The visible exhaustion in Jarrad Klingberg's eyes as he's talking tells a story in and of itself. A near-sleepless six days, a last-minute pull-the-motor job, and a 16-hour drive to Sydney add up to the most exhausting week of his life ahead of the International Drift Challenge (hosted in conjunction with World Time Attack Challenge), and the latest chapter in the never-simple nine-year process of turning an ordinary station wagon into a competition-spec drift car.
"It started out as a street car, which got out of hand," he tells us, smirking at the understatement. "Enough to become a full-blown drift car taking on the biggest names in Oz, and it's got zero acumen, so getting it set up to drift was a lot of work."
Straight-edged and bright orange, its flared fenders covering aggressively cambered deep-dish wheels - even in the diverse drift scene this is an unusual choice, an unusual choice that's thrown up its fair share of challenges along the way, and not always where you'd expect.
Unsurprisingly, Jarrad has some history with the Toyota. "My first car was an '82 Corolla wagon. I've had a few sedans since, but when I started to build a drift car, I thought I'd give a wagon a shot as nobody else had done it. It's a hard chassis to master, but we managed to get there."
Weighing less than 2,000 pounds, rear-wheel drive, and with Toyota reliability on its side, it had a few of the right boxes ticked for its first events. Swapping the original engine for an 18R-C twin-cam Celica engine gave him the power needed to get started, while AE86 front coilovers and lowering blocks for the leaf-sprung rear end were an easy route to more predictable handling. It lasted a year of regular track sessions before the engine seized.
"I'd bought an SR20 package the week before, so I went home, pulled the engine, and had it running again the same day," Jarrad explains. "This was with an R31 Skyline diff conversion, too. So I went from pushing the car 110 percent with 95 bhp to pushing the car 110 percent with more than 270 bhp, which was pretty amazing at the time."
Almost tripling the power output wasn't as straightforward as the driveline swap made out. The strains of drifting wrecked 10 gearboxes within a year and pushed Jarrad to start looking for something more durable. Using an RB25-spec R33 Skyline gearbox solved the reliability issue straight away, but not without creating serious fitment issues. And, having started cutting, why not cure a few other problems at the same time?
Jarrad lifts open the trunk on a designed-for-purpose setup no Corolla engineer would recognize. Behind the modified firewall up front—restricted by championship regulations—he fabricated a new transmission tunnel to fit the much larger gearbox, then cut out most of the rear floorpan to make way for an R31 Skyline four-link setup and repositioned shock towers, plus a surge tank. It also gave an opportunity to notch the chassis to make room for side-exit exhaust, avoiding the need to route pipework through the back end. The backyard project had suddenly turned semi-pro.
This was time worth taking, he explains. "The leaf springs were very stiff and I'd get loads of axle tramp, which meant it was a lot of fun but not very fast. So swapping to a four-link was a turning point for my drifting, the added speed and traction suddenly meant I was able to go from finishing events in the top 16 to finishing in the top four. But with grippier tires the mounts started ripping out of the floor, which is why it has so much bracing where the back seat would normally be."
It had also laid down the foundations for more power, and working the easily tuned SR20, a little harder was a good place to start. A rebuild with uprated internals and fueling readied the four-cylinder for a bigger turbo and more boost, and the package started reaping rewards, pulling in six podium finishes in its first year. But the Corolla had gone from street-legal to a competitive drift car, and it has the scars to prove it.
"After a few crashes and a lot of hard driving, the shell was pretty much a write-off, so I decided I'd scrap it," he says. "But I got halfway through stripping it and selling parts, then realized I couldn't let it go. So instead of retiring, I ended up putting it on a chassis jig, straightening it, and then painting it gloss—black ready for another season."
It hadn't just come back from the brink. Jarrad got his Australian Drifting GP national license shortly afterward, so the car had to keep pace. It meant switching to a tubular front end and rollcage, paired with Shockworks coilovers and an AE86 steering setup on a modified subframe to give extra lock, while a stroked and heavily boosted 2.2L SR20 dialed in the power to match. With no sponsors, it was an expensive process.
"It was getting pretty serious, so I committed to a whole season and paid for it out of my own pocket doing a lot of overtime at work. Luckily, I had a good run at first. Then I sucked a throttle body screw through the turbo and blew a motor, and cracked a valve on the following event. That was hard."
None of this put him off, and the latest version of the driveline has been worth waiting for. The modified transmission tunnel had left space for a TTi sequential gearbox, now paired with a 2.1L SR20 built by Jaustech that makes 530 bhp at 28 psi, or 570 bhp with the boost turned up to 32 psi. Enough to smoke the tires in any gear, he says, while the Holden Commodore Fantail Orange paint laid over its boxy body lines means it looks as loud as it sounds. And not just exhaust noise; tucked in behind the custom-made shock towers is a pair of subwoofers - an odd addition in a drift car, surely?
Jarrad laughs. "I've always had a stereo in my drift cars. At the start of this year, I did a whole lot of weight saving—cut the doors out and did away with the stereo to save a few kilos, but it got to me so I put it back in. It's good to take your mind off things when you're in the lineup or waiting to qualify."
But conforming to norms doesn't come into it when you're lining up against the drift scene's usual suspects in a 35-year-old Corolla wagon. Neither does sleep, which judging by the Corolla's performance at Sydney so far, is something Jarrad is used to managing without. But with the right setup finally in place and the results to go with it, where's the fun in taking the easy route anyway?