There is just something so unexplainably cool about the '80s-era AE86 platform. It has long been regarded as one of the most iconic vehicles in Japan to modify and while they weren't highly regarded in the past by Americans, it is certainly a sought after chassis today. The AE86 has a very distinct look about it that screams the '80s and enthusiasts adore the chassis for its incredible balance. Not only from a mechanical standpoint; the Hachi-Roku also expresses balance in that you can literally do just about anything you want to them. You've seen the platform in many iterations: drift, show, drag, junker, television star and so on. The car is very versatile and because of this, you've undoubtedly seen the AE86 utilized in all aspects of our tuning community.
Some of the more memorable AE86 builds are the ones with wacky engine swaps. Because these cars are so dated and often not left in the best of conditions, you'll likely find one sans engine. Instead of enthusiasts looking to find another dated 4A-GE motor that is past its proverbial prime, people will look elsewhere for newer motors or maybe even whatever motor they have laying around at the time. If it doesn't fit, you just find a way to make it work. Over the years, there has been anything from Toyota 7M-GTE Supra engine swaps, to newer 4A-GZE supercharged motors, up to Toyota V8s. If you aren't partial to the Toyota namesake, you can even go with a Mazda rotary set-up, F20C from a Honda S2000 or the motor you see in this 1987 Toyota Corolla AE86 coupe: an SR20DET swap from a 1996 Nissan S14. "I wasn't even sure if I really wanted to build an AE86 at first or even attempt a swap," owner, Brian Novoa explains. "I didn't really like the look of the car but decided to put forth some effort into creating something different."
An important factor to consider is that, while these swaps are becoming more commonplace, they are far from easy. The SR20DET engine itself physically fits inside the engine bay of an AE86, but mounts and brackets had to be fabricated in order to form a civil union between the two. The challenge that followed was trying to connect the Nissan manual transmission to the factory Toyota rear end. "When you get into a swap like this, stuff just isn't going to match-up, considering the fact that the engine and body are completely different makes. I had issues with getting the car up and running after dropping the motor in. Fortunately, I was able to get in contact with a fabrication shop called Wicked Lab and they knocked out the custom rear backing plate as well as a ton of other essentials," Novoa says.
Brian opted to retain the factory SR20DET manifold and turbocharger for his 1987 Toyota Corolla, but had Wicked Lab create all the necessary plumbing for the intercooler and exhaust. Worth mentioning about his Nissan-swap is that he took the road-less-traveled and built his motor instead of just turning up the boost or switching to a larger turbine. The head and valvetrain has been upgraded with Brian Crower products, and the block has been fortified with CP 87mm sleeves, pistons and Manley rods. Brian bumps up the boost with a manual controller from BLOX, but the power isn't anything unmanageable for everyday use. He can cruise around comfortably knowing that his Silvia heart can handle the stress.
Once the mechanical setbacks were resolved, Novoa turned his attention to the rest of the nearly three-decade-old 1987 Toyota Corolla. The engine was definitely unique, but the effort wouldn't be worthwhile if the exterior didn't match. Over a three-year period, Brian slowly collected sought after rare Japanese goods for his project. As he explains, "Patience was a virtue with this build. I learned to never give-up on looking for parts because there will always be something floating around-you just have to keep searching. Every time I went and bought something, I ended-up having to modify something else. It just snowballed from there but I'm proud to say that many of the products you'll find on my AE86 are pretty hard to get."
The exterior of the 1987 Toyota Corolla features a mix of lightweight carbon fiber OEM-style replacement parts and rare Japanese tuner aero. His front bumper is an authentic J*Blood piece, while his side skirts, rear bumper and rear flares are from an iconic aero parts manufacturer in Japan known simply as "Run Free." The most modern aesthetic addition for this '80s icon would be the staggered 15-inch Volk Racing TE37Vs. While the wheels and chassis are decades apart, making them anything but period-correct, the "V" in TE37V stands for "Vintage" and they are catered to Japanese classics. Peeking out behind the spokes of his front Volk wheels are Wilwood Superlite 6-piston brakes. Within the humble confines of his dated interior are more contemporary enhancements. Buddy Club racing seats replace the tattered stock units and a Nardi steering wheel provides more comfort over the worn factory wheel. Since his original instrument cluster was rendered useless thanks to his SR20DET conversion, Brian added some more non-Toyota flair with a digital instrument display from a Honda S2000.
"I had a lot of motivation to build this car because there were so many people that doubted me in the beginning," he explains. "The haters would call my car junk and scoff at the thought of modding it. Thanks to them, I always had that extra push to make me work harder on it. I'd spend every free minute I had on the car, whether it'd be working on it during work or after. I'm proud of what I created and thankful for the friends that helped along the way."
1987 Toyota Corolla
Owner Brian Novoa
Hometown West Roxbury, MA
Occupation Service manager and mechanic
Engine 1996 2.0L Nissan SR20DET; Brian Crower BC0205 Stage 2 camshafts, valves, valve springs and retainers; ARP head studs; A'PEXi metal head gasket; CP 87mm sleeves, pistons and piston rings; Manley Performance H-beam connecting rods; Circuit Sport pulley set; ATI super damper; custom engine mounts and brackets; custom intake pipe w/K&N air filter and downpipe; DeatschWerks fuel pump; HKS Sport exhaust and SQV blow-off valve; Denso Iridium spark plugs; Mishimoto S-Line intercooler w/custom intercooler piping, radiator hoses and slim electric radiator fans; Koyo R-Series aluminum radiator
Drivetrain SR20 5-speed transmission; Tomei 2-Way LSD; custom driveshaft; ACT 6-puck sprung clutch, Streetlite 14-lb lightweight clutch
Engine Management BLOX boost controller; AEM digital wideband UEGO
Footwork & Chassis Megan Racing Spec R series coilovers, camber plates, 4-piece lower control arms and front tension rod; Tanabe sway bars; Energy Suspension front end-link kit; Nagisa strut tower bar
Brakes Wilwood Superlite 6-piston front brake calipers, brake pads and front lines
Wheels & Tires 15x8.5" -0 and 15x10" -25 Volk Racing TE37V wheels; 195/50R15 Yokohama S-Drive front tires; 195/50R15 Falken ZIEX ZE-912 rear tires; Volk Racing Formula lug nuts
Exterior J*Blood Trueno front bumper; Run Free side skirts, rear bumper and rear fender flares; Seibon carbon-fiber doors and hood; VIS carbon-fiber trunk; custom 3-stage white paint
Interior Buddy Club Racing Spec seats; Super Low Down seat rails; Nardi steering wheel; NRG steering hub and quick release; BLOX shift knob; retrofitted OEM Honda S2000 instrument cluster; X-Line boost gauge
Thanks You My wife for getting me into the car, allowing me to invest into this project, and supporting me all the way; Mike and Brian from JT Motoring; my boss Mike Hynes for allowing me to work on my car after work; my co-workers Gilberto, Walter, Manny, Maury, Elvis and Victor; Wicked Lab; BRG Boston; Harold for the paint job; all the haters who said my car was junk, thanks for pushing me to work harder on the build