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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.