Attempting to relive the past is a dangerous game. Toyota was surely aware of the risk it was taking when attempting to capture some of the essence that’s made the AE86 Corolla such a cult classic, but to its credit, Toyota has avoided the retro-vehicle trap so many other OEMs have fallen into. Instead, Scion’s new FR-S (Toyota GT 86 in most other markets) is a completely fresh take on the fun-and-affordable rear-wheel-drive sports coupe, though Toyota’s hopes (and ours) are that the company has also managed to imbue it with some of the same qualities found in the beloved Hachiroku.
To fully test the spiritual lineage between AE86 and FR-S, we enlisted HRE Performance Wheels marketing and motorsports guru Mickey Andrade, who before arriving at HRE was the supervisor of Falken Tire’s highly marketable drift program (from 2003 to 2008). But Mickey isn’t just an expert on drifting or baller-status wheels, he’s also a diehard car guy, go-fast addict, and owner of one of the coolest AE86s in the country.
It was during Mickey’s time at Falken Tire that he fell in love with the AE86, due in large part to Taka Aono’s Formula D car and the infectious enthusiasm Taka has for these plucky little tofu-delivery machines. As Mickey told us, “When my daily driver car part/people hauler got rear ended, I picked up an SR5 from a friend for $800 as a replacement. The interior was extremely clean, and although the exterior had the usual paint fade associated with a long life in California, it was in otherwise solid shape. It wasn’t a GT-S model, and it had an auto transmission, so I knew it wasn’t the best starting point for a project, but having a drift community background meant I could count on help from friends like Taka and John Russakoff as well as Darren McNamara. All these guys are great friends of mine and really added fuel to the fire when it came to transforming this car into what it is today.”
Mickey’s plan for his Corolla was pretty straightforward: build a fun and reliable daily driver that he could take to the track on weekends and flog like a rented mule. Mickey has built a couple of cars that have appeared in magazines before, but they were always overbuilt to the point that he was afraid to take them to the track. So his AE86 wasn’t meant to be show-car perfect but rather the perfect (and comfortable) daily driver for a weekend warrior.
The first part of the build was mainly about getting the car roadworthy, but for Mickey that also meant giving it a pretty thorough update in the process. Out came the anemic and battered 4AC and in went a freshly rebuilt 4AG thanks to Taka and Steve Sprague. Mickey and Taka also converted the car to a five-speed manual transmission setup, and while they were at it they raided Taka’s “garage” so thoroughly that this once-tired SR5 was brought up to complete GT-S spec.
Since HRE didn’t make any 15- or 16-inch wheels, Mickey dropped his Corolla on some rather tasty 15-inch Volk TE37V wheels wrapped in Falken RT615K tires. As Mickey told us, “This is when the car really started to feel like a go-kart and just came to life. That’s when Taka talked me into a track day at Willow Springs as part of a Speedventures Corolla day. The car ran flawless, and I had an absolute blast, but the engine just didn’t have enough power for my taste. So we started talking about a Scion tC 2AR-FE motor swap similar to what Taka was doing with his drift car. But there are a lot of issues with starter clearance, bellhousing fabrication to adapt the very horsepower-limited Corolla T50 transmission, not to mention you need a stand-alone ECU and dyno tuning to make it run properly.”
Enter John Russakoff, king of the S2000 motor swaps, who not too surprisingly suggested an F20C transplant. With his JSPFab.com drivetrain mount kit, this swap is pretty much plug and play, so even though it seemed kind of crazy to buy a $3,500 engine, a six-speed trans, and electronics for an $800 car, Mickey couldn’t resist. After three and a half weeks of late nights at John’s garage, the swap was complete. Having dubbed it the Midnight Oil Project, since it was built almost entirely after hours, the goal wasn’t just to drop the S2000 mill in place and call it a day but rather to give the installation an OEM look so the car would attract as little attention as possible from Johnny Law.
The lengths Mickey and John went to while pursuing an OEM look under the hood are pretty epic. A stock MINI Cooper S air filter housing is used with a Toyota OE decal added to it, for example, but that meant relocating the battery to the other side of the engine bay while using all the factory components so it remained as natural looking as possible. The coolest touch in the engine bay has to be the Toyota 1600 badge they cut off a 4AG valve cover and welded to the S2000’s spark plug cover (and the red S2000 valve cover has now been powdercoated black, too).
Having been ragged on by his coworkers at HRE long enough about his choice of rolling stock, Mickey went rummaging through old wheel stock and forgings and found some 16-inch competition centers and matching barrels that allowed them to engineer a one-off set of C93-style rims. They were originally coated in a matte-bronze finish, but Mickey decided he preferred the polished lip and gunmetal centers the Volks had, so he had his HREs refinished in the same style. Finding 16-inch tires in the right width and aspect ratio wouldn’t have been easy either, except that Falken Tire has kept the smaller tire scene well covered and happened to have exactly what Mickey needed (205/40R16 front and 215/45R16 rear).
With his goal of preserving the stock body lines such that his Corolla remained as street-oriented in appearance as possible, Mickey had Creations n’ Chrome retain the OE-style, 1-inch vertical lips to the widened front wheelwell arches and replicated this look on the rear D-Max overfenders (which just so happened to be the last ones left in America when D-Max closed its U.S. operations). He then opted for OEM plastic JDM kouki front and rear bumpers for their superior durability and had Gary Watson at Creations n’ Chrome detexture them and spray the car in a matte clearcoated Lexus Pearl White. The only thing left at that point was for Mickey to apply what he described as the finishing touch that really sells his AE86 Corolla as a street car: the OE-style decal package sourced from TORParts.com.
The Track Comparo
A mad thrash that must have reminded Mickey of his days at the helm of the Falken drift program took place to get the car ready for its comparison test with the FR-S around Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. This meant bolting up a whole host of Techno Toy Tuning suspension goodies, ultrarare redline taillights, and a booty-enhancing MCNSport rear diffuser courtesy of Mr. McNamara himself by way of Cork, Ireland.
As Mickey told us after sampling the FR-S around Chuckwalla, “You wouldn’t necessarily think there’d be that much in common with my Midnight Oil F20C-powered AE86 and the FR-S, but both have very linear power delivery, and the FR-S was surprisingly quick. To be honest, I was concerned that the 200hp engine in the FR-S would leave me wanting more, but I was really impressed by its power delivery and how well matched the engine is to the chassis. Turn-in felt crisp, and the suspension tuning provided a totally neutral and balanced feel mid-corner. Overall, it felt like a great platform for track novices, since it doesn’t have any quirky handling characteristics.”
With his JSPF.com drivetrain mountain kit, this swap is pretty much plug and play, so even though it seems kind of crazy to buy a $3,500 engine, and more
Although the FR-S Mickey used for this comparison was in fact a preproduction model equipped with a paddle-shifted auto transmission and a traction control system that couldn’t be completely disabled, he still got a lot out of the experience. “Obviously a bone-stock AE86 isn’t going to be anywhere near as quick as the FR-S is. We are talking about a 25-plus-year gap in engineering and design, so it’s kind of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But when you look at it compared to my modified AE86, I think the FR-S is surprisingly close in capabilities, and with a few mods (like stickier rubber, a coilover suspension, and a few bolt-on power-adders), it would be a very capable contender against my Franken-86.”
Mickey was also impressed by the attention to detail Toyota’s engineers put into the FR-S. “The longer wheelbase obviously makes it a more stable platform at speed, but what I really like is the fact that they kept the overall dimensions of the car very similar to the original 86. I think that’s very cool. I also love that the interior had speaker cutouts for a rollcage and that the back seat can accommodate a full set of track wheels and tires. They definitely built this car with the enthusiast in mind, and I should also mention that I think the FR-S looks great. I’m very impressed by the modern styling they’ve given it, which definitely seems to have some design influence from the LF-A and IS-F. To me it’s a great overall package and a hell of a deal at its price point.”
When we asked Mickey what he would do if he had to choose between his AE86 and an FR-S, he had this to say: “That is a really tough question and quite unfair. The Midnight Oil car is sort of a part of my being now, so I would probably hold onto it. Now, if I could have my cake and eat it too, I would dedicate the AE86 to the track specifically and lightly modify the FR-S for some fun daily street duty.”
With his JSPFab.com drivetrain mount kit, this swap is pretty much plug and play, so even though it seemed kind of crazy to buy a $3,500 engine, a six-speed trans, and electronics for an $800 car, Mickey couldn’t resist.
Specs & Details
'87 Toyota Corolla Coupe
Engine F20C 2.0L inline-four
Engine Modifications Stock F20C; Mishimoto radiator, electric fan and shroud, and oil cooler kit w/ oil filter block adapter
Drivetrain AP1 transmission; Exedy clutch; custom Oceanside Driveline two-piece driveshaft; Techno Toy Tuning (T3) OEM LSD rebuild
Engine Management S2000 ECU
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Custom HRE Performance Wheels 16x9.5-15 (f) and 16x10.5-25 (r) C93 wheels; Falken RT615K 205/40R16 (f) and 225/50R16 (r); Project m Club Sport rotors and B-Spec brake pads; stainless steel braided brake lines; Motul brake fluid
Suspension BC Suspension BR coilovers and roll center adjusters; T3 front lower control arms, tension rods, and Panhard rod
Exterior OEM Kouki plastic bumpers (f/r); JDM OEM wing; Kouki Redline taillights; widened front fenders; D-Max 40mm rear overfenders; FRP Shine Auto side skirts; Seibon carbon-fiber vented hood; FRP lip spoiler; MCNSport rear diffuser; Raybrig headlight housings w/ IPF HIDs; TORParts.com original restoration logo decals
Interior S2000 gauge cluster and S2000 push-button start; modified carbon-fiber shifter surround; JSPFab.com S2000 shift lever; Recaro Profi SPG driver seat w/ NAMS Parts Ueo Style low-down seat rail; Recaro Millennium adjustable passenger seat; Sparco Champion steering wheel and quick-release/hub; T3 70mm steering wheel spacer; Canadian market GT-S interior
Special Thanks Courtney, my love. AE86 aficionados Taka Aono, John Russakoff at JSPFab.com, Moto Miwa, Patrick Cyr, Darren McNamara, Eric “Cowboy” Davis, Andy Yen, and Alex Pfeiffer. Nick F. and the Falken Tire crew, Gary Watson at Creations n’ Chrome, Alan & Roy at HRE Performance Wheels, Joe Giardina, Alan at Sparco USA, Yoni at Motovicity, Steve Sprague, Enjuku Racing, Ed at Recaro USA, More-Japan, Tsuyoshi at 5Zigen USA, Kenji at Cusco, Steve & Ed at Mackin USA, Herb at Cabe Toyota, Steve at Heatshield Products, Mike at Mishimoto, Club4AG
Sponsors JSPFab.com, HRE Performance Wheels, Racedesign graphics, Falken Tire, Creations n’ Chrome, Sparco, Mackin USA, Motovicity, Heatshield Products, Recaro, More-Japan, Cabe Toyota, Mishimoto