We spotted this pristine Corolla from a mile away at the recent Japanese Classic Car Show held in Long Beach, Calif., (February 2006). Of all the Toyota's there, we felt this TE27 stood out from the bunch. The TE27 is the chassis code of the 1971 - 1974 Corolla 1600 in Japan. The obvious care and attention to detail put into this vehicle speaks volumes as to the dedication of its owner, Ronald Cajayon. When we went to speak with Ronald, it turns out the love affair with this Corolla started many years ago and oceans away.
Ronald told us how he first fell in love with this car when he was 14 years old. Growing up in the Philippines, his neighbor had two of these TE27 Corollas. He took Ronald for a ride one day and that was the beginning of his "TE27 fever." As with many childhood dreams, however, there is a long road ahead before turning them into a reality.
Ronald moved to California in 1991 and once he obtained his driver's license the search was on to find a TE27 to pilot. It took him eight long years to find this 1974 Corolla SR5 Levin. In the meantime he went through an impressive auto collection consisting of an all-Mugen '91 CRX, '85 Zenki AE86, '78 Cressida and an '81 Corolla TE72. While all of these vehicles are remarkable in their own right, Ronald wasn't going to be satisfied until he fulfilled his childhood dream of owning a TE27.
Searching for a clean TE27 is no easy feat as most are rusted and not even the desirable SR5 model. Ronald first came across a 1973 S5 TE27 Corolla for sale in the Recycler, for which he traded his KP61. The car looked nice but there was a huge rust spot in the trunk area so he ended up selling it to a friend.
About six months later Ronald finally found a real 1974 SR5 Levin up in San Francisco that was owned by pro slalom racer, Joey Delostrinos. Ronald said he "begged him to sell me the car and I promised him it will be in good hands. I told him I would try my best to restore the car the right way." It's funny because at some point we have all become quite attached to one of our cars. Parting with one of your favorites is like selling off a child, you just pray it is going to someone who will treat it as well as you did. Ronald's sincerity and begging paid off as he was granted ownership of the vehicle and made the long seven-hour drive home from San Francisco.
He then went on a research quest to determine where he could purchase JDM, OEM and all-around rare parts for the TE27. It took him five years to acquire all of the parts, but once he did they moved to rebuilding the 2TG EFI engine Ronald got from Japan. Ray Gonzaga completed the machine work on the four-cylinder engine, modifying the displacement from 1600cc to 1800cc. The engine maintains the stock forged-steel crankshaft while employing TRD balanced rods. Also remaining stock is the wet sump oiling system and valve train.
Race Toys in Orange County, Calif., worked on the cylinder head and added TRD valve seats and springs on the top end. Race Toys also completed the custom 7M-GTE Supra intake manifold and stainless-steel turbo manifold, downpipe and mandrel-bent exhaust system.
Since the TE27 did not come originally fuel injected, Ronald had to outsource an engine management system capable of handling the boosted 2TG engine. An SDS engine management system is used to handle the fuel and ignition enrichment of the Toyota engine. Unlike the factory 2TG, which incorporates a distributor and single coil, the SDS system employs a breakerless ignition setup with individual coils. The individual coils allow for a longer charge time between firing; increasing spark energy to the plugs. Custom-made MSD 8mm spark plug wires are in charge of transferring the high voltage from the coils to the spark plugs.
Race Toys also built the transmission, a first-generation T50 five-speed manual. While the shifter and linkage remains stock, the clutch assembly was upgraded to an ACT Kevlar unit. Transferring the power equally to both wheels is a TRD limited-slip differential. Keeping the engine in the sweet spot at all speeds is a 4.3:1 final drive.
After completing all of the engine work Ronald then tackled the suspension. Set up by himself and Race Toys, he elected to use Tokico eight-way adjustable shocks and TRD Japan springs in the front. For the rear, Toyoshima leaf springs and Tokico gas shocks are the weapons of choice. Ronald also turned to TRD to beef up the brakes with TRD brake pads. The master cylinder is by Tilton Racing with custom stainless-steel braided brake lines by Earl's.
The Levin was then shipped off to PJ Bonifacio in City of Industry, Calif., for bodywork and a new coat of paint. Ronald says they are "one of the best paint shop[s] when it comes to classic imports." The chassis is powder coated and the factory sheet metal is painted in PPG British Racing Green.
Once you have a shiny new coat of paint you have to roll nice in a new set of wheels. Fitting for this TE27 to have Japanese wheels, Ronald purchased a set of Tom's Racing wheels in a diminutive 13x7 inches with -2 offset in the rear. These little puppies are wrapped in Goodyear 205/50 -13s-take that you 24-inch SUV riders.
Finally, the rest of the restoration took place. Ronald installed the interior himself, which includes a black-on-black theme and a pair of Recaro LS seats with a Tom's three-point seat belt. Ronald keeps an eye on things with TRD oil and water gauges. The sounds system, my favorite detail, is fueled by an iPod Nano. How appropriate. Don't let the Nano's small size fool you into underestimating the mean punch it packs. Just as this Levin SR5 may be small, it will give you a hell of a ride.
It might have taken over five years and a "@#$&*" of money, but the end result is a very impressive Toyota legend. Fixing up contemporary cars is one thing, but it takes a certain drive, passion and commitment to restore a classic vehicle. Ronald Cajayon has these qualities and it is evident in his pristine TE27.
Ronald is thankful for his many friends who spent their weekends helping him put the car together. He is happy that "Finally my dream car is done and running" but is quick to add "there's always room for improvements." It must be satisfying to see to fruition your boyhood dream car.
Ronald would like to thank Ray Gonzaga, Tiny Pamgamban, Oliver Revillo, Antonio of Cipher Garage, and Patrick Ng for their help with this vehicle. He would also like to thank his loving wife (as well as Ray Gonzaga's) for their "patience and support" and "the rest of the crew; Lito, Rodel, Orly, and Vic."