It wasn't the all-too-familiar Initial D series, nor was it the almost natural association with drifting that pulled Lester Donis's attention to his two-toned 1986 Toyota Corolla GTS. It also wasn't a feature story or any sort of social media influence that nudged him toward the iconic hatchback. Interestingly enough, his childhood encounter with a Corolla owned by his uncle stuck with him for years and he was bound to end up with one or five.
Lester's first visit to Guatemala as a child is what initially sparked his interest, he adds, "My uncle, who later passed away, picked me up in a green '86 coupe. He drove me around everywhere in it back then. When I got older and I found out he'd passed away, I wanted that car." Unfortunately, with the car being in Guatemala and Lester only working part time at that point, he wasn't able to work out a deal with his uncle's widow and the car was sold. "I didn't hear about the car for years, then one year, I decided to visit Guatemala and my brother, who lived there at the time, helped me find that car."
Lose One, Gain one
The elation upon locating the car was short-lived, seeing as how it was completely gutted, missing its engine and other essentials - basically a shell in pretty rough shape. "I asked the current owner if he'd sell it and he agreed, but he wanted $4,000 U.S. for just the shell and I couldn't justify paying that much at the time. I had to pass." The perfect storyline would have been Lester working out a reasonable deal, bringing the car back home and building it into the clean, classic example you see pictured, but as you know, project cars don't always work out so well. "I returned to the States and I started trying to find an 86 here and eventually found this car on Craigslist in Pennsylvania on Halloween."
You Need More AE86 In Your life:
That was six years ago, and since that initial purchase, Lester's invested some serious time into bringing the car up to his standards. Blessed with a 20V Blacktop swap from its previous owner, he had a head start in the power makeover he'd envisioned and today it's sporting gold T3 velocity stacks that sometimes hide under a Pipercross foam filter element and complement the gold Techno Toy Tuning pulley. Bumping power a little more is JSP Fab's high-rise header that hands exhaust duties off to an HKS Sport system. It's not a powerhouse, but it's exactly what the legendary Corolla is most comfortable with. The mild power update plays nice with the 3-decades-old chassis and offers the sort of balance that keeps the lightweight, RWD wonder fun to toss through turns and easily correct or not correct, depending on your driving style.
The tidy engine package isn't surrounded by much, seeing as the engine bay has undergone a significant makeover - one that Lester says is the only part of the build-up that he didn't do himself, other than paint. "I had someone locally tuck the harness and shave the engine bay. I rebuilt the engine myself for the first time from the ground up and everything inside the motor is brand new from Toyota. I remember staying up until 4 a.m. putting it all together." The ultra-clean look under the hood didn't come without its share of issues. Unfortunately, the wire tuck process caused a few electrical problems, but Lester, being a Toyota technician by trade, was able to eventually work them out.
Auto Body Drama
Happy that the 20V Blacktop was already in the car upon purchase, Lester was less than pleased with the condition of the paint. He notes, "It had no rust, but the paint looked rattle canned when I got it." Like many, dealing with body shops became a sore spot. After prepping the car and sending it to paint when he first got it, it seemed to need paintwork regularly. "I'm always running into issues, so every winter the vehicle is at another body shop getting fixed. I call this 86 'Bruja,' which translates to 'ghost' in Spanish, because it disappears for half the year at the body shop lol!"
Playful, Never Played Out
The classic, two-tone panda theme has been done time and time again, and it never gets old. Like white Hondas, blue Subarus, and even red Ferraris, it's a long-standing staple among enthusiasts. On this version, a J.Blood front bumper and side skirts slightly change the shape, with carbon fiber rear spats and a molded-in TRD wing closing out the rear end. Corolla aficionados will no doubt spot the JDM Kouki grill and headlight covers up front and the redline tails and rear bumper swap. Carbon-fiber flares that have been slightly reshaped to fit better before being painted gloss black to blend in curve over each of the wheel wells. Those extended corners leave ample space for the 15x8 SSR Longchamps.
Dialing in the ride height and helping to fortify the hatch's legendary handling are GReddy coilovers and Whiteline sway bars. The look is exactly what Lester was going for without doing too much. The same idea was applied to the interior where confetti Recaros and a TRD Nardi steering wheel keep things updated and user-friendly so this build can see plenty of road time. "I've met a lot of close friends because of the car and I travel everywhere, whenever I get the opportunity."
Lady Luck Is Not Pleased
In the past year, luck hasn't been entirely on Lester's side. "Driving home, the carbon-fiber hood flew open on the highway at night in the middle of a thunderstorm. Destroyed my roof, windshield and hood." Unfortunately, that incident was just the beginning. On his way home after having that windshield replaced along with a new hood, a Toyota Venza decided to nail the front passenger area of the 86, cracking the flare, destroying the fender and damaging the door.
It may have taken him a while to get this particular car, but since then, he's picked up four others! One of them is powered by a BEAMS swap, the other is in the middle of a 16V transplant and the others? Well, Lester admits that he has absolutely no idea what he'll do with them, but if you're an '80s Corolla guy, then you know you can never have too many. As for the panda version, the only items left on his immediate to-do list are hunting down a new set of wheels, adding a digital cluster and, as you might have guessed, more paintwork. He promises that this time around, he's going to redo the entire car with one final paint job to call it "done."
1986 Toyota Corolla GTS
Owner: Lester Donis
Engine: Blacktop 20v swap; tucked and shaved engine bay; Pipercross ITB filter; Techno Toy Tuning gold pulleys, T3 velocity stacks; Honda coil pack conversion; Sam Q waterline relocation kit; Koyo aluminum radiator; JSP high-rise header; HKS sport exhaust
Drivetrain: Exedy OEM-style clutch, 10lbs flywheel; Weir Performance ring and pinion 4.3 final drive; OEM LSD
Suspension: GReddy coilovers; Whiteline front/rear sway bars; T3 panhard bar
Braking: Project Mu front/rear brake pads and rotors; stainless lines
Wheels & Tires: SSR Longchamps XR4 15x8.5 -8 front, -10 rear; Yokohama S Drive, 195/50
Exterior: OEM JDM Zenki grill, rear bumper, kouki corner and eye lids, redline taillights; Retro-spec carbon fiber window visors; J. Blood sideskirts; J. Blood front bumper, carbon fiber rear spats; Auto Cover OEM foglights; TRD molded wing
Interior: Retro spec carbon fiber center console, radio console, shifter console; Nostalgic Grains wooden shift knob; TRD Nardi steering wheel; Recaro Confettis; Bride seat rails; black GTR interior swap with Bride inserts