There aren't many cars that have become cultural icons like the AE86 generation of the Toyota Corolla. To the untrained eye, the car looks like a boxy and dated coupe; however, for NorCal resident Billy Edmonds, the 86 was the perfect foundation for his first project car. And if you're wondering whether or not Billy got his inspiration from a tofu delivery character (ahem, Initial D) or from watching drift videos, you're going to be sadly mistaken. But first, let's backtrack for a minute and go back to the day I first met Billy...
Last summer, I was visiting a small local car meet in Northern California—you know, the type of meets where you never know if you'll get a douchebag burning out in the parking lot or find a hidden gem that hasn't been whored out on social media, much like Billy's Corolla. This particular meet was set atop a Toyota dealership parking structure, so the majority of the cars were made up of AE86s, a handful of Starlets, and of course, Supras. I met Billy after seeing a horde of people surrounding his car like zombies from The Walking Dead.
On the outside, his hachiroku is minimal with a Levin front-end conversion and a set of Compomotive wheels. But Billy's ride is a classic example of when "looks can be deceiving." The magic lies underneath the surface, and resting in the engine bay was arguably the holy grail of 4A-GE motors—the Hasselgren. But wait a minute... This wasn't just any 1.6L Hasselgren motor but the one and only 1.9L made in the world! That night, Billy and I exchanged numbers, but we concluded one thing had to happen next... We had to feature his car!
If you're not a follower of all things 86, then the name Hasselgren probably has little meaning to you. First things first, the company is famous for providing engines to several teams of high-level motorsports such as Grand-Am Rolex Cup, Continental Cup, Trans-Am, and Formula Drift. We, 86 fans, get giddy because for about 10 years, Hasselgren supplied race engines for Toyota in the Formula Atlantic series, a feeder series to Champ Car. These engines consisted of a dry-sump, 1.6L 4A-GE that made 250 hp and spun all the way up to 11,000 rpm. They're rare to find on the street today, which is why Billy's Corolla really got our hearts fluttering.
Since I'm not a NorCal native, I left it up to Billy to determine the when and where for our photo shoot. He had me meet him at his work address, and to my surprise, I arrived at a Lamborghini and Pagani dealership. Turns out, Billy is a service advisor there. He came out to greet me, fired the 4A-GE to life, and we drove off into downtown San Francisco.
If you've never been in S.F., let's just say the streets are far from "low car" friendly. The steeps hills weren't the biggest problem, but rather the roadways themselves are lined with potholes. We made our way to the docks next to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and finally found a quiet and comfortable space to stop for some photos. It was there that I got to learn more about Billy as well as his love for rally racing. "After seeing them [AE86s] run the rally stages in Ireland years ago, I always wanted a higher-performing version. This is my interpretation of what TRD would do if they cut loose without any restriction," he explained. That restriction, of course, was power and engine displacement.
Billy started from the ground up with installing the basics himself such a bolt-on exhaust, coilover suspension, and a nicer set of wheels and tires. But then Billy developed the itch to take his project further. Working at Lamborghini and Pagani opened the right doors and introduced him to guys at Hasselgren, which was located not too far in Berkeley, California. Billy's work required him to reach out to Hasselgren for engine-machining services on occasion, but it also helped Billy develop a relationship to fulfill his dreams. He was given the opportunity to convert his 4A-GE into a one-off Hasselgren race-spec motor with a 1.9L, a displacement larger than anything that's been produced for previous race teams.
Hasselegren custom-made a crankshaft for Billy; luckily, they had prototypes that were already being developed for future products. Aside from the crank, a set of upgraded rods and high-compression pistons were added to the formula. The block height was slightly shortened and a small spacer was made for the pan to allow clearance for the longer stroke. Compression was set to 12:1 in order to maintain healthy oil pressure when the engine was hot. The new motor has a gantry fuel injection system, which has the injector nozzle as far upstream of the intake port as possible. This gives the fuel time to atomize while being tumbled in the natural turbulence of the intake tract. With a whopping redline of 10,200 rpm, the engine inhales a huge volume of air and injects the fuel upstream, giving the fuel a much better chance to create an even air/fuel mixture. In theory, an upstream injector cools down the intake charge to make a denser mixture with oxygen resulting in more power—in Billy's case, about 10 additional ponies.
With a high spinning motor, Billy needed a stronger transmission that would give him the rally-like shifting he wanted, so he mated a Lexus IS200 six-speed gearbox along with a NASCAR shifter. This was all sourced from a specialist in Ireland, along with the custom adapter needed to mate the tranny to the Hasslegren.
Using a custom ECU and engine harness from Cosworth, Hasselgren spent hours on the dyno with Billy's car until it safely made 266 whp and 180 lb-ft of torque.
In addition to the stellar powertrain and subtle exterior upgrades, we were pleasantly surprised to see the interior wasn't left untouched, either. "One of my favorite parts of the build is the interior. I'm a huge carbon-fiber nut, so seeing all of it every time I get in the car makes all of the late nights worthwhile," he told us. The thirst for carbon was quenched with custom made interior panels as well as a Tillett seat. The alcantara dash was also a complement to the entire package.
Billy's not done with his build, but in retrospect, are our project cars ever really done? He plans to fine-tune the suspension, widen the rear wheels, install a bigger rear axle, and develop his Hasselgren engine even more. You might be wondering, where in the world has this guy been? Why haven't we seen his car at shows? The answer is pretty simple: He doesn't go to shows. He's a rally enthusiast, a motorsport fan, and you're more likely to see his 86 on the road than under the spotlight.