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1986 Toyota Corolla AE86 with Nissan SR20DET Power

When the car you never expected is the best you've ever had

Aaron Bonk
Apr 8, 2016
Photographer: Dax Rodriguez

Daniel Lynch knows his Japanese sports cars and sub-compacts. NSXs and WRXs: He'd worked on them for nearly 12 years. Evos and Supras: He knows just as much about making those go faster than Mitsubishi and Toyota thought they ought to be and, in the midst of all of that, found time to turbocharge and track his own Civic hatchback.

1986 toyota corolla ae86 custom side skirts Photo 2/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Custom Side Skirts

Toyota's '80s, rear-wheel-drive wonder car, though—the AE86 Corolla—seemed to never find its way onto Lynch's resume, but it wasn't for his lack of interest. "I have a lot of experience with late-model Supras and with the Celica All-Trac, but my Corolla was actually the first 4A-GE I'd ever worked on," he says about the unfamiliar territory underneath the hood.

Owning one wasn't necessarily supposed to happen, either. "I actually came upon this car by chance," Lynch says about the '86 GT-S model he'd picked up in barter for a clutch job on his former boss' ride. "I've always liked the chassis, but I primarily worked on higher-horsepower cars and was focused on racing my Civic and, eventually, getting an Evo."

1986 toyota corolla ae86 origin lab over fenders Photo 6/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Origin Lab Over Fenders

Instead of an all-wheel-drive and already-turbocharged Mitsubishi sedan, though, Lynch ended up with a 30-year-old and naturally aspirated Corolla with a 112hp engine that ultimately tanked on him. The rational side of your brain assumes Lynch plopped down a few hundred bucks for another 4A-GE, but the bad boy in you's hoping he laid down a whole lot more for something like Honda's S2000 mill. Lynch did neither, instead looking to Nissan and its most capable yet affordable four-cylinder to date, the SR20DET.

1986 toyota corolla ae86 sr20det swap Photo 7/28   |   One of the few AE86 builds we've seen to date with a Nissan SR20 swap.

Scour the Internets thoroughly and you'll still be hard-pressed to find a similar swap. Lynch knew this, but the skills and resources he's amassed during the last two decades wrenching on all sorts of makes meant retrofitting the non-Toyota-compliant powertrain into place wouldn't be all that hard. "The original idea was to throw the motor in stock and just drive it," he says, "but things tend to spiral out of control with me." It's a predictable scenario that, most of the time—Lynch's situation not withstanding—leads to fancy standalone engine management computers, custom turbo systems, and reworked bodies and chassis.

All of a sudden, a bone-stock SR20 transplant wasn't good enough. Now, 18 pounds of boost squeezed from one of Garrett's Disco Potatoes mean 350 hp and 307 lb-ft of torque. The SR20's guts were left alone, but 750 cc worth of fuel injectors and an AEM EMS-4 make sure the whole shebang stays in one piece while all of this happens. And this is exactly how Lynch enjoyed the car, romping on it for nearly a year and a half during his daily commute across the greater Phoenix area until a driveline failure on the freeway brought it all to an end.

1986 toyota corolla ae86 personal grinta steering wheel Photo 11/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Personal Grinta Steering Wheel

As it turns out, this was one of those endings that really just gave way to a new beginning—one riddled with an independent-rear-suspension conversion, all sorts of body work to accommodate the wider hardware out back, and a Japanese Levin body conversion because, well, that's the sort of thing driveline failures were meant for.

1986 toyota corolla ae86 custom gauge cluster Photo 12/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Custom Gauge Cluster

Lynch's car-building acumen is worthy, but it isn't perfect. "I did most of the work on the car," he says, "but I have a few super-talented friends who helped me in the areas where I lacked." Like the paintwork and Origin Lab rear fenders that had to be extensively modified by Elevens Paint and Fiber's Dylan Bedore, the 350 hp that was cajoled from the ECU by UMS Tuning's Tony Szirka, and the custom exhaust manifold, six-point 'cage, and whatever other fab work Lynch contracted Future Fab's John Owens.

It was all help wholly welcomed by Lynch, but he'll be the first one to tell you that owning the "friend's car" that's stuck in any legitimate business owner's shop isn't always a recipe for a neck-snapping work-pace. "When you build a car with friends who own shops and have businesses to run, everything on that 'friend job' gets put on the back-burner due to them having to make a living," Lynch admits. "Whenever I got to a part that I couldn't personally hash out, the car tended to sit for a couple months at a time."

1986 toyota corolla ae86 custom skateboard wheel shiftknob Photo 13/28   |   Skateboard wheel turned badass shift knob.

It's a small hiccup in the grand scheme of an otherwise trouble-free build if you ask Lynch who, today, says he drives the car all the time. "It's not a garage queen or meant to sit at a car show," he assures us. "Right now it's set up as a street car, but I'm currently putting together a wheel and tire package for the UMS Time Attack series and some local track days."

1986 toyota corolla ae86 trunk compartment Photo 14/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Trunk Compartment
1986 toyota corolla ae86 ace up motorsports rollcage Photo 15/28   |   Stripped naked minus a single seat and custom six-point 'cage by Ace Up.

Lynch never planned on owning Toyota's archetype Corolla and he never planned on owning one with Nissan underpinnings. He'll tell you that the project sort of fell into his lap, that he probably should've ended up in some sort of Evo, but none of that matters because, as Lynch puts it, until you've actually driven one of these on a proper twisty road, you just can't fathom how amazing three-decade old technology can still be.

1986 toyota corolla ae86 ame f zero2 wheel Photo 16/28   |   AME F/ZERO2 wheels aren't tiny by any means, measuring 9.5 inches wide.
1986 toyota corolla ae86 animated led taillights Photo 20/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Animated Led Taillights
1986 toyota corolla ae86 d max front bumper Photo 24/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 D Max Front Bumper
1986 toyota corolla ae86 oil catch can Photo 28/28   |   1986 Toyota Corolla Ae86 Oil Catch Can
By Aaron Bonk
364 Articles
1986 Toyota Corolla AE86 with Nissan SR20DET Power
Tuning Menu
Owner: Daniel Lynch
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Occupation: ??
Power: 350 hp, 307 lb-ft of torque
Engine: SR20DET swap; JSP Fab engine mount kit; TOMEI rocker arm stoppers; Garrett GT2860RS turbo; Future Fab exhaust manifold; Turbosmart blow-off valve; TiAL wastegate; Haymaker V-mounted intercooler and radiator, coolant reservoir, swirl pot, crankcase ventilation system; custom exhaust; 750cc AUS Injection injectors; AEM fuel pressure regulator; Aeromotive 350lph fuel pump; custom A/N fuel, vacuum, water lines; stitch-welded engine bay
Drivetrain: Exedy triple-disc clutch; custom one-piece driveshaft; Kaaz limited-slip differential
Engine Management: AEM EMS-4 ECU, boost controller
Footwork & Chassis: BC Racing coilovers; Swift springs; Carbing front strut tower brace; Techno Toy Tuning front lower control arms and tension rods; Maverick Motorsports tie rod extenders; custom roll center adjustable tie rods; Future Fab Nissan S13 rear subframe conversion with custom strut towers and suspension arm tubs; SPL rear upper control arms; Stance rear toe arms, rear subframe bushings
Brakes: Nissan 300ZX brake master cylinder; custom brake lines; Mazda RX-7 four-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires: 15x9.5" AME F/ZERO2 wheels; 205/50R15 Nitto NT05 tires
Exterior: Kouki Levin front-end conversion; Origin Lab front and rear over fenders; custom side skirts; D-MAX front bumper; Haymaker vented hood; Animated LED taillights; Ace Up Motorsports custom bash bar; custom carbon-fiber mirrors; Sage Green metallic paint;
Interior: Recaro Profi SPG seat; Crow harnesses; custom skateboard wheel shift knob; Personal Grinta steering; Ace Up Motorsports six-point rollcage; custom dash instrumentation; AEM gauges; ARC switch panel; Techno Toy Tuning door cards
Thanks You: Beckling Fong for putting up with me; Dylan Bedore at Elevens Paint and Fiber; Devin Pearce at AEM; Vitaly Sopkin at Ace Up Motorsports; John Owens at Future Fab; Tony Szirka at UMS Tuning; John Ski; coffee

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