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The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

The 6th-gen. Corolla that, according to Swedish officials, is now a 2017 model and completely street legal!

Jul 14, 2020
Photographer: Mathias Johansson

Your eyes skimmed over the stout, angular cuts of this completely one-off 1989 Toyota Corolla GTi and, based on the title description, you probably have two questions. The first is, what the hell is a Corolla GTi? Known in the U.S. as the Corolla FX16, it wasn't the most popular chassis to modify and today they're seldom seen. In other parts of the world, like Sweden for example, where this GTi model hails from, the lightweight FWD hatchback found more success.

Your second question is, undoubtedly, how on earth this late '80s chassis, which has been modified to the nth degree and can't possible get any wilder, is deemed a 2017 model by Swedish officials. Let's start with how the original car and its owner joined forces.

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi Front Bumper Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

Humble Beginnings

Mathias Johansson purchased this Corolla as a daily driver in 2004, both because it was affordable and it had very low mileage, having come from the classic "owned by an old lady that only drove it occasionally" scenario. Not a powerhouse by any means, the peppy 4-cylinder and commendable handling right out of the box was enough to lure Johansson to a track event where he learned a little about the car and its limits. Not long after, new suspension, a much-needed wheel and tire package and track-worthy seats and harnesses made their way to the Corolla. Oh, and that low mileage native powerplant was swapped out with a blacktop 4AGE accompanied by a 6-speed transmission—all ideal upgrades for a proper weekend track car.

For the next few years, the car did what was asked of it, but in 2008 Johansson opted for some downtime in order to rework the firewall to allow for a larger intake, while also addressing a common problem with older Japanese cars in his region: rusted quarter panels and wheel well issues. A funny thing happens when you've got your car pulled apart; you start conjuring up additional "what if" scenarios. He adds, "Well, the car was completely taken apart and I thought that RWD instead of FWD would be fun. I contacted an organization we have in Sweden called SFRO."

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi Custom Tube Frame 01 Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

Going Legit

SFRO serves as an inspection group of sorts and they're who you contact if you're trying to legalize your custom build or kit car in Sweden. Say you're swapping in a larger engine or piecing together a Cobra replica or Super Seven-type of kit car—you're going to want their expertise. In Johansson's case, he'd embark on a completely custom build that included a one-off, home-built chassis and a more powerful engine, and SFRO would play a major role in not only keeping the build on the right track legally, but also helping to update the year associated with the chassis. Johansson notes, "You could say that they are the link between you as a person, and the authorities. You must also adhere to exhaust regulations with a catalyst and the right type of fuel."

Toyota's Corolla Hatchback, Then and Now:
'87 Corolla FX16 Hatchback
Project 2019 Corolla XSE Hatchback

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi Custom Tube Frame 02 Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

With plans to legitimize a completely custom rebuild, Johansson sourced a gen. 4 Toyota 3S-GTE to power the Corolla, but that was quickly put to the side. "I came across a damaged Toyota Supra TT-02 with a 2JZ-GTE ... so I changed my mind quickly and went for it." The initial process began in late 2009, when Johansson built a bench specifically to build this car on, after substantial planning. "I placed the body of the Corolla straight on the bench and took my grinder and started to cut the car to pieces until only the roof and doorways were left."

Achievement Unlocked

Over the span of three and a half years, Johansson worked on constructing his tube chassis, and in 2013 the car was placed on its wheels and tires and gently placed on the ground, while SFRO was called in for initial inspection. Satisfied by the effort, they assigned a new frame number and Johansson wasted no time on attacking the rest of the car—a lengthy process that would culminate in 2017 with a final inspection granting street legal status and that 2017 model year designation mentioned previously.

During the process, Johansson designed and built the entire chassis, along with the integrated roll cage and scratch-built firewall that afforded the additional clearance the inline-6 needs, with its rear portion tucked neatly under the window cowl. Show-quality clean, the layout and organization couldn't be any better. He also built the fiberglass widebody kit that adds considerable width to the once innocent Toyota people-mover's hips and shoulders, a custom hood, stationary scoop, and that smiling front bumper which wraps perfectly around the custom intercooler with absolutely no obstruction.

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi 2JZGTE Swap 01 Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

Wild, But Mild

The 2JZ-GTE powering this hatchback is kept relatively mild in terms of the wild, dyno-busting monsters you're accustomed to seeing shared online. A single Borg Warner turbo replaces the stock twins, regulated by a 44mm Forge wastegate and blow-off valve. Simple, reliable, and far more than enough power to carry this ultra-lightweight custom chassis around the track and challenge its pilot to keep things under control. Offering assistance are 19x9.5-inch rear wheels with 275-30s that do their best to mediate the brutal Corolla-to-pavement connection at full throttle during track sessions.

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi Sparco Steering Wheel Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

Take a peek inside and you'll note a few things rather quickly. The first is that this is a no-nonsense, full-blown race car and Sweden officials are awesome for making this a street-legal reality. The other thing is that Johansson has a knack for fiberglass and metalwork, with masterfully creased and contoured paneling and the aforementioned cage work. In addition, he hand-fabricated the entire dash, which places a bevy of gauges in the center console aimed toward the driver, while right behind the Sparco steering wheel you'll find OEM TRD Supra gauges that he's grafted into his creation.

The stuff you might assume simply doesn't matter when building a track-specific project, like a shifter boot and surround, door panels, various hardware and associated trim pieces, in this case, all combine to make a massive difference in the end. The layout and execution in this Corolla look as if it were built by a team of engineers rather than one guy that seems to have as much patience as he has skills in the workshop.

1989 Toyota Corolla GTi Custom Widebody Kit 01 Photo 43/43   |   The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback

And if you think the fact that Johansson successfully built a car almost from scratch, managed to obtain street legal status and has displayed track proven results with the finished product might be done, think again. "This car will never be done, I think—I have a lot of plans for it. Next up is to make molds so I can make all the body panels in fiberglass or carbon fiber."

By Rodrez
921 Articles
The Dream Car You Never Knew You Wanted: RWD-Converted, 2JZ-GTE-Swapped 1989 Corolla Hatchback
Tuning Menu
Car: 1989 Toyota Corolla GTi
Owner: Mathias Johansson
Instagram: @gt92turbo
Hometown: six-piston monobloc calipers, 398mm carbon-ceramic rotors f, four-piston, 360mm
Engine: 2JZ-GTE swap; single turbo conversion with Borg Warner turbo; Forge 44mm wastegate, blow-off valve, 3in stainless exhaust; AEM 320lph in-tank fuel pump; Nuke Performance slim 10-micron fuel filter, PTFE steel braided fuel lines; K&N intake; D088 silicone hoses; custom aluminum intercooler
Drivetrain Getrag 6-speed V161 transmission with shortened Supra TT propeller shaft
Suspension: Toyota Supra TT-02 front and rear suspension; Torsen LSD differential; D2 coilovers
Braking: D2 380mm discs with 8-piston calipers front, 356mm discs with 4-piston caliper rear; Wilwood reduction valve; steel braided brake lines
Wheels & Tires: Advanti Vertex 19x8.5 front, 9.5 rear; Dunlop 235/35 front, 275/30 rear
Exterior: Toyota Red 3E5 paint; Own Manufactured pipe/framework chassis with rollcage, widebody kit, hood, scoop with air intake, rear wheelhouse; modified Corolla GTi '89 body, new firewall with additional 30cm of clearance; Sparco fuel cap; riveted and glued aluminum floor panels inside and out
Interior: Own Manufactured fiberglass dashboard with integrated TRD meters from a Toyota Supra, custom floor and side panels covered in alcantara, modified and rebuilt headliner from '88 Corolla; AEM wideband; Autometer pyrometer, oil temp, boost gauges; Sparco Sprint seats, suede steering wheel w/quick-release, 4-pt. anchorage point harnesses



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