Building an AE86 Corolla is a lucid dream shared by many. Driven by the appeal of its lightweight chassis, FR configuration, and being one of the biggest icons in automotive pop culture, it comes as no surprise that its current cost and rarity has nudged this car into a category that some may regard as “unicorn” territory. There’s no denying that anyone looking to build a fun car has had the AE86 pinned somewhere in their mental list of contenders. It’s balance, handling, and subtle brick styling has us all on the edge of our seats. It’s been a long 28 years since this ’80s econobox debuted, and not only has its resale value continued to spike over the past five years, but new parts are still being researched and developed, proving that the chassis continues to be a reigning standard to the masses.
Jimmy Le knew all of this very well—the fun, the style, and the presence of the AE86. Ever since he was a kid, he’s had his sights dialed on owning one. It was in 2006 that he finally bit the bullet on an ’85 Toyota Corolla GT-S, beginning the money pit that currently sits in between your hands. Unfazed by the trends and direction of cookie-cutter Corolla builds, Jimmy went well out of his way to build his car up to his own standards and expectations. The car might seem like a pretty mild build at first glance, but the most impressive trait that this car flaunts is all very much in the details—in the nooks and crannies that most of us car guys tend to look past with our snooty eyes and peculiar tastes. A quick glimpse at the spec sheet sheds a little light as to where this Corolla might stand in the upper echelons of AE86 geekdom.
Being neither a show nor track car, he wanted to build a nice, clean, weekend car that can simply do his bidding, whatever and whenever the hell he wanted to do it.
I have to admit, my eyes tend to roll at the sight of seeing the everyday two-toned scheme. Maybe it’s because it’s been reproduced an infinite amount of times, or maybe because it’s usually done by rattle cans with a hint of overspray—I’m really not sure . . . but it’s definitely seen better days. So, taking a few steps away from the average Corolla, the whole car was repainted a solid color from the Toyota Supra: Anthracite Metallic. It’s a bit refreshing and dare I say “unique” that a more modern paint scheme graces the full shape of this cult classic. To keep up with the gleam of this contemporary shade, the car adorns authentic Run Free aero. And in similar fashion, the rest of the car was brought back to life with all the lamps from the later (Kouki) model AE86, including redline taillights, signal lights, corner lights, and eyelids.
Just as you might have expected from the immaculate exterior, the interior of this car is just as pristine as the day it left the showroom floor. Not because the previous owner kept this gem hidden in a tightly sealed garage for all those years (though it might have helped if he did), but because he took it a step further and replaced many of the interior’s creature comforts with brand-new OEM pieces that were sourced straight from Japan. There’s fresh carpet, fresh mats, and it’s fresh even down to the grit-like weatherstripping and window molding—all have been replaced with factory pieces. “This was probably the most difficult part of the build,” Jimmy mentions. “I wanted not to just fix the car up, but to restore it.”
In the front, to love and to hold, both seats were replaced with a pair of Bride Zeta III buckets clinging onto Bride Super Low rails. Keeping the connection between driver and machine pure and unprocessed is a leather Nardi steering wheel and a TRD knob spun onto a T3 short shifter. Combined with every bit of its factory interior pieces, this ride looks to be a pleasurable experience whether you’re getting groceries or mid-turn during a spirited drive.
Staying true to the spirit of the car, Jimmy stuck with the 16V 4AGE. Though, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, his plans didn’t stop there. Ray Gonzaga, of Ray’s Toys, is responsible for the engine build, turning the once lively motor into a scream factory. Built with a host of Toda components and holding down the fort with a 10.7:1 compression ratio, this naturally aspirated engine benches in at 160 hp at 9,200 rpm and 118 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm. With the help of a T3 adapter plate and velocity stacks, air is fed through factory 20V 4AGE independent throttle bodies, while exhaust is spat out through a 4-2-1 TRD header and HKS Hi-Power exhaust. A Walbro fuel pump, a 4AGZE fuel rail, and its injectors are responsible for sending and receiving. And for added security, a large Koyo aluminum radiator keeps those temps safe and consistent.
Working behind the velvet curtain of induction and exhaust note, a Toda flywheel and clutch combo sends that power down to a Cusco LSD to be divided before hitting the ground. The damping, too, has had no expense spared. Greddy Type-S coilovers cradle this spoiled chassis, while 14x7+0 Volk Racing TE37s on 195/60/14 Falken Azenis tires keep this machine nestled tightly against the asphalt.
This car is wild! It incorporates pretty much all the factors that one would consider throughout a build and, more importantly, after a build. The stance this car has isn’t exactly parallel to current trends, but it stands at a height that actually lets the suspension do its job. It was built with high-quality performance in mind, but unlike many other Corollas to have garnered our attention, it also bears the weighty burden of having to be a real, functioning car on the road. Whether it’s the fun car that Jimmy wants to toss around at a moment’s notice, or the comfortable and clean car he needs to drive around in with his wife and son, it’s the car for the job, and it’ll always leave a grin from ear to ear. This AE86 sits right in the middle of the spectrum. It isn’t a dedicated track car, and it certainly isn’t a show queen. It’s business casual.
Behind the Build
Product Manager (DC Sports)
Watching Formula1, MotoGP, NBA, NFL, cooking, and spending time with my wife and son
The Toyota Corolla (AE86) has always been one of my favorite vehicles since I was younger. When the opportunity came up for me to start this project, I jumped right on it.
1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S
Engine 4AGE JDM Red Top 16V engine; Toda Racing 264 camshafts, valvesprings, retainers, cam gears, timing belt, head gasket; Toyota 20V individual throttle bodies; T3 manifold adapter and velocity stacks; Arias 10.7:1 compression pistons; EPN oversized stainless steel valves; Toyota under-bucket shims; ARP main stud kit, head stud kit, rod bolt kit; Cusco motor mounts; new OEM oil pan, engine gaskets, alternator, power steering pump; blueprinted 4AGZE injectors; NST pulley kit; custom stainless steel fuel lines; TRD header; HKS Hi-Power exhaust; NGK spark plugs; Koyo aluminum radiator; Flex-a-lite electric fans; DME oil cap, radiator cap; AEM EMS
Drivetrain Toda Racing clutch and flywheel; Cusco 1.5-way LSD, transmission mount; ARP flywheel bolt kit; T3 short- throw shift kit
Suspension Greddy Type-S coilovers; Whiteline sway bars
Wheels/Tires 14x7 +0 Volk Racing TE37 wheels; 195/60-14 Falken Azenis tires
Brakes Hawk brake pads; slotted brake rotors; Earl’s stainless steel braided brake lines
Exterior Toyota Anthracite Metallic Paint (1A1); Run Free complete body kit; JDM kouki corner lights, eyelids, bumper lights, and taillights; Hella H4 headlight bulb conversion; PIAA headlight bulbs and windshield wipers; new OEM window molding
Interior Nardi Challenge steering wheel; HKB steering wheel hub; TRD shift knob; new OEM shift boot, floor mats, hatch cover; Bride Zeta III bucket seats, super Low Max rails