, and built to bolt on) and fare thee well. No two-toning, no pinstriping, no lettering, not even a set of Japan-spec fender mirrors to pretend that this is some sort of overseas creation celebrating a past that never quite was.

So the heart and soul of an AE86 has been poured into a KE20 shell. So what? First, as we've proven time and again, if you double the power of anything, it's bound to be a shedload of fun. As for the chassis components, think of it this way: they're largely stock AE86 underneath, but they're meant for a car that weighs some 450 pounds more than the car they came off. The brakes that stop an AE86 just fine suddenly become a whole lot more dramatic, stretching you against those five-point harnesses that are thoughtfully installed in the interior, when there's a quarter-ton less steel to stop. The tires, just an inch bigger in diameter and 10mm wider across the tread that would have given an AE86 a new attitude, now practically suck brain matter out your ears in the turns. And that's not even considering the coilovers, or the tough stance aided by re-arching the rear leaf springs.

Better still is the notion of turnkey reliability. We all know that aftermarket parts can be used to make our cars run better, and that they're generally compatible with whatever factory components they need to work with. But are they compatible with each other? It's a bit of a crapshoot. By sticking with Toyota components for the driveline and keeping items within a single brand family for certain other components (the all-Techno Toy front suspension, for example) there are precious few worries that tab A won't fit into slot B because that slot is instead a hole drilled 4cm to the right of where it needs to be.

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 technotoy tuning velocity stacks 11 Photo 7/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

Not that, even when you're dealing with OEM parts, things are simple. "There will be lots of issues that come with a build," Ver suggests. "Expect them. Also expect to spend some money; it'll be expensive!" And not surprisingly enough, time-consuming: he estimates his KE20/AE86 hybrid took three years to get to the point you see here.

But when you're out for a cruise, the time invested and the dollars spent disappear from your mind. Only the performance, the good times and the artifact itself remains; the look on the other guy's face as he disappears in your rear view mirror, on the other hand, is priceless.

Tuning Menu

1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20

Owner Ver Jumamoy

Hometown Fairfield, CA

Occupation Emergency-room nurse

Engine Toyota 4A-GE with "black-top" 5-valve head; custom-tucked wiring harness; Technotoy tuning velocity stacks; ISP custom high-rise header with mandrel-bent exhaust; Scion coil-on-plug ignition; TRD plugs; Odyssey battery; Koyo 3-core aluminum radiator

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 4AGE black top 10 Photo 11/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

Drivetrain Toyota T50 5-speed (sourced from AE86); cut and balanced stock driveshaft; ACT Stage 3 clutch; Exedy 6lb flywheel; TRD short shifter and knob; Kouki AE86 LSD with AE86 axles

Engine Management Haltech E6 ECU

Footwork & Chassis Techno Toy front coilovers, front camber plates, front strut bar, front lower control arms, front toe adjusters and roll center adjusters; re-arc'ed rear leaf springs; Camaro-sourced 8-way adjustable rear shocks; custom four-point roll bar; AE86-sourced manual rack-and-pinion steering (mated to stock steering rod)

Brakes Complete AE86 four-wheel-disc conversion (including brake booster and master cylinder), with braided stainless lines

Wheels & Tires 15x7" +10 Matte black TOMs wheels; 195/50R15 Falken tires

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 TOMs spoiler 14 Photo 12/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter

Exterior Stock with early bumpers; TRD duckbill lip air dam; TOMs spoiler; custom fender flares

Interior Recaro seats on custom rails; Sabelt 5-point harnesses; TOMs steering wheel with NRG quick-release hub; TOMs pedals

Thanks You My wife, for supporting me with all of my hobbies; Joey and the Performance Options crew; Ray Santos; Rommel; Joel from Toysport; John at Toyota Vallejo; Cary's Automotive; Santos Toy Shop;

1974 toyota corolla sprinter KE20 sabelt 5 point harnesses 06 Photo 13/13   |   1974 Toyota Corolla Sprinter KE20 - Frankensprinter
By BK Nakadashi
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