Motorsport can be a cruel world for cars. Sure, a racing pedigree can be a guaranteed route toward iconic status, but it’s also good for culling plenty of road cars rebuilt for track use and wrecked into extinction.
Toyota’s AE86 Corolla is one of the best-known track weapons in the world. Equally at home on Japanese drift circuits as it is on rally stages throughout Europe, the rear-drive pocket rocket is a favorite for the racer on a budget, but its popularity means loads of them bought an early ticket to the scrap heap in the sky. It’s made finding a good, factory-spec car nearly impossible.
That’s only half the problem. A starring role in the Initial D series has given the AE86 a cult following, and as a result the last straight survivors are not only hard to find but sought after as show cars, and are rapidly climbing in value. They’re no longer the performance bargain they once were.
It’s getting so bad that even Japanese tuners are struggling to find decent ones for a good price these days. So it’ll probably surprise you to find out that this Tokyo Auto Salon star, N2-spec widebody track monster started out as a $600 bargain for owner Kazumi Nakamura. That’s one very lucky find.
“The AE86 is perfect for racing,” he says. “It’s light, with a responsive engine, and it’s easy to control at the limit. With this one I wanted to see how far I could push that limit.”
Kazumi’s not your average owner. The founder of Japanese AE86 specialty shop Custom Garage Speed, he’s been building street and track-ready performance machinery for more than a decade. Raised on a mix of street-based tuning, drifting, and time-attack, when he’s looking to push a car as far as possible, you know there’s something unhinged in the pipeline.
“I started with a rough car, but the shell was straight, and it was a bargain for what I paid,” Kazumi says. “The bodywork was due for a complete overhaul anyway, and the interior was going to be stripped so I wasn’t bothered with how it looked. It just needed to be solid.”
Bursting out of the factory body lines from every angle like the Incredible Hulk, it’s hard to imagine this as a standard car. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s some polished show pony—every inch of the additional bodywork is functional and designed to be used at the performance limit.
Even more impressive, is that the entire transformation happened in-house.
“This one has our N3 kit. It’s based on the N2-spec fenders and widens the front and rear by 200 mm for a wider track,” Kazumi says. “It makes the whole car much more stable under heavy cornering, and gives loads of presence, too.”
Fenders that wide take a lot of filling, and Kazumi’s got that licked with 15-inch, three-piece Panasport G7 rims measuring 10 inches wide at the rear and only half an inch less at the front. With sticky Bridgestone road-legal track tires to keep it where it’s meant to be, there’s more than enough grip to keep most people happy. And yes, if you’re wondering, those show-ready rims get used on the track.
There’s no shortage of twisted aggression under the skin either, where you’ll find just as much evidence of Kazumi’s ability to fine-tune cars down to the tiniest details.
At the heart of it all is the AE86’s famous 4A-GE powerplant. In 16v spec it’s good for 130 bhp from the factory, but this engine now puts out over 200 bhp thanks to a Weber 45mm carburetor conversion, ported and polished head, and race-spec cam profiles. It’s a healthy dose of power for a lightweight car like this one.
At each corner, Greddy coilovers and HKS top mounts let Kazumi set up the suspension for each event. And to press the tires even harder into the black stuff, he’s fitted a full catalog of his own aero parts that’ll let it take corners hard enough to crush internal organs.
Take that huge, fully adjustable rear wing for example. Far from a cosmetic bolt-on, it can be set up to dial in as much (or as little) downforce as Kazumi wants over the back wheels, dramatically altering the way the car handles. This is the type of commitment we like to see.
Inside, the already basic factory interior was stripped of everything except the bare essentials and filled with a more purposeful six-point rollcage and chassis braces before being painted no-nonsense gunmetal gray. A handful of gauges, a Bride bucket seat, and a trunk-mounted ATL fuel cell are the only breaks from the plentiful stitch-welded, painted bare metal.
It didn’t come easily though. Kazumi admits that getting the cage welded into the tiny Toyota was one of the most difficult jobs in the build, but says that extra stiffness adds to its mind-bending cornering ability.
Naturally, he’s been keen to show off his hard work. “It was my first time at Tokyo Auto Salon last year, but the car was so well received that I’ll be back next year,” he says. “People from all over the world were taking an interest in what we do, so I’m working on something new for next year.”
Not content with building one of the most badass Levins we’ve ever laid eyes on, Kazumi’s out to turn everything up a notch in the future, dropping hints that a 20-valve 4A-GE engine may be in the cards. It’s a set of plans which may, he says, lead to it making an appearance as a worldwide time-attack competitor in the next couple of years. Now that’s somewhere you’d never expect a former scrap car to end up.
It’s good to see that, after a 30-year motorsport career, Toyota’s little coupe still has what it takes to be a competitive track machine, even when you’re starting out with a rough one.
Behind the Build
Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
Owner, Custom Garage Speed
Building and tuning AE86 Corollas
’85 Toyota Corolla Levin GT
Engine Weber 45mm carburetors; four-to-one header with blue ceramic coating; stainless steel straight-through exhaust system; polished and ported head; racing cams; HKS adjustable cam pulleys, oil cap; stainless steel braided fuel lines; ATL fuel cell (in trunk); Okuyama fuel pumps; block, rocker cover, radiator, and alternator brackets painted red; Samco coolant hoses; TRD radiator cap
Transmission TRD five-speed cross transmission, limited-slip differential
Suspension Greddy coilovers; HKS camber-adjustable solid top mounts; front strut brace and shock tower braces
Brakes custom big-brake kit, brake bias valve, stainless steel braided hoses
Wheels/Tires 15x9.5 -30mm offset (front) and 15x10 -60mm offset (rear) Panasport G7-C8R wheels; 205/50-15 (front) and 225/50-15 (rear) Bridgestone RE11S tires
Exterior Speed N3 wide arch kit; carbon-fiber hood with induction vent; custom rear diffuser, carbon-fiber front lip spoiler, canards, carbon-fiber GT wing, billet tow hooks; Vitaloni California mirrors
Interior stripped to bare metal, stitch welded, and painted gunmetal gray; six-point rollcage with door bars and additional chassis bracing; Bride Zeta II seat; Simpson harness; TRD gauges; custom switch panel; OMP Corsica Superleggero steering wheel