You know the name Joel Tan (@jt_built) from his wildly popular SR20DET-swapped, '40s-era Willy's Jeep that mingles among the top of Super Street's most popular feature cars of all time, and we expect his 1972 Nissan Skyline GT-R and Toyota Trueno of the same birth year will also have a lasting impression. Both cars feature driver side conversions, a proper old-school feel, and both were built almost entirely in Joel's driveway.
Taking Matters Into His Own Hands
The hands-on approach is something Joel takes pride in, evident by our conversation in which he told me all of his cars start life in his backyard. Once the suspension is in and they're officially "rollers," they get wheeled around to the driveway for all of the homemade custom fab, body work and mechanical upgrades. The only portion of his builds getting outsourced is actual paint work while he handles all of the body repairs and prep on his own. The experience is something he's gained over the years, having built his first Jeep in the Philippines well before legal driving age. Ever since that Jeep feature, a project that Joel tells us is currently getting a revamp, he's kept busy working on a number of projects, including these two, and we finally had a chance to catch up and nab some pics
1972 Toyota Corolla "Trueno"
The bright orange Corolla actually started as two chassis he'd purchased in the San Fernando Valley about six years ago. After picking them both up and going through them, Joel sold one to focus on the other. Having already built a widebody Mango with a turbocharged Beams swap, Joel was well acquainted with the platform.
The Missing Pieces
Restoration is always a factor with a chassis almost 50-years old, and plenty of attention was placed on the body to get things straightened out before a custom PPG orange mix was sprayed over the entire car, interior and engine bay. To give the car the attitude adjustment it needed, black fender flares, a front lip and rear wing were bolted in place, along with period-correct fender-mounted mirrors.
The updated flares house refinished, matte black 13x7-in. Gotti wheels with sticky 215/45 Toyo Proxes R888R, and the ancient suspension has been updated with Techno Toy Tuning front underpinnings. Appropriate Japanese counterpart badging and S.E.V. Marchal headlights with covers finish off the exterior makeover.
Originally a left-hand drive model, Joel converted the car to RHD, something he wanted to do from the very beginning. He added reupholstered seats and a Nardi steering wheel, but most of the interior beyond the reconfigured seating position is original and complete.
Under the hood is where you'll find a freshened up 2T-G that received some massaging from Steve's Machine Shop and a unique mix of parts applied to its top end. Swirl polish stainless steel valves and GM LS-style Ovate beehive valve springs, along with late-model Toyota lifter buckets back up a set of custom, reground 286 cams. Dual SK Racing carbs supply fresh air and give it the sound you'd expect from a '70s-era Toyota. This car is a driver, and to that end you won't find color coordinated hardware or strategically powder-coated parts - just pure functionality from a slightly modernized version of a Toyota classic that maintains its original '70s charm.
1972 Nissan Skyline "Hakosuka"
Joel picked up his Skyline project from a friend in East L.A. but it wasn't anywhere near the level it's at currently. Beyond the haggard body, the car lacked the basics, including suspension, interior, doors, and even some of the floorboard was missing. The plan was to start building right away but it wasn't going to be the standard combination of parts that you've become accustomed to when seeing these cars brought back to life.
To offset his RHD-converted Mango and shake things up, Joel decided to convert the Skyline to left-hand drive. This required cutting up multiple dashboards and piecing them back together before the top was refinished in alcantara and aftermarket gauges added. A pair of Seibon carbon Kevlar bucket seats are bolted in place with custom floor plates and in the rear, a custom 4-pt. roll bar by @heliarc_hustler. Pop the trunk and a one-off gas tank sits just inside the cargo area while the rear suspension has been converted to a custom cantilever setup. A bold move, especially with an iconic chassis, but it's right in line with the LHD conversion and the swap Joel chose - all of which, he notes, were done to build something entirely different than everyone else.
The Toyota Connection
Part of Joel's vision included the controversial cross-platform engine setup. Rather than going with Nissan's RB power plant, something that's been done time and time again, he opted for Toyota 2JZ power. The engine was sourced through JDM of California and now uses a single Borg Warner turbo in lieu of the factory twins courtesy of a custom exhaust manifold. A rack and pinion from a KP61 Starlet was also installed to make it all work, and with the engine taking up so much space under the hood, the intercooler is placed entirely outside of the bay with pie-cuts that snake around a Koyo aluminum radiator. Joel credits his friend John Esteban for lending him a hand with the wiring harness and getting that initial startup under his belt.
After quite a bit of custom fab work, the Toyota inline-6 fits well inside the confines of the Skyline's chest and did its part to draw people in when it was positioned at the front of Toyo Tires' Treadpass during SEMA 2019. It even piqued the interest of the GR Toyota reps that attended SEMA and made it a point to stop by to chat with Joel and check the car out multiple times throughout the week.
What also caught everyone's attention during the weeklong industry gathering is the custom Colin Legarde Motorsports green paint. Applied by @denzmechanic, it's far removed from the typical white or silver restomods of this generation. Colin Project wheels and Toyo Proxes R888 sit beneath flares with an aggressive stance that doesn't give in to extreme camber to get its point across. Since it appeared at SEMA, the intake tube and filter, which originally sat beyond the headlight bucket, were reworked and brought back into the bay. The hood exit exhaust was also toned down and leads down and out of sight. The changes give the car a more street friendly approach so that Joel can enjoy it whenever the mood strikes.
Never Stop Challenging
It's by no means perfect, but this Skyline build, like all of Joel's cars, served as a challenge to do as much as he possibly could by himself in his driveway with occasional help from friends. It's the epitome of import tuning, which started and continues to strive in home garages all around the world. It also serves a healthy reminder that its ok to not only step away from the norm, but to bet on yourself from time to time and embrace the trial-and-error effort, which is every bit as important as enjoying the finished product.